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In the Path of a Storm

“Every storm runs out of rain. Every dark night turns into day.” — from “Set You Free” by Gary Allan (click to listen)

A little over 2 weeks ago all eyes were locked on televisions and devices, watching intently as a monster of a storm named Florence brewed in the Atlantic Ocean.

Many projections showed the storm slamming into our beloved Charleston at a Category 5, rolling like a freight train through Columbia and then eventually slowing down over Greenville to bring about “catastrophic flooding.”

It was early still, in the life of a hurricane, and this was an unusually slow-moving storm. So, we watched and waited. We made minor preparations. We implored our loved ones on the coast to pack their essentials and shelter with us. We bought snacks. Lots of snacks. We discussed whether or not schools might be closed, and what we would do with the food in the freezer if the power went out. We made sure our outdoor furniture was secured. We watched more news reports while eating the snacks.

The storm crept along, taking its sweet time, as if we all weren’t just sitting here, waiting impatiently for its arrival. So terribly inconsiderate! Meteorologists predicted that the “monster” was shifting its trajectory further north, and maybe we wouldn’t be quite as affected. But we were warned not to let our guard down just yet; there would likely still be strong winds, heavy rains, and don’t forget all that catastrophic flooding heading down the hills from our already-sodden mountains.

We went out for more snacks. We replenished the wine.

The weekend arrived, and the storm sidled up to the Carolina coast; definitely formidable, but mostly a shadow of the former “monster” it once was. By this time, most of us had stopped watching the projections; we were weary of all the chatter, the slowness of the storm’s approach, and the media’s embellishment of events. I went for a walk, and the day was as lovely as they come. The most beautiful blue skies were above, dotted with the prettiest white clouds, puffy as bolls of cotton. The wind was blowing, but at a level that was just slightly above “breezy.” If it hadn’t been for the constant news coverage, I would have never believed that there was a storm of any kind within the distance of an afternoon’s drive.

It seemed as though even the storm had grown weary of the anticipation of its own arrival. All the time it spent idling away from land, slowly determining its target actually drained it of most of its strength, rather than feeding it. Like a child who stayed up well past her bedtime, the storm crashed clumsily into our coastline, quite a different scenario from the barreling locomotive landfall maneuver that so many had predicted.  Certainly, the storm was devastating and catastrophic for many areas. The effects are still being felt now and will continue to be felt for several months. But the first predictions were wildly different from the final reality. Most of the preparations made in response to those first predictions ended up being completely unnecessary. And even though the people hardest hit by the storm had as much advance notice of their fate as possible, I’d be willing to bet that they were still caught unaware by the harsh reality of weathering a hurricane.

But, life goes on and for most of us who were spared damage from the storm, as soon as the snacks ran out, so did our worries over what would happen.

About a week after Hurricane Florence’s landfall, with several days in normalcy on the books, there was an early evening gathering of dark clouds. I didn’t think much of it, as it only makes sense that the drawn-out Indian Summer we’ve been experiencing would easily stir up a thunderstorm. The next time I looked up, half the sky was covered in thick, dark clouds, and I could see a wall of rainwater several miles in the distance. A few minutes later, I felt heavy raindrops plop, plop, plopping on my head as I walked briskly into the grocery store. A half hour later I left the store and had to run through the parking lot with my sandals in my hand. Maybe not the best idea, but they were too delicate and slippery bottomed to wade through what I estimated to be a good 2 inches of water on the pavement. Rain pelted me from all sides of the tiny, inadequate umbrella I’d thrown in my purse at the last minute.

As I drove away, the dark clouds that had been so far off in the distance had closed in all around me, blocking the last of the early evening light. In some places, the roads were covered in rushing water. Traffic lights were out, and a few minor accidents were on the road’s shoulder. The thunder boomed so loudly in my ears that I just knew it had to be in a cloud directly over my head. Lightning streaked across the sky, adding palpable electricity to the air. Power was knocked out in places, and the wind blew down branches and tossed debris.

No warning. No preparations. No watching other than what we did with our own eyes, estimating the distance of the clouds. No waiting other than sitting in the place where we were upon the storm’s arrival, lingering there until it passed and we felt safe to be outside again.

Two storms. Very different in their origins, their size, and their strength. But they ended much the same, causing minor inconvenience to many, and major devastation to a few. A storm causes everyday life to take a pause so that we can sit and wait for it to pass. And, pass, it always does. Whether it moves on to a new location or dissipates and falls apart, it can’t sustain enough strength to stay in one place, churning with intensity for very long.

And so it is with the trials in our lives. Rarely do the storms we prepare for end up being the ones we have to ride out. It’s the ones that materialize from nowhere that knock the wind out of us.

We batten down our emotional hatches to protect our hearts, only to turn a corner and run right into the one person that broke us. We stock up on healthy habits to ward off disease, then find out that our genetics had the deck stacked against us from the start. We work long hours and say the right things to the right people to create job security and build empires, just to see it all decimated by conditions that are completely outside our control. We plan, we prep, and we worry, all in an attempt to stay a step ahead of the things that we predict will bring us down. But in the end, the worst of times we have to weather ride in like a summer storm: loud and blustery, obscuring our vision and scaring the hell out of us. All with little to no warning.

As a child, I was terribly afraid of storms. My childlike mind placed my fears in the tangible features of the storm. The rumbling and shaking that accompanied thunder made me think the walls would fall down around us. Flashes of lightning always felt too close, and I was sure someone would be struck down.

My parents tried many things to calm my fears, but the thing that worked best was to have me count slowly between the thunder crack and the lightning flash. Each number represented a mile’s distance between us and the storm.

One Mississippi, two Mississippi… I peered out the window, searching for the lightning, closing my eyes tight when it flashed.

One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four… Until the spaces between the numbers grew further still, and all that was left of the storm was a rumble in the distance, and steam rising from the hot ground.

I still count the seconds and miles during storms, but now it is to calm the fears of my daughter. I know now that the seed of the fear doesn’t come from the actual thunder and lightning, but rather the unpredictability of nature and the helpless, untethered feeling that comes when things are out of our control.

As an adult, storms don’t scare me as much as they used to. My childhood fear has been replaced with a buzzy kind of nervousness, along with awe and respect for what God can do.

Many of us see storms as a sign of God’s strength and might. We cling to the childlike image of Him above us in the clouds, glowering down on creation, flexing his Godly muscles and loudly proclaiming His superiority. I see storms more as a sign of His promise. Less of Him saying to us, “Stand back and see what I can do,” and more of Him showing us, “Look here, see what you can do with Me by your side? Don’t waste your time preparing anything, because the preparations have already been made. I’ve given you your portion. You have all you need. This storm will leave you, and I will still be here.”

Preparation is good, but worry is fruitless. No one can truly predict a storm’s outcome, except to say that it will eventually burn itself out. But God’s provision is constant, and He will never leave us unprepared.

Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
–Matthew 6:34

 

 

 

 

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Featured post

Moms on Trial

“The least amount of judging we can do, the better off we are.”
–Michael J. Fox

Do you delight in having your every move scrutinized by strangers in public places? Strangers who seem to know how to handle your life better than you do?

Do you find joy in receiving unsolicited advice from distant relatives or pearls of wisdom from random women on the Chick-fil-a playground?

Do you bask in the glow of hard stares from your fellow shoppers or diners when you raise your voice to the tiny human(s) accompanying you?

If so, I have good news! PARENTING IS JUST THE THING FOR YOU!!

Just between us, I don’t like any of these things. But like a bunch of other stuff that comes with parenting (sleep training, potty training, training wheels, all the TRAININGS), no one told me that being tried in Mom Court on a regular basis was part of the parenting package.

I made it through my pregnancies with a few misdemeanors, mostly related to food: sushi, cold lunch meat, and the occasional diet Coke resulted in a sentence of serious side-eye from the Mommy Militia. My baby registry choices faced the firing squad (“You don’t really want that stroller, do you?”). My birthing plan, or lack thereof, received several citations (“You do not want to deliver at that hospital.” “You can’t do that birthing class; you need to have this lady come to your house.”)

My grand jury trial as a mother took place when my baby arrived and we began the arduous task of breastfeeding. This was an aspect of mothering that I had been warned about, and I thought I was going into it with my eyes wide open. I was fully prepared for the experience to be hard, but rewarding. I was banking on being motivated to stay the course by the vast amount of data that undeniably proved what a superior choice breastfeeding was for both me and my baby.

As it turns out, there is no amount of preparation, motivation, or hard data that can ready you for the real-life experience of being solely responsible for sustaining another life. Breastfeeding was not a magical experience for me and my baby. It was kind of awful, actually, for everyone involved. The baby was frustrated and hungry. My husband felt helpless and excluded. And I felt…all the feelings. Exhausted, hopeless and unsure of everything except that I was a complete failure as a mother, unable to fulfill the most basic of mothering functions. It was literally what my body was constructed to do, and yet it couldn’t. How would I be able to give this baby the best life possible if I couldn’t even feed her? Each time someone suggested how to increase my milk supply, it felt like a veiled way of saying, “The real problem is you’re just not trying hard enough.”  My confidence level was in the tank, and each judging comment sent it sinking lower and lower. I remember being so ashamed when I would feed the baby a bottle in public. It felt like everyone was staring at me and whispering about the poison I was feeding my baby.

You know, there are classes you can take that will certify you to be an official lactation consultant. OR, you can be like some people who think classes are for dummies, and just up and decide one day that you are an expert on all things related to breasts and milk and feeding babies. You can also roughly push all your thoughts and opinions on to sleep-deprived, confused, and emotional new mothers who can barely process the plotline of a 3 a.m. episode of The Golden Girls. You can tell these women how they should feel about this unfamiliar body that they are inhabiting. A body that is no longer their own, and yet it must be their own, because every inch of it hurts in some new way, and they feel every ache, pain, and tear. Something else you can do is deliver all that very useful, personal information in a way that makes it seem like your way is the only way to do things so that this baby will thrive, that anything less will result in a child with the IQ of a tree stump, and it will be 110% the fault of the hopeless mother who selfishly refused to perfect the football hold. You need a license to be an official lactation consultant. But all you need is a mouth to be an UNofficial lactation consultant.

It seems that when it comes to parenting, all you need is a mouth to be ANY sort of consultant. Who knew? Parenting experts are everywhere! And they are more than ready to tell us exactly what they think. About what we’re doing, about what we’re not doing, about what we should be doing, about what they’re doing, on and on and on.

“When have you been judged as a parent?” This short question posed on my Facebook page garnered some lengthy responses. The stories were as varied as the ways you can feed a baby (yes, there is more than one way). Working mothers felt judged when someone thought they spent too much time away from their children. Stay-at-home mothers felt judged because they felt society viewed them as lazy, pampered, and insufficiently contributing to their household. Mothers with small families felt judged as selfish because they didn’t have more children (as if that decision were completely under their control). Mothers with large families felt judged by others who thought maybe they had taken on more than they could handle. Mothers of children with special needs felt judged by people who didn’t understand their child’s differences, or worse, thought that they should keep that sort of thing at home, away from view.

The individual stories were each different, but they all followed a similar sequence.

1. Mother finds herself vulnerable in a situation of uncertainty.
2. A disconnected person intervenes with unsolicited opinions and/or advice, usually under the guise of trying to be helpful.
3. Mother experiences a range of emotions, including shame, rage, defeat, frustration, and more uncertainty.
4. MOTHER NEVER FORGETS.

“I don’t know why you even had these children if all you’re going to do is work all the time. They never see you!”

“Oh, so you don’t work? What in the world do you do all day? Must be nice…”

“Just one? Well, you better get on it. Can’t wait too long, you know.”

“My, you have your hands full. I don’t know how you keep them all straight! How will you ever be able to send them all to college?”

“I don’t know why she brings that child out to things like this. Isn’t there someone who can stay at home with him? It’s just so uncomfortable.”

Mothers everywhere are feeling judged. The traveling courtroom can pop up anywhere: your local Target, a PTA meeting, even in your own living room. The presiding judges are constantly rotating. Sometimes it’s a well-meaning, but know-it-all friend sitting on the bench. Often the robe is donned by a complete stranger. The holder of the gavel could be a mother-in-law, a sister, a teacher, or a Sunday School matron.

Or it could be me. Wait, what? That’s right. Guilty as charged. If I’m under oath, I have to admit to passing judgment on my fellow mothers. Even though I’ve been judged and know the pain, even though I know I’m not the perfect mother, even though I know it’s counter to everything I want to teach my children…I’ve done it.

 

sheep as judge
Judge ChicWhiteSheep, presiding.

“Can you believe she has that child out at a restaurant this late? That baby should be in the bed!”
(One of the parents does shift work, and a 9 PM dinner is the only time of day they can be together.)

“I mean, he still has a pacifier! He must be 5 years old. That mother needs to put her foot down.”
(I literally have no idea how hard it is to wean a true paci-addict. Don’t hate me, but my babies gave them up almost voluntarily. Also, just because he looks 5 doesn’t mean he’s not just a really big 3-year-old.)

“She doesn’t work, but I can’t get her to sign up for a single volunteer position in the classroom! She needs to step up.”
(But she can’t step up because she has a controlling husband and crippling anxiety. She’s barely holding it together.)

“Kids, do you see that child acting out? This is why I tell you girls to behave in public. Don’t be that kid.”
(There are children with all sorts of special needs that I have no way of understanding. I have no idea what their mothers struggle with every day. But those mothers need groceries just like everybody else does. There’s no telling what sort of pep talk she had to give herself to walk into that store, knowing her child would probably act out in a big way.)

Let’s flip the script one more time. If the judge is not always some terrible, horrible insensitive monster, but rather a harmless busybody, or a normally kind person such as myself who sometimes indulges in a bout of self-righteousness, could our feelings of being judged actually be somewhat self-imposed?* Stick with me here. I’m not saying we’re asking for it, but could it be possible that while we’re swimming in this sea of self-doubt and vulnerability that we call motherhood we’re constantly judging ourselves, and thereby jumping to the conclusion that everyone else is judging us, too?

Hold on a minute. My head just exploded a little.

OK, I’m back.

(*FYI, I’ve already contemplated this whole idea about how we judge ourselves unfairly. If you’re interested, you can read more about it here.)

Let’s go back to when I said I was embarrassed to feed my babies bottles when we were in public. Remember that? I felt like people were shooting daggers at me with their eyes as I poisoned my child with powdered infant formula. But what if they were looking at me just because I was holding a beautiful little baby? An angel with bright eyes trained on my face, and chubby kicking legs, so excited to have that delicious bottle to drink, and a warm, squishy body to melt into. What if those people I perceived as judges were actually admirers, or at least appreciators? Maybe my “judge” was actually a fellow mother who remembered what a hard season of life this was, but knew that if I heard “Enjoy every minute,” one more time I was liable to go into full-on rage mode. How I wish I could go back to that unsure version of myself and tell her to stop worrying about what everyone was thinking and just return the gaze of that sweet baby, and know that she’s happy. She’s fed. She’s loved. And, in this moment, it’s all good. You’re good.

I have so much to learn about parenting. For each perceived “mommy win” I secure, there are countless failures propping it up. But if there is one thing I know, it’s that NO ONE KNOWS WHAT THEY’RE DOING. It’s all a giant game of trial and error! The very best parents are simply doing the best that they can.

Mom Judging is real, and it needs to stop, no question. We need a village to raise these children and not one that wants to prosecute each other on the Town Square! (I mean, who will microwave the chicken nuggets if all the mothers are stuck in Mom Court?) The best place to start is with ourselves. We are our own worst critics. We have to start giving ourselves a break when it comes to parenting. When we are gentle with ourselves, it gets us in the habit of being gentle with, or at least tolerant of, others.

But let’s also be realistic here: haters are gonna hate, and judges are gonna judge. A bunch of self-care mumbo jumbo isn’t going to eradicate the scourge of Mom Judging. So, the next time you feel that you’ve been put on trial, take a beat. Your judge likely doesn’t know your heart or see your full situation. Your judge is imperfect. Your judge is misguided; possibly acting out of feelings of their own insecurity. Most importantly, your judge wasn’t picked to be the parent to your child: YOU WERE. Momma knows best.

To Mommas everywhere, doing your very best and giving it your all, just let those judgments roll off your shoulders. Remember that your judge is self-appointed. The conviction they hand down is unenforceable. You can skip bail. None of this is going on your permanent record. I found a quote that summed up the situation nicely: “Behind every person is a story, behind every story is a person. So think before you judge, because judging someone doesn’t label who they are, it labels who you are.”

Court is adjourned.

olderfemalejudgewithgavel

Hello, Lovers

“Romance is thinking about your significant other when you are supposed to be thinking about something else.”—Nicholas Sparks

 Love is in the air. I see it on my husband’s face as he tries to decipher if I really mean it when I say, “You don’t have to get me anything.” Love lurks in the stores I frequent, where candies and chocolates taunt me at every turn. Love lies in stacks and heaps on my kitchen table, in the form of cards and treat bags to be handed out at classroom Valentine parties. Love is all we need. That and some calorie-heavy chocolates, dinner reservations, and some refrigerated red roses. OK, so maybe Valentine’s Day is not my thing. Even though I am comfortably rooted in a romantic relationship, and I have plenty of friends and family to love on, the holiday feels contrived and overwrought with expectations. I make a point to tell my dear ones that they are loved throughout the year, so setting aside this one day for something we should always be doing feels terribly insincere, both for the lover and the lovee. (Man, I hate the word “lover.”)

 

IMG_4620
“Is this a test? Because it feels like a test.”

Anyway, all that said, I do plan to participate in the holiday, because I’m not completely heartless. Also, I love all things chocolate, red and pink are great colors for me, and I am a hapless victim of pretty much all marketing schemes. My nearest and dearest, which include my husband, children, family members (the ones that I actually love and not just have to say that I do), and my closest friends, will be showered appropriately with love-themed candy and cards. They should understand that they will have to share any candy they receive. In the case of my kids, I’ll give them a lot of useless junk that I will have to pick up over the next few weeks before finally throwing it away, and some candy that I will secretly eat in the pantry after they go to bed. Because I love them, and it’s not healthy to eat that much candy.

But what about my other loved ones? Some of my nearest and dearest literally don’t know I exist. Still others know that I’m here and may suspect that I love them, but a Valentine’s gesture might be a little weird. So, I’m taking this opportunity to get in the spirit of the holiday and say something from the heart for these beloved ones that might otherwise go unrecognized this Valentine’s Day. This is for you, Lovers. (Ew.)

  1. Target

My dearest Target, you smell so nice.
And everything here is just the right price.
My love for you shall never die,
As long as my RedCard you do not deny.

target-marketing-to-women

  1. NetFlix

Oh Netflix, sweet Netflix, it is so true
I want to spend the whole night with you!
Let’s skip the intro and get this thing started.
If the queue is full, how can I be broken hearted?

netflix bffs

  1. Tamiflu

Kids are so great, but they can carry the flu.
When the test comes back positive, You’re My Boo!
You keep us all well, which makes my heart flip,
Maybe my stomach, too, but we’ll overlook that bit.

kid taking medicine

  1. My Girlfriends

All day long, we’re on the group chat.
Cursing and moaning about this and that.
I just don’t know how I’d make it through
Without a hundred stupid GIFs shared with you.

mom jeans

  1. Seat Warmers

On these cold and dreary winter days,
When the winds like a knife can cut,
I shiver as I climb into this freezing car,
And, in no time, you warm my butt.

seat warmer meme

  1. Justin Timberlake

The way you move, it’s just too much!
My kids are at school, wanna meet for lunch?
You’re clever, you can sing, and we all know you’re cute.
Just give me a chance, and give Jessica the boot.

 

Justin Timberlake
Took this video when I went to lunch with JT.  We’re bringing pie back.

 

  1. Snapchat Filters

You make me a better woman, (or a cat, dog, or bunny.)
You smooth away my wrinkles and make my voice sound funny.
You keep my kids entertained and cause all my friends to snicker.
This mom over 40 won’t take a selfie without her Snapchat filter.

snapchat meme

  1. My Dry Cleaner

Dry Cleaner Man, I have to say, you’re really not that sweet.
But when I pull up in your drive-through, you never miss a beat.
I also want you to know, your plight I understand.
I’m giving you all these shirts, because I can’t do ‘em, man.

seinfeld dry cleaner

  1. Tacos

You’ve been with me through thick and thin.
Mostly thick, because I want you again and again!
Made of crispy corn, or the softest flour,
If it were up to me, I’d have you every hour.

 Notebook Taco

  1. Wine

You can be red, or you can be white.
It doesn’t matter which, as long as you’re here tonight.
And when I feel that I must partake during the day,
It’s perfectly acceptable to lunch with Rosé.

wine poem

 XOXO, all you Funny Valentines. Show extra love to your people today, and don’t forget them the rest of the year. And if you’re feeling a little lonely on this made-up holiday, just remember, there might be someone loving you from afar, or someone who might be pleased as punch to get a quirky poem from you.

i-like-you-funny-valentines-day-card-sexy-valentines-day-card-funny

I Have One Word for You

 Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.—Buddha

 Several years ago, I abandoned the tradition of making New Year’s Resolutions. I reached a point in my life where I knew myself well enough to realize that whether it be a result of unlucky circumstances, low willpower, or goals that were set too high, any resolutions I put forth would likely be shattered before Valentine candy replaced Christmas decorations in the stores. I start my New Year much the same as the rest of the world, puffy and exhausted from the holiday happenings, gently nudging my loved ones out the door so we can all get back to our regularly scheduled programming. I resolve nothing, except to continue being the same delightfully moody, disorganized, running-five-minutes-behind contained mess that I’ve always been.

In the midst of blocking out all the Fresh Start and Resolution propaganda, my attention was drawn to some people who were starting out their New Year with “One Word.” Not a laundry list of resolutions waiting to be broken, but a one-word mantra to give guidance throughout the year. Hmmmmm. One word. I could probably handle this. It’s just one word! But it needed to be a good word. Strong and lasting, as we were going to be partners for an entire year. One of the websites I visited advised, “Your one word will shape not only your year, but also you.” Another person said that when you pick your word, you should ask yourself, “What would you like to be more true about you at the end of 2018 than is so now?”

Whoa. This one-word thing was serious business. What if I picked the wrong one word, and for a whole year every time I needed to invoke my mantra to bring me back to my center, it was the wrong word and all I would think about was how I couldn’t even pick the right ONE WORD? At the rate I was going, my one word was going to be “stressed.”

Words chosen by others filled my screen and my thoughts. Fearless. Obedient. Courageous. Grit. Beauty. Focus. Depth. Strong. All of them inspiring in their own right. It’s true, a lot of meaning can be packed into just one word. I was sold on the concept, but no closer to finding my one word. I tried several on for size, but none felt right. Not trendy enough. Not classic enough. Not insightful enough. Not introspective enough. This was going about as well as making resolutions.

Ugh, ENOUGH already!

Wait… “enough.” “Enough.” While not the prettiest word on paper, nor lovely on the lips, for me the word is just as smooth as a worn river rock, having been delicately honed by rolling around in my head for so long.

When the children are unruly… “That’s enough, now.”

When I push back from a table heavy with delicious food and drink… “Heavens, no, I’ve had enough!”

When someone disrespects me or those that I love… “Well, that is enough of that.”

All those enoughs are empowering. In those times, I am holding the river rock. It is pressed into my palm, cool and smooth as I turn it over and over again, giving me a sense of calm and control over my circumstances.

But what about the times that I feel like I’ve been overtaken by the idea of enough? When the river rock grows to a size that I can no longer hold in my hand? When it grows so big that I have to put all my weight behind it to roll it along with me?

When my husband or children want something from me that I can’t provide to them, whether that be time, or patience, or material things… “I’m not a good enough wife and mother.”

When I’m tempted by unhealthy food, frivolous spending, or idle time… “I’m not strong enough to deny myself.”

When I refuse, ever so politely, requests from worthy people and organizations for my time or talents… “I don’t do enough.”

When I compare myself to others, not knowing their full circumstances, but still in awe of how amazing their lives seem to be… “I don’t have enough. I don’t do enough. I’m not working hard enough. I am not enough.”

Deep down I know those things aren’t true. In my core, I know that I am and that I have so much more than enough. My cup runneth over with love for and from my friends and family. My comfortable home is bursting at the seams with more things than we could possibly need or want. And on the days that I feel like a wandering soul with no lasting purpose, I remind myself that my Heavenly Father put me here for His purpose, and the only person who thinks it isn’t enough is me.

2018, I’ve got your “one word.”

ENOUGH.

I have enough.

I am enough.

I have love to give and love to receive, and that, my friends, is ENOUGH.

 

 

Featured post

Beating the Bully

“Fighting means you could lose. Bullying means you can’t. A bully wants to beat somebody; he doesn’t want to fight somebody.”–Andrew Vachss

bully collage

Greer, SC. 1986. I’m wearing my favorite Rainbow Brite t-shirt, and my head is pressed against the cold metal of a bathroom stall door. With one eye, I’m squinting through the crack of the door at Cheryl Hawthorne, who is propped against the painted cinderblock wall by the dirty porcelain sinks. Cheryl is the meanest kid in all of the third grade. She has close-cropped black hair, a loud laugh and she cracks her knuckles constantly. She is in trouble with the teacher every single day. This moment is the most patient and calm I’ve ever seen her to be, waiting for my stall door to click open. I’ve assessed all my options at this point and I see exactly zero ways that I can get out of this bathroom without Cheryl turning me into her personal punching bag. We are predator and prey, and I am about to be eaten for lunch.

You’re thinking, how did it come to this? Well, my dears, Be Kind and Rewind, and let’s go back to three hours before this restroom standoff. Back to Mrs. Fowler’s third grade classroom at Woodland Elementary. Back to morning reading groups, when someone was talking when someone wasn’t supposed to be. Insert a teacher who was fed up at 8:30 that morning; who was probably fed up 20 years before that morning even dawned. A teacher who said, “If someone doesn’t tell me who was talking, you’ll ALL be inside for recess!” Enter Stage Right a pale blond little girl with a Rainbow Brite t-shirt and a penchant for people-pleasing. Willing to fall on my sword in order to get the entire class outside for recess, I spoke up.

“It was Cheryl.”

Cue the ominous music and gasps from the audience. With a satisfied half-smile, Mrs. Fowler sauntered over to the chalkboard and added a check beside Cheryl’s name, which rarely ever left the board. It was Cheryl’s second check of the day, which meant once again she wouldn’t have recess. But the rest of the class would, so I’d made a worthy sacrifice.

Or had I? The rest of the morning, Cheryl never took her eyes off me. Each time Mrs. Fowler turned her back, there was Cheryl, giving me the evil eye, or making a menacing hand gesture. As I walked to the pencil sharpener, she hissed “I’m gon’ git you, girl.” In the lunch line, she stood as close as she possibly could without actually touching me, her breath hot on my neck. She hardly touched her lunch; instead, she used that time to shoot more venomous stares my way.

I tried hard to let the whole thing roll off my shoulders. I wanted to save face in front of my friends, but I was seriously shaking in my jelly shoes. I kept thinking surely this would all blow over soon. If I could just get through the day, tomorrow we would start over, no one would have any checks on the chalkboard, and we’d all get recess. By this time tomorrow, the whole thing would be forgotten, right?

Cheryl’s eyes narrowed as they caught mine (I’d been doing this thing all day, where I’d look to see if she was looking at me, and if she was, we’d lock eyes, then I’d quickly look away, or act like I was actually looking at something just past her. It wasn’t working. She knew I was looking at her.). Her balled up fist smacked the palm of her other hand as she nodded her head and said, simply, “The Bathroom.”

Sweet mother of Debbie Gibson. I’d forgotten about the bathroom! Every day after lunch, Mrs. Fowler’s class went to the bathroom in “the tunnel,” a brick breezeway between the buildings. Even if you didn’t feel the urge to use the facilities, you still had to go in there, because Mrs. Fowler didn’t let anyone go to the bathroom any other time. Well, unless you had an “emergency.” But everyone knew that “emergency” meant you had to go Number Two and admitting to that was a social infraction that would take weeks to get over. The post-lunch bathroom break was not up for negotiation.

I held off as long as I could, hoping against hope I could somehow skirt the mandatory bathroom visit. Cheryl was near the front of the line (no doubt because she wanted to start the pummeling as soon as possible), so I got in the back, thinking maybe she would have to leave the restroom before I got there. Oh, but no. Cheryl might have been a meanie, but she was no dummy. She just waited as the line of girls wound their way through the stalls and sinks. My friends offered no real assistance, but I saw their lack of teasing as a sign of solidarity. Their sympathetic looks and silence were a way of paying their respects. They were grieving me already. I didn’t fault them for not coming to my defense; no one wanted to tangle with Cheryl. And Mrs. Fowler didn’t tolerate tattling. My predicament served as a cautionary tale for anyone contemplating their own David vs. Goliath scenario.

Oh, you all enjoy your recess, friends. I’ll just be in the health room, having my face reattached and my broken limbs reset. No, really, it’s fine. Happy to take one for the team. You go have fun.

So, there we were. Wolf and sheep, penned together in a four-stall, 2 sink, brick and block prison. It didn’t take long for me to know that I couldn’t hide out in that stall any longer. For one thing, the longer I waited, the more people outside were going to suspect I was in there going Number Two. For another thing, it was well past time to get this thing over with. I ripped the stall door open and made a run for it (What? Did you think I was actually going to fight her?). Cheryl caught me halfway to the door and punched me in the stomach. I got a few more steps towards the door before her right hand clutched my neck and shoved my back against the wall. I eeked out some sort of panicked animal noise that caused Mrs. Fowler to open the door and bellow, “What’s going on in here?” There was no explanation needed. Cheryl was sent to the principal’s office and she never so much as glanced my way again.

Someone asked me, “Have you ever been bullied?” And I now know my answer is, “Yes. For three hours, in 1986, Cheryl Harcourt bullied me and made my life a living hell.” The comedic nature of two little girls in a bathroom standoff like a Clint Eastwood movie is something I can laugh about now. But something has to be said about the fact that this happened 30 years ago, and yet I can still remember the feeling of fear and dread in the pit of my stomach. I’ve long forgotten many of my friends from elementary school, but Cheryl’s face is burned into my brain forever.

What if those three hours had stretched into six? What if instead of just that one day of bullying, I had to face Cheryl and her threats every single school day? What if my friends chose to distance themselves from me so they didn’t have to bullied, too? What if my teacher said, “Oh, kids will be kids,” and chose to focus on her curriculum instead of the social dynamics in her classroom? What if I spent my entire school year waiting and praying for it to be over, so I could be in a new classroom where Cheryl wouldn’t be? Would the story be so funny then?

You don’t have to have school age children to know that “bullying” is a serious issue facing all ages. So, what do we need to know about it?

First, of all, what is bullying? There are many definitions, but the most encompassing one I found is the one used in the legal sense:

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That’s right, the legal sense. There are adults dealing with this, who feel so intimidated that they will plead their case in a court of law. There are all types of bullying, but most can be divided into two types: Aggressive and Social Isolation. Aggressive Bullying is usually physical in nature, and can mostly be attributed to similar physical aggression at home. Physical intimidation can be harder to hide and easier to prove, so it seems to happen less in our schools because punishment is swift, once it is recognized. Social Isolation Bullying is stickier for many reasons. Social Isolation can go on for weeks or months before an authority figure recognizes what is happening. These bullies are usually very skillful in denying their behavior, and their victims are reluctant to come forward, out of embarrassment. In a battle of words, context is very hard to prove. “But that’s not what I meant!” is the battle cry of many Social Isolation bullies.

Social Isolation bullying is for all ages. You see kindergartners freezing kids out of a game of Red Rover. Teenage girls post slumber party photos to Instagram with full intent of ostracizing other girls. Social media gives rise to more sinister Social Isolation bullying, too, with some kids sending out sexually explicit photos to large groups of people without their subject’s authorization, thus decimating that person’s social life. And adults aren’t above it, either. The “popular kids” have popular moms, who are quick to post those same slumber party photos, but just with the kids. And what about Direct Level Marketing? It’s one thing to be annoyed by a friends’ constant Facebook posts about her “amazing new job,” but it’s quite another when she bombards you with personal messages, phone calls and “party” invitations until you just break down and buy the stuff already. Bullies may be born on the playground, but they are refined in the workplace. Bosses who require that you stay late, repeatedly. Co-workers who consistently take credit for your hard work. Clients who insist you buy just one more round (the company’s paying for it!). Bullying is repeatedly intimidating or taking advantage of someone you perceive as weaker.

Next, who are the bullies? Anyone can be a bully. Budding gang members (yes, there can be a gang presence in school, even elementary), sweet-looking kindergartners, children of abusers, teenage girls (hello, Snapchat), PTA moms, athletes, honor students, soccer dads…all these people can use their own brand of intimidation to subdue and tear down another person.

Why do people bully? I asked my kids if they knew any bullies. “Oh yes,” they said. They went on to explain, “Bullies are ‘bucket dippers.’ Their buckets don’t have enough happiness, so they want to steal yours.” (Props to our school’s teachers for giving my kids the confidence to recognize this behavior, by the way!) Every bully is different, but their core motivation is the same. What they want is power. They want the upper hand. They want to win. A bully recognizes an area in his life where he is not winning, and he wants to put himself in the place of power. The easiest way to do this is to intimidate the person who he sees as the winner and force that person give up the top spot. In sports, this could show up as repeated, harmful “trash talk” in an effort to make a teammate’s mental game diminish their performance. In teenage girls, it could be leaving snide comments on social media posts or sharing unflattering photos to make another girl retreat, bringing the attention back to the bully. You might see little kids taunting emerging class leaders because it’s the first time in their lives they haven’t been the focus of constant praise and adoration. Some bullies are modeling behavior they see at home. In homes where physical abuse is present, a child may become a bully simply because that is the only way he knows how to interact with others. Or, if the child is the abuse victim, assuming a role as a bully over a weaker person is the only chance he has to wield power. But physical abusers aren’t the only bullies at home. What about the dad that constantly screams at the coaches on the kids’ soccer field, or the mom that daily belittles the teacher and her ridiculous homework assignments? We’re sending our kids a message when they hear our disparaging remarks about other authority figures, or see us strong-arming those same people into doing what we want on behalf of our child. There’s a fine line between standing up for yourself to get what you deserve and using your power and influence to gain preferential treatment. When your child sees you cross that line towards something that looks like intimidation, why wouldn’t she try to do the same thing?

I talked to several teachers and school administrators while writing this piece. I was astounded at how many people saw bullying in schools as a consequence of affluence. Cheryl Harcourt isn’t the bully anymore. The new bully is an articulate, well-liked child from a prominent family. This kid singles out and attempts to weaken another child or group of children at school, and gets in trouble for it. The kid shows very little remorse, and continues the behavior, getting in trouble again. The parents swoop in, in disbelief that their little angel would do such a thing. This goes back and forth between parent and teacher for a while, with the parents usually undermining the authority of the teacher. How much damage has been done by the time the teacher has to hand if off to a higher administrator? What has it done to the self-confidence of the child being bullied? Has that child’s parents completely lost faith in the system? Now, consider what happens if the bullying problem goes to the administration, and mom and dad stand in the principal’s office, reminding him/her of how much they’ve contributed to the school this year and what a shame it would be if Dad’s office pulled his company’s sponsorship of the school fundraiser. The bully has successfully intimidated his/her targeted classmate, the classmate’s parents, the other classmates that feel like helpless bystanders, the teacher, the administration and the set of rules it has put forth AND he walks away with the feeling that this is how life will always go for him. I don’t think this is a common scenario, but I’ve heard the same story with different players enough times to know it’s not rare. At any rate, it’s a good example of the multi-level nature of bullying.

Lastly, what can we do about it? The same thing we do about everything in parenting. Talk to your child. Know what they’re up to. Know their friends and their interests. Ask questions, even if they don’t want to answer them. And don’t just try to get the facts: show your child that you’re genuinely interested in them. Even if it feels like they have zero interest in you and would rather gargle river rocks than listen to what you’re saying, showing true interest is a form of showing love, and they’ll remember that.

Keep the lines of communication open, and make sure your child has a trusted adult in their life. Ideally, that trusted adult should be you, but find a spare because there are some things kids just won’t bring to their parents. While I was writing this piece, a friend of mine shared her experience with her son being bullied at school. She and her son had a very open and honest relationship, and she felt that he would come to her with any problems. However, her son suffered bullying for months without saying a word to anyone. Finally, a friend of his confided in his own mother, who then shared the situation with my friend. It turns out, my friend’s son didn’t want to tell his parents about it because he was afraid they would be upset and sad for him. He was protecting their feelings! This is a prime example of how important communication and trust are in these situations. More than one child had to be trusting of an adult and willing to communicate. Further, the adults involved had to be trusting and communicative as well. I also thought this was a great example for us all to know that helping someone doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. Just because you don’t literally stand between a bully and his target on the playground doesn’t mean you can’t be just as helpful, but in a quiet way.

Be open and understanding. In the bullying situation described above, did I mention that the parents of that child were a school counselor and a psychologist? These are involved parents, well-educated and trained to spot such behavior. It would be easy for them to say, “This can’t happen to my child; I would catch it immediately.” But they didn’t. They were open to knowing that you never say “never” with kids. You do all you can to educate your child and teach them the things you think they need to know, and then you hope it sticks. Parenting is a life-long calling. Your job is never finished, so stay open and understanding to your kids, and to the people that care for them.

Cheryl Harcourt was a bully, but our altercation was not a severe case of bullying. A marker of bullying is that it’s a repeated behavior. The intimidation makes the victim feel hopeless, as if it will never be over. Ours was a one-time incident, and I am grateful that my school’s authorities put a swift end to it. But, as I said before, it made a big impact on me. When you’re nine years old, a brick breezeway is a giant tunnel and the walk to the lunchroom is a miles-long trek. The whole world fills the space between home, school and church. Your entire life’s memorable experiences wouldn’t fill up a marble-backed composition book. When you’re a kid, all the little things are BIG things.

Know. Talk. Keep your mind open. Be a good role model. We face bullies in every stage of life, but we don’t have to give them our power, and we don’t have to sit back while they take someone else’s. Make small, quiet stands for what’s right. Guard your heart and your bucket and help others do the same.

For more information about bullying, go to https://www.stopbullying.gov/index.html

 

 

 

Want. Need. Such a Fine Line.

“Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” — Anna Lappe

My kids want Hatchimals.  If you don’t know what a Hatchimal is, I am so very happy for you.  I was you once, about 3 weeks ago, and I would like to return to that blissfully ignorant time in my life.  But, chances are, even if you don’t know about the Hatchimal, you understand the concept of the “Ungettable Get.”  Substitute “Hatchimal” with “Tickle Me Elmo” or “Cabbage Patch Kid” and you’re with me.  The Great and Powerful Oz has spoken this year and deemed that the Hatchimal will be the toy that throws adults and children alike into a complete frenzy.

When my kids first described the toy to me, I thought, “Wow, that sounds kind of cool. I’ll have to look into getting one of those.”  Really, I was only half listening, so I can’t even tell you what it does.  From what I can tell, it’s a big egg, and after an indeterminate amount of time, and maybe a few tasks on your part, the egg hatches and there’s a little bird in there.  Cute enough, right?   I mentioned it offhandedly to a friend that my kids wanted “some sort of toy that hatches out of an egg?  I’m not sure what it is?”  My friend stopped what he was doing, looked at me and said, “A Hatchimal?  Do you HAVE one?”  “Ummm, no, not yet,” I responded.  “Why, are they, like, expensive or hard to get or something?”

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My Elle Woods Hatchimal Moment

The answer is Yes OR Yes.  Yes, they are hard to get if you want to pay regular price, and Yes, they are expensive, if you don’t want to make it your life’s mission to obtain one.  The age-old conundrum: spend your money or your time.  I heard today that employees at Wal-Mart have admitted that they have Hatchimals in the stockroom RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE, but they can’t release them because they’re saving them for Black Friday.

All this consumer game-playing reminds me of the Jonah Hill “guy in an eBay store” character in the movie “Forty Year Old Virgin.”  This guy wanders into an eBay store and finds a pair of fabulous silvery glittery boots that have goldfish swimming in the clear acrylic heels.  He’s enamored.  He wants these boots, without a shadow of a doubt.  But he can’t get them, because it’s not really a store.  It’s an eBay store, which means he would need to go home, search for them on eBay, bid on them and have them shipped to his house.  He’s confounded, and rightfully so.

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‘Tis the season to be a consumer, for sure.  But I’m a consumer all year round, and this sort of game-playing is not my cup of tea.  I don’t mind couponing every now and then.  I’ll sign up for a loyalty card if it’s a store I actually  frequent.  Things like that.  But what I don’t like is being manipulated.  And the “Ungettable Get” is all about manipulation.  It’s building hype in children who don’t understand supply and demand, and it’s playing on the emotions of the people holding the wallets who feel like they have go to great lengths to make the magic happen.

So, if I want a Hatchimal, it seems my choices here are to (a) go on eBay or Wal-Mart.com and pay $300 for a $50 toy (which, let’s be honest, is probably not worth a fraction of the $50 retail price), (b) show up at one of the Black Friday venues and risk taking an elbow to the nose and having the resulting video footage end up on the evening news, (c) try to lay my own damn egg and hope there’s a cute bird inside, or (d) wait until the Spring, when the stores will be using them to make shelves on which to just stack all the overstock of them.

Lots of different options here that all end in one conclusion: my kids will be happy for a relatively short amount of time, after which the toy will sit in a corner, untouched, forgotten and biding its time before it ends up in the trash or the donation pile.

I’m not saying that those who buy into getting the “Ungettable Get” are in the wrong here.  I’m sincerely impressed with their skills.  Those skills aren’t in my toolbox, apparently.  I think what I’m trying to say is that, this year, I won’t let the ungettable get ME.  I’m moving on so I can overspend and overindulge in other places.  It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, dammit, and I have full intentions to spend too much, eat too much, stay up too late and overschedule myself because those things are EASY to do.  I’m not going to overdo overdoing it.

But, seriously, if you see a Hatchimal somewhere, hook a sister up.

This Is Just a Drill

“It may take a village to raise a child, but not every villager needs to be a mom or a dad.  Some of us just need to be who we are.”  –Meghan Daum

One day last spring I was volunteering at my children’s school, as I often do.  This particular day I was signed up to be with the kindergarten class, doing an activity called Baggie Books.  I’m sure most schools have this activity, but if you’re not familiar, it’s when you go to the school and take turns reading with the children.  It gets its name from the zippered “baggies” that the children use to take their book home and continue practicing with their parents.  I’m going to go ahead and put it out there that Baggie Books is one of my least favorite volunteering activities.  The books are boring, the chairs you have to sit in are doll-sized, and the kids, while very sweet and cute; well, most of them can’t really read.  Which is the point of the whole thing, I know, but if you’re like me and tend towards being a crankypants, the activity can be summarized as squatting in the hallway and sounding out words for an hour and a half.

Thank you teachers, for being amazing people so I can aggressively pursue mediocrity and grumpiness.  

So, anyway, back to Baggie Books.  I’m sitting in my plastic American Girl doll chair and listening to a book about “What Bears Like” or something equally ludicrous.  And I’m thinking, I know what bears like.  Bears like to eat people.”  And then I’m wondering, “Why do these books make us think that all animals are so freakin’ friendly?  I mean, do we really need to encourage our kids to be hanging out with wild animals?  I think kids are getting the wrong message, like maybe it’s a good idea to approach a bear and share honey with it?. Because that’s actually a pretty terrible idea all around, and as soon as I get home, I’m making sure my kids know that if they ever see a bear, they need to run away immediately.  No, no, wait.  Aren’t bears the one you’re supposed to play dead around?  Crap, I need to do some research.  But I am pretty sure that bears would rather eat people than share honey with them.”

Somewhere in between mentally preparing a Bear Action Plan for my family and gently reminding a sweet little boy about how a Magic E works, an ear-splitting, brain-jangling alarm goes off overhead.  Loud alarms almost always paralyze me internally (if I ever accidentally hit the “panic” button on my car’s key fob, I lose all intelligible speech and movement, only able to grunt and slap everything within reach until the alarm is silenced and I can slump over in a cold sweat), and since I’m already sort of glued to Baby Bear’s all-wrong-for-this-bum chair, all I can do is turn my head right and left to try and figure out what’s going on.  I look at my patient little kindergartner reader on my left and then I turn to the right and wait for a teacher to come along and give me the “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” that means some little kid has pulled an alarm and maybe we need to line up and go outside.  But the “wink, wink” moment never comes.  What does happen is that every door on the hallway opens wide, almost simultaneously.  Teachers charge forth from all the classrooms, some of them with red backpacks over their shoulders.  And the students?  All these tiny little people wordlessly line up and follow their teachers, no questions asked.

In 110% less time and questions than it would take me to get my own two children (two, just two children, WHY DOES IT TAKE US HALF AN HOUR TO LEAVE THE HOUSE, PEOPLE?!?!) in shoes and jackets and out the door, our entire school of 1,000+ students, teachers and staff are lined up outside the building.  Silent.  Awaiting instructions.  No one is panicked.  No one is goofing off.  No one is crying because they have to wear socks.

I stand on that playground with my daughter’s class and look around at all the neat lines of children and adults.  I watch those children stand patiently and look to the head of their lines at their teachers with all the trust they can hold in their tiny little hearts, and I get a giant lump in my throat.

I think to myself, “These people KNOW THE DRILL.”

After several minutes, the principal appears and climbs on a table with a bullhorn.  It is all, indeed, just a drill.  The tone relaxes a little and a few kids get some of their sillies out as we head back inside, overall still orderly and single-file.

It is now late in the afternoon and once we get back the classroom, my time slot for Baggie Books is over.  My little under-2-hour stint of responsibility is complete, and I am able to waltz out to my car with no more school duties or classroom concerns other than the ones my own children will bring home with them.

How had I never given more thought to this?  That on top of teaching my children how to read and do math (in all kind of crazy jacked-up ways) and be a responsible citizen, this entire team of people is in charge of keeping my children SAFE.  Protecting them from all kinds of harms that I don’t even want to think about.

My goodness, the world is so scary.  Tornadoes can form in an instant, upending entire towns.  Fire can rip through buildings, destroying structures while all we can do is watch. Earthquakes can move the very ground under our feet.  Pure evil can show up in any form and take away what is most precious to us in an instant.  This is the world we live in.  But, also, this world we live in is home to people that are full of love and compassion.  There are off-duty volunteer firefighters that will put themselves between a loaded gun and a schoolyard of children.  There are teachers who will work tirelessly until a student reaches an “aha” moment.  There are doctors that will refuse to leave patients until an answer is found.  People that rush in to save others, when logic says to run away as fast as possible.  People that don’t freeze when the alarm goes off, but that KNOW THE DRILL.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, to all the people out there that know the drill.  None of us can do this alone.  You are the light that keeps this village, and this world, from going completely dark.

 

Area Residents Fight for Right to Tolerable Daytime Television

“We’re just tired of being yanked around by people whose sole existence is to entertain us.  I mean, do your job,”  says local homemaker and mother, Mary Catherine (“MeerKat”) Mc Fadden.

A group of area residents are pledging to do whatever it takes to draw attention to their need for tolerable daytime television programs.  Prompted by the abrupt exit of co-host Michael Strahan from her favorite show, “Live with Kelly and Michael,” local homemaker and mother, Mary Catherine (“MeerKat”) McFadden has plans to incorporate a group of volunteers which she hopes will help bring decent programming to homes just like hers.

“There just aren’t many options for those of us who have the television on during the day.  Most of the talk shows are mind-numbing and the court shows are nothing but paternity tests!  The Price is Right is so campy.  And soaps?  Don’t get me started on the soaps.  All that skin and social issues!  Not at all like it was in our mother’s day.”  MeerKat fondly remembers her own mother, who followed “real love stories” on The Guiding Light and contemplated “serious issues” on The People’s Court with Judge Wapner.

“Wapner would think all these ‘justice’ shows are a bunch of poppycock,” MeerKat says with crossed arms and a look of indignation on her face.

And MeerKat is not alone.  When she posted an Event on Facebook to inform others about the decline of daytime television and what could be done about it, fives to tens of people showed up at the local Bun & Bagel eatery to hear more.  Most of the attendees agreed that something needed to be done, especially in reference to the co-host search for Live with Kelly.

MeerKat’s neighbor, Karen Duffy said, “We should protest!  It’s just not right that there aren’t more options for us.  Yesterday I had to turn on the Kardashians because there was just nothing else on!  What’s a woman with a college education supposed to watch all morning?”

“I have two Master’s degrees, and I just don’t really watch television.  I mean, except some NetFlix.  Sometimes.  I was under the impression that this was a group looking to raise awareness about doing away with television all together.  My family prefers to read, or listen to chamber music,” said Monica Purvis. Other group members looked at each other quizzically as Monica quietly excused herself.

“Well,” continued Karen.  “I mean, I don’t really WATCH the television.  I just have it on, as sort of a bit of background noise while I’m doing other things to, you know, care for my family.”  Much of the group nodded and added that they also don’t necessarily devote a lot of time to the television, either, and certainly won’t let their children watch such rubbish, but EVEN SO, it would be nice if there was something decent to look at, whenever it just happens to be on.

MeerKat’s across-the-cul-de-sac neighbor, Alexis Buncombe, also an ardent supporter of the cause, spoke up, bringing the discussion back around to the co-host search for Live with Kelly.

“Really, we have to let our voices be heard!  If they choose Josh Groban as the co-host, I will not be able to handle it.  Seriously, I will burn my couch in the streets in protest!”  This drew gasps and laughter from the group, as most people have a hard time knowing when Alexis is kidding or not, and she has been known to burn things from time to time.  Several discussions popped up around the room, regarding Homeowner Association rules and requests for specifics on exactly which couch Alexis planned to burn.

“I love that couch!  You should put that on the Facebook exchange group,” said one attendee.  “It would sell in a minute!”

“I’d buy it,” said another person, at which point Alexis and two other group members left the Bun & Bagel to go to Alexis’s house in order to negotiate a price for said couch and plan how to sneak it into her playroom without her husband noticing.

Undaunted by the dwindling numbers for her group, MeerKat pressed on with her agenda and requested that the remaining members start brainstorming names for their emerging group.

MeerKat began the discussion by presenting her idea for the group’s name:  Stay At Home Moms Support Good TV, or SAHMSGTV for short (pronouced Sahms-Guh-Tuhv).  She showed the group some examples of graphics for t-shirts and Facebook cover photos and then reminded all those present that they were welcome to have a snack from the tower of pastries she had ordered for the event.  All attendees waved her offer away, and said they were just fine with their skinny, no cream mocha lattes.

As MeerKat moved on to the next Order of Business, a letter writing campaign (“on thick, monogrammed stationery only, please, that’s what gets you taken seriously”), an attendee rose to her feet and began speaking.

“I would just like to say that this group name does not suit me,” said Linda Farmington.  “I’m on board with your ideas, but I am not actually a Stay at Home Mom.  I do stay at home, but only because my cats are there.  My housekeeper doesn’t speak English, so I have to stay home to make sure they’re not anxious while she’s around.  I don’t feel like I should be excluded from this cause just because I’m not a Mom, nor should I be labeled as a part of  a group of mothers just so I can support the need for quality daytime television.  It’s all rather unfair and excluding of others just because we’re a little different.”

A murmur rippled through the crowd as another woman spoke up.  “I agree!  I mean, I’m a Mom, but Lord knows I sure don’t stay at home!  More like ‘On the Road Mom,’ amirite?  Can I get an ‘amen,’ sisters?”  Many of the women chuckled and nodded their heads in agreement.

About this time,  a stout male with an unshaven face and distinct odor spoke up by saying, “Well, I’m not a Mom AND I don’t have a home, so the name doesn’t suit me, either.  I do like the show, though.  That Travel Trivia is a real hoot.”  The man, later identified as town drunk Stinky Pete, could not be reached for further comment, as he exited through a side door soon after stocking up on Buns and Bagels.

All the women turned to each other and began talking heatedly as to how busy their days are, how their roles are frequently misunderstood and their accomplishments often overlooked and rarely appreciated.

The meeting had to be adjourned quickly, as Bun & Bagel would be closing for the afternoon shortly, and several of the women had to go home to prepare an appetizer to take to Bunco night at Eleanor Giffin’s later that evening.  MeerKat called for a vote to change the name of the group to People Who Are Usually Able to Watch Daytime Televison and Have an Opinion About It.  But as most of the meeting attendees were socializing in the parking lot, it was determined that a quorum was not available and a new meeting date would have to be set.

When asked about her feelings regarding the results of the meeting, MeerKat said, “Well, the graphics can be re-worked; however, I’m not sure that the acronym PWAUATWDTVAHAOAI has quite the same ring to it.  I still think the letter-writing campaign is the way to go for ensuring a decent co-host for Kelly.  Gelman just can’t ignore an avalanche of finely crafted papers.”  After a brief pause and a wistful look into the distance, MeerKat quietly said, “You know, I’ve been meaning to clean out my husband’s closet.  Maybe we should do a coat drive for Stinky Pete.  I’ll do a Sign Up Genius for it tonight.”

Nature’s Calling. Who Will Answer?

“Always go to the bathroom when you have a chance.”  King George V

It’s hard to think of a more unpleasant necessity than a public restroom.  I am thankful to have the Room of Requirement, but it’s not somewhere I’ve been and wished I could stay longer.

If you have access to the world outside your home, you’re probably aware that there’s an attempt being made to politicize peepee.  And it must be serious if I know about it, because I generally block out anything regarding politics.  I mean, they’re calling it a bill, which, if I remember the Schoolhouse Rocks segment correctly, that means the next step would be a law.  Right?  A law about who can use which bathroom?  I’ll admit a bit of naiveté here and say that I’m truly not that concerned about about my restroom mates and what sort of reproductive equipment they might have.  I’m more troubled by what sort of audiovisual equipment they might have.  (I’m also troubled by the fact that this is my second blog post built around urination.  I have to say, this is not where I thought things were going.)

I’m filing everything about this situation away in a cabinet I call “Things I Don’t Understand.” It nestles nicely there alongside Quantum Physics, All Things that Happen in the Middle East and Why We Have 4 Remotes for One Television.

But here’s what causing me the most pause about this situation:  Who is policing the attendees in the bathrooms?

You see, I’ve been in a lot of public restrooms.  You know how as people get older they have those “bucket lists” of things they want to do or places they want to go?  Well, I have kids, and kids have those lists, too.  Except their lists have only two entries:

  1.  GO TO ALL THE BATHROOMS IN ALL THE PLACES.
  2. TOUCH ALL THE THINGS IN ALL THE BATHROOMS IN ALL THE PLACES.

I digress.  Back to my original query.  How do we even know who is using which bathroom?  What if my skirt isn’t triangular enough?  Does that mean I’m denied access?  How do we report an infraction?  Is there a hidden button somewhere we could hit that would blast Aerosmith’s “Dude Looks Like a Lady” over a loudspeaker?  But then who would answer the call?  Because I’m here to tell you that there is no one willing to step up and take charge of public restroom infractions.  I recently  had the pleasure of patronizing a public restroom that had no paper products whatsoever.  I walked from stall to stall handing out tissues from my Kleenex pocket pack.  I felt like a cross between Wonder Woman and Mary Poppins, saving the day with just the supplies in my giant bag!  I think that even if there were a bathroom attendant standing at the door checking ID’s (who would be a government employee, since this legislation only covers restrooms in schools and government buildings), that person would undoubtedly put their hands up in the universal “Not My Job” gesture when asked about much of anything else.

Let’s imagine for a moment that there actually was a bathroom monitor in public restrooms.  Someone to whom you could voice your concerns.  What would be on your comment card?  You know I’ve got a running list.  First of all, let’s talk about the general cleanliness of this place.  Abhorrent.  A little Swiffer WetJet and some Lysol action would go a long way in making us feel like we’re not going to walk out of here as Patient Zero.  Next, can all the automated equipment please get their acts together?  The toilet flushes three times while I’m doing my business, but the sink will only run water for .7 seconds.  Or maybe not at all.  Because it’s not actually automated, which I find out only after standing there like a bad magician passing my hands under the faucet 20 times.  And how about that towel dispenser that spits out 2 feet of towels every time I turn my head but NOT when I wave my hand in front of it?  Yeah, that one right there.  The one mounted on the wall beside the jet engine hand dryer that’s led me to become clinically hearing impaired.  Good thing I’ll have dry hands when I start learning sign language.  Sure would hate to be slinging a bunch of water around the way someone did on this counter.

And you know what?  I bet if there were a bathroom monitor, the requests would probably have to be written out on a government form.  But they’d always be out of forms because we’d just end up in desperation having to use that paper for other “stuff.”  Which would then clog the toilets, which the monitor wouldn’t attend to (“Not my job!”) and now we all have some strange disease that you get from having soaking wet feet in a public restroom.
Like many of us, I find safety and comfort in sameness.  I live in the town where I grew up.  I shop at the same mall I did as a child.  I park in the same parking lot and go in the same entrance and use the same public restroom where my mom would take me going on 30 years ago.  In all that time, the mall has been renovated, the department store has changed ownership at least twice, and this particular restroom has been updated several times over.  But you know what?  Every time I go in that bathroom, it smells exactly the same as it always has.  Like I just missed a person who was there to smoke a cig, do a big stinky and then spray some cinnamon air freshener in a half hearted attempt to cover her tracks.  Or maybe in a wholehearted attempt to leave her mark.  Either way, the scent is so unmistakable that I’ve often looked around the store trying to find the employee who’s taking her smoke breaks there.

I may have spotted her in the shoe department.  Cigar-Lady

But you know how the people in the shoe department are always disappearing into that back room and never coming back.  So I can’t be certain it’s her.

Anyway.  The smell.  It is really, really awful.  Which is a shame because it’s a very nice restroom.  It’s conveniently located (hence why I’ve been making it a regular stop for so long, despite the odor) and has this super trendy lounge area and everything.   But no one’s lounging in there!  No one’s even thinking about it!  No one is staying a minute longer than they have to because of the Eau de CiggieCinnaCrap.  You take care of your business and you leave the premises.

I think the point I’m trying to make here is that life can be stinky sometimes.  Every day we all do hard things and no one accommodates us.  For some people, it’s trying to figure out which restroom to go into.  For other people, it’s how to graciously put aside what makes them uncomfortable so that someone else can have access to the things they need.  And then there are other people who face uncertainty and fear every time they walk out their doors and the only way they know how to cope is to focus their fear on someone they think represents a threat.  Different battles, similar anguish.  And you know what?  All those different types of people have to, ahem, take care of business.  No sign, no attendant, no super trendy lounge area is going to turn a public restroom into a blissful haven, just like no omission of those things is going to turn it into a den of evil.  Maybe we could  all just identify with trying to get the hell out of there while touching the least amount of surfaces.  And, hey, whether in or out of the restroom (and especially when in line for it), common decency and courtesy are always welcome, and using common sense will keep us far safer than any legislation will.

As for me and mine, I’m sticking with the plan to always use the at-home facilities before going anywhere.  You know there’s always a line for the ladies’ room.  And if it gets too long, I just might identify with that other restroom with the shorter line.  And I don’t really want anyone giving me any CiggieCinnaCrap about it.

 

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