Raising Little Racists

December 14, 2016

A child, or children, in the school district in which I live recently wrote the “n” word, as well as swastikas, on the window of a publicly-owned school bus. I don’t know what age/grade range we are talking here, although I am not sure it really matters.

That children of any age, in any locale, would engage in such behavior is awful, but the fact that it happened in MY home school district is pretty horrifying. I live in a suburban, middle class school district largely populated by children with plenty of food in their high-end refrigerators and two parents in their 4-bedroom, 2-car-garage, single-family homes. Our parents spend many weekends attending day-long soccer tournaments, pay for karate and piano lessons and educational enrichment at places like Kumon and Sylvan Learning Center. Back to school night is usually a zoo, teacher conferences are usually attended by both parents, and the PTA is a robust organization that probably has enough volunteers for three school districts. We have a Whole Foods. We have wine enthusiasts. There are many yoga studios.

Ours is a well-funded school district whose children routinely earn high standardized test scores. Our high school regularly sends its sports teams to statewide championships. We employ caring, qualified, devoted educators who are committed to providing the best possible education to all of their students, regardless of their limitations. Some older residents complain that school taxes are too high and criticize the forward-thinking decision to build new schools or update old ones so that they are state-of-the-art learning facilities. High schoolers have many AP options, most go on to college, and judging by the student parking lot, drive pretty nice cars.

My point being, this is a well-funded school district that largely serves the children of educated, well-heeled, high-end-luxury-car-driving parents who expect that their children will receive an outstanding, diverse, and mutli-faceted public education, from kindergarten through graduation. They believe themselves to be unencumbered by bigotry of any kind and strive to instill in their kids the values of kindness, respect, and acceptance of all people, regardless of color, race, or creed. These same parents, if you asked them, would likely insist that they do not tolerate racism in any form or from any source, including, and most especially, their children.

But now, at least one kid has written the “n” word, as well as swastikas, on the window of a public school bus.

That this happened probably shouldn’t be a surprise, even in my school district, given the current political climate in which a newly-emboldened segment of our country has learned that they can share the fact of their deplorability with the rest of the world without fear of criticism or negative judgment. At the same time, the person who emboldened them in the first place has refrained from condemning this conduct in any meaningful or effective way. Instead, he has remained uncharacteristically silent as to whether such behavior is consistent with the agenda he hopes to pursue as president, having apparently determined that the cast of “Hamilton” and “Saturday Night Live” present a larger and more invidious threat to civility and public discourse than the increasing incidence of racial epithets and anti-Semitic slurs by school children.

The blog by Dr. Munson is thoughtful and conveys the depth of understanding and insight required to generate awareness and sensitivity, which is the only way that such ugliness is ever erradicated. As a parent who has attempted to instill values and morality in my children by means of this type of respectful dialogue (as opposed to the “because I said so, and don’t argue with me” approach), I applaud Dr. Munson’s patience and good intentions in the hope of enlightening those who might otherwise add their voices to such hateful expression.

As a parent, however, I also understand that there are some moments when the “because I said so, and don’t argue with me” approach is an appropriate response to put an end to behavior which is unacceptable, such as running out into the street or jumping up and down with an open pair of scissors in ones hand. On those occasions when our children are doing or about to do something potentially life-threatening, we don’t stop to engage in a “teachable moment” dialogue, unless by “teachable moment” you mean, “STOP THAT THIS INSTANT, NOW, AND DON’T EVER DO THAT AGAIN.” If you want to sit down later, when all involved have cooled down and are sufficiently removed from the emotion of the situation to discuss why it’s not okay to play with razor blades or get into that stranger’s van to help him find his puppy, that’s fine. But perhaps the overriding message to be conveyed in such instances is that some things, you just don’t do, ever. EVER.

As a parent who has also raised millenials against the backdrop of the self-esteem movement, moreover, I have shied away from shaming my children, preferring instead to point out that certain behavior is not okay without suggesting that the child in question is an inherently bad person for having engaged in it. I think this is the right course 99% of the time, but there are circumstances in which shame is appropriate, and when children should be made to confront the reality and enormity of their conduct. It doesn’t happen all that often, but when it does, it should be addressed swiftly, unequivocally, and absolutely. For example, if your child were to call a friend a “retard” as shorthand for suggesting that said person, though of average intelligence, is nonetheless behaving in a way that casts doubt as to his or her judgment in a particular situation, an appropriate response would be, “That is not okay, you know better, and you should be ashamed of yourself.”

And so, when I read the article in the local newspaper about some budding little anti-Semitic racist(s) living in my own backyard, I ultimately concluded that Dr. Munson’s blog was probably the right response. I believe that beginning a dialogue and creating a forum for honest and respectful discussion is a good thing. Facilitating all of us in becoming more enlightened and enriched by the sharing of our collective experiences is a good, high-minded approach. Perhaps it will even encourage us to rethink old attitudes and emerge as more loving, mindful, and inclusive individuals who, in turn, set an example of acceptance, tolerance, and caring.

But I had another response as well as regards the children who scrawled this filth on the windows of busses my tax dollars helped pay for and maintain, and to those who taught them such hatred:

Shame on you. You know better. This is not okay. Don’t ever – EVER – do this again.

He’s Not Who You Think He Is

November 9, 2016

He’s not pro-life.
He’s not a Christian.
He’s not prepared….
And he doesn’t care about your problems.
He does not believe he is accountable to anyone or anything.
But you believed him when he said he was, and did, and you elected him, and now he is our President-elect.
Which means he is MY President-elect, and as an American who loves this country, I will accept the will of a people I do not recognize or understand.
I will support him, just as his followers refused to accept and support her.
I don’t have a gun, and even if I did, you don’t have to worry about me starting a revolution based upon an election system that now magically appears not to be rigged.
To those crowing in triumph and reveling in how all those arrogant, out-of-touch, worthless, Ivy-League educated liberal elite Dems finally got their due, good sportsmanship and personal integrity require me to congratulate you on a hard-fought battle, just as I know you would have had the results been different.
In all of the vitriol and negativity that has been the 2016 Presidential Campaign, I guess I never realized how much hate there is in this magnificent, surpassingly beautiful country. I vastly underestimated the extent to which anger and frustration can so blindly and effectively and irrationally be marshaled towards the worst possible solution to complex and legitimate concerns.
He will be our President, and I will hope that he will be a good one and that you, my brothers and sisters who put your faith in him, were right.

In Defense of Negligent Mothers

June 1, 2016   

Over the last few days, I’ve read lots of well-written and articulate posts/blogs suggesting that maybe we shouldn’t be calling for the beheading of the Cincinnati Zoo Mom, and they’re right, for a lot of reasons.  But here are a few more:

First, assuming Cincinnati Zoo Dad was along for the trip, why is no one suggesting that HE’S a bad parent? Where was HE when all of this was going on? Why is HE given a pass? Was HE not equally responsible for keeping an eye on his child? That seems unfair.

Second, I remember a day when my oldest was 3 and we went to K-Mart to buy Easter shoes. In the three seconds it took me to check the price of a pair of white patent leather Mary Janes, my daughter disappeared. Turns out she was hiding in a clothing rack, from which she emerged unscathed [excepting whatever damage was sustained witnessing her mother in full-on thermonuclear hysteria and being party to petty theft (I ran out of the K Mart clutching said shoes without paying for them – I returned later to settle the bill)] but for the 5 minutes she was missing, I was convinced she’d been kidnapped by a predator and that I would never see her again.

That didn’t happen, and she is now a well-adjusted 25-year-old who occasionally eats bugs. Had it gone the other way, and had there been social media back then in good old 1994, I’m sure I’d have been the target of the sort of vilification now being heaped on Cincinnati Zoo Mom, notwitstanding that many have noted (and not always very nicely) the staggering degree of overprotectiveness I demonstrated when my kids were little.

Third, I don’t know the child in question, but any kid who can get himself over a protective barrier, survive a 15 foot drop, and speed through yards of jungle in a split second sounds like a kid who probably has a lot of energy and is pretty quick on his feet. I also had one of those kids – one who could scale a refrigerator at the age of 20 months (still don’t know how she did it) and was the only person in the house who knew how to successfully manipulate the child-proof locks and other safety devices designed and installed solely for HER protection. She required CONSTANT, FOCUSED supervision, and even that did not preclude injury to home furnishings and other people.

I tried my very, very best, every day, to stay on top of her and keep her (and others) safe, but my diligence did not prevent her from throwing a jar of spaghetti sauce out of the grocery store cart, or turning off all the lights in church during a Good Friday vigil, or emptying six feet of library shelf of several hundred books, or biting a friend on the cheek and drawing blood, or falling down the basement stair not once but twice…and the list goes on.

So, you can be a good parent, and you can try your hardest, but you will inevitably, and without realizing it, place your child in harmful, potentially disastrous situations. Sometimes, the child falls into a gorilla enclosure. Most of the time, they don’t.

The gorilla is gone, and that makes me very sad. But until you tell me that Cincinnati Zoo Mom was sitting in a restaurant working on her third margarita, reading People Magazine, and sniffing heroin, after having shot or otherwise disabled Cincinnati Zoo Dad, leaving her kid to run amok for hours on end with zero supervision, I think I will refrain from being a Mrs. McJudgy Pants and just be thankful that my kids managed to survive having me for a mother.

Mean What you Say

November 10, 2016

“I wanted a change from business as usual in Washington.”
“I voted for the candidate who represented Republican values.”
“I voted for the lesser of two evils.”

These are some of the things I’ve heard and read in the last few days as those who supported Trump attempt to explain their decision. As an initial matter, I’m not sure that anyone should be required to defend why they voted for one candidate over the other, but given the current climate, it’s not surprising that some of the electorate feel compelled to provide a rational basis for their choice. And that’s fine.

In the last week, I’ve read two blogs by young college women, both of whom supported Trump. The first, “Dear Hillary, I really hope you do not become the first female president,” http://www.loneconservative.com/?p=365 is a barely literate, severely fact-challenged pastiche of Clinton myths and faulty assumptions, and it deserves no one’s time or attention. It left me nauseous and contemplating my own wishful retort: “Dear Summer Marie, I really hope you never hold any position in which you regularly interact with young people.”

The second, “I am not a racist,” by Cassie Hewlett, https://cassandrahewlett.wordpress.com/2016/11/09/i-am/, is better. It’s well-written and shows some insight and maturity, most importantly as to the point that not all Trump supporters are hateful, mean-spirited trolls looking to deport anyone who wasn’t born in this country, or to end marriage equality. Cassie, like many, explains that she voted for Mr. Trump because she supports small businesses, free trade, and a stronger foreign policy – nothing wrong with that. Cassie also points out that as a Republican on an American college campus, she spent most of yesterday surrounded by Dems in Mourning, which made her fear being ostracized if she were to express her happiness at the election results – that’s not cool, either.

But I have to take issue with Cassie, and with those otherwise rational and thoughtful people who voted for the human equivalent of Cheez-Whiz, because their choice for president addresses none of the stated reasons for why they picked him in the first place.

First up, change. A lot of Americans are really, really frustrated with the partisan-generated gridlock that has plagued our country ever since Senate Majority Leader and Perennial Turtle Impersonator Mitch McConnell voiced his intention to make Barack Obama a one-term president by opposing every single piece of legislation that wasn’t sponsored by a Republican. That frustration was evident in the Republican party’s nomination of Trump himself last Srping, and in the mass adulation of my candidate of choice, Bernie Sanders.

If you examine the results of the 2016 Congressional elections, however – and I did – it’s obvious that change was not, in fact, the driving factor in most voters’ election choices: Of the 472 Congressional races, incumbents ran in 424 of them, and 416 of those incumbents won re-election. Because 66 Senators were not up for re-election, 482 of the 538 members of the new Congress will be incumbents – that’s a whopping 90%. Does that sound like a mandate for change to you?

Next, a return to Republican values. The GOP has long been the party of strong foreign policy, a free market, and small business. It’s the party of people who were born in a log cabin they built themselves, people who aren’t looking for a handout, people who made their money the old-fashioned way, by sheer dint of hard work and determination. Those are fine values.

But in President-Elect Trump, we will have a commander in chief with no foreign policy experience – that is, none. Nada. Zilch. A man who, despite his many business ventures appears to have been far less successful than his gold-plated personal narrative would suggest. A man who has filed for bankruptcy more than once, who has presided over numerous entrepreneurial failures, and who is notable for stiffing small businesses for fees for services rendered and goods sold. And as for pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps? Not so much – you can’t call yourself a self-starter when your first business venture was funded by $1 million you got from your dad.

There’s also the legitimate criticism that Trump is a Democrat in sheep’s clothing, a man who is secretly pro-choice, has no use for Christianity or any other religion, for that matter; a man who at one time said he agreed that the rich should pay more in taxes. From 2001 to 2009, he actually was a registered Democrat (as are most of his children), and he has donated to the campaigns of many Democratic candidates for public office.

Now, none of those things should be shocking or upsetting to those of us who bleed blue – and it’s the potential that he may turn out to be more moderate than his campaign dogma would suggest that gives me a small glimmer of hope. But Trump as the personification of Republican ideals? No. If Republicans had wanted someone who truly was, they had sixteen other candidates to choose from. They chose Trump.

Finally, the “lesser of two evils” defense. The flaw with this argument is that while Trump may be evil (although I think that may be too strong a word), Hillary is not. She is flawed, she was perhaps the single-worst candidate the Democratic Party could have selected, and she did little to correct the public perception of her as a dishonest and obfuscating career politician. But she isn’t evil.

What she is, is a woman who is careful in her pronouncements (with the exception, perhaps, of the “basket of deplorable” comment). She demonstrated rigid message discipline, refused to react to repeated low-blow attempts to throw her off her game (think Donald Trump bringing along Bill Clinton’s accusers to the second debate, for example), and she was relentless in her preparation. There was a lack of transparency that concerned many, and the nagging sense that a whiff of scandal seems to follow her wherever she goes.

But whatever her shortcomings or lapses in judgment, she did not make statements that lead many groups to believe that, if she were to become our leader, they would be marginalized. She did not reduce women to objects of sexual gratification. She did not suggest that Mexicans are criminals and that those of Mexican descent cannot be counted upon to discharge their professional duties with integrity and neutrality. She did not threaten to ban an entire group of people from entering our country based upon their religion. She gave no one in this country – save the rich – any reason to fear that their way of life might be in jeopardy.

And this is probably the single-most important thing that Trump supporters do not understand. They do not comprehend the impact of Trump’s statements on the groups to whom they were directed. For her part, Cassie Hewlett credits her parents for raising their kids “closer to the city so that we did not grow up sheltered and ignorant of the diverse world around us,” and for not being told that she “could not date or befriend someone because of their race, ethnicity, or gender identity.” I guess the Hewletts are to be commended for their forward-thinking child-rearing philosophy, and yet inherent in same is the appreciation that ignorance is the natural consequence of the very sort of isolation that Donald Trump now seeks achieve.

Cassie says that, as a result of the parenting she received, she’s not a racist, or homophobic, or sexist, and I believe her. She’s not likely to be swayed by Trump’s rhetoric, but not everyone was raised the way Cassie was. There are plenty of people – people who were raised in a sheltered, ignorant environment, people who do think it’s wrong to date or befriend someone who isn’t of the same race, ethnicity, or gender identity, and if we are to be a nation of equals, it’s critically important that our leaders take care that their words and actions do not alienate the very people they were elected to represent and govern. Prejudice and bigotry and anti-semitism do indeed exist in this country, and probably always will, but it is the job of every American who claims to strive for the equality imagined by our founding fathers to squash that kind of hatred when they see it, not to promote it.

But, because we now have a country in which our President-Elect has let it be known that Muslims are no longer welcome, can you be even remotely surprised by the anecdote I read on a CNN comments thread last night, in which a couple of hooligans in a pick-up taunted a Pakistani gentleman, minding his own business and gassing up his car the day after the election, jeering, “it’s time for you to go back to your own country now, Apu”?

I don’t believe all Trump voters are bad – I am related by birth or marriage to a number of them who I know to be otherwise good and loving people. What I do believe is that the life experience of most Trump voters is vastly different than those of the groups who now feel unwelcome and disconnected in a post-Trump presidency America, and that the assumptions and privilege that underpin the lives of most Trump supporters (and, indeed, my own) don’t permit any meaningful understanding of what it is like to be a racial, religious, or ethnic minority in this country.

Those who voted for Trump hoping that he would restore economic prosperity and a strong defense were able to disregard and quickly forget all the things he said that they didn’t like as the gristly part of a steak they are anxious to dig into. For blacks and Latinos, and Jews and Muslims, for those of Middle-Eastern descent, and those in the LGBTQ community, those statements can’t simply be set aside and ignored as the thoughtless, careless comments of an impulsive man given to hyperbole that they probably were. Those statements, many of which were made when he felt himself to be under attack, strike at the very fiber of who they are and whether they have a place in this country. That’s why Trump’s statements were so terribly damaging.

It’s time to move on, now, and move on we surely will. We are a resilient people who have a lot of cat videos and Instagram posts to get to, and we will heal. In the meantime, we have to find a way to peacefully co-exist in this country. As the main character in “LOST” used to say, “live together or die alone.” We have to try to understand, and accept, and love each other – all of us, every part of us; we have to try to see all the things we have in common and to rejoice in all the blessings we share as Americans. We are one nation, one country, one beautiful and magnificent and abundant land of freedom and opportunity. Let’s try to live in it together.

Do All Lives Really Matter?

October 9, 2016

My daughter, Allison, is autistic. I had been aware from the time she was about three weeks old that there was something radically different about her.  Until we got the diagnosis, I tried to reassure myself that she was just an extremely demanding and difficult child, but when she was about three, we learned that she had some developmental delays. Then came the official diagnosis when she was 5. We were devastated.

But then we regrouped, and we resolved that regardless of the label, we would do everything we could to maximize her potential.  She spent most of her pre-school years attending speech and occupational therapy twice a week, saw a behavioral counselor once a week, attended both a special-needs preschool and a traditional preschool, and participated in a therapeutic riding program.  When she was ready for kindergarten, the Catholic school our older daughter attended wouldn’t admit her because they didn’t want any “retards” (you read that right), and our public school was not willing to provide any specialized services for her save a half-hour each week of occupational therapy.

So we bit the bullet an enrolled her in a private school for children with learning disabilities.  We couldn’t afford it, and we took on staggering debt to keep her there for 8 years.  When she aged out of the school, we sent her to a Christian academy that had a special program for children with learning disabilities.  The teachers, staff, kids, and parents were some of the kindest, most compassionate people I have ever met, but the school was not able to provide the level of support Allison needed, so we sent her to our public middle school, and then high school, where she received outstanding, focused attention by determined and devoted personnel.

Through those years, Allison continued with therapy and attended a special after-school program for kids with disabilities at a local gymnastics center.  She was made to feel welcome at a performing arts workshop and summer camp that she attended for many years.  She kept up with her riding and participated in social, community, service, and advocacy activities with a group of other young adults with disabilities.  Allison graduated from high school, completed a year-long internship in a job skills program for young adults with disabilities, and then realized her dream of attending a vocational training school in West Virginia for people interested in working in the equine industry.  After receiving her trainer’s certification, Allison returned home to continue her internship at the barn where she rides.  It is her goal to obtain a paid position as the assistant to the therapeutic riding instructor and, perhaps someday, to become a therapeutic riding instructor herself.

Since Allison’s birth, years, a huge percentage of our family’s life has been focused on helping her set and work towards goals.  It has not been easy, or cheap.  We have attended many, many doctor’s appointments, therapist appointments, IEP meetings, and meetings with vocational resource personnel to make sure Allison is getting what she needs.  We have been through numerous medication trials and too many medical interventions to count.  We have hired tutors and coaches for Allison to work with her on a one-on-one level to supplement her educational, vocational and therapeutic services.  Over the years, I have shed many, many tears over Allison – for what I can’t fix, what I can’t make better; the comments I’ve heard made about her, the looks I’ve seen directed at her; the low expectations of those who think she’s unemployable, the refusal of her instructors at “pony college” in West Virginia to acknowledge her limitations or go the extra mile to help her keep up.

I haven’t been a perfect mother, or, in some instances, even a very good one.  What we have always striven to do, however, is to instill in Allison the conviction that she is not defined or limited by her diagnosis, that she should set goals without regard to her disabilities, and that while she may have to work harder to achieve less than her chronological peers, there is no reason that she should not live a fulfilling, meaningful, and independent life.

Although Allison has made huge strides towards her career goals, social interactions remain painfully difficult for her. She has trouble making and keeping eye contact or carrying on a conversation that strays too far from one of the few topics about which she feels confident in expressing her thoughts (Harry Potter and horses figure largely in her repertoire).  She has some unusual tics, and her verbal expression and physical carriage are indicative that she is not neuro-typical. When our family considers how much progress she has made, how many obstacles she has overcome, however, we burst with pride for her bravery and determination, and we believe that there is still much she has left to show us about what she can accomplish despite such a terrifying diagnosis. We also feel enormously grateful that the combination of a sheltering childhood and a team of teachers, therapists, doctors, and other helpers who have given their heart and soul for her have largely protected her from the kind of teasing she might have experienced had she been born 30 years earlier. In our experience, so many families have been confronted with the challenge of a child with special needs that they have raised siblings who are compassionate and inclusive; as well, the increased sensitivity and awareness of autistic spectrum disorders in the last ten years has meant that Allison has not had to face the cruelty of and ignorance of those who think it’s okay to mock a disabled person, so much so that I naively thought that such people no longer existed.

Which is why, when I saw Donald Trump mimicking his version of Serge Kovaleski, a reporter who is disabled, I was—first and foremost—just plain shocked.  Trump’s gesticulations, intended to approximate the manner in which Kovaleski’s arthrogryposis manifests itself, were absolutely astonishing to me.  If not because he was a sensitive and decent human being, then at least for the sake of his image, did Trump not appreciate the message he was sending? And when it was pointed out to him that this behavior was not acceptable, did that reporter get an apology?

No, he didn’t. And neither did the Muslim, Jewish, Mexican/Latino, Black, or LGBTQ communities, and neither did women.  The hateful words we heard issue from Donald Trump’s lips during the campaign and now see spilling out of the mouths of some of his supporters, emboldened by those words in the aftermath of the election, have apparently ceased to be shocking.  It’s a new normal, and not a good one.

I didn’t vote for Donald Trump for a lot of reasons.  For one, I questioned his lack of relevant experience.  I found his ceaseless self-aggrandizement and brand promotion tasteless.  I questioned whether he understood, or cared to understand, the complexities of the job for which he was interviewing.  I had doubts about his attention span and ability to remain committed to and interested in the role of commander in chief – it’s a thankless job subject to stringent, intensive scrutiny.  There were a lot of reasons why I pushed the button for another candidate, but the main reason – the surpassing, deal-breaker, no-way-in-hell-would-I-ever-vote-for-him reason came down to this:  He thinks my daughter is sub-human.  Someone to be mocked for things she has no control over.  A freak.

There are many out there who have excused Donald Trump’s many caustic, horrible remarks – they say that those remarks don’t represent who he really is.  They say that those who belong to the groups he offended should grow up, toughen up, lighten up, and move on.  They say that they may not like some of Trump’s comments, but that he represented the better alternative by virtue of his economic, immigration, and foreign policy positions.  They say there are able to overlook those statements and see all of the good things Donald Trump wants to do for our country.  That’s mighty big of those people, most of whom don’t belong to any of the groups about which he’s made such hurtful and searing statements.

There are many ways in which a person reveals his or her character to the world.  One of them is by the things they are willing to overlook in service of their own self-interest.  To me, a vote for Donald Trump spoke volumes about how that person felt about people with disabilities in general, and my daughter, in particular.  It was beyond incomprehensible to me that otherwise good and thoughtful people (of the 61 million who voted for him, there must be at least a few) could choose for president a man who did not feel deeply, appropriately ashamed, for stooping to such depths as to make fun of a person with disabilities.  What Donald Trump’s election communicates to me is that there are 61 million people in this country to whom my daughter’s dignity means nothing.

I’m certain that most of the people who voted for Donald Trump never stopped to think about how his words affected so many of our country’s citizens, because a lot of them probably don’t know many Muslims, or Latinos, or Jews, or LGBTQs, or disabled people, or if they do, then not very well.  I’m pretty sure that when people cast their ballots for The Donald, they didn’t stop and think about how a Trump presidency would impact the lives of people with disabilities, including Allison – I guess I shouldn’t expect them to, nor would I imagine that they ever considered how that vote might be perceived by Allison, and others in the disabled community, but I know, because she’s told me. It goes something like this: “I guess people like me don’t matter.”

There’s a long list of things Donald Trump needs to do as president – and assuring the disabled that their issues are important is probably well near the bottom of his list, but it shouldn’t be. As so many who supported him are fond of saying, “All lives matter.” To all of those people, I say, let it be so.



Why I’m Ambivalent About Hillary has Nothing to Do with Hillary

October 7, 2016

As the presidential election nears, the attacks on both candidates have grown more fierce and mean-spirited. I’ve read with dismay the many posts decrying the lack of fitness on both sides–not only because both candidates seem to fall far short of what we all probably would have hoped for, but also because I wonder how we are ever going to move past the vitriol and hatred once one of them is elected our president and commander in chief.

What probably surprises me the most about this election isn’t the unprecedented level of bizarre behavior and personal attacks, but, rather, the extent to which some women hate–and I mean, DESPISE–Hillary Clinton. People who I know to have made it a career of criticizing President Obama now post statements he made in 2008, when he was running against her for the Democratic nomination, in which he questioned whether she was the right person for the job–as though what he had to say then is now, suddenly worth listening to. And while I can appreciate that many dislike and disagree with her ideals, why is it that they abhor her?

I asked myself this question because I’ll be honest–I’ve never been a huge Hillary fan. I recall her sitting next to her husband during an interview on “60 Minutes” amidst his first presidential campaign saying, “I’m not one of those little women staying home baking cookies,” and there was a certain level of condescension in her tone I didn’t like.

Later, I wondered where she got off running for the senate when she’d never even held elected office before…were we supposed to vote for her simply because her husband had been president? Because that’s all I really knew about Hillary Clinton, other than she’d gone to a Seven Sisters college (like me), and was a lawyer (also like me).

You would think that a raving liberal feminist like me would have jumped on the Hillary Bandwagon a long time ago, and yet, she just rubbed me (and, apparently, a lot of women) the wrong way. Why? Why indeed.

Obviously, the lack of transparency is troubling, and it needlessly raises questions that distract from more important and relevant issues of policy and qualifications. Then, too, there have just been so many dumb mistakes that, while not illegal, have unnecessarily caused people to draw conclusions that probably aren’t accurate but are nonetheless understandable.

And that troubles me, because Hillary has squandered, to some extent, the promise of her tremendous intelligence, legendarily exhaustive preparation, and enormous passion to serve. But that’s not what bothered me the most.

I am embarrassed to admit this, but the thing I just couldn’t get past was that Hillary was so damned ambitious–my gosh, she really thought she could be president!–and she never, ever apologized for it. I realized that I hated Hillary for the same reason a lot of people love her opponent: Because hating what she represented made me feel better about all the things I’d never accomplished.

Hillary Clinton is not a perfect woman. She’s not the person I would have picked to be the first woman nominated by a major political party to run for the highest office in the land. I guess I’d like that person to be a bit more demure and a bit less obvious about just how very much she wants to be our next president. Which it would never have occurred to me to say about any other person who has ever had a serious shot at the presidency in the last 240 years. Because men are suppose to be bold and brash and possessed of the single-minded determination and self-confidence that it takes to be a great leader. Women, not so much.

And so, the card carrying raving liberal feminist had to rethink a few things, like maybe it’s okay to be ambitious, and it’s okay to be confident, and you shouldn’t have to apologize for that, especially to other women.

I don’t purport to speak for any other woman out there, but I bet I’m not alone in my reasons for wishing that Hillary didn’t seem quite so much like a pushy broad fighting her way to the top. But you know, that’s often the way that a lot of “firsts” get there…after all, it’s not like the rich and powerful white guys just said to them, “hey, come on in and be the only non-white/male/ straight/Christian in our little club here…welcome!” Sometimes you have to be a little pushy so that those who follow you, don’t.

Dislike her for her politics, or because you think she lacks integrity and judgment (which would put her squarely on par with her opponent), but if you’re going to hate her, just be sure it’s for the right reason.

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Up By Your Bootstraps

September 29, 2016

There’s a video making the rounds on Facebook…I’ve seen it a number of times…it’s supposedly “hilarious.” The gist is that Smart, Liberal Democratic college student berates her hardworking, wise old dad because he’s voting for the Republican Party presidential candidate, and she doesn’t agree with his economic policies.

Now, you’re going to have to suspend credulity at this point that Dem Daughter’s biggest concern about the other candidate is his economic policy (what with the fact that, in the 16 months since he announced his candidacy, he hasn’t actually articulated one), as opposed to all that niggling evidence that he’s a bigoted, ignorant, bloviating sexual predator, but let’s go with it and see if there’s something to be learned here (spoiler alert…no).

Dad chuckles at his simple-minded progeny and begins to mansplain to her why he’s supporting a presidential candidate who wasn’t aware that Russia had invaded the Ukraine and annexed Crimea in 2014, or that the Central Park Five were exonerated and released from prison based on DNA evidence years ago (he still thinks they should be executed).

So he reminds his daughter, the hard-working Liberal Democrat (Wait! Is there such a thing?!?), that because she takes tough classes and studies all the time and never does anything fun, she has earned a perfect 4.0, whereas her Slacker Girl roommate who never goes to class, parties all the time, and only takes easy courses, has, not surprisingly, ended up with staggeringly bad grades.

Dad then jokes that Dem Daughter should put her economic policy where her mouth is by instructing the Dean to give Slacker Girl some of her hard-earned GPA so that Slacker Girl will not have to face the consequences of her poor choices. And of course Dem Daughter sees the error of her ways and decides that she, too, will vote for her dad’s guy, even though he’s creepy and looks like a giant circus peanut.

What troubles me about the message here is the assumption that those who would benefit from the “wealth redistribution” touted by Dem Daughter have precisely the same opportunities as those in the top 1%. This is a false equivalency, as many who are at the lowest level of the economic spectrum aren’t necessarily there because they are lazy or make self-indulgent, poor choices.

In many cases, familial support, access to good education and healthcare, or quality employment simply don’t exist. Those of us who were blessed with loving parents, intact families, top-notch schools, regular medical and dental care and good nutrition, don’t always understand that what we take for granted as the norm is only a dream for many, many people in this country.

This video also wrongly assumes that those who are wealthy got that way because they worked hard, which is also not necessarily the case. Certainly, the Bill Gates of the world can point to years of backbreaking hard work, but a great deal of the 1% inherited their wealth and have never worked a day in their life. Still others have used family wealth and connections to launch (or bail out) businesses that might otherwise have failed.

Hard work is certainly a virtue, and in many cases is indeed a path to success and prosperity, but not always. It bears noting, moreover, that those who have worked the hardest for their wealth are often the first to want to give it away for the greater good, while others establish “charitable foundations” to which they themselves do not contribute and which they utilize to commission large portraits of themselves or to settle lawsuits.

Finally, this video unfairly and inaccurately attempts to characterize the ideas of those like Bernie Sanders, who has never suggested that the rich should simply be stripped of their wealth and have it handed over to all those lazy poor people so they can blow it by making the same poor choices that led to their poverty in the first place.

At their most basic, policies designed to combat income inequality seek to implement a minimum wage that can actually provide the fundamental basics of food, clothing and shelter, while eliminating income tax loopholes that allow the top 1% to avoid paying their fair share. No one is suggesting that all those on Wall Street who played Russian Roulette with mortgage-backed securities and in turn created the worst economic downturn is 50 years should be forced to sell their homes in the Hamptons, but would it be too much to ask them to contribute, proportionately to their income, for the cost of roads, schools, law enforcement, government salaries, etc.? And seriously…do we really think it’s okay that the CEO of Aetna, Mark Bertolini, took home $17.1 million in 2015, while Wal-Mart holds food drives…for its own employees?

So, no, I don’t find this video “hilarious.” I find it arrogant, overly simplistic, and uninformed. But maybe that’s because I’m a Liberal Democrat who can’t help wondering whether Slacker Girl is okay, and whether her behavior isn’t a cry for help, but I digress.

Hard work, yes. But also, paying your fair share. Oh, and maybe some empathy and compassion, too.

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.

To Vax or Not to Vax

February 8, 2015

Following a recent outbreak of measles in Southern California (ground zero of which appears to have been Disneyland, of all places), there’s been a lot of talk about what should be done about parents who chose not to immunize their kids.  The vast majority of what I’ve read on the topic has come down hard on the “anti-vaxxers,” and there is a lot of outrage over what many consider an egregiously selfish, uninformed, and reckless point of view that elevates the individual choice of a relatively small (and in most cases, highly privileged) group over the well-being of society in general, including its weakest members.  Some pediatricians are refusing to treat children whose parents won’t allow them to be vaccinated, and some schools are insisting that non-immunized kids stay home until the worst of the epidemic is over.  A handful of lawmakers are suggesting that inoculations should be mandatory, while parents of kids who can’t be vaccinated (because of autoimmune diseases or other medical conditions) are furious that their children are at risk of contracting a serious illness because of anti-vaxxer parents whose justification for not immunizing their kids (i.e., herd immunity) is premised largely upon the outrageous hubris that presumes the rest of us will.  

I’m not going to rehash the compelling (and indisputable) arguments in favor of routine childhood vaccinations, arguments that have been made far more cogently and articulately by those with rigorous expertise in the areas of pediatrics, epidemiology, and community health, mostly because there is no reasonable, intelligent, responsible rebuttal.  The overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates conclusively, emphatically—with about as much certainty as one could hope for—that routine vaccination works.  It prevents children from contracting diseases that can become very serious indeed and, over time, has virtually eradicated illnesses that used to be considered deadly.  There is no legitimate contrary viewpoint, and every “rationale” for not vaccinating has been roundly, thoroughly debunked though, as Amy Tuteur, M.D. pointed out in her excellent piece, “What everyone gets wrong about anti-vaccine parents,” the decision not to immunize has almost nothing to do with hard science and almost everything to do with a staggering level of self-absorption and arrogance.  

And so, because far smarter people than me—you know, real scientists, whose opinions are backed up by facts, statistics, and studies published in peer-reviewed journals—have already so exhaustively demonstrated the correctness of their position, I’m not going to waste anyone’s time making the case for immunizing your children.  Like brushing your teeth and changing your underwear, you just should, period, and entertaining an anti-vaxxer for even thirty seconds is thirty seconds I could be spending eating a Girl Scout cookie and looking at pictures of koala bears.

Part of the problem is that, precisely because of routine childhood vaccination, we in America have forgotten that not so long ago, it was not uncommon for children to die from diseases like polio or whooping cough.  Most of us in America (and in other industrialized countries) cannot even begin to comprehend losing a child to an entirely preventable illness – it’s simply unthinkable.  We’ve come to take our robust good health for granted, so much so that anti-vaxxers ignore the fact that not vaccinating presents a significant health risk to their offspring.  They pooh-pooh the notion that their kids might get sick, and, in any event, generally have access to the kind of high-quality, affordable health care they assume will guarantee a complete recovery if their kids do get ill.  Because that’s what we expect in the United States of America in 2015 – that our children will be 100% normal, healthy, and perfect.  Anything less is unacceptable.    

And now I’m about to get shrill.

Because whatever anti-vaxxers might say in defense of their position (vaccines are loaded with toxic chemicals, you can’t trust Big Pharma, there’s no evidence that routine vaccination actually prevents illness), the real reason most parents choose not to vaccinate (though few may admit it) is that they’re afraid of the A-word.  You know, autism.  Which, in the United States of America in 2015, is apparently the single greatest tragedy a parent can endure.  Thus, there are some parents who are so afraid, so out of their minds petrified that their child might develop autism (despite an incidence rate of less than 1%), they are willing to ignore mountains of scientific research disproving any link between vaccination and autism and to expose their children (and others) to illnesses that are entirely preventable but in some instances can be deadly. 

Never mind that this autism terror is based upon a single “research study” conducted twenty years ago that time and further inquiry have established was utterly and thoroughly devoid of any merit.  Never mind that since the Lancet article was published, nothing, and no one, has been able to establish (by means of the scientific method or otherwise) any correlation between vaccination and autism whatsoever.  Never mind that the ancillary theories about preservatives in vaccines causing autism have been proven baseless.  Never mind that most of the people spouting anti-vaccination rhetoric have about as much pretension to scientific credibility as I do to playing running back for the Broncos.    

Never mind.

Because even if there was a connection (and there’s not, Jenny McCarthy, so maybe confine your contributions to the world to showing off your spectacular breasts), it says a lot about a person they are willing to (1) expose their child to unnecessary illness; (2) place those who can’t be vaccinated at risk for contracting a disease that, for them, could be deadly; and (3) unravel the incredible success of routine vaccination that, if practiced rigorously, would guarantee the eventual extinction of these diseases—all because they think it will further protect their child against the already unlikely possibility that they will develop autism.

Lest you think I’m suggesting that we should all hope that our child will be born with or develop a disability – I’m not.  To say that it’s hard to parent a child with autism is so ridiculously inadequate as to be laughable – and I know from whence I speak, because I’ve been doing it for almost 21 years.  I’m not going to even attempt to describe our family’s journey (and it isn’t over), or the toll it has taken on all of us, or the heart-breaking struggles my daughter encounters on pretty much a daily basis.  I won’t even say that being Allison’s mother has been one of the greatest joys of my life, although it has been, or that I love her exactly the way she is (I do).    

What I will say is that anti-vaxxers seem to believe that having a kid like my daughter is so thoroughly intolerable that they are will do anything—anything—to prevent the extremely remote chance that their child will develop autism, even if it involves the far more likely scenario that their unvaccinated kid will needlessly contract a disease that could have serious repercussions for them and for others.   The most extreme potential consequences of the anti-vaxxer philosophy seems to suggest a kind of, “soft eugenics,” I’ll call it – the idea that it would be better for your child to die than to be disabled (and I acknowledge that I’m verging on the hysterical with that statement).  It’s worth noting, moreover, that if all of us got on the anti-vaxxer boat, we’d be knee-deep in polio and mumps and diphtheria in no time, and as we buried our children, or slid them into iron lungs, everyone would be asking themselves how we ever allowed ourselves to be so willfully ignorant.

I’m aware that I am particularly sensitive on this subject because, as the parent of a child with autism, I have spent a good amount of time wondering what caused my daughter to be different.  Was it something I did while I was pregnant with her? Was it the fact that she may have suffered from undiagnosed IUGR and was (marginally) premature and low birth weight? Was it a matter of simple genetics? I’d like an answer to this question, and even though it won’t change the diagnosis or make her life any easier, still, I’d like an answer.  It would be so nice to have an explanation, to have a tangible, concrete cause – like, say, a vaccine – because it would give me someone to blame (besides myself, that is).  See, when your child is anything less than 100% normal and healthy and perfect, you want some answers.  So, I’d love it if we could prove that there was a link between vaccinations and autism, because guess what? Then we could stop children from having autism.  

Except that there is no link.  And you can decide not to vaccinate your kid, and damn the consequences (to your kid, and to everyone else), and maybe your child won’t be autistic.  Or maybe he will.  Or maybe she’ll get cancer, or maybe he’ll be dyslexic.  Or maybe—probably—she’ll be just fine.  But here’s the thing:  We don’t get to choose what our children are going to be like.  We don’t get to decide if they’re going to be good at sports or musically gifted or pretty or funny or smart.  We can strive for an optimally healthy pregnancy and the best pediatric care available, but sometimes—and I know this shocks our can-do, no-problem-too-big American attitude—sometimes, kids aren’t normal, healthy and perfect, whether you vaccinate them or not.  I would love to have had a say in whether or not my daughter was going to be autistic, but I didn’t get one, and if I had one thing to say to the anti-vaxxers (aside from, you’re wrong), it would be, if you can’t tolerate a child who is less than 100% normal, healthy, and perfect, you probably shouldn’t have one.  

Do I wish that my daughter was free of the challenges that her autism imposes, that she had the same opportunities as her sisters? Of course.  Would I wish the difficulties she faces upon anyone? Never.  But any parent who willingly adheres to an absurdly indefensible proposition (and all that goes with it) in the desperate hope that he can protect his child from autism communicates with absolute clarity precisely how much he values any life that is less than 100% normal, healthy and perfect.  And that’s a real tragedy.