Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Pop Quiz

Which of these things has happened in the last week?

a. Van spat up a dead fly.
b. Silas wore the same outfit two days in a row, unwashed in between.
c. George enjoyed a sucker at 9:30 one morning.
d. I ate a big piece of chocolate cake whilst watching "American Ninja Warrior" until 1AM during a night of single mommyhood.

Okay, fine, you got me. They're all true. In my defense, Silas asked to wear his t-shirt and shorts to sleep in, and the next morning as I was frantically getting ready for work I saw him already dressed and thought, "Yippee! One less thing to do!" Four hours later it randomly hit me that it was all the same clothes. As far as George, we were on day four without daddy, I was on the phone dealing with strange and unsettling extended-family medical circumstances, and it seemed a great way to keep him quiet for a couple of minutes. As far as Van, there's no telling. I'd like to think the boy is a master at killing flies in mid-air. Most likely, however, he just found a dead one on a windowsill. I have since detailed my windowsills.

I'm a little scattered at times, but I still can rock this mommyhood thing. Just ask these guys!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

One Hand Tied

Last week in the news, one of the primary topics (sadly) was the hacking and leakage of nude photos of several female celebrities, most notably Jennifer Lawrence. Images that were taken by these women and were intended for private, personal use were hacked from their cell phones and put on the internet for a world of Peeping Toms to see. Apple has reported that the leakage was not due to a vulnerability of iCloud, but the images were taken from online storage devices that I can't begin to explain. See BJ's blog if you're interested in that techy kind of stuff.

Much of the response to this exploitation seems reasonable to me: a large number of individuals see this as a breach of moral conduct on the part of the hackers, believe that the hackers should pay for their crimes (yes, I said crimes), and do not place blame upon those whose photos were stolen. There is a subset of society, however, that immediately lashed out at Lawrence and others, blaming them for their role in the 'scandal' and admonishing them to do better next time. I won't even link to these latter articles because I don't want to draw further attention to them.

The complexity of problems within this culture is too large in breadth to expand upon here, but much of it boils down to one very large dysfunction: the sexualization and objectification of women. It is undoubtedly one of the largest problems that our society has created, and it is also one of society's biggest stumbling blocks in terms of social progress. If women are not viewed as more than what they can do for men sexually, then this country is essentially operating with one arm tied behind its back. We will never succeed and reach our potential as a collective unit if one half of us is limited by the other--generally speaking, as I am fully aware that there are decent, active men working to silence the idiots amongst us.

Why is this country so uncomfortable with the idea of women having sexual rights? The 'blame the victim' mentality held by so many people, including many women, is as damaging a notion to the women's rights movement as has ever existed. Doesn't a woman have the right to wear the clothes she wants without being held responsible for how it makes a man feel? Doesn't a woman have a right to have a drink too many and not get sexually taken advantage of? Isn't it unfair that a woman gets raped by a turned-on male who says he couldn't help himself because she was 'asking for it' by the way she looked or the way she flirted with him? Doesn't it suck that a woman can get raped by a man and, when she tries to press charges against him, the fact that she was drunk is a strike against HER? And here, with the Jennifer Lawrence situation, isn't it scary that a woman can take nude photos in the context of a private relationship, have those photos unethically hacked, and then we turn to her and chide her for not being more responsible, for not having stronger passwords or for having a nude photo of herself in the first place? Imagine this for a moment: replace the words "Jennifer Lawrence" with "small business" and replace " nude photos" with "financial statements." If a hacker got into iCloud and accessed the financials of a business, then blackmailed that business and made their account information available for all to see, that would be a legal issue. What in the world is the difference? Is it because Jennifer Lawrence is a person and not a business? Or is it because the nature of what was leaked is not as important as money---it's only the body of a woman?

So, again, why is this country so uncomfortable with the idea of women having sexual rights? I think it's because, in acknowledging those rights, society has to embrace the notion that women are individuals with faces, aspirations, and personalities--and sacrifice the deeply, long-held notions that women are just faceless bodies, just hot commodities to compare or disparage, just bitches when they're angry and hos when they're participants in sexual activities, just punching bags when others are angry. When we as a society can learn that a woman has a voice and right when it comes to her own decisions and her own body, and that her body is for herself to share with whomever she chooses, then a huge number of problems in this country will begin to subside. We will see less violence against women. We will see less pornography. We'll see more women contributing with their full potential, in whatever way they feel most enriched, and we will see more fulfilling sexual relationships. We will see more legal action when women are sexually exploited, and we will see less blaming the victim when sexual assaults do take place. We will see a return to the normalization of breastfeeding in public, because people will reject the notion that breasts are purely sexual objects and thus won't be disgusted and uncomfortable with the idea of using boobs to feed babies. We will essentially see a country operating with no hands behind its back, with all of its brains and talents being used to drive us full-throttle into the betterment of life for us all. Be you female or male, use your voices, and use them for good.You may be surprised to find out just how loud and strong they are.

Sesame Street approves!

For a similar past musing, check it.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

My Three Sons

My three kids and I can't go anywhere in public without some smiling stranger saying to me, "Wow! You really have your hands full!" I hear it at least once every single day. I never mind hearing it. Typically my boys are quite well-behaved as the stranger makes this remark, so I know it's meant as a genuine salute, if you will, and not a passive-aggressive jab at my lack of parenting skills or rowdy crowd. My favorite is always when I only have two boys with me and BJ has the other somewhere else, and a stranger still makes that comment. "Hahahaha!" I roar. "Two kids is nothing! You should see the baby/middle child/oldest brother (insert child that is not present)!" As I told the lady who commented at security in Boston Logan Airport the other day as I was making my way through with Van, if I only have one kid with me, I practically feel like I have none at all. My hat's off to parents whose children outnumber mine, because I know from experience that you're rocking it!

There is never a shortage of funny moments in our home these days. There is also never a shortage of wrestling children, kid-centered outings, crayons underfoot, spit-up on the burp cloth, Eggo waffles in the toaster, coloring pages taped to hard surfaces for display (taped haphazardly by the artists themselves), costume-wearing, and toad/bug touching. Brotherly love and cooperation are often found, but sometimes are conspicuously replaced by threats of bodily harm when an errant hand crosses a couch cushion line. This physical kind of love and display between the boys is something I am beginning to get used to. As a girl who grew up with a sister and a fairly gentle brother, the idea of wrestling just for fun initially appalled me. I fretted, watched closely (okay, hovered), and often broke up the 'fighting' because I was uncomfortable with it. Now I realize that it's kind of just nature's way. My two little bears are allowed to roll and play, within reason, as long as life and limb aren't at stake. I would also add 'valuables' to the at-stake list, but who am I kidding? Anything pretty worth displaying in this house has either been rounded up into boxes, broken, or never bought in the first place because--let's face it--I'm a mother of three young wrestling boys. Pollyanna's Aunt Polly would have a conniption at my house.

Images can pretty much sum it up from here. I love this life. Admittedly, it's often best participated in with a glass of wine in hand. Just kidding. A cup of coffee is usually sufficient.

Spiderman trying to figure out how to drink water with no mouth hole

I call this artfully-arranged exhibit "Superheros in Motion: An Exploration in Colored Wax"
First time on the beach! Plum Island Beach, Massachusetts
Not too shabby for a four-year-old boy, if I do say so myself.
Bustin' a move, as he is often wont to do
There is no feat too great.
Museum day with Daddy

About the turkey kielbasa he stated, "That be so big! It's longer than my life!"

Weekend with cousins in Dallas, ages 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and 0

Piled on Grammy

Eleventh anniversary dinner at Mutt's Hog Dogs with Van--like I said, one child is practically no child!

Sometimes even Pop needs a breather when dealing with this crowd.
Blurry image, but captures the excited mauling of Van in the airport as he and I arrived home from Massachusetts

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Up, Up, and Away!

Van Owen with his characteristic burp cloth/bib. If he spits up while swinging, we just root for it to happen on the backward motion!
A few weeks ago, my mother-in-law Susan and I were preparing to take the boys to get their portraits done at JCPenney. Silas and George were each specific about hats they wanted to wear and favorite toys they wanted to be photographed with, so we went in with practically a wheelbarrow of goods. When Susan asked what props we should use with Van, we both paused to think about what he had grown attachments to. Just as I was about to say that his Glo-Worm is his favorite toy, Susan jokingly pointed out that he could pose with his most familiar object of all...the burp cloth. The thought of Van wearing a grin and cozying up to his spit-up shield is hilarious for me to envision, but the lady speaks the truth. That kid is no stranger to burp cloths, which in our house are actually receiving blankets because ain't no burp cloth big enough to cover his messes.

The travails of Van's spitting up are well-documented. While BJ and I are perfectly aware that bigger problems are to be had in the world, we can't exactly say that this spitting-up business has been a walk in the park. We're talking two loads of laundry a day just to maintain a pathway in and out of the laundry room, lest the piles accumulate so high as to block the swinging door. Even his two older brothers calmly inform us, with no surprise or freaking out, of upchucks as they occur, with the exception being the time that George was the recipient of such tidings into his open, wailing mouth.  Van has ruined our favorite clothes, splashed floors in every establishment that we have patronized, and kept us on a first-name basis with Paul and Regina at Freeman's Carpet Cleaning. Despite our best efforts, carpet is hard to clean now that Van is eating so many bright colors.

Following is the record of the downward slope of Van's weight percentage through the first seven months of his life:

Date: Weight Percentage:
Day of birth, December 17: 95%
January 6: 82%
February 17: 74%
March 10: 61%
April 18: 45%
May 19: 37%
June 18: 27%
July 18: 21%
August 22: 32%

Artistic interpretation of Van's recent climb
Those numbers stink. The last line is what we're focusing on now though, and it says it all: something is finally working and he isn't losing ground anymore! We've increased his oatmeal in the morning (at his demand), and we put olive oil in many of his veggies and coconut oil in many of his fruits. A friend shared a recipe for pancakes that consist of a banana and two eggs in a food processor, then fried up on a skillet like pancake batter. He loves them and needs no teeth to consume whole baby-handfuls at a time, which is good because the little stinker still doesn't have any teeth. Spitting up can still be frequent, as many as 25 times a day or so, but nothing like before we met our good friend Zantac. It also invariably happens after breastfeeding, which supports our pediatrician's theory that solid foods will stay down better.

So I thought I would share our good news. On Friday, BJ and I took Van in for his umpteenth weight check, and this time there were practically whoops of joy when our favorite nurse declared a jump of 11 whole percentage points in the span of one month's time! We were thrilled to be heading in the right direction for the first time. What's also great is that we left that appointment within ten minutes, rather than our usual letdown of seeing that percentages have dropped and then waiting for Dr. Harmon to come in because the nurse is concerned, and then spending another 20 minutes talking with Dr. Harmon about something new to try. All in all, a thrilling day at the office of Betty Harmon!

Friends, enjoy your Tuesday. May you eat, drink, and be merry--and may all that you eat and drink not come back up for all to see. But if it does, may you be like Van and still be merry. If you'd bestow the same positive thoughts for our youngest son, we'd be tickled. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Guest Mama: Jane's Birth

I have a dear college friend named Brooke, who now lives a few hours south of me. Everyone needs a Brooke in their lives; she's cool as a cucumber, witty, a great listener, and she's feisty as all get-out. She's one of those types of friends that I haven't seen in a long time, but I know if I needed her she would be right there. I feel in a sense as though our lives are still in parallel, that she's doing the same things as me, gets me, and is living up life, even though we are doing it just out of sight of each other. When Brooke agreed to share the birth story of her first child Jane, I was thrilled. In reading it, I saw that Brooke and I had some things in common during our labor experience, particularly the use of self-talk to get us through. Brooke and I unabashedly spoke aloud to ourselves throughout active labor, and I also spoke aloud to Van a whole lot, negotiating with him, reminding him that I loved him, and asking him to help me so that I could help him. Please enjoy Brooke's story, told in her own clever words, of the birth of beautiful Jane, born on May 8, 2010:

I knew from early on I would want to have a natural birthing experience. The first time I ever thought about it was in high school during a clinical rotation class observing three different women as they were given their epidurals; I almost passed out each time. Why in the mess would anyone purposely put a needle that big into her body?! I think the thing that sealed the deal was my college pastor who had four babies, induced, unmedicated because she believed her body was made to work that way. I thought that sounded pretty good. God made it to work, and I figured there’s no need to interfere with the design. When I actually did become pregnant, I read books about the history of childbirth and natural birthing methods, and I searched for birth stories and research to support my decision. My husband Steve and I attended a 12-week-long Bradley method class to learn techniques to get me through labor. I did all the exercises to get the baby positioned properly and to get my muscles strong so I could do the work of birthing. It was commonplace for my husband to find me on all fours or in a modified yoga child’s pose. Most people who knew my plan thought I was crazy, and two of them, who happened to be men, even went so far as to say that it couldn’t be done. Well, game on, sirs.

My pregnancy was pretty uneventful other than feeling just disgusting for the first half of it. My due
date was a Wednesday, May 12th, and I was convinced I would not have a child until well after that. Both my mother and mother-in-law had babies two weeks late, so I was bound to have the same fate. I think I let my doctor check me one time at 36 weeks. Of course, I was, like, a centimeter. After that I didn’t want to know. I wanted as little intervention as possible, and I didn’t want to be thinking about how much or how little I was dilated. I didn’t want her offering opinions on when she thought I would go into labor. I pretty much tried to pretend the whole thing wasn’t going to happen to keep my body relaxed and allow it to do what it needed to do to get the child out as quickly and efficiently as possible.

May 6th, a Thursday, was my last day at work. I was looking forward to spending the next week or so doing some things around our new house, sleeping in, and just generally relaxing before the baby came. First thing the next morning, I had a doctor’s appointment; I did not get to sleep in. “You want me to check you?” she asked. “Not if you don’t have to. I’m fairly certain nothing is going to happen for a while. See you next week!” I had had contractions periodically throughout the pregnancy but nothing consistent or that made me think I might be in labor. I happened to be going in to work to complete some paperwork and attend a lunch party of some sort before meeting my sister in the afternoon. Sitting at the computer my back was hurting, but that happens when you sit for a couple of hours doing computer work, right? I met up with my sister. We had a cookie and a soda. I’m sure we talked about my appointment and my plans for the next several days and planned on meeting again the next week some time. I remember telling her I was tired and thought I’d just go home and take a nap. Why not? I’m not working, hubby’s at guys night out, and I’ve got plenty of time the next few days to do the things on my list: clean, pack a bag, make sure the laundry is done, watch a movie, etc. I chatted on the phone with a friend and discussed my day, my back pain, fatigue and the nap I was about to take. Little did I know, she was formulating the theory that I was probably in labor but, thank goodness, said nothing to me about it because that would have ruined my nap!

I slept from 5pm till 7pm and woke up with the vague sensation that I had cramps. “How strange,” I thought to myself. “Why on earth do I have cramps? And why is my underwear damp? I haven’t had any issues with bladder leakage. Surely, I’m not in labor. That’s crazy. But just in case, maybe I better pack that hospital bag. Oh crap. Some of the things I need are in the laundry. Better run a load. Why are those cramps coming back? I thought I got rid of them.” I continued this internal dialogue for a bit continuing to assure myself that this couldn’t be labor because it wasn’t even my due date yet but working on the premise that it could be labor so I should probably be at least a little prepared. You’d think with all the planning I put into the preparation for labor, I’d be more…um…prepared.

Maybe around 8:00pm, I decided I should call Steve just to tell him how I was feeling and to be prepared to end guys' night early if needed. By this point, the cramps were coming in waves, and nothing I did changed them, not sitting, laying, walking, nothing. I was still calling them cramps because that is exactly what they felt like. I did not time them; there was no stopwatch. Didn’t even occur to me. My level-headed husband said, “Maybe you should go ahead and call the doc, just in case.” “No, I don’t think that’s necessary yet, but I gotta get off the phone, I can’t talk during this cramping.” Um, hello?! You are in labor! I was in complete denial because there were so many things I had wanted to do that I hadn’t done yet.

I did call the doctor eventually (8:30ish), the on-call doc, not mine, and, she told me it maybe sounded like early labor (I may not have been as forthcoming with information as I should have) and to keep tabs on it and let her know of any changes. I remember as I was getting off the phone with her another contraction hit, and I had trouble talking. I phoned Steve (8:45ish) to come home with some food so I could have some energy to get through this. Steve got home around 9:30, packed his own bag and tried to help me as I finished up some laundry, pausing periodically to have a contraction. Nearly every contraction ended with me saying, “That is REALLY uncomfortable,” or “This is a terrible idea,” but I could still do things in between contractions. When I called the doc the next time (10ish), once I finally had accepted this was probably happening, she said, “Yeah, when I got off the phone with you last time, I could hear it in your voice. You better come on in.”

Off we went to the hospital, and let me tell you, worst car ride ever. No traffic--thank goodness-- but the only comfortable position I had been able to find right before we left home was on all fours, hands and knees, so riding buckled in was the worst. It was during this ride that I started my self-talk. I didn’t know that I would do that. All those Bradley method things? Out the window. During every contraction I would talk myself through it saying things like “It’s okay, it’s okay, relax, just relax, it’s okay.” If Steve had said anything to me, I probably would have punched him in the face. I wanted him there, but I didn’t want him to speak or touch me, which is very different than how I thought I would be. I guess I had sort of pictured me being the strong silent type with a very calm presence. I was quite the opposite, in fact. Looking back, I think I had to talk to myself in order to relax into the pain and let my body do the work it needed to do. If I hadn’t been talking, I would have been clenching and slowing everything down.

We got to the hospital about 11:00. I had done pre-registration, but I still had to sign things, and they weighed me. Are you freaking kidding me? Is that really important at this point? I was very clearly in active labor and needed to be in a room. That’s how I felt about it anyway. I got to a room, and my nurse, who looked to be about 15 years old, told me to change into a gown and come back to the bed so she could check me. I don’t know how long I spent in that bathroom, pooping, losing my mucous plug, having contraction after contraction, but she did have to come back several times to tell me she “really needs to check me and get the baby monitor on.” I got in the bed and got to all fours as soon as I could, but I was not prepared for what this young nurse told me after she checked me. 8 centimeters. 8 centimeters! Pretty sure there was an expletive and also relief that I was close and had achieved my goal of laboring at home as long as possible. Some might say too long, I suppose.

After that, things happened. I got an IV put in because I was Group B strep positive so needed the antibiotics. Unfortunately, it didn’t really matter because there wasn’t time for it so the baby got the extra blood draw after the fact anyway. It seems like there were a lot of people around. My sister came at one point but didn’t even get in the door before I said, “It’s not really a good time, but I love you!” I was fairly certain I didn’t want her seeing my bare rump up in the air. I apparently didn’t care about all the other people in the room seeing it for some reason.

There were some things that stood out distinctly but there was also a kind of fog in my mind with only one focus, and time was sort of non-existent. I know we got to the hospital about 11pm, Jane was born at 2:28am, and I pushed for an hour and a half so I must have labored on all fours for between 1-2 hours. Steve was awesome. Every time I had a contraction, he did this hip squeeze thing we learned in our class that really helped (I think it was the only thing we used). If he wasn’t doing it right or didn’t do it when I told him to, he heard about it. Through the whole time, I was talking to myself, to Jesus asking for help, which seems odd to me because I’m not generally inclined to call upon the name of the Lord, out loud, in front of people. Every time a contraction would start up, I started to freak out and cry because it hurt so badly, but just as quickly I would talk myself down and let the pain do its work. I just kept reminding myself that if I didn’t relax, it would hurt more and take longer. I think one of the reasons I was able to get through it was the brief reprieve between contractions. Each contraction brought the fear that I wouldn’t get through it, but as the contraction subsided, and I had a few brief moments of relief, I was able to tell myself that I could do it…when I wasn’t saying what a terrible idea it was to do this to myself! Ha!

It took some convincing to get me turned over so the doctor could help deliver the baby. The thought of being on my back terrified me, but Steve was very gentle and said, “Honey, let’s try it and see if it helps.” Poor guy was stuck between what the doctor was saying needed to be done and what his wife was willing to do, but he handled it wonderfully without getting punched in the gut by his adoring wife. As I got positioned to push, it took a couple of attempts to get the position right so I felt like I could push. The doc said, “It’s not too late to have an epidural if you want one.” I can’t even begin to write the number of things that came to my head to say to her. Ultimately, it boiled down to I had come this far, there’s not that much left to do, why would I get one now after I’ve done the hardest part? All of the things I thought came out as an exasperated “No!” I’m just glad I didn’t kick her in the face. Evidently, I am a violent laborer.

So I commenced with pushing. And it was such a relief! It didn’t feel good, but it certainly felt better to be bearing down into the pain than to just be lying there helplessly. The other happy side effect of transition is the slowing of the contractions a bit. It’s like it was built in to help women have the strength to get through the final leg of childbirth. I had more time between contractions so I was able to fully relax, close my eyes, and rest. I’ll be honest, there were times where I even skipped pushing during a contraction because I was just too tired and needed the rest. Finally, it was really time for delivery, the doc returned because she had left at some point during pushing, and things got serious. You could see a head. Someone asked me if I wanted a mirror so I could see. Um, no! Are you crazy? Do you even know what’s going on down there? Steve made a comment he likes to think was funny after he got his first sight of the head. “I think there’s something down there.” He kind of whispered it and pointed a little bit. I’m pretty sure I said, “Not now, honey.” He is certainly a joker, and I appreciate his desire to lighten the mood, but come on, full-on childbirth is not the time.

I remember the doctor saying my name and to listen to her and do exactly what she says. I was so tired I couldn’t even keep my eyes open most of the time. She was trying to keep me from tearing, but I knew from the look on her face that I did as the head came out. After the head was out, it felt like an eternity waiting for that next contraction to get the body out. I’m fairly certain I let loose a “Get it out!” once or twice. I pushed one last time and out came the baby. Steve said “Honey, it’s a little girl!” We hadn’t known the sex of the baby prior to delivery. They put her on my chest, and all I could think was “I’m so glad that’s over.” They took her and weighed her, and I got the second shock of the night. 8 lbs 10 oz! No wonder my belly was so giant! 

I’d be lying if I said I was instantly in love and connected to the baby. In fact, after my sister visited and left, Steve laid down to sleep a bit, and I was holding Jane, I remember thinking, “Who is going to take care of this baby so I can get some sleep?” It dawned on me that I was that person, and I was so mad. I didn’t get to sleep in, fix up the house, go to the movies, or do anything I had planned because she came early. I was just at work yesterday! I was grateful to no longer have heartburn, though. She was really cute, and I did want to take care of her, I just wanted to do it after a full night’s sleep. Ultimately, all was well, and I did and do love my sweet Jane. I wouldn’t change anything about giving birth naturally, but to be fair, I was fortunate to have a fairly short first-time labor of about seven hours and can’t imagine if it had taken longer than that. I would do natural childbirth again, and in fact, already have. And if we have a third, that one will be unmedicated too.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Meet George Jetson (With Fresh Eyes)

The other day, an argument over music selection ensued from the backseat of the van. Silas, always the proponent for Wee Sing Dinosaurs, was duking it out with George, who was arguing in favor of Truck Tunes. When I say argument, of course, what I really mean is each boy shouting his selection louder than the other ad nauseam. Ever the mediator, I suggested the solution of Truck Tunes on the way to the grocery store and Wee Sing Dinosaurs on the way home. This was met by cheers from George and wails from Silas, who loudly grumbled, "I'm not even going to listen!! (pause) But I have ears so I have to."

This was the exact sentiment that I felt a few weeks ago when I made a poor decision and allowed my kids to watch an episode of The Jetsons. It all began earlier that afternoon at a public library, where we happened to be looking through the Children's DVDs with no particular selection in mind. It was easy enough: Silas wanted something to watch, and I happened to spot one of my favorite cartoons as a kid, now on DVD. I picked it up and asked, "How about this?" I explained to Silas that it takes place in the future, and that all of the houses are high in the sky, the cars fly, and the Jetsons employ a robot. Sold! We checked out the DVD and I walked out of the library happy to have the chance to show Silas what cartoons were like in my day---that is, the good ole' days.

Wow. In case I had forgotten, those good ole' days were the early 1960's (not my day, just to be clear), which held some really antiquated views on things. First of all, I think they were racist. Absolutely everybody in the future is white, according to The Jetsons. Second, the gender stereotyping was absurd. I'm really not sure what I expected from a cartoon made so many years ago, but it seems to be prevalent through the entire cartoon. Beginning with the opening credits, George is depicted as a career man, and "Jane, his wife!" is a compulsive spender of George's earnings. He offers her a few dollar bills to placate her, and she grabs the entire wallet. So much for financial planning and budget-making together as partners. I knew that what was to come was probably not great as soon as BJ and I met eyes, and we were literally 15 seconds into the episode!

I wish I could tell you that it didn't get any worse than this, but it did. The episode we watched was titled "Las Venus," and is based on George and Jane celebrating their wedding anniversary with a getaway to the space-age equivalent of Las Vegas. After they arrived, Jane left to, of course, go shopping for what she termed "a Saturn bikini." She demurely offered George the description of a swimsuit that has "rings in all the right places." What?? I'm letting my kids watch this? It obviously went right over their four-year-old and two-year-old little heads, but good grief! I wasn't expecting sexual innuendos from this enterprise.

The sexual innuendos continued, sadly. George was confronted by his boss via satellite, and he insisted that George visit with a potential client who was also vacationing in Las Venus. He promised George that the account was a big one and would result in a promotion for George and a personal secretary who, the boss indicated, had been referred to by many as "Heavenly Body." The writers apparently thought that George had no brain and no self-control, because he became ridiculously google-eyed over the possibility of scoring such a prize!! A secretary with a hot body! The look on his face was disgusting. As the episode unfolded, George did in fact meet with the client, who apparently happened to be a good-looking female. Time after time, George's character was dumbed down to be an ogre who could not articulate a single sentence while in the presence of this woman. He ended up looking like a blathering fool.
George made plans to meet with this woman for dinner, even though he was on vacation with Jane. The problem, really, was that he neglected to tell Jane about it. That evening, as he was dining with Jane, he seemed to have forgotten about his appointment and then suddenly remembered that he was scheduled to meet with this client. I'm not sure how he forgot, but okay. Because he felt he couldn't be honest with his wife, he made an excuse to leave her and he hurried to meet his client, who was in another restaurant. As he was blathering with the client, he again seemed to suddenly remember, "Oh! I have a wife! Better hurry back!" And so back and forth he went between women, each time with the sudden remembrance that he was supposed to be somewhere else. Object permanence, not achieved.

The episode, and I am assuming the entire cartoon, is an insult to women and to men. Women made no valuable contributions to anything in this episode and were generally viewed as sexual beings. Men were made to look like dumb oafs who are incapable of speaking in the presence of beauty, incapable of remembering simple plans, and guided by their sexual impulses. People of color, apparently, don't even exist! I couldn't wait for the episode to conclude and wished that I didn't have ears. I suppose that we could have stopped the show in the middle of it, but our children would have reacted as though we had thrown their dessert into a litter box. Probably. Maybe I don't give them enough credit. We could have turned off the show and explained to our children that The Jetsons aren't allowed in our home because we don't appreciate the objectification of women. Surely they would understand that, right? Somehow, though, that didn't seem like the best idea at the time. So we finished the episode and then quietly returned it to the library. The next time The Jetsons came up in conversation, we told them it had been due back at the library. Someday we can have that conversation, but not today.

Some people would say that we're overreacting, but the truth is that kids pick up a lot more than we often give them credit for. If BJ and I allowed our kids to continually watch examples that endorse these kinds of stereotypes, exclusions, and objectifications, then we risk this becoming the norm that our children think is acceptable. The ideas may gradually implant that women are good for shopping, that men become foolish around women other than their partners, that white people are the only ones that matter. I don't think so. Why even introduce those notions, just to combat them? I think we'll stick with PBS Kids shows like Wild Kratts. My kids learn valuable information about animals and their habitats while observing teamwork, kind brotherly interactions, an African-American presence in the cast, and tons of cool scientific inventions that are masterminded by a female named Aviva. This seems like a much better idea. In the meantime, I'll stop reminiscing about how things were better in the days of yore.
Wild Kratts
Brotherly cooperation in action

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cardinals and Big Bird

Faith is a funny thing. One minute you can be feeling sturdy in the cruise-ship of life, and then an unforeseen trial in the form of an iceberg creates an upheaval in your life that you never wanted to anticipate, but here it is. You're left treading water, and the question becomes, 'Who can you call for help?' Sometimes it's the opposite scenario: you're barely keeping your head above water and are about to surrender, when suddenly a hand seems to come from nowhere and you suddenly find yourself dripping wet, but plucked aboard a vessel of safety. Through the years, I think I have found myself in both of these scenarios. All I can really conclude is that, as we develop and grow, our lives will take turns that we never anticipated, and our faith has no choice but to do the same. I can wrestle with it, discipline it, and let it wander, but ultimately my faith only belongs to me and it remains my accomplice each day.

Two years ago I went through what I would consider a mildly-sizable crisis of faith. Though I never questioned the existence of God (I've been there in my college years, done that, and come out the other side) or his goodness, I found myself unable to come to terms with the injustice and sadness that life dishes out to many people. Read back, if you want, on my anger and despair over baby Aiden Smith's condition and his eventual passing, and you can easily spell out a girl flooded with grief and doubt about God's capability to change the world's circumstances. I began to believe at that point that prayer can be quite useful in changing us, but it cannot change our circumstances. I reasoned that God, who created love and is love, certainly loved this little boy more than I ever could, for how could he create me to be so without firstly having been so himself? And yet, if he loved Aiden at least as much as I did, why didn't he save him? I can't even pretend to know the answer to this question. I began thinking, I would rather believe in a God who created a world that he disallowed himself to intervene in, than to believe in a God who could save this baby and wouldn't. I wrestled with this new (to me) stance on faith, alternately finding comfort and despair in it. I sought the counsel of people wiser than myself, hoping for easy answers. The most spiritually-mature friend I have told me that I was only arguing with myself over semantics. "Jenny," she said, "This is not a hill to die on." She was right, because arguments about the nature of God are less important than what we do about our lives here on Earth. No easy answers came, and in the meantime, life got tougher.

Last October we lost Owen, and everyone who reads this blog knows that I don't even have to go deep into this pool to convey what his short, but big, life did to those of us who loved him. In my darkest moments I have found myself briefly questioning the idea of heaven and an afterlife. Seeing Owen pass into that place in the matter of a moment left me frantically wondering, 'What is he doing now? Where did he go?' Nearly always I imagine Owen in the autumn leaves, playing and tumbling with an exuberant smile on his face, totally at peace with his creator. Sometimes though, and I don't know why, I begin to wonder: what if the afterlife is something that we have made up to comfort ourselves? We as humans seem hard-wired to believe in something greater than ourselves, which one could argue is an evolutionary advantage that propels us forward as a species and provides us hope, except that it isn't true. I, on the other hand, believe that we're cross-culturally hard-wired to believe in something greater than ourselves because we were created by something greater than ourselves, and thus this sense of yearning was created within us. I will admit that acknowledging the idea of no afterlife--of nothingness--after this life, is a concept that is devastatingly empty and frightening to me. I scramble quickly from these thoughts because I find that no good can come from them.

Since two years ago, I have been praying about my questions, though not consistently. I may only now be finding answers, but perhaps what I am really finding is another curve in the road of progress. The wisdom comes from Mindy Sauer, Ben's mom, who is finding herself struggling with the kind of grief that many moms identify with and that all other moms cry to imagine--the grief that comes when a mother outlives her child. Mindy continues to write posts on her blog about how the family is doing without Ben, and she wrote a post earlier this month that challenged me deeply. Entitled "When God Winks," the post spells out a heartbreaking journey that the Sauer family made, perhaps prematurely, to their favorite vacation spot, but this time without Ben. She records that they could see and feel Ben in all things on their vacation, which brought a grief beyond what she and her husband thought they could endure. They would have gone back home if not for their kids, who were excited to be at the beach. But, Mindy writes, there was this cardinal that just wouldn't leave the family alone. Never in her many, many times at this vacation spot had Mindy ever seen a cardinal, but now, just when their grief was beyond enduring, came this beautiful red bird that accompanied them every day. The bird, which the family saw as a token from God, brought them great comfort and happy thoughts about Ben. Ben's identical twin Jack even called out, "Hello Ben!" and the family took delight in this 'coincidence' from God.

Mindy's quiet time on the beach, with a welcome interruption from daughter Megan, who contributed a neat shell in the heart over Ben's name
Mindy said that she did not think that the cardinal was a coincidence, but was rather a 'wink' from God, placed intentionally to provide comfort and small moments of happiness in her otherwise very sad life right now. Mindy cited a book called "When God Winks: How the Power of Coincidence Guides Your Life" by SQuire Rushnell, which she read at the recommendation of a friend right after Ben's passing. The book's push is that God works through 'winks' in your life to let you know that you're on the right path and provide comfort, and all you have to do is look for these winks.

I find this idea to be so charming and comforting. I so wanted to believe it, but I wasn't sure that I did. Like any true investigator, though, my purpose should be to challenge myself and not only read materials that align with my beliefs. So, I quickly reserved the book from the library and had it read within a few days. The book is divided into sections like "Coincidences in History," "Coincidences in the Arts," and "Coincidence's at Life's End." It is filled with stories of what seem to be amazing flukes or coincidences, both from everyday people as well as celebrities. Much as I detest the idea of testing God, I think I sort of walked into this book with the prayer of, "If this is true, then God please let me see it in this book, because I'm about to give up on this idea."

For the first half of the book, I wasn't terribly impressed. He seemed to be making lots of generalizations and wanted all kinds of participation exercises like journaling about one's past. No, thanks. But then I read a couple of sections that floored me and changed my gears--'coincidentally,' one of them was the section called "Coincidence's at Life's End." Without boring you with too many details, I will say that the book suddenly kept handing me stories and details that were simply uncanny in their relationship to my own life. For instance, SQuire (yes, the Q is also capitalized) Rushnell writes about the lifelong friendship between Jim Henson and Joe Raposo, who was the songwriter for Sesame Street. The author specifically mentions two songs only in that entire section of the book, one of them being the song "Sing;" incidentally, this is the exact song that emotionally brings me to my knees about Owen. See? I'm crying even as I type it. I cannot hear that song or even think about it without feeling literal pain and despair in my heart and welling up with tears. That song was played on loop during my first-ever visit with Owen, which was truly such a sad visit because we already knew his diagnosis and knew his life was to be cut short. Ellie was obsessed with that song at the time, and we must have heard it a hundred times. To read about that song right then and there seemed a powerful 'wink' to me. Within that text was the one song that hurts me the most about the one person I miss the most--and in the "Coincidence's at Life's End" section, no less. And he talked about the airing of the Sing! special and how it all incidentally occurred on the day of Jim Henson's death, which was May 16th, and I'm a little weird about death on the 16th's as it is (Owen, Aiden, and my grandmother all died on 16th's). Huh.

There were also two other coincidences that struck me as really odd. One was that he told this really long story about Jessica Savitch, who I know was famous but I didn't know anything about until a week before I read the book. I read an article that had mentioned Jessica Savitch and, since I wasn't sure who she was, I looked her up. The story of her career and her freak-accident death was interesting, and so I read about Jessica Savitch for like half an hour. Then, a week later I'm reading this "God Wink" book and there she is again! It's not like you read her name every day. Huh.

At present day, I can say that this post has been percolating in my mind for some time. I sat out back on the deck this morning working on reports, and was accompanied the entire time by a cardinal cheeping incessantly, and dare I say, wonderfully. After all, Van and I stepped out on the deck in the quiet morning at 6:15, and I asked God aloud, "One more time, please give me a sign by sending me a cardinal. I really need some help with this." And I began crying, because I was sad and I often feel sad when I'm short on sleep. And I was thinking of Aiden and Owen and Ben, and then I heard the cardinals before I saw them--the male and the female, both of them there, just as I asked God.

Enough is enough. I'm tired of asking God for signs and I'm tired of asking other people what they think about this. Like Heidi said, it isn't a hill to die on anyway. But right now I need the comfort, and for the first time in two years I don't feel like I'm deluding myself. I don't have to read too much into simple things, but I can let myself smile at the idea that God is occasionally intervening just to make me smile or let me know that he is taking care of the people that I need him to. What really seems to hit home is the idea that I need approval from no one in order to believe this, and so I can stop seeking it. Appropriately, Rushnell wrote, "Don't be afraid to be alone. You also need time to listen to your inner self instead of someone else suggesting how you should think."

One more ebb in the faith river. We'll see what's around the next bend.

Owen, March 2012 during the Sing visit