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!”  http://www.proud-patriots.com/reba-mcentires-amazing-new-song-will-destroy-every-single-trump-hater-in-america-video/

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 Proud-Patriots.com (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 Proud-Patriots.com 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 Proud-Patriots.com 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.  http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/george-washington-and-religion/ at fn. 3.  For starters, then, Proud-Patriots.com 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.

Proud-Patriots.com 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.

Proud-Patriots.com 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, Proud-Patriots.com!)  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?

Proud-Patriots.com 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, Proud-Patriots.com 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 Proud-Patriots.com (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 Proud-Patriots.com, 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.

Uh-huh.

 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.”  http://tasteofcountry.com/reba-mcentire-back-to-god-video/?trackback=tsmclip.  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 Proud-Patriots.com does.  Wanna know why?

Wait for it…

BECAUSE DONALD J. TRUMP IS A MAN OF GOD WHO “CAME FROM NOWHERE TO BRING THE MESSAGE OF UNITY, PEACE AND THE LOVE OF THE ALMIGHTY GOD.”

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 Proud-Patriots.com’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 Proud-Patriots.com 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.  http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/trump-and-the-truth-his-charitable-giving.  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, Proud-Patriots.com.  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, Proud-Patriots.com, 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.

Mother’s Day in America

May 10, 2017

Mother’s Day is coming. Yay.

I hate Mother’s Day. I have always hated Mother’s Day. Well, maybe not when I was a kid – then, I probably didn’t give it much thought. But now I’m all grown up, and a mother myself, and I hate Mother’s Day.

I’ve written about this before, and I’ve explained that my feelings about this “holiday” have nothing to do with my Mom, who is a terrific mother, or my kids, who are terrific kids. I hate Mother’s Day because it’s a greeting-card, floral industry hyped holiday in which advertisers try to guilt us into buying chocolate-covered strawberries, large stuffed animals, or $99 necklaces in order to give evidence of our undying love and devotion. I also hate it because mothers who have lost their children, or women who wish they had children but don’t, or women who don’t have children because they don’t want them, end up feeling like crap. I’ve said all this before.

Why I am particularly hating Mother’s Day today, in 2017 America, is because I am so fed up with the hypocrisy of a society that pays lip service to the hard work of mothering while offering zero support to those who are in the trenches wiping butts, cajoling recalcitrant toddlers to eat dinner, making sure homework gets done, and teaching their kids what “misogyny” and “xenophobia” mean.

Ask anyone in this country – let’s be specific: Ask any white man in Congress about his mother, and he’s likely to wax rhapsodic about how she is/was the most nurturing, caring, loving person ever to have graced humanity, so much so that Donald Trump’s Access Hollywood hot mic comments were really, really offensive to him –as the son of his mother, you know – to such an extent that he just couldn’t overlook those comments…until, of course, it looked like most of Trump’s supporters could, and then, well, you know the rest.

Ask that same white congressman whether mothers are important or deserve our respect, and watch as he tees up to slam that softball deep into left field with his pandering stump speech written for the exclusive purpose of getting affluent soccer moms wet.

Ask enough people this question, and you’d really have to believe that in the United States of America, in 2017, where the idea of motherhood is exalted to such a level that a woman’s choice whether or not to have a child is fast becoming one that is not even hers to make, and you’d likely believe – if you knew nothing else about this country – that when one actually becomes a mother, she will find an endless array of resources to help her in her task.

You’d be wrong.

In this country, here are just a few of the things we don’t do for mothers, starting from the moment they get pregnant:

• We don’t require employers to provide paid maternity leave.
• We don’t offer subsidies for daycare, except to the very poor, and daycare is often the most expensive item on a family’s budget, after housing.
• We do not incentivize employers to provide more flexible work options for working mothers, such as telecommuting, job sharing, or extended career breaks.
• Unlike nearly every other industrialized country in the world, we do not provide universal public preschool, despite a growing body of research demonstrating the role that access to quality preschool education plays in child development and future success at school.

While we’re at it, let’s not forget that a majority of House members (some of them women with children of their own) just told us that mothers shouldn’t be entitled to mandatory health insurance coverage for pregnancy and childbirth, childhood vaccinations, or preventive care.

So much for supporting motherhood. And don’t get me started on those wacky Republican men in the New Hampshire state legislature who introduced a bill that would make it a misdemeanor for a woman to breastfeed in public, or their colleague of dubious intellect, State Representative Josh Moore, who posted on his Facebook account that men should be permitted to grab the nipples of women who breastfeed in public. Though 49 states have enacted legislation to protect a woman’s right to breastfeed in public, “family values” conservatives continue to rail against this most motherly of acts. You know. Because when women breastfeed in public, what they’re really trying to say is, “Hey, stud. I am feeling so sexy right now. Wanna fuck?”

Mothers in the workforce don’t fare much better. One study found that working mothers typically earn less than women without children, even when other factors such as education and work commitment are taken into account. Another study determined that mothers were often more likely than non-mothers to be regarded as less competent and poorly motivated to succeed. A third concluded that women take a “motherhood penalty” when they have children to the tune of a 4% drop in salary for each child they have.

These facts demonstrate unequivocally what Americans really think of motherhood, flowery platitudes notwithstanding, because they are reflective of governmental policy that has no interest whatsoever in helping families, and mothers in particular, be successful. If Americans truly wanted universal paid maternity leave, and quality, affordable child care subsidized by the government, they would elect leaders who advocate for such legislation, but they don’t. Those policies may sound great, but no one wants to pay for them, and for all those gooey, high-minded expressions about motherhood being the most difficult and important profession in the world, we do nothing – nothing – as a nation that would prove that we mean it.

Twenty years ago, Hillary Clinton wrote the book, “It Takes a Village,” advocating that the role of raising children is one in which we should all be deeply invested. She got a lot of criticism from the “in my day, we took care of our kids by letting them stick screwdrivers in electrical outlets while we smoked and drank martinis, and they turned out just fine” crowd, most of whom thought she was suggesting that mothers should abdicate their responsibilities to the State because they didn’t feel like taking care of their kids. Which wasn’t what she was saying at all. What she meant was, “let’s help make it easier to raise kids well, because when you do that, they’re less likely to end up in a clock tower with an automatic weapon.” Or maybe just that society as a whole benefits. Anyway, what she was trying to say was, let’s help moms as much as we can. And the country said, “No way.” So we didn’t.

Things haven’t changed much in twenty years (and they weren’t great before then, either). We say being a mother is important, but we won’t open up our wallets to make sure that said mother is supported, has access to quality, affordable healthcare, or can make a living wage at an unskilled profession in order to feed her kids. There are those who would say, “if you can’t afford to take care of a child, then you shouldn’t have one,” and to those who would say such a thing, I would say, “then perhaps we shouldn’t be talking about defunding Planned Parenthood or refusing to teach contraception in high school.” But I digress.

The bottom line is, our country is hostile to mothers. We won’t say it, but our actions speak volumes. We really don’t like mothers in this country, unless they’re holding a clean, freshly-bathed baby who isn’t crying, and so to try to pretend that we value them by setting aside one day a year in their honor is a farce. If, however, you think about how we are encouraged to recognize dear old mom on her special day – with an empty gesture that tries to make up for the fact that we pretty much ignore her the rest of the year – perhaps Mother’s Day is a perfect analogy for how our country really views motherhood.

This year on Mother’s Day, I’ll be waking up and going for a hike, weather permitting, and then I’ll have dinner with my family, including my own Mom, 83 years old and still doing yoga. I’m not buying her flowers (well, maybe I will pick up some tulips, because she likes tulips), and I’m not buying her chocolates (because I already do that and she has a really big stash right now). I’m not actually giving her anything, but I am making a donation to the Global Fund for Women, because that would make her happy. If you care about mothers – your own, or someone else’s – perhaps consider a similar gesture.

And Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you so much.

The Ides of March

March 15, 2017

It’s that time of year again – undergraduate admissions season. This year, I’ve got a personal stake in the game: My youngest, Hanna, is a high school senior anxiously awaiting the results of a process that started over a year ago. On second thought, make that three years ago – from the moment Hanna started high school, admission to college is the goal she and her classmates have been working towards.

In the interest of full disclosure, Hanna goes to an independent school that she has attended since Kindergarten. Our oldest, Caitlin, went there from grades 7 – 12; we chose it for her because of its reputation for providing an excellent, progressive education, and her experience was so positive that we selected it for Hanna when she was 5. The school has been around for 250 years and its history is an important part of the curriculum, especially in the lower grades. It’s a wonderful institution, one with which we’ve been very happy for many years.

But in the upper grades, there’s no denying the importance of the college admissions process. Hanna’s school is assuredly more focused on this process than most public or parochial high schools, and the pressure is intense. At her incoming freshman meeting with the dean of students, mention was made of Hanna’s “college portfolio” and “curriculum vitae.” I was thirty years old before I knew what a CV was, and at the age of 52, I still don’t have a “portfolio.” I was a little put off that even though Hanna was only 14 at the time, we were already talking about the “c” word. In the hope of diffusing some of the inescapable and ever-present emphasis on college, we encouraged Hanna to focus on her schoolwork and activities she enjoyed, to make friends, and to have fun. She did all of those things.

When it was time to begin the process for real, neither Hanna, nor we approached it with the level of zeal of some of her peers and their parents. We didn’t hire coaches to work one-on-one with her to study for the SAT, we didn’t discuss her grades with her except to commend her for her hard work, the progress she showed from quarter to quarter, and the persistence she exhibited when confronted with an especially challenging junior year chemistry class. We were happy that she found a few activities that really mattered to her, ones she threw herself into with enthusiasm and passion. She wasn’t president of the class, she didn’t take a mission a trip to Honduras to build a school for underprivileged children, and she has never been the type of kid that screams “high-performing leader.” Her grades and test scores are far better than either mine or my husband’s were, and her curriculum has been unquestionably more rigorous. The “college resume” she ended up putting together is impressive, mostly (to me, anyway), because it indicates a serious and conscientious student who has continually pushed herself to excel and who has never taken her foot off the pedal, even as a second semester senior with two acceptances under her belt.

But there are eight more decisions to come, and the tension in the O’Connor Household is palpable. We don’t talk about, because she’s thinking about it pretty much 24/7, and discussing it at this point only makes it more stressful. When all of the decisions roll in, there are bound to be disappointments, and we are hopeful that they won’t be big ones. We’ve repeatedly told Hanna that she’s the consumer, and she’s the who will ultimately be making the choice of which school deserves the commitment of her time and our money.

For kids like Hanna, however – kids with parents who have made their children’s success in everything, from t-ball to tae kwan do, the central focus of the family – those disappointments, if and when they come, are bound to be the biggest of their lives so far. Nothing truly awful has yet happened to these kids, because we parents have made it our mission in life to ensure that our kids’ existence is safe, enriching, and underpinned in every respect by a deep and abiding love. Add to that the message with which they are besieged on an almost daily basis, by their teachers, their peers, and well-meaning relatives and friends of their parents, that where they go to college is the MOST IMPORTANT DECISION OF THEIR LIVES, and you’ve got a recipe for almost certain disappointment. Thus, when they don’t get into the college of their dreams, it’s heartbreaking. It shouldn’t be.

Every year around this time, I read at least one article written by a college admissions officer who attempts to convey to those who are feverishly checking their portals every fifteen minutes that neither rejections nor acceptances are a referendum on a student’s potential or ability. We are reminded of the stratospherically high number of applicants, which continues to increase every year. Statistics tell us that the chances of getting into a highly competitive school, even for students with “toll-free test scores” and 4.0 (or 4.2, or 4.4) GPAs, is unlikely. Of late, Ivy League colleges are accepting a mere 8% of applicants, most of whom, at least on paper, look like they should be shoe-ins for admission. With so many applicants and a finite number of spaces, though, 92% of those stellar applicants aren’t going to make the cut, notwithstanding that they are likely as capable of successfully completing a four-year degree as those who did get in.

The statistics are daunting even where less competitive schools are involved. These days, students with high grades, test scores, and a laundry list of diverse activities may find that the “safety schools” of the past are today’s “target,” or even “reach” schools. With so much out of our control, we try to believe that no matter where our kid ends up, it’s not a statement about them as scholars, or about us as parents. It we’re being honest, however, we all think about how good it would feel to say, “my kid’s going to Yale,” because everyone knows what that means – that we’re good parents who raised our brilliant, accomplished kids right.

The thing is, most of the people I know (including me) didn’t go to an Ivy League college, or even a school that ranks in the top 10 of a US News and World Report list. Most of my closest friends and colleagues went to “good schools,” but not ones that are hyper-selective or universally acknowledged as the standard bearers for academic excellence. What’s more, most of those same people (again, including me) also got rejected by their first-choice school. Neither Caitlin, nor some of her closest friends, ended up at the college they thought they’d die if they didn’t get into, but you know what? Somehow they managed to survive. Somehow, they ended up loving the second- or third- choice school they ultimately attended, and after a mere semester there, couldn’t imagine themselves anywhere else.

What I’ve concluded from all of this is that many parents and kids hope to be admitted to the “top colleges” because they think it’s proof that they’re smart and gifted and are going to be successful no matter what career path they choose. Most, however, are going to have to be happy with a “not an Ivy school, but probably still capable of providing a quality education,” and the thing is – they will be. Regardless of how much we might like to believe that getting into one’s first choice is the key to a happy and successful life, the reality is, whether or not you have a happy or successful life has less to do with where you go to college and a whole lot more to do with what you do once you get there.

We’re going to try to relax over the next few weeks and let what is going to happen, happen. In a few short months, Hanna will graduate, and a few months after that, we’ll pack her up and drop her off at college. No matter where that ends up being, come Thanksgiving, I have a feeling she’ll be regaling us with tales of all the wonderful experiences she’s having, and she won’t even remember which other colleges she applied to or whether she got in.

So all you high school seniors out there – and all you parents, too – take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay – I promise.

Mother’s Day

May 8. 2016

 

I’ve never been a fan of Mother’s Day.  As a child, it seemed to me like adults pretty much got to do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted.  I thought there should be a “Child’s Day,” to which I was frequently told, “Every day is Child’s Day.”  As an adult, both before and after I had children of my own, I continued to dislike Mother’s Day for the same reasons I disliked Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day – because they were “holidays” created (or at least primarily promoted) by florists, jewelers, and the greeting card industry as a marketing tool that most consumers observed mainly out of a sense of guilt and obligation.  That is to say, if you truly love your parent/significant other, you’d better show up on the appointed day with some (purchased) token of your love.  And that makes me ill.

People shouldn’t be browbeaten into demonstrating their devotion to someone, children in particular.  Children don’t ask to be born, and they shouldn’t feel obligated to thank their parents simply for doing their job.  (As an aside, if you do that job well, you probably won’t have to wait until Mother’s Day for your kid to say “thank you,” or “I love you,” or whatever else you’re hoping they’ll say).  It shouldn’t take some arbitrary day in February or May or June to express your feelings for someone, and expressing your feelings for someone shouldn’t require you to fork out 4 bucks for a card, $20 for flowers, and whatever else your budget permits.  You should be telling those same people that you love them just because you do, in fact, love them, and let’s face it – a card is a poor substitute for saying what you feel in your own words, even if you’re the world’s most inarticulate human being.

Another reason I hate these holidays is because there’s a certain sense of smugness and self-satisfaction that goes along with this Triumvirate of Hallmark Holy Days of Obligation, a feeling that those who are being celebrated are downright entitled to their special day of adulation and worship, which I find utterly confounding:  Is the fact that one has figured out how to procreate, or who happens to have found someone with whom to share dinner and a movie, really so special that we need to set aside a whole day in recognition of something that—let’s face it—is pretty unremarkable?  And hey—isn’t being in a relationship, or having a child, reward enough? It ought to be.

There’s another reason I dislike Mother’s Day, in particular, and it’s because it perpetuates the notion of the perfect, selfless, apple-pie baking, tireless, all-loving woman who gives up everything for her children, always puts her family first, and never, ever complains.  There are probably a few mothers out there who are like that, and they’re probably some of the most frustrated, miserable people alive.  As well, most mothers are loving and self-sacrificing and take really good care of their kids most of the time.  But if all you knew about motherhood was what you saw on the typical Mother’s Day greeting card commercial, you’d think that mothers never curse, sweat, or get angry; that they make their bake-sale offerings from scratch, that their minivans are spotless, and that their kids…well, that their kids are perfect, too.

I’ve been a mother long enough to know that none of that is true, but I still remember being a young mother who thought I was the only one who didn’t know what the hell I was doing, the only one who sometimes felt frustrated or bored, the only one who occasionally let loose an string of expletives in the presence of my children, wondered if the damn puppet show would ever end, and who cheated at Candyland just to get the damn game over with.

The truth is, the typical mom gets tired, and annoyed, and downright sick of her children from time to time.  The typical mother does not love sitting at soccer tournaments, rain or shine, week after week after endless week, or the hours and hours and hours they spend in the car driving their kids from point A to point B, or doing laundry, or running to WalMart at 9:00 p.m. on a Sunday night to pick up something their child absolutely has to have for school the next day and without which they will fail the entire semester.  The typical mom does not clap her hands with glee when cleaning up vomit or trying to scare up dinner after a long day at work.  The typical mom does not love dealing with an exhausted toddler who won’t get into his carseat or a self-absorbed fourteen-year-old who hates her mother simply because she breathes air.

Typical moms aren’t perfect, but Teleflora tells us otherwise, thus raising the question, do you get to be celebrated on Mother’s Day if you’re not perfect?  I think if you’re going to set aside a whole day to recognize mothers, you shouldn’t have to prove you’re perfect in order to participate.  My mother was not a “perfect mother.”  Our family had a fairly stormy history, and there were many years when I was not in touch with her because of the anger I harbored for how things had gone down when I was younger.  My mom and I have made our peace with each other, and these days, my focus is on all the great things my mom did, and the example she set for me.

My mom didn’t have spotless glassware or a kitchen floor you could eat off of, but she took my brother, sister and I camping all over Europe while our family lived in Germany – she would simply pack up the Ford Falcon station wagon and set off to a country whose language she didn’t speak, pitch the tent, and take us to see the sights and eat foods we’d never tried.  My mom didn’t bake homemade cookies (except for at Christmas time, when she made the most incredible iced ginger cookies you’ve ever tasted), but she was a fantastic Brownie leader who taught me how to sew.  My mom wasn’t much for arts and crafts, but during the year my father was serving in Viet Nam, she took us to the beaches of Panama City, Florida every Sunday, made us grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner, and never once let on—not to me, anyway—that my dad might not be coming home.

When we returned from Germany in the early 1970’s, my mom, who’d had to drop out of college because her family could not afford for her to continue, got what was essentially an entry-level position at a friend’s computer software firm; by the time she retired twenty-odd years later, she was running the company.  I didn’t realize then that she, like so many working moms of the 1970’s, was part of a movement whose message—that women can work outside the home, climb the corporate ladder, and shoot for the corner office—I took for granted by the time I started my own career.  It never occurred to me how much courage it must have taken, how much she took on, or how little time she had for herself as she worked a full-time job while still keeping up with the housework and cooking and everything else she’d been responsible for when she didn’t work outside the home.

My mom is a very smart, very curious woman who talked about interesting things at the dinner table—sometimes we’d still be sitting there an hour after we’d finished our meal.  She had enormous compassion and always—always—made people feel welcome in our home.  She was the type of grandmother who got down on the floor and played with her grandchildren, read them books, and was always interested in what was going on in their lives.  At Christmas time, she preferred to give them gifts of experiences or opportunities, such as gymnastics lessons or a subscription to “Archaeology” magazine, rather than toys they didn’t need or clothes they wouldn’t wear.  Just as she always came to my concerts, plays, and marching band competitions, she attends her grandchildren’s milestone events, even though she is deaf in one ear and sometimes has a hard time understanding what is going on.

Our family had its troubles, to be sure, and some of those troubles were hard to get past.  I’m fortunate that after a ten-year absence, when I returned to my mother’s life, she opened her arms wide and embraced me.  In the time since, she has made it her mission to remind me of her surpassing love every day, whether challenging me in “Words with Friends,” sending me a text using my childhood nickname, or insisting that I call her during a midnight drive home after a long business trip, just to make sure I didn’t fall asleep at the wheel.  I’m so deeply grateful for her love, a love which is informed by the fact that she is a mother, too, and she understands when my kids are being rotten or my days have been too long, and what’s more, she always seems to know when that is without me having to tell her.  My mom isn’t perfect, but she’s instilled in me the same values I realized I’ve tried to impart to my own children, and although I spent a good part of my mothering experience trying to do things differently than my mom did, I realize now that every remarkable thing I’ve done as a mother, every time I’ve gotten it right, it’s because I’ve followed her example without even knowing it.

If the point of Mother’s Day is for children to make sure their moms know how much they matter, heck, that’s fine.  If the point is to stop and make a person think about the positive ways in which their mother has influenced them and made them a better person, and to make a phone call or have a conversation where those feelings are expressed, that’s good, too.  But those thoughts, and words, and feelings, don’t need to be accompanied by a $99 necklace from Zales, or a bouquet of flowers that will be wilted in a week, and they shouldn’t be the product of the greeting card industry – they should come from the heart, because we mean them, and because they’re true.

And you know who taught me that?

My mom.

In Defense of Accountability: Taming the Angry Beast

December 14, 2014

I haven’t read the grand jury transcripts.  I haven’t followed the news coverage.  What I know about what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, I’ve learned from reading what others have posted on Facebook.  Which is why I haven’t said anything about it—because I know that I don’t know.  I know that, before I’m qualified to issue an opinion as to whether Michael Brown’s death was the result of institutional racism versus the result of a police officer exercising his honest best judgment based upon his training and experience, I should educate myself thoroughly as to what actually happened.

Since I haven’t had the time to do that, I don’t think I have anything even remotely intelligent to say about this issue, because anything I could say would be based on nothing more than sheer speculation.  As a litigator, it’s a fundamental tenet of my work that “evidence” based upon speculation should never be considered by a jury because its probative value is so vastly outweighed by its potential for confusion and mistake.  I think this is a pretty good rule outside of the courtroom as well, so I try not to expound upon things I don’t know about.  Which apparently sets me apart from 98% of people who post things on the Internet, all of whom are certain (based upon re-tweets, Fox, Huffington Post, or wherever else they get their “news”) that their opinions are entirely accurate and utterly unassailable.

I don’t know what happened in Ferguson, except that a young man—who may or may not have been at least partially responsible for creating the situation that lead to his death—is dead, and a police officer—who may or may not have placed less value on the life of a black man than that of a white man—has now resigned (some would say in disgrace), his life forever altered.  But I think it’s important that I know what I know, and what I don’t know, because to the extent that there’s anyone in the world who gives a fig about what I think, I believe I have a responsibility to make sure that what I say is actually informed by verifiable facts.  Based upon what I see every day when I peruse the Internet, however, this would seem to be a minority view.

We’re roughly twenty years into the Internet era, and for all that this remarkable, amazing creation could be—a vast source of limitless information, enabling just about anyone to learn just about anything they might wish to know, from how to make an apple pie to the gross national product of Jakarta—what it has actually become is one part porn, one part cute-baby-animal videos, one part selfies, and one part uninformed opinion—and the more uninformed, the louder the opinion.  It’s distressing to me that something that has the potential to disseminate information worth having or connecting people across the globe in a positive way has mostly degenerated into one massive pile of wildly misinformed invective.

I’m not speaking exclusively about the “trolls”—those pasty-faced, under- or unemployed men moldering in their parents’ basements playing “World of Warcraft,” eating nacho-cheese flavored Doritos, and picking fights, for sport, on their laptops about things they don’t even care about—although one can easily conjure up thirty or forty thousand things that add greater value to the world, including infomercials and KFC.  I doubt there’s much disagreement that the hate-filled diatribes that litter the “comments” section of just about every online article that’s ever been posted diminish society in general and have rendered intelligent discourse virtually non-existent.  There’s no question that people say things online that they’d never, ever say at work, at a church social, or standing on line at the DMV.  But since the Internet provides as much or as little anonymity as we like, people feel free to express whatever they think, certain that the consequences of their words will never catch up with them.

What if that anonymity was gone? What if your user name was your actual name, along with some other identifying information, something that would make it a relatively simple matter for anyone so inclined to figure out that the guy who wrote that unmarried women who use birth control are whores is actually that seemingly nice fellow who owns the insurance agency on the corner, or that the woman who thinks President Obama is an “N” word fascist communist socialist who should be executed is actually your son’s second grade teacher?  Do you think people would ever say such things if there were a chance that they would have to look their neighbors, co-workers, or family members in the eye and admit that yes, in fact, those words were theirs?

The Internet makes it possible for us to say things we’d never say “in public,” but maybe it shouldn’t.  After all, most newspapers and magazines won’t accept for publication “letters to the editor” unless the author agrees to identify himself or herself.  That’s called accountability; it’s also called putting your money where your mouth is.  If you’re not willing to stand behind your opinions, maybe you should keep them to yourself.  At the very least, your convictions can’t be all that strong in the first place if you’re not willing to take ownership of them.  And while I guess people have a right to their opinions, whatever they may be, the older I get, the more I ask myself, before I let something negative, nasty, or hurtful slip from my lips, does this add beauty or value to the world? We all have to say difficult things from time to time, usually to people we care about very much, but is this one of those times? Is there a truly compelling reason for expressing something that may cause pain to some (or many)? I submit that, unless you can answer that last question in the affirmative, it’s probably better for everyone involved not to say it in the first place.

So maybe the Internet shouldn’t be anonymous. Maybe it should be impossible for people to drop their heaps of anger and spite and bile under the cloak of a user name that makes it impossible for the reader to determine the identity of its author.  Maybe when we make a sweeping generalizations based upon unfair and hateful stereotypes, or when we call people racists without ever examining the underlying facts or circumstances, we should have to take ownership of those words.  If nothing else, it would probably give people pause, and perhaps cause them to engage in a moment or two of reflection.  Would that really be such a bad thing?

But we live in a country founded, at least in part, upon the principle of free speech, a nation in which we are all guaranteed the right to express our opinions, regardless of how repugnant or stupid they may be.  Of course, the First Amendment does not confer an unfettered right to say whatever you want, whenever you want; our Supreme Court has imposed certain restrictions on what type (child pornography, for example), or under what circumstances (shouting “fire” in a crowded movie house) some speech may not be protected.  As well, when our Founding Fathers wrote the First Amendment, they likely assumed that the exercise thereof would be informed by the inherent accountability attendant to most forms of expression available at that time.  Stated differently, I doubt Ben Franklin or James Madison ever imagined that it would be possible to blast one’s opinions all over the world in a matter of seconds without ever having to accept any responsibility whatsoever for those words.

But it’s not just those who spew their nuclear vitriol that concern me—in fact, they concern me a lot less than those seemingly “innocent” users that look just like you and me—the mild-mannered accountant, the sweet-faced Sunday school teacher, the innocuous co-worker, the pleasant-enough distant relative you see at a Fourth of July barbecue—a person of apparent credibility, a reasonable person, a person who generally exhibits good judgment in what they say or do.  I’m talking about when that person clicks “like” or reposts/retweets or forwards something that they maybe did (but probably didn’t) read thoroughly, without ever bothering to find out if it is actually accurate, or considering the agenda of the person who wrote/posted it in the first place.  All too often, if it conforms to our world-view, we “like,” or re-post, or re-tweet, never troubling ourselves with whether it’s true, or fair, or even grammatically correct.  It makes me crazy.

Why should I care, you may be wondering, what anyone says on the Internet? It’s easy enough to ignore the nonsense people post on their Facebook pages, or on Twitter, or on the comments section following a Huff Po article, so why does it matter? Well, in part because those unchecked tirades have fomented an atmosphere of downright hostility that has seeped into what used to be an unbiased news media that dispensed the facts and allowed viewers/readers to come to their own opinions.  These days, most “news” programs don’t even try to hide their agendas (I blame both Fox and MSNBC equally for this), and any sort of media “roundtable discussion” usually ends up devolving into a bunch of loudmouths screaming over each other, where it probably doesn’t matter that no one can be heard since there’s precious little worth listening to.

It also seems to me that there’s a direct correlation between the fact that it has become possible—and acceptable—to say despicable and/or unsupported things without fear of consequence and the extreme divisiveness we see in our government and in our society.  It’s a sign of my age, I guess, that I’ve lost all confidence in elected officials to work collaboratively, regardless of political affiliation, and I’m beyond discouraged by the manner in which we as a society have become so aggressively intolerant of any viewpoint that doesn’t precisely line up with our own.  Even our judiciary—the branch of government that is supposed to be free of political agenda or bias—has become the subject of much speculation in recent months as some Supreme Court justices appear to be nearing retirement, sparking concerns that whomever is elected to the presidency in 2016 will have the opportunity to stock the Court with politically like-minded jurists.  It’s offensive to me that an otherwise qualified Supreme Court nominee may be rendered unfit merely because he or she has espoused viewpoints which are contrary to the Congressional majority, but that’s the country we now live in.

I wonder how this nation will ever survive the vast gulf that now exists between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, whites and blacks, Christians and anyone who isn’t a Christian (and even men and women where reproductive rights and equal pay are concerned).  Perhaps one small step in the right direction would be for people to think before they speak, and then take responsibility for what they say.  That’s a wildly Utopian ideal, one not likely to take hold in today’s environment, but it’s one I’m urging, quixotically, certain in the knowledge that this blog is likely to generate comments along the lines of “shut up, you crazy liberal bitch.”  But it’s an ideal I’m going to try to adhere to myself.

So, I’ve got nothing to say about Ferguson, except that it’s tragic that a family has lost a son (just as it is tragic when any family loses a child, for any reason), that an entire community feels that their lives don’t matter simply because of the color of their skin, and that a police department that is probably made up of mostly good people and which probably does most things right is now subject to relentless scrutiny that may or may not be fair.  It’s tragic.  What’s more tragic, however, is that we don’t seem to be able to talk about or process what happened without resorting to name-calling and demonizing those with opposing viewpoints, but we have to try.  We have no apparent ability to feel compassion for whichever “side” we’ve identified as contrary to our own, but we need to start.  Otherwise, we’re all a bunch of trolls.

 

Keep Your Pants On: Guys and Their Junk

April 9, 2015

Last week in my hometown, a local physician was arrested for exposing himself to a young woman who was walking across her college campus, minding her own business and probably contemplating the lecture on thermodynamics she’d just attended, or perhaps working out the first draft of a paper tracing the vicissitudes of the American economy from the trickle-down economics of the 1980’s through the dot-com boom of the late nineties, followed by the sub-prime mortgage crisis of 2008.  Because that’s what rigorous women at college should be doing.  You know, thinking about shit and puzzling out thorny, complex issues.

Anyway, Dr. X (who hopes to have a career in plastic surgery, probably so he can see a lot of boobs whose owners want them enhanced) was apparently sitting in his car doing that thing you’re not supposed to do if you’re Catholic.  He spies our intellectually formidable young woman walking towards him, and he beckons her over to his car.  She responds and approaches, probably because she’s a trusting sort who feels relatively safe on her nice suburban campus, and probably because she assumes that maybe he needs help.  Which, apparently, he does (because when you’re sitting alone in your car on a college campus and you’re not wearing pants, chances are you’re in serious need of help in the form of psychiatric evaluation and treatment).  When our college student sees what’s going on, what she DOESN’T do is stride on over to the passenger side of his car, open up the door and say, “hey, guy, can you keep doing that, and can I keep watching?”  What she DOES do is contact campus security and have him arrested.  Which should be surprising to no one, except, perhaps, Dr. X.

This story got a fair amount of coverage in the local media, probably because the guy involved was a doctor, and we tend to expect just a tad bit more self-restraint from our healthcare professionals.  If the last several years have taught us nothing, however, it’s that some men, no matter what their station in life, find it difficult not to share their genitals with the rest of the world, whether the rest of the world wants to see them or not.

Think former congressman Anthony Weiner.  Think Green Bay Packer great Brett Favre.  Think NBA player Tony Parker.  What do these guys have in common?  Well, they’ve all been caught texting photos of their junk to women who hadn’t signed up to be on the Celebrity Dick Pics mailing list.  At the time these guys sent their X-rated communiques, they were married to women who, presumably, did not know, and were not pleased to learn, about their husband’s texting habits.  Although two of those marriages seem to have survived (only Eva Longoria was miffed enough to give her hubby the heave-ho), the conduct in question forced Anthony Weiner to resign from public office and cast an unseemly haze upon the legacy of Brett Favre, who, up to that point, was widely considered to be not only one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history but also a loving, faithful husband and all-around good guy.  Now, maybe not so much.

When you consider the fallout, one has to wonder why men so powerful, with so much to lose, would take such risks and behave in such an absurdly stupid fashion.  You could ask the same question about other men who have been embroiled in sex scandals – Tiger Woods and Bill Clinton leap to mind – and there are probably a lot of explanations, including that the rich and famous are used to doing whatever they want and often forget that they’re not invincible.

What fascinates me, however, is not so much that people in search of sexual gratification sometimes behave recklessly, but that there are men out there—a lot of them—who believe that there are women out there who want to see their dicks.

And so, on behalf of all women, everywhere, from the beginning of time to the present, let me say once and for all, so that it never has to be said again, ever:

Gentlemen, women don’t want to see your dicks.

There.  Are we good now?

Good.

To be clear, I’m not saying that we don’t want to have anything to do with, or hope never to encounter, male genitalia – there are plenty of us who do.  It’s just that before most of us are interested in seeing your junk, we’d probably like to know a little bit about you first, like, your name, for starters.  Some of us would even like to have shared an interactive experience with you before we get a peek at your twig and berries – you know, like, having a meal, going to a movie, or maybe chatting over a cocktail (no pun intended), so that WHEN it’s time for you to take off your pants (not in your car, sitting on a college campus trolling for barely legal co-eds), we know a little something about you, and trust me, we can wait – truly, we can wait – before we find out once and for all whether or not your circumcised or shave your balls.  Call me old-fashioned, but I think I speak for the majority of women out there.

I think some of the misunderstanding on the part of all those guys out there with a cell phone and a penis is that men tend to be more visual than women when it comes to sexual attraction, and men kind of figure that if they like seeing and are aroused by pictures of naked women, that the converse must also be true—that is, that women like seeing and are aroused by pictures of naked men.

Well, we’re not.  Not even a little bit.  Which is perhaps why “Playgirl” magazine is no longer in print.

There are some women, I suppose, who find the male organ attractive, and, upon receiving a text of some guy’s willy, are ready to rock and roll.  Perhaps getting a digital preview of the main event gets certain girls going, but most of the women with whom I’ve ever discussed this issue have been of a pretty similar mind, which is to say that the penis takes some getting used to.  There’s a lot going on down there, and it’s a lot to take in.  Opening up a text from someone with whom you’ve exchanged nothing more than some casual conversation and finding some full frontal instead is kind of disconcerting; you can’t just spring those things on us, guys, because let’s face it—your junk be weird looking, and we don’t need to look at it to know whether or not we want to date you.

Despite this fact, there are men out there—a lot of them—who really, really, REALLY WANT TO SHOW US THEIR WIENERS.  Perhaps the impetus is as simple as that felt by a little kid who wants his mommy to watch him jump off the diving board, or perhaps it’s as insidious as the impulse which leads some men to commit more violent acts of sexual assault.  Whatever the reason, these guys can’t really be thinking that texting a woman a picture of their wing-wang is the surefire way into her heart (or her pants), can they?

If you are, guys, let me say it again:  It’s not.  It’s really, really not.

Now, let you feel I’m being unfair to the penis, I want to acknowledge that since the beginning of time, the male organ has given a lot of pleasure to a lot of people, including some women, but not because they were staring at one.  Men, we all know you’ve got one, and trust us, if we want to see it, we’ll ask.  But until then, please…keep your pants on.