2016: A Year of Kindness

When 2016 rolled around, I decided deep in my heart that I wanted to make kindness a central priority in my life. There’s been so much cruelty and pain in the news, that I want to do my best in my own little way by making the world a better place. Even if I’m only able to do small things, sometimes those can make a difference, right? I hope so.

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. – Leo Buscaglia

I’ve been having to explain a lot of troubling things to my children. We see the heartbreaking news of the refugees from Syria who are fleeing for their lives and politicians here who say loudly that they are not worthy of our help and compassion. We see presidential candidates talking about building walls and shutting people out because of the way they worship or who they love. We see armed men breaking in and taking over public property waving guns and then bulldozing over archaeological sites and damaging fragile habitats. We’ve seen young people gunned down because of the color of their skin.

What this world needs is a new kind of army – the army of the kind. – Cleveland Amory

It’s been a lot to take in. And it’s hard explaining all of this to the girls. They have friends who are many different faiths and we are lucky enough that they go to a diverse school and preschool. For the Grasshopper especially, it’s hard for her to understand the cruelty directed at her friends. Quite honestly, I can’t understand it either, and I don’t know how to explain it other than to say that some people have ideas that we know to be very, very wrong.

Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world. – Desmond Tutu

How do we solve all of this? I don’t know. Obviously, there aren’t any easy answers.

I think, in part, the solution lies within each of us. I think each of us, in our own small ways, can make a difference. I think it starts with realizing and admitting when you’ve done something wrong and apologizing for it. I think it starts with a word of support when you see a parent stuck in a tough situation with a tantrum-y kid. It means standing up and speaking out with compassion if you see someone mistreating another person because of the color of their skin or their faith or who they love. It’s taking the time to ask someone how their day was and really listen to them.

Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution.
― Kahlil Gibran

Either way, I think it all of this has to add up somehow. We can do better than this. We have to choose to be the change we want to see. We have to choose to live with kindness.

Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have. – Margaret Mead

This is why, in 2016, I’m choosing kindness as my word to live by.

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“Bless Your Heart”

Okay y’all, I’m going to get a little southern here for a minute. I was raised in Central Texas (which totally counts as the South), and growing up I used to hear my grandmother bless people all the time.

“Bless your heart.”

“Well, bless your soul.”

And she always meant it with all of her heart.

This is why I was surprised to learn as an adult that there is a “southern” thing wherein people apparently bless other people but really mean, “What a dumbass.” Or “I hate you.”

Guys, please. This isn’t a Southern Thing. This is a mean thing. I’m sure there are some passive aggressive people from the south out there, but I’d hate for anyone to walk away with the impression that Southern women are, as a whole, mean people who just fake being friendly until they can turn around and talk about you behind your back. Meanness is something that happens everywhere. It’s not a “Southern Thing.” I think those folks that bless people’s hearts in a sarcastic way would find ways to be nasty no matter where they are from.

I grew up surrounded by Southerners. East Texas Southerners. My maternal aunts could put more syllables into a word than you would believe. My mother can, too, but she’s pretty good at keeping a lid on it. What she’s not good at keeping a lid on is being friendly to folks. Everywhere. No matter who they are. This Christmas, we were standing in line to get tacos in a gas station (because this is Texas and that’s where you get good tacos), and my mom turned around and struck up a conversation with a couple of construction workers behind us. She chatted with them about their day and the delicious tacos we were all about to eat, and then she stuck out her hand and introduced herself to them, shook hands and learned their names. I guarantee you that if she sees them again she will remember them by name and ask after their children. Probably by name. Because she is kind and genuine and really cares about those two guys and how they are doing.

Now that’s a Southern thing.

But it’s not only a Southern thing. Just like mean folks live everywhere, so do kind people.

So if you ever hear me say, “Oh, bless your heart.” It doesn’t mean I hate you or think you’re stupid. It means I love you and I wish you happiness.

This year is just getting started. Let’s all work together to spread a little kindness.

Things I am (NOT) Tired of Seeing on Facebook

Have you guys seen those lists floating around listing all the things someone you don’t know is tired of seeing you post on facebook? Things like food photos, selfies, pictures of your kids, updates on your love life, commentary about the weather, cute animal videos, and on and on and on?

Listen, I don’t know who this person is, but let’s just give them the benefit of the doubt that they had a bad day, send them an oatmeal-raisin cookie (great for constipation!), and pack them off to bed.

I don’t like these lists because there’s always a thing or two on them that I feel guilty about. And because I can be an anxious person, I end up worrying that I am making my friends hate me because I post stupid stuff. But then, after a day or two, I come back and start scrolling through my feed, and I realize that my friends are all posting pictures of food, selfies, pictures of kids, updates on their love lives, commentary about the weather (sometimes with cool pictures!), cute animal videos, political commentary, and so forth. And I love seeing it!

I love seeing what my friends eat because it gives me new ideas when I’m stuck in a dinner rut.

I love all of the selfies because I love seeing the new haircuts, the new lipsticks and eyeliners, the cool hats, and the smiles of people who feel good about themselves. As long as they are being safe. Practice safe selfie-ing y’all! Although, is there some kind of trick to getting decent looking selfies? Mine always look really weird. Can somebody clue me in? Because apparently I’m too old to be able to do this well.

I love seeing pictures of everyone’s kids, even when it makes me realized that my friend’s newborn baby is going into kindergarten and I’m officially an Oldie McOldperson.

I love hearing about my friends’ love lives. I love celebrating with them when they’ve found the one, and I’m grateful for the chance to offer hugs and sympathy when things don’t work out.

I love weather posts because I have friends from all over the world, and it’s kind of crazy to see folks chillaxin’ (shush, that’s totally a word) on beaches when I’m in wool socks and long underwear. And the snow photos and storm photos are, let’s face it, just plain cool!

Do I actually need to tell you why I love cute animal videos?

I love seeing my friends happy. And when they’re not, I appreciate the opportunity to hug them and send them love. Post what makes you happy, and don’t listen to cranky people who want to pretend to be the facebook police.

And on that note, here’s an adorable picture of our dog playing in the sprinkler.

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Science, Comets, and an Inappropriate Shirt

Yesterday, we landed a spaceship on a comet.  This is an incredible achievement.  I am inspired, overjoyed and practically giddy with excitement.  There are so many incredible things we can learn from comets about the origins of life on earth.  It is an unparalleled achievement.

And it’s so disappointing as well.  You see, Matt Taylor, one of the scientists who’s been speaking to the press about this chose to meet the press while wearing a shirt featuring a number of scantily clad women.

Below is a screenshot showing Taylor’s shirt in all its sexist glory.

matt taylor STEM shirt

Alice Bell does a fantastic job unpacking the issue in her piece: Why Women in Science are Annoyed at Rosetta Mission Scientist’s Clothing.

It’s important to point out that in any other professional setting, something like this would be considered sexual harassment and would never be deemed appropriate.  It’s also important to acknowledge that women often have an uphill battle when entering STEM fields where casual sexism like this can be commonplace.

As Ms. Bell says,

ESA can land their robot on a comet. A comet! It’s amazing. But they still can’t see misogyny under their noses. It’s painfully ridiculous. Pointing this out is not a distraction to the science. It’s part of it. It’s time science finally realised that.

Perhaps, though, we should thank Taylor.  His sexism and ridiculous lack of professionalism have certainly brought attention to the fact that STEM fields have a long way to go when it comes to including the entire population of scientists.

Update:  Matt Taylor has apologized for the shirt, and not just in the usual political way:

“I made a big mistake and I offended many people,” he said, breaking down in tears. “And I’m very sorry about this.”

Go Vote! Today! Right Now!

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care how you voted as long as you voted. I’m not that altruistic. I very much care how you vote.  But even if you don’t vote the way I wish you would, please go vote anyway. And if you don’t vote, I don’t want to hear any complaining from you! You’ve got your chance to make a change! Go do it!

If you still aren’t sure where to go to vote, click this link: https://2014.votinginfoproject.org/

 

One space or two?

I sometimes find myself angsting about minutiae.  Today, it is the humble space bar.  How many times do I strike it between sentences?

I’m not old enough to have ever used a typewriter, except for that period in high school when I convinced my mom that a typewriter would help get my creative writing juices flowing better than the computer.  She lovingly found a beautiful electric typewriter for me at a garage sale, cleaned it, and presented it to me.  Initially, I was ecstatic.  Now I could be a real writer!

Then the realities of actually working with a typewriter set in.  I hadn’t realized before how much computers actually did for me.  Simple things like line spacing became a nightmare.  I am thankful for my electronic helpers these days.

Still, when and why did I begin putting two spaces between sentences?  It is a deeply ingrained habit, one that I didn’t think much of until recently when I started seeing some posts from friends on facebook about the issue.  I began to worry.  Does my double-space make me less cool?  I became convinced that people were reading my work and mocking the spacing.  I could practically hear the whispers and giggles!

I tried to break the habit, but that only made things worse.  Some sentences got a single space while others received the double space.  What to do, what to do?  Would anyone take my writing seriously with the grotesque double-space leering up at them?

In the end, I am still unsure of how to approach the ends of my sentences.  Habit and muscle memory dictates the double space.  Yet correct grammar informs me that a single space is the only correct ending to a sentence.  Perhaps the most important thing is consistency.  Double or single, I should probably pick one and roll with it.

So how about you?  Do you double- or single-space?

Catcalling, Heartbreak, and Mass Murder

(This post contains some strong language.)

Recently, there has been a video making the rounds of a woman getting catcalled as she walks through New York City.  Many people, men and women alike, seem to want to dismiss this as harmless.  They wonder what the problem is with it.  They’re just saying hi.  Can’t she take a compliment?  What’s the big deal?

Here’s a pro-tip for the fellas out there who might be confused by this.  Because I’m seeing a lot of comments that indicate confusion.  Fellas, if you want to pay a lady a compliment and flirt, don’t do it on the street.  Go to a club or something.  It’s a sidewalk, not a singles bar.

The issue is this:  Men who catcall at women are not offering compliments.  They are showing their power.  Getting catcalled is scary.  Most women don’t leave the house looking for compliments.  We just want to be able to go about our lives without having to engage in exhausting banter.  Being told that a stranger finds my body sexually attractive does not make me feel good about myself.  It makes me scared.

Here’s why.  Quite often (and I’ve been on the receiving end of this) if a woman politely declines an offer for a phone number, dinner, coffee or what-have-you, the catcaller does not simply shrug and walk on.  No, instead, he becomes angry.  “Stuck up bitch.”  “Fucking Whore.”  The so-called compliment shifts immediately to violence.  And quite frankly, as a woman walking down the street, if an adult man decided to become violent towards me, there is little I could do to stop him.  In another real life example of the quick shift from “compliment” to violence, the woman in the video is getting rape threats because she dared to speak out about how uncomfortable and awful it feels to have strangers harassing her on the street.

Culturally, many men are taught that they are entitled to a woman’s attention, body, and time.  Motorcycle racers are often flanked by scantily clad women, winning bicyclists receive congratulatory kisses from podium girls, and in the movies, the hero always gets the girl in the end because, well, he deserves it after all he went through.  Who cares if Prince Charming is actually a knuckle-dragging wife-beater.  He busted his ass to get her out of the tower, so she better be grateful for the chance to marry him.  Our culture is saturated by the notion that women are a reward to which men are entitled.

Which brings me to this.

Last week, there was another school shooting.  It’s coming to light that the killer targeted the students because the girl involved broke up with him.  He was a good, successful kid.  He was the Prince Charming of his own story.  He believed the narrative that he deserved the girl and when the story didn’t play out like he believed it should, he killed her.

Maria Guido over at Mommyish unpacks the issue thoroughly and I would encourage you to read the entire article: Stop Excusing The Actions Of A Murderer By Calling Him ‘Heartbroken’.

All weekend, the same narrative kept playing out in the media – How did this happen? He was attractive. He was popular. He was happy. He was also the product of a society that teaches boys from a very young age that their female counterparts are not peers; they are trophies to be won. News story after news story keeps repeating the narrative that Jaylen was jilted and lovesick. But what about the girl whose life he ended? He believed she was “his.” When she didn’t return his affection – he killed her. This is not a new story. This is a story far too many women know. It’s a narrative way too many women have lost their lives to.

Read more: http://www.mommyish.com/2014/10/28/jaylen-fryberg-school-shooting-domestic-violence/

Catcalling isn’t the issue.  Quite honestly, neither is mass murder.  They are symptoms (one much more horrifying than the other) of a deeper problem.  We live in a society in which women aren’t recognized fully as people.  Women are still relegated to prize or trophy status, and until that changes, issues like street harassment and domestic/dating violence will continue.

Midterm Elections: Go Vote

Midterm elections and local elections are arguably much more important than the Presidential elections.  The results have far more impact on our daily lives.

In our house, I’m the only eligible voter.  My husband is still working toward citizenship.  I take voting very seriously and vote as often as possible.  I grew up with my mother telling me that if you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain.  Now, I notice that a lot of people love to complain about the government, but the last midterm elections, only 42% of people voted.

I know, I know.  It’s hard to vote.  Where do you even go?  Honestly, I don’t even know where to go to vote.  It was so much easier in California where they mailed you your ballot and all you had to do was pop it in the mail after you filled it out.  But most states require you to go to the polling places to vote, so when I moved to Missouri, I missed the primaries.  I just didn’t know where to go.

Well, wonder no more.  At the bottom of this post is a tool that will tell you where to go to vote.  It also provides voter ID requirements and other critical information.  Now, despite the fact that it says that I voted, I haven’t yet.   I’ll be doing that on election day.  But this is such a great tool that I wanted to post it now.  Just enter your address and out comes the information.

Go.  Vote.  Don’t miss it.  Take your power back.

Be a part of the solution.

And if you live in the state of Missouri, please protect our schools by voting NO on Amendment 3.

Read more about this effort here: 2014 Midterm Elections, Get Out The Vote!

Image courtesy of wordpress.com.

Tomboys and Girly Girls

Growing up, I certainly worked hard to earn the label “tomboy.”  I eschewed dolls and dresses in favor of dinosaurs and torn blue jeans.  I preferred to play Egyptian Pharaoh instead of house.  And I certainly did not like the color pink.  Not one bit.

And so adults would smile, shake their heads, and say, “She is such a tomboy.”  Initially, I liked that idea.  I’d rather do boy stuff than girl stuff anyway.  Sometimes I even used the word “girl” as an insult, on one memorable occasion shouting at a girl who liked to pick on my in the 5th grade locker room that she was “too much of a girl!”  What I meant was that she was a prissy little snot who needed to leave me the heck alone, but what came out was that she was “girl.”  And that of course opened me up for more mockery.

As I grew older, I began to internalize the idea that I just wasn’t very good at being a girl.  I didn’t genuinely want to be a boy, but since I wasn’t good at being a girl, what could I do?  I was stuck feeling frumpy and out of place.  A perpetual outsider.

Looking back as an adult, I wish that someone had taken me aside and explained to me that there are as many ways to be girly as there are girls in the world.  The word “girl” doesn’t describe the way someone behaves.  It describes what someone is.  Girliness has nothing to do with dresses and colors and toys.  And the reality is that there is no such thing as boy stuff and girl stuff.  It’s all just stuff that anyone can play with.

Now, my older daughter also seems to be earning that title, and I am trying to stamp it out whenever I can.  Just like her t-shirt says, “There are so many ways to be a girl.”  The girl on the far right with the tutu, boots, and robot is my daughter.  (No really, that’s actually her. Cool, huh?)  Whether my girl plays with action figures, pretends to be a ninja, or chases a soccer ball all afternoon, I want her to know that she is great at being a girl and she is awesome at being herself.

Let’s banish the words “tomboy” and “girly girl” from our vocabulary.  Let’s work together to celebrate all of our children for who they are instead.

Dear Other Mother: Little Boys and Gender Roles

Dear Mom I Saw in the Baby Store a Few Weeks Ago,

I saw you and your son on the way out the door as my daughter and I were choosing finger nail polish, and the two of you have been on my mind ever since. Your son was rocking a Princess Anna dress and I could tell by the smile on his face and the bounce in his step that he was feeling amazing. I want to thank you Other Mother. There are so many ways to be a boy, and you were letting your son shine in his own way. I have an older daughter that has taught me that there are lots of ways to be a girl, too. I wanted to say something to you, but you were on your way out and I know that you have to take advantage of the toddler momentum when you find it. Also, I was a little choked up. I said to my own toddler what an awesome mommy you were for letting your son be who he is, and I hope you heard me. You caught my eye and smiled at me, so I think you did. Thank you for letting your son be just exactly who he is.

I wish you both well,
Me.

I posted this letter in my local mom’s group hoping this mom would see it, but I don’t think she ever did.

Why was it so important to me to reach out to this woman who I had never met? Because I imagine other people are reaching out to her, and my guess is that they aren’t doing so in a positive way.

There is often a great deal of pressure for little boys to grow up quickly.  “Little man” is a nickname many boys earn straight from the time they leave the womb.  “Girl” has become an insult thrown at little boys who aren’t acting tough (or sometimes violent) enough.  While there is a well-meaning word for little girls who enjoy traditionally masculine pursuits, “tomboy” (more on that one later), the words for little boys who are interested in traditionally feminine activities go from rude (“sissy”) to bigoted (“f*****”) in short order.  Parents feel the need to spend hundreds of dollars to replace cribs, car seats, bedding, toys, and high chairs upon the addition of a boy to the family lest he come in contact with something pink or purple.

With so much pressure for boys to avoid femininity and softness at all cost, is it any wonder that I was so surprised to see that sweet little boy in a dress?

 

Little children play.  They play dolls, heroes, blocks, pretend, and dress up.  This is universal.  Wearing a dress to a shop won’t change the way this little boy was born, and it certainly won’t affect him in later life.

Except that it will.

He will grow up knowing his mother loved him completely and unconditionally, and that knowledge is the most powerful thing we can instill in our children.