Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How Democrats Could Talk So Republicans Would (Maybe) Listen

I have heard a lot about the forty-whatever percent of people that the Republicans write off, or that the Democrats write off.  These are the people who, supposedly, won't be swayed to vote for somebody of the opposite party.  So, during campaigns, I have heard that candidates speak either to their own constituents, or to the small percentage of the population looked upon as the "swing vote."

This is all understandable.  An election is, after all, a contest.  In a contest, one hopes to win.  In a contest, one employs strategies that will maximize one's chances of victory.  That is the nature of a contest.

But, I think this is too simplistic of a way to look at things.  There are, after all, people like me.  People who, even though they are viewed as having strong and unwavering political leanings, can actually be counted upon to listen fairly to both sides of an issue.  For example, I have never actually met any candidates for political office, except for Richard I-Can't-Remember-His-Last-Name, who was the mayor of Redwood City when I was a young girl.  He went to our church, and he made sure to show up quite regularly during his campaign.  I probably remember him most because I sorta had a crush on his rather hot son, who was a couple of years older than me, and was a kick-ass guitar player and drummer.  Now, Richard I-Can't-Remember-His-Last-Name was a Democrat.  And, if I had been old enough to vote, I probably would have voted for him, regardless of my more conservative views.  Not because of his son the rock star, but because I really liked him (Richard, that is).  He was a very good guy.  I realize I have rambled a tad bit here, but my point is this:  Even though I have always been pretty conservative and traditional, I have a soft spot for the more liberal way of looking at things, especially when those more liberal ways of looking at things are espoused by good and trustworthy people.  I was just telling my son this morning (and I think maybe he was not very happy with me, but "oh, well") that I really love the liberals nowadays.  Especially the young ones.  They are full of good-hearted, enthusiastic idealism.  They are joyful and full of fun.  They really do care about freedom and equality and justice.  They have hearts for the poor and marginalized.  They are willing to make personal sacrifices for others.  And they have softened my Republican heart a little bit.  They have made me take a second look at certain positions that they hold.  They have helped me regard certain things from a different angle or in a new light.  They have helped me to achieve a personal spirit of bipartisanship, if it is possible to have a "personal" spirit of bipartisanship.

In listening to these lovely young liberals, though, I do have a little bit of advice. 

First.  Do not write off us old fart conservatives.  Don't write off the young conservatives, either.

Second.  Please be sensitive to the "fear-mongering" employed by some of the more extreme conservatives to alienate people to your viewpoints.  For instance, sometime during the 2008 election, a rather respected conservative blogger put up a picture of what looked like a concentration camp and wrote a piece implying that Obama was planning to build camps in which to house all of us annoying Christians.  Did I believe this?  No.  My husband even wrote to this man, telling him that a respected blogger such as himself shouldn't be engaging in such "bullshit" (my word).  Did my husband get a reply?  No.  The thing is, though, that a lot of conservative people believe this hogwash, especially when it is put forth by a fellow "Christian."  So, if you -- dear liberals -- are a bit sensitive to this, I believe it would be helpful.  And this leads me to my next point.

Third.  (Admission.  The lovely lady who runs "Ben McKenzie News" reported on Mr. McKenzie's activities while he was campaigning for Obama during 2012.  She posted a couple of radio interviews, several pictures, and a TV ad.  I looked at these things, and this is where some of this advice comes from.)  I may be wrong here, but it is my feeling that if you call yourselves "surrogates" for Obama, you will just freak a lot of conservatives out.  "Surrogates" does not have a lot of good connotations for conservatives.  It brings to mind surrogate motherhood, which a lot of conservatives frown upon.  It also sounds very "sci-fi," if you will, conjuring up images akin to "1984."  I understand what you are trying to say when you use this term.  It means you are standing in for the president and presenting his ideas to people, as he would present them.  But, if you could come up with another term, it might be helpful.  Also, I think it might be beneficial if, when explaining Mr. Obama's views, you did not use his exact vocabulary all the time.  As in, we are "chatting with folks."  Mr. Obama uses the words "chatting" and "folks" often.  And I know that when you -- on the campaign trail -- also use these words, you are simply reiterating and "driving home" his messages.  The thing is, to conservatives who might otherwise listen to you, this might be a little off-putting.  It may sound to them a bit like you are not using your own brains, but have instead had your wills co-opted by Mr. Obama.  Now, I know you have not had your wills co-opted, and I hope I am not pissing you all off here.  It's just that I have been around a lot of conservatives for a long time, and I have some experience with how many of them react to things.

Of course, I realize that Mr. Obama won't be campaigning in 2016, so a lot of these points might seem like too little, too late.  But, maybe there are lessons to be learned when planning Mrs. Clinton's campaign.  And, frankly, I like Mrs. Clinton.  A lot.  I did not much care for her back in '92, but I have watched her really come into her own, and I think she has her head screwed on right.  So, if an old fart Republican like me might be swayed to even consider voting for Mrs. Clinton, there may actually be some hope in not writing off that forty-whatever percent of us you might consider to be unreachable.  And even if it doesn't seem to be worth your time and effort and dollars to try to get our votes, it might be a little investment in the future of our country to craft your message in such a way that enables all of us to see each other more positively and work together more constructively.

And, to be fair, do I think Republicans need to talk differently so that Democrats would (maybe) listen?  Yes, I do.  But, I didn't feel like writing about that today.  I felt like writing about this.  I'll probably write about the other side of the coin at some point, as well. ;-)


Monday, July 29, 2013

Mothers Judging Mothers

I read a blog post recently by a stay-at-home, homeschool mom in which she bemoaned the fact that homemaking seems to be turning into a lost art.  She wondered if, not too far into the future, the art of homemaking will be something only read about in fictional tales of yore.  And she seemed to be aiming at least a little bit of negative energy at the women of whose homemaking efforts and skills she disapproves. 

I am a stay-at-home mom, too.  I also homeschooled my kids for many years.  And I have enjoyed my life.  Are there things I regret, things I wish I had done differently?  Yes.  Do I see the negative side of homeschooling, as well as the many ways in which it benefited my kids?  Yes.  Do I romanticize homemaking?  No.  Well, at least not as much as some other people seem to.  Can I be kind of a rebellious bitch?  Yes.  Definitely.

So, in the spirit of rebellious bitchiness, here is the way I look at things.

First of all, many years ago (when I was a little girl), most women were home the majority of the time, but it was often out of necessity more than desire.  For example, there was no Trader Joe's, or any type of food that could be prepared conveniently and in little time.  Women had to cook from scratch, for the most part.  There were no dish washers.  The dish soap was not as good, thus necessitating more scrubbing.  Stores such as Target -- which provide a variety of relatively inexpensive clothes -- did not exist.  Women had to do at least some sewing.  There were no cotton/poly blends, so most clothes had to be ironed.  A lot of people didn't even have clothes driers, thus time had to be spent hanging the wash out on lines and then taking it back in.  Floors did not have easy-to-clean finishes.  They had to be stripped of their old wax and re-waxed regularly.  Same with the wood furniture.  Freezers had to be defrosted about every week -- manually.  This meant emptying the freezer of its contents, turning it off, filling it with pots of boiling water, and then cleaning up the melting ice before it got all over the place.  Baby bottles needed to be sterilized every day, because this was before pediatricians realized it really wasn't necessary.  Doctors also required mothers to prepare baby formula daily using sterilized water   Some women did nurse their babies, but it was not as common back then as it is now.  And women who did nurse their babies generally didn't do it for very long.  A lot of families only had one car, too -- usually used by the dad of the house to get to work -- which really put a crimp in the style of any mom who wanted to leave the house regularly.

So, when I see women criticizing other women for not attending properly to the art of homemaking, but instead working and bringing their kids to many after-school and summertime activities, I get a little annoyed.  Especially when some of these critical women are bringing their kids to PLENTY of extra-curricular activities, which take up plenty of time.  In fact, I have seen these critical women bristle when other, even more "traditional" women criticize them for putting their kids into too many sports and stuff.  I mean, COME ON PEOPLE, maybe we should mind our own business and allow moms and dads to make their own decisions about their own kids and family styles.  Maybe when are tempted to look to long and hard at others, we should instead turn our gaze to Ben McKenzie in "SouthLAnd."  Um... I mean... to our own business.

I will close out with a little personal history.  My dear cousin and her dear husband have three kids (now young adults) who are about the same ages as my three kids (also now young adults).  Her kids went to school and did many sports and activities.  They weren't home all that much.  Their mom was not overly-concerned about the state of the corners of her kitchen floor.  She also worked two days a week in a wonderful career field in which she excelled (and still excels).  On top of it all, this remarkable mother earned a teaching credential while raising her kids.  I, as I said, did homeschool.  My kids were involved in activites, but not quite as many.  I was a tad too concerned about the state of the corners of my kitchen floor.  Did my kids turn out better than hers?  Not at all.  Not one teeny, tiny little bit better.  All our kids are wonderful kids, making their way in the world as responsible, happy young adults.  Would people rather come to my house than hers?  Is my house warmer and more welcoming?  Again, not at all.  In fact, most people would rather go to her house.  The food at her parties is better.  And the atmosphere is full of fun.  My point?  Creating a wonderful family and a wonderful home can be done in many ways, including by ignoring the "art of homemaking" to a very large degree.  It is the loving welcome that matters, not the organization of the linen closet.

In my opinion, anyway. ;-)


Sunday, July 28, 2013

"The O.C." -- The Chrismukkah Shopping Babysitting Job

*A Little Fan Fiction For A Sunday Evening*

It seemed fair enough.  Sandy and Kirsten needed to go Chrismukkah shopping.  Besides, they hadn't gone out together alone since Sophie was born several months ago.  Not that they were complaining.  They are totally over the moon with that baby.  And living in Berkeley allows Kirsten to be the kind of mom she's always really wanted to be.  A Birkenstock-clad, cotton-skirt-wearing, quinoa-eating, nursing machine.  Don't get me wrong, though.  It looks good on her.  Beautiful, in fact.  I have never seen her looking so lovely.  And simply happy.

But, the Chrismukkah shopping did need to be done.  And I was finished with my finals.  "So," I thought to myself, "why not offer to babysit?"  

So, there I was.  Me, a beautiful little blonde baby girl, and a bottle of breast milk.  I was trying -- very, very hard -- not to think about where the cream colored liquid in that bottle came from.  And the baby girl?  Was unhappy.  Noisily and loudly unhappy.   She was not being fooled by the silicone nipple on that plastic bottle.  Not at all.  Smart girl.

"Yes," I thought to myself.  "You should have spent more weekends at the house.  Then your baby sister would know you a little better.  You could have practiced holding her, getting familiar with all her favorite positions.  Maybe Kirsten would even have let you give her the occasional bottle of breast milk."  But, of course, I had gotten wrapped up in my studies.  And my new social life.  I had neglected my family a bit, along with my little sister.  And my sister was now letting me know, in no uncertain terms, that she didn't appreciate my neglect.

So, I put down the bottle and I took a deep breath and I cradled the baby in my arms the way I had seen (on the rare occasions I was home) Sandy do it, with her head nestled in the crook of my left elbow and my right arm supporting her body.  I held her close to my chest and took deep, calm breaths.  She was still crying, but seemed to be relaxing a bit. I walked over to the window, looking out at the twinkling holiday lights decorating the neighborhood on this cold night, and I rocked little Sophie back and forth.  I looked at her little face, and into her blue eyes.  And I thought about all the Chrismukkahs before this one.  Special times that always did seem to bring miracles, in spite of my usually dubious attitude.  "You should never doubt Moses and Jesus," Seth would remind me.  Moses and Jesus -- the world's original superheroes.  And as I looked into my little sister's eyes, I couldn't help but think of the little brother that I would soon be seeing.  My little half-brother.  Marissa's little half-brother.  He would be visiting for the holiday, along with all the people I have come to call my family.  A family I know will never leave me.  Miracles added upon miracles.

Sophie was now quiet, but very alert, looking back into my eyes as I gazed into hers.  "Are you hungry, little one?" I asked her.  It's funny, isn't it, the way you talk to babies like they'll answer you?  I guess they do, in their own way.  Retrieving the bottle from the place where I had left it, I put it to Sophie's lips and she started to drink, never taking her eyes off my face.  It was a feeling that I had never had before -- her warm little body, wrapped in soft flannel, hungrily drinking her mother's milk.  And she polished off the whole thing in no time flat.  A true Cohen.

I then proceeded to the next step.  Burping her.  I placed a cloth diaper that had been left on the dining room table for this purpose over my left shoulder and lifted Sophie up to that shoulder, the way I had seen Sandy do it.  I could feel her soft hair against my neck and cheek as I gently patted her back.  And then, it happened.  She burped, all right.  She burped with such great force that Kirsten's beautiful white easy chair -- which was about three feet behind me -- was fairly soaked with liquid.

For a moment, I was a bit panic-stricken.  But, then I just had to laugh.  I held the little girlie gently out in front of me, so I could see her face.  I have to say she looked quite self-satisfied.  "Happy with yourself, are you?" I chided gently.

Deciding to ignore the mess on the easy chair in favor of not losing any of this rare and special time with my sister, I carried her into her room, and sat down with her in the rocking chair that Kirsten kept in there.  An antique wooden rocking chair, carved with beautiful, intricate designs, and covered with soft hand-made cushions.   The moonlight was coming in through the window.  A window silhouetted by delicate lace curtains.  I rocked Sophie on my shoulder until I could tell by her deep, even breaths that she was asleep.  And then I rocked her some more.  I rocked her until Sandy and Kirsten came home.  

And when they did come home, I didn't mention the mess on the easy chair.  I simply didn't want to ruin the moment.  And I figured they'd find it for themselves, easily enough, the next day.  Besides, Seth was coming home the next day.  He's always had a talent with upholstery cleaner.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Why we should stand with women...

...whether or not we live in Texas.

This isn't going to be a pro-abortion rights post.  Or an anti-abortion rights post.  Lots of people speak and write passionately about those things.  And, frankly, I kind of get tired of hearing it all.  I'm 50 years old, and I've pretty much heard it all.  So, what I'm going to do here is reflect on women.  I probably will piss some people off.  I'm probably going to generalize a little bit.  Please realize that I know I'm generalizing; I know that everything I say won't apply to every single woman.  Women are varied and individual -- like snowflakes.  But, like snowflakes, maybe there are some commonalities.  So, what do I hope to accomplish?  I just hope to give people something to reflect on.  Feel free to accept or reject what I say according to your own life experiences.  I am no end-all, be-all expert.

Years ago, a friend of mine said something that gave me pause.  She was not a Christian.  She was Asian and had been raised as a Buddhist.  She was relatively quiet, very thoughtful, and wise.  She had a daughter who was about the same age as my daughters -- they were all pre-schoolers at the time.  One day, we were talking about the raising of girls -- specifically teenage girls and sex.  She said something that I have since thought about on quite a few occasions.  She stated, "Once you're faced -- as a teenage girl -- with an unplanned pregnancy, there really is no 'good' solution.  All of the options -- whether abortion, or adoption, or being a single mom -- involve many difficulties, emotionally and otherwise.  No matter what 'choice' you make, it's going to be a hard one.  It's going to be painful."  You may disagree, but I think she had a really good point.

And I think her point applies not only to teenagers, but to women of any age.  So, whether you are "pro-choice" or "pro-life" or whatever label you want to apply to yourself, I think we all need to reflect on this and what it truly means to "stand with women."  Because women, sexually, are much more vulnerable than men.  And it is the women who must face the consequences of sex -- especially pregnancy -- in a much more direct manner than any man ever will.

I have read many things which advocate the idea of sexual freedom for women, which tell us that women have the basic right to a healthy and satisfying sex life.  I agree with this.  I think, in the past, women's sexual needs and desires were often overlooked.  Women who had higher sex drives and more sexual imagination were often made to feel like "sluts" or "whores."  Whereas men who were engaging in the same types of behaviors -- or trysts of the imagination -- were described as "healthy" and given the "wink-wink."  

One thing, though, that sometimes is forgotten is that the body of a woman is made to get pregnant.  Even when you're using reliable birth control in a responsible fashion, it doesn't always work out the way you think it will.  In fact, I even read a statistic that one out of three women will have an abortion by the time she is middle-aged.  That's a lot of women.  Add on top of that the number of women faced with unplanned pregnancies who do not have abortions and you see that women get pregnant a lot.  Even -- sometimes -- while using contraception (or even NFP) properly.

And -- bottom line -- who really has to deal with an unplanned pregnancy?  The WOMAN.  If she chooses an abortion, she is the one who has to have the procedure done on her.  If she chooses adoption, she has to go through the pregnancy and the birth -- feats which should not be diminished or dismissed as simple things.  They are not simple things.  They are exhausting -- physically and emotionally.  And a woman who chooses adoption has to go through being pregnant and giving birth -- and then has to face placing her child into someone else's arms.  I have three children.  This cannot be an easy thing to do.  Not at all.  And the woman who chooses to keep her baby -- especially if she is young and single -- may face very difficult circumstances.  For example, have you checked out the price of good child care lately?  A single mother most probably must work, trying to bring in enough money to cover not only her basic living expenses, but child care, as well.  I recently read that the Head Start program is facing a lot of cuts because of the sequester, leaving many single moms in the lurch.  Most of the women who depend on Head Start don't make enough money to afford good private day care.  

Some of you, at this point, may be thinking that I am a commie pinko feminist bleeding heart liberal.  Actually, I am a Republican.  I think personal responsibility is important.  I have tried to teach my children to be take responsibility for their actions.  But, let's face it, we all get in over our heads sometimes, even when we are trying to be responsible.  Also, we all fuck up occasionally.  Some of us escape -- by the luck of the draw or Providence -- the consequences of our fuck-ups.  But, some of us don't.  So, yeah, I can relate to those women who find themselves facing a pregnancy that is just not good news.

And this is why we must "Stand With Women" -- whatever our particular bent is regarding the abortion issue.  Because women are vulnerable in ways that men just aren't.  So, in our actions, we should attempt to be truly sensitive to the needs of women.  We should try to truly support them.  How?  Here are some ideas.  Maybe we should respect their intelligence and desire to be independent and self-directed.  Maybe we should examine the ways in which we can create a society where fewer pregnancies are "crises."  And, perhaps, we need to LISTEN to the women.  I know there are women who regret their abortions.  The pro-life side has them talk at their functions.  I know there are women who do not regret their abortions.  The pro-choice side has them talk at their functions.  I also know that there are many women who will never talk about their abortions -- whether they regret them or not -- out of fear of rejection or ridicule.  I really have a lot of sympathy for these "silent" women.  I wonder how they feel when they see all the fighting and arguing and contention? 

I know I am kind of rambling here.  I also know that I am not addressing the issue of unplanned pregnancy in a comprehensive way.  For example, I have not spoken of married women faced with unintended pregnancies.  And that does happen.  Often.   I know I am not offering concrete solutions.  But, I am just trying (probably poorly) to point out that if we can quiet ourselves -- at least as individuals interacting with other individuals -- and we can really listen to and be there for women who are facing unplanned pregnancies, maybe our society can actually move forward and experience some healing.  And when I say listen, I mean listen.  Without passing judgement.  Because, sometimes, I think the first thing a woman in crisis needs is someone to talk to, someone who will listen with true compassion, respecting her intelligence and her autonomy and her capability.  Because, let's face it, most people make better decisions when they feel understood and respected, when they are not backed into a corner, when they are given a little breathing room.  That's part of what "human dignity" is all about.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Pope And The Atheists

I read with great interest that Pope Francis spoke recently about the relationship of Christianity with atheists, stating (in a nutshell) that atheists could certainly be saved.  How?  By their good works.

Did this surprise me?  No.  It is what I have always been taught.

Did it surprise a lot of people?  Yes.

If you think about it Biblically, though, it is logical.  Read the story of the Good Samaritan, if you don't believe me.  Jesus was basically giving a smack-down to all the self-righteous "religious" people.

A lot of atheists, though, appeared to be offended by the Pope's remarks.  Perhaps it felt to them as though the Catholic Church was commenting on their beliefs and lives in a manner that was both uninvited and unwanted.  I can understand this.  It's probably sort of like when I heard that Mormons baptize people without said people being present and without the consent of those people.  I wouldn't want that.  And maybe the atheists resent us Catholics trying to "save" them.  Maybe they view it as an insult to their own intelligence, free-will, and world-view.

There may be another thing going on here, though.  And it is something that should cause us Catholics and other types of Christians to do some reflecting.  Are we behaving in such a way so as to cause atheists to say, "Why in the name of God, who I don't believe in anyway, would I want to spend an eternity in a place locked up with you prideful, judgmental, mean-spirited, unaccepting people?"  They are probably imagining themselves stuck at a banquet table, eternally flanked by the likes of Jerry Falwell and Rick Perry.  Not something that is especially appealing to me, either.  Maybe we should ask ourselves if we are building bridges to God, and not obstacles (another thing Pope Francis spoke about recently).  Are we really practicing the attitudes of meekness, gentleness, and loving-kindness that should be expected of Christians of all stripes?  Or are we being like the proverbial clanging gongs and clashing cymbals?

There is a wonderful older priest at our parish who told the following story:

     He said that, many years ago, he was approached by a young man.  This young man was a Communist and an atheist.  The priest said that he asked to see the Communist Party card that the young man was carrying, as he had never seen one before and it interested him.  He spoke to the young man a bit and found out that he had been raised in a very "fire and brimstone" preaching household.  The young man was raised with the idea of a God who is very harsh, very cold, very unaccepting -- ready, waiting, and almost eager to cast people into hell.  The priest listened to the young man's story and then replied, "If that is what I thought God was supposed to be like, I wouldn't believe in Him, either."

A story worth reflecting on, eh?

Now, did the young man in this story get all converted and everything?  No.  And that is not even what that priest was after.  All he was trying to do was convey to this young person the merciful face of God, as we Christians are supposed to see Him.  After all, the women loved Jesus.  THEY LOVED HIM.  And that tells you something about the guy.  Think about that, Governor Perry.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Having Of Teenagers -- Part 2

I know my last post on this topic of having teenagers was a bit rambling, but I just had to figure out a way to tell and comment on that story about the kid and his coffee cake wishes.

This post will probably be a bit briefer and more to the point.  Maybe.

First of all, people living with other people is always problematic.  Because people are problematic.  There are times when I think it would be lovely to have my own studio apartment with a murphy bed and shiny hardwood floors.  There would be nothing in it except the bare essentials and my Mac.  And I think we all wish this sort of thing from time to time.  Do we actually want it to happen?  Nah.  It's just that people living with people has its stresses, as well as its rewards, no matter how much you love each other.

And so it is if you have teenagers.  It's going to get stressful.  But, it can also be a lot of fun.

How can we make it fun?

It starts when they're little, as I said before.  Have fun together, enjoy life together, but make it clear that you are in charge.  If you say something, it goes.  It doesn't have to be a fight.  You can be friendly about it.

For example, if you are in the park and it's time to go home:
     Mom:  You have five more minutes to do what you want to do and then it's time to go home.
     *Five Minutes Pass (Or ten. When they are three, they really have no idea.)*
     Mom:  (in a friendly, yet firm, voice) We are leaving now.
     Children:  (whining) Can't we stay just five more minutes!?!?!?  Pleeeeease!?!?!?
     Mom: (calmly walking over, picking up the youngest child, fully expecting the others to follow) We are leaving now.

If you do this, each and every time, it will work.  I think.  You just have to be consistent.  And calm.  And firm.

And if you start this with your toddlers and your pre-schoolers, things will probably progress rather smoothly as your children head toward adolescence.

Then, one day, your adolescent child (especially if said child is a girl) will roll her eyes at you when you ask her to do something quite reasonable.  Do not lose your temper.  Just smile mischievously and take her picture with your iPhone.  I actually did this (though not with an iPhone, as they weren't invented yet) and my daughter started to laugh.  Calmly re-assert what you want your child to do and expect that she will do it.  Of course, before you make your request, you have to take your child's personality and state-of-mind and mood into consideration.  Don't set yourself up for failure.  Set yourself up for success.  It is best to make requests of your child when she is not feeling exhausted and overwhelmed with life.  Because -- let's face it -- teens these days do have a lot of pressure.  One mother told me that her child was told to take the SAT at least three times and to fill out a minimum of ten college applications.  No wonder so many of them are on anti-depressants (the moms and the teens).  So, start by making small, reasonable requests when your child is in a good mood and not in the middle of a term paper.  That way, she will get used to cooperating with you in a pleasant way.

In this vein, do not ever fight with your teenagers.  Don't get into shouting matches.  Don't threaten.  Just don't do it.  You will lose.  Every time.  They have way more energy than you do.  They can come up with clever plans to get around you.  They have friends who will collude with them against you.  Even if they are homeschooled.

How to not fight?

Firstly, listen to your teen without judging.  Kids like to tell you things, even when they are teens and young adults, if you don't judge them and what they're saying.  So, if your teen is telling you her opinion that short hair on guys is better than long hair on guys -- which is a totally screwed up opinion, in my opinion -- it is best just to listen.  Or if your son is telling you that if he doesn't get into college, he has figured out a way to live independently on minimum wage, just hear him out.  My husband once said to me something like this, "The kids tell you all kinds of crazy things, and you don't say anything."  "Well," I replied, "they will eventually figure out most of these things for themselves."

Does this mean you should never say anything?  Of course not.  My Bridget and I have had many discussions about the hair of Thor versus the hair of Captain America.  But, this is the thing.  You have to gauge the state-of-mind of your child when she starts talking.  Is it time to have a mutual discussion or to just be a listening ear?  If in doubt, go with the listening ear.

Secondly, do not micromanage your teens.  Nobody likes to be micromanaged.  Keep your expectations simple and basic, such as:  have good personal hygiene, pass your classes, speak politely to your parents and siblings, don't date douche-bags, no sex, no illegal drugs, drive in a legal manner.  Keep your requests reasonable, too.  For example, I have always thought a strict curfew was lame.  But, on the other hand, I had to know where my kids were going, with whom, and by when they would be home.  The time I expected them to arrive home depended on the activity.  And I expected them to call if their plans changed or they were going to be late.  And if they gave me a bad time about these reasonable things, I would calmly explain how they were reasonable things and what could happen if they did not do them.  These kinds of discussions evolved over time -- starting from when they were in grade school -- so, my expectations were no big shock when they became teenagers.  (Confession:  Even now, even though they are in their 20's, these rules still apply.  They will apply until my kids get places of their own.  Because I cannot sleep if I don't know where they are.  I start imagining them being kidnapped.  Yes, this is idiotic.  But, it's the way it is and the price for living at home with a mother who gets slightly anxious even though she tries not to.  Did I say "slightly?"  My kids would probably laugh at my use of that word.  They are patient with me, though.  Most of the time, anyway.)

Thirdly, and probably most important, enjoy your teens and let them see that you are a "cool" person.  By "cool," I don't mean that you have to take Metal Class on Mondays (like Chris Bruno) -- although that is very cool.  You don't have to act like a teen yourself, because -- frankly -- that will just embarrass your teens.  But, be the kind of parent whose teenagers will enjoy having their friends over to your house.  My kids have lots of parties with their friends at my house -- even though they aren't teens, anymore.  And their friends seem to enjoy coming over here.  Probably because we let them drink beer (now that they are of age).  We even buy their friends beer sometimes.  And, sometimes, their friends buy the beer.  They even let my husband and I attend the parties and have some beer, too.  Let me say, though, that nobody -- EVER -- gets drunk.  That would quickly end the parties, and my kids know it.

I guess I have digressed a bit -- in talking about beer parties -- from the topic of teenagers.  For whom you should never, ever buy beer.

And while we are on the topic of enjoying your teens -- now that I am done digressing -- maybe it is worth it to discuss the issue of TV and movies.  These things often cause conflict among parents and teens.  For example, Mom might want to watch "Magic Mike" and her kids might think it is inappropriate.  Well, Mom, it is time to assert your parental authority here.  Or Mom might want to watch "SouthLAnd" and her kids might think it is too violent.  Again, time to assert the parental authority, and -- if your teen is female -- point out the hotness of Ben McKenzie, thus luring her in and making her your "SouthLAnd" buddy.  My point being?  If you don't act all judgmental about your kids' TV shows and movies, they won't act all judgmental about yours.  And if you want your kids to watch your stuff with you, it is important that you watch their stuff with them.  And then talk about their stuff with them in a friendly, non-threatening way.  Here are some possible discussion questions that you can use when discussing TV shows and movies with your kids:
     1.  How come the Rules For Being A Vampire are different in each vampire show?
     2.  How come it is taking Charlie so damn long to propose to Amita?
     3.  How come some actors don't mind showing us their bums and some do?
     4.  Do you think this role is more or less likely to cause the paparazzi to show up at Shawn Hatosy's house?
     5.  How do you like the way the abortion issue is handled by the writers of "The O.C."?
     6.  How many sexually transmitted diseases do you suppose Ben Sherman has?
     7.  When did Neil Patrick Harris suddenly become hot?
     8.  Who is Channing Tatum?
     9.  What do you suppose would happen if you spent hours upon hours locked up in a pool house alone with Ryan Atwood?  Would this be good sense?
    10.  Did Sammy steal the money from the bank robbery?  If he did, is that actually such a bad thing?
    11.  Is the guy who plays Jim in "The Office" more or less of a douche in real life than the guy who plays Dwight?
    12.  Was Joss Whedon's "Much Ado About Nothing" the most rockin' thing you ever saw, or what?
    13.  What was your favorite scene in Joss Whedon's "Much Ado About Nothing"?
    14.  How is Hollywood's representation of gay characters, of sexuality, of women's rights the same as, or different from, what others in the homeschool community might have you believe?
    15.  Should they have killed off Marissa or let her and Ryan live happily-ever-after?  How did the killing off of Marissa affect your opinion of how Hollywood might affect the souls of young actors?

So, I guess we have now discovered whether or not I would be briefer and more to the point today.

Definitely not.

I hope, though, that you have been entertained by this post.  At least a little bit.  And I hope that, perhaps, you have gotten something out of it that is helpful to you, or will someday be helpful to you. 

And I want you to know that I really appreciate the time you have taken to read my meandering ramblings. ;-)           


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Having Of Teenagers -- Part I

As you may or may not know, I have three kiddos.  Two girls and a boy.  Andrea, Bridget, and Scott. Twenty-four, twenty-three, and twenty.  Soon to be 25, 23, and 21.

So yes, they have all been teenagers.  And they are all still alive.  And I am still alive.  And my husband is still alive.  We are all living in the same house, except for when Scott ventures forth to go away to college.  The girls went away to college, too.  But, they have graduated and are back at home.  Andrea works.  Bridget worked.  Then her health issues acted up and she had to stay home for a while.  She starts back to work again in a couple of weeks.  Yay!

And since I am still alive after having raised three teenagers, and since they are all still living at home in relative peace with their father and I, I thought I'd talk a little about how to go about surviving the teenage years.  Maybe I am full of crap, but here goes.

Yesterday, I read another mom's blog post about the rules she and her husband have come up with for their children regarding devices.  You know, stuff like iPhones and iPads and iPods and TV and computers.  She and her hubby devised a very long and very thorough set of rules for their children regarding these things.  It was quite admirable.  It also made my head spin and my stomach ache.  Although, those symptoms were -- perhaps -- brought about by my menopausal state.  I am unsure.

But, I started thinking about teenagers and rules.  I never made any rules, either when my kids were young or when they were teens.  By this I mean that I never had any formal set of rules that I wrote down in a long list.  Why?  Because I am lazy.  And I could never have kept them straight.  And do you know what happens when the mom can't keep the rules straight?  I'll tell you.

This is what happens:
     1.  Child A:  Can I do such and such?
     2.  Mom:  Sure.
     3.  Child B:  But that's against the rules you wrote down and posted on the fridge.  See?  Rule VII, Subrule C, Addendum iii.
     4.  Mom:  Oh, yeah.  So you can't do that, Child A.
     5.  Child A:  That's SO UNFAIR!  I HATE YOU CHILD B!!!
     6.  Mom:  Is it time for a beer yet?

Firstly then, in talking about living with teens, I say, "Dispense with the rule lists."  You can never be thorough enough to cover all contingencies.  And if you are thorough enough to cover all contingencies, you will not be able to keep track of them in your head, especially when the menopausal hormones kick in, which they often do at right about the same time your children turn into teenagers.

What to do?  To me, the simplest, most straight-forward thing to do actually starts when your kids are quite small.  Be with them.  Talk with them.   Have fun times with them.  Get to know them.  Let them know you are a reasonable person.  Let them see you being reasonable.  Let them see you recover your reasonableness after you have lost it.  After all, you will lose it from time to time.  Apologize, recover, and move on.   And do NOT, under ANY circumstances, take ANY shit from them whatsoever.  This is quite important.  You are the parent.  You have the say-so.  Have confidence in yourself in this area.  Yes, be warm and nurturing.  But, for God's sake, stand up and claim your parental power.  Do not be afraid of your children.

Last week, I read an anecdote.  Someone was in a Starbucks when he (she?) overheard a child of about 7 years old say to his parent, "If they don't have my coffee cake, I am going to lose my shit."  EXCUSE ME?  There is no possible way any of my kids would have ever gotten away with saying something like that.  Either to me or to anybody else.  That child would have been immediately whisked home with no coffee cake.  Once home, it would have been made quite clear to that child that nothing like that was ever going to happen again.  I'm not saying that physical punishment would have to be involved.  But, there would have been a sitting down of that child and my eyes would have been about two inches from his and things would have been quite no-nonsense.

And do you know why?  Kids who are seven years old say stupid things -- things they usually hear from other kids or other adults (or even their own parents).  It is easy to say, "He is just seven."  It is easy to let it go.  It takes much less energy and effort to let it go.  But, if you let it go when your child is seven, what kind of experience are you going to have with that child when he/she is a teen?

I do not mean to get on my high horse here and act like I am some kind of superior parent.  I am not.  I have failed mightily many times.  I will continue to fail.  But, I have learned some stuff from my failures and from looking around me.  And one of the things I have learned is that, often, we parents get intimidated by our children.  Why?  We want them to be happy.  We want them to be well-adjusted and confident and successful.  We don't like it when they cry and have temper tantrums and get mad at us.  I understand all that.  But, I believe we can claim our parental authority and care about our children's self-esteem at the same time.  It is a balancing act, and we will occasionally (or more than occasionally) lose our balance.  But, we should strive for it.

In my next post, I will speak more specifically about teenagers and relating to them, with the understanding that the foundation for this relationship has been laid before your children turn into teenagers, because you have expected them to be honest, decent little people who treat others (including their own parents) with honesty and decency.

I see here that I have kind of strayed off of the specific topic of rules and rule lists, so I guess I can just summarize it this way:
     *If your core idea is that you want your children to grow up to be people of moral integrity, just keep that in mind when you interact with them.  Keep that in mind as you observe how they behave toward you and toward others.  Everything grows organically from that.  If that is your core, you don't need rule lists.  Your children will understand where you are coming from as you travel with them and guide them through the hills and the valleys of their growing up. *      

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Mamas, Kiddos, And Summertime

Summer is here! The kiddos are off school and at home.  The days are slow and stress-free.  Right?


I was reading, this morning, one mom's ponderings about parents (especially mamas) and kiddos and summer.  She seems a little frustrated by the fact that she hears mamas complain about having their kids at home all day with them during this special season.  She is a little miffed that some of these mamas are quick to put their kids into every kind of summer activity, so that -- presumably -- they will not have to deal with said kids.  She blames this apparently selfish attitude on the part of mamas on the sin of pride -- of wanting ones own way and not being willing to put others (like our children) before ourselves.

This particular mom, whose ponderings I was reading, homeschools her own kiddos.  She also has many kiddos.  She is a wonderful mother.  She is a very good person.  I don't mean to come down unfairly on her.  But, I have a little bit of a different opinion about this situation.  And, occasionally, I think I might have some Texas blood in me, as I enjoy "mixing it up" a bit.  (See:  Stand With Wendy and Battleground Texas and all that.)

So, here I go, throwing my iron into the fire.

I did homeschool my three children, but not until they were going into the 5th grade, the 3rd grade, and kindergarten.  My youngest did not actually enter a formal classroom situation until after high school.  I spent the first couple of months after he had gone across the country to attend college lying awake at night, wondering and worrying about how he would do and recounting to myself everything I had not done well enough to prepare him.  He is now entering his junior year, and he has done just fine.  Thanks be to God.  Until we decided to homeschool, though, my older children (both girls) attended public school.  It was a lovely public school.  We didn't homeschool because the regular school was bad or because we are religious zealots.  We are Catholic, but we are basically middle-of-the-road people.  My children, though, expressed a great interest in being schooled at home.  And because there were many social opportunities in our area for them, and because I had been a teacher myself, I decided to give it a go.  As it ended up, I was a "homeschool mom" for 13 years.

Having had my kids attend regular school before I homeschooled them, though, did give me an opportunity to compare and contrast the two situations, including the whole "coming home for summer vacation" phenomenon.

And I don't think mothers who get annoyed by their kids when those kids are home all day, every day for summer break are selfish or prideful.  They are not bad mamas in any way, shape, or form.  They are just dealing with a transition that is difficult -- for both them and their kiddos.

When they are in school, mamas and kids have their routines.  Kids know what to expect and what is expected of them both during the school day and when they arrive home in the afternoon or evening.  They see the same people every day -- their friends, their teachers, the custodian, the lunch lady.  Mothers have their routines, too, whether at their jobs (if they work outside of the home) or in their role as stay-at-home-moms.  In their routines during the school year, these moms do not have to see to their kids each and every minute of each and every day, and they probably spend the majority of their time either with other adults or alone.  And please know that when I say these things, I am not judging anybody's choices.  I am not saying it is better or worse to have a job outside the home or to stay at home.  Each woman must make her decisions based on her own personality and circumstances. 

When summer arrives, though, everything changes for both the mamas and the kids.  If mom works, there is a new childcare arrangement to which the children have to adjust.  If mom stays home, suddenly her daily household schedule is upended by the presence of her children.  And it is probably a lot noisier in the house than during the school year.  It is a huge adjustment for the kids, too.  They go from having a highly structured day to having either no structure or very little.  So, even though mama loves her kids and enjoys being with them, she is bound to go a little nuts -- whether she works outside the home or not.  And the kids are bound to go a little nuts, too.  And when you put the stress of the mom together with the stress of the kids -- and you throw some summertime hot weather into the mix -- some fireworks are bound to result.  This is not selfish or prideful.  This is normal human emotion.  No wonder the mom is out signing her kids up for all kinds of summer activities and camps.  She wants to save her own sanity, yes.  And saving ones sanity is not selfish.  But, she's also thinking of her kids -- that they will be happier and have more fun and even have some new experiences.

It is a nice thing, though -- and probably most moms would agree with this -- to be able to spend time at home with your kids during the summer in a peaceful way.  So, I would like to offer a few suggestions which, believe me, came from learning things the hard way.  I hope they will be useful to you.  If they are not, feel free to discount them.

I think the first two or three weeks of summer break are the most difficult.  Be patient with yourself and with your kids.  Trust that things will get better.  As for daily activities, the following is what I found most helpful:

I would try to have an idea in my head of how I wanted the day to go.  I tried to get up in the morning and shower before my kids were awake.  If they all got up and started running around and playing loudly and fighting with each other before I had my shower, well... I could be a little short-tempered.  After I had my shower, I would get my coffee.  Then the little people would usually start getting up.  I did not allow rough and loud play at this time of the day.  Why?  Because I could not take it.  So, I would assist each one in dressing and hair combing, as their age and maturity level required.  Then they would have breakfast and we would chat.  After breakfast, they brushed their teeth.  Then they were allowed to watch a bit of TV (something kid-friendly) or read or play with their toys.  While they did these things, I would clean up from breakfast and do any other chores that were necessary so that I could feel at least relatively organized.  Sometimes the kids would start to fight.  I would stop them.  Why?  Because I could not take the fighting.  (Yes, mamas, I am pretty convinced that you should not have to put up with your kids fighting.  I mean, all kids fight, but you don't have to put up with it.  You are worth more than that.)  After I was done doing what I needed to do, I would take the kids somewhere, bringing along a snack.  We would not go anywhere fancy -- just out of the house.  They enjoyed the park most especially.  They also liked the "duck pond."  But, even a little walk around the neighborhood could be fun.  Once a week, or so, we would perhaps go to a kid-friendly museum or to the beach or to the lake that is near our home.  Then it was usually time for lunch. 

After lunch, I would let them watch a little TV while I cleaned up and rested a little.  Maybe I would have some tea.  Then I would usually read to them.  I read to them even when they were perfectly able to read by themselves.  I would read all sorts of things.  There was only one rule.  The reading material had to be interesting TO ME.  Yup.  TO ME.  Of course, it had to be interesting to them, too, or else they would start cutting up.  While I read, they could draw or color or play with blocks or lego-type things.  After reading, they did what they wanted to do while I did what I needed to do.  But, what they wanted to do could not involve destruction or ungodly levels of noise.  As they got older, this was an ideal time for them to practice musical instruments or even listen to music.  I tried mightily to get them all to appreciate Bon Jovi.  And, by God, I succeeded.

If it was a hot day -- as it usually is here during the summer -- we would often go to the community pool during the later part of the afternoon.  If you don't have a community pool, you can usually arrange some sort of water-play outside of your home, even if you just have a small patio.  When I was growing up, my mom used to put my sisters and I in our swim suits and we would play on our porch with our Barbie pool and Barbie dolls for hours at a time.  My favorite thing was to pretend the Barbies would be involved in near-drownings and have to save each other.  A Ken doll would come in handy for this game.

After this, everyone would be getting kind of tired, even me.  But, as it is with moms, the most tiring part of the day was yet to be lived -- dinner and clean-up and bed time.  So, I'd get the kids dried off and dressed and put them in front of the TV.  What would they watch?  For this time of day, "Emergency!" was a favorite.  All my kids loved "Emergency!"  They also loved "Lost In Space" and "Wonder Woman."  These shows are great choices while you're making dinner.  Your kids will be glued to the screen and you can drink a beer and throw some burgers together.  Or hot dogs.  Or chicken, if you want to be all healthy about it.

Hopefully, dad will be coming in about now.  And, hopefully, mom and dad like each other.  Perhaps they can cooperate in getting the kids fed, having a bit of family time together, and accomplishing the bedtime routine.  Then they can neck on the sofa before passing out from exhaustion. ;-)


Monday, July 1, 2013

Salt, Leaven, And Light

As we are all well-aware, unless we are a hermit, there is much political debate going on concerning certain "hot-button" issues.  The things going on in Texas right now are especially engrossing.  And the Catholic Church as an institution and Catholics as individuals have thrown themselves into the fray.  I'm not saying that they shouldn't, but the frantic attitude of some of them disturbs me a little bit.  It's like they think the only way to stop Western Civilization from collapsing is through their political activity. 

Again, I'm not saying political activity by Catholics -- or by anybody else -- is wrong.  But, watching the drama swirling about me has led me to contemplate a few things about which Jesus spoke --   especially his words telling us that we should be "salt," "leaven," and "light" in the world.

As I think about these three things, I am struck by their characteristics, especially in the way Our Lord uses His imagery.  And this blog post summarizes my ponderings.  Take it or leave it.  As you wish.

Salt.  It enhances the flavor of our food.  But, we use it sparingly.  Accidentally put too much into your recipe and said recipe is ruined.  An over-abundance of this wonderful substance doesn't enhance -- but totally masks -- the wonderful flavors of many of our favorite foods.  And I think about this when I think about Catholic political action.  If it is too heavy-handed, it doesn't work.  We are called to be a gentle presence.  Subtle.  Like salt, when used properly.  Maybe overwhelming people with our Catholicism is like putting way too much salt in our chocolate chip cookies.  It only makes people gag.

Leaven.  Like salt, it is used sparingly in cooking.  But, just a small amount makes the dough rise dramatically.  Maybe we should think about this in our interaction with others, in our political activity.  We don't need to overwhelm everybody with our "correctness."  We don't need to act like steamrollers.  We don't need to scream and shout and flail.  We can be like the yeast in the bread -- mixed, almost imperceptively, throughout the dough, but having a powerful effect.  What type of an effect?  A rising, a lifting, an enhancing of the whole body of the dough.  The dough is kept intact and whole, growing larger and lighter.  Not imploding or exploding our collapsing.

Light.  Jesus speaks of a lamp on a lampstand.  When I reflect on this image, I think of a dark home sitting on a hill in the night.  The lamp is lit.  What type of light does it give off?  Is it the light of the high-beams of an oncoming mack truck, blinding you as you try to drive on a winding road at night?  Is it the glare of fluorescent lights in an impersonal office?  No.  It is a warm, inviting light.  It is the kind of light that says, "Come in and rest a while.  Have a cup of tea and a cookie and a chat.  I know you are weary.  Let me offer you my hospitality."  It is also the kind of light that says, "In my conversation with you, I will listen to your concerns.  I will hear your heart.  I will respect you and care for you."  Maybe we should think about being this kind of light when we deal with those on "the other side of the aisle."

Why?  Because "those on the other side of the aisle" are not evil people.  They have good intentions and good hearts and good will.  They are honest and hard-working and intelligent.  They would help you out if you were in a jam.  Maybe they even have something to teach you.  And we need to recognize these things, or we are going to tear our country, our culture, our civilization -- and each other -- apart.  And that doesn't seem very "Catholic" to me.