Monday, January 31, 2011

Egypt: A Message to be Feared

I'm nervous.

Oh, I should be nervous about the snow but I'm simply resigned. I give up. I have assignments lined up for the kids to do if they are home for the day.

I'm nervous about Egypt. I've been watching the news and we've gone from a democratic movement to a radical Muslim uprising. The frame has changed. The administration of this country wants us to think one way- not the other.


I'm keenly aware of framing in the news media. I teach it to my classes. I can help them argue for anti-piracy laws or against them. How to make an image that will resonate for the American public. It's not hard. We're fairly easy game to media manipulation.

The "Muslim Brotherhood" is now the headliner. And yet Mohamed ElBaradei, a lawyer who headed the International Atomic Energy Agency and won the Nobel Peace Prize, is the leader of the opposition. A secular figure.

A man, not a religion.

Still, we hear about religion, poking at our fears about holy wars where our buildings come tumbling down.

Why? What is the President trying to convey? We've supported a non-democracy for over 30 years. Are we the least bit ashamed of that? Or was the peace in the region worth the trade?

A few million people in Cairo would disagree.

And yet, it is the disturbing instability of the entire region that must give us all pause. Far deeper than pro-democracy, anti-dictatorship, pro-Muslim, anti-American... this is a conflict that goes back to the birth of mankind. Whether or not American becomes involved any deeper than it is, is not the point.

The way it is being presented to us? Please. Listen carefully. There is a message in there I think we all should fear. Not about Egyptians, or Muslims or who is right or wrong... but the way we are being tugged into this issue.

Like I said, I'm nervous. Very nervous.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Perfect Parents

I am not a perfect parent. Nor am I a perfect person. I know that. I try my best, sometimes I do a good job, sometimes great, sometimes, whooooa nelly, was I wrong.

Judging other people's parenting? Not unless it's extreme.

My son- my gay son- has a friend whose parents will not let him hang around him. Why? Because he's gay. And their son? Is gay. They may not like it, they may not want to accept it, but it's the way it is.

I understand they may struggle with it. I understand it's not easy. I ask my other two boys, Are you sure you're not gay? They say, Sorry, Mom.

Sigh. Okay, I still love you.

Today I found out they don't like a mutual friend the kids have. A lovely young woman who has a single mom. Being a single parent isn't easy- being a parent in a marriage isn't easy. Parenting isn't easy.

They feel this young woman has "too much freedom."

My question is, have you talked to her? Spent any time with her? Because she's a pretty great kid.

Some kids have a lot more freedom than my kids do. If you asked my kids, they'd say they have no freedom at all, I'm overprotective and incredibly strict. My rules are different than other parents. My sister in law let her kids watch movies at 5 years old that stunned me.

She has great kids.

Would it have been my choice? Nope. Bottom line? Are the kids good kids? No question. I adore them all. I adore her. She's a fabulous, strong role model for her kids.

We parent very differently.

When I heard about these parents "dislike" of this young woman, I got mad. They are wealthy, have been able to pay for round the clock nannies, and have never had to worry about where the next mortgage payment would come from.

I know I have tremendous privilege. I have been able to stay at home with my kids for years. Not everyone can. Few people can.

I know I'm not perfect. Do they?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Winter Blues

I cannot believe how horrible this winter has been and it's not even February yet.

Currently, there are two plumbers in my basement fixing my furnace which of course died during the coldest day of the last four years.


They have been down there for several hours. I believe one of the boys best get a college scholarship because it's going to cost at least a years worth of tuition. I finally poked my head down there and said, GUYS! You're making me nervous.

Almost done...

That was a half hour ago.


Tomorrow? Another foot of snow. I'm sure all the schools, except where I teach, will be closed. The train will run slow or late or not at all. My students will straggle in late. Wet. Miserable.

Meanwhile, life still goes on. Kids to lessons, appointments. Good thing I have the monkey-mobile. My sister left me her car- it's a giant, ridiculous, Escalade. And it has two giant, ridiculous monkeys in pink tutus on the side.

No, seriously.

It was the name of her business. Four Monkeys. Don't get me started. Not only do we only have one car, we have a hybrid. The two cars in the driveway makes us look very confused.

Yes, I will sell it. No, I can't yet.

The reality is... it's been nice to have something that can get through the snow. I said it. My sister is laughing.

Still going to sell it. It's giant and ridiculous.

Plumbers still working. Maybe two kids are going to need a scholarship...

Friday, January 21, 2011

Power in Beauty

A friend of mine told me the other day how a date asked her when she knew she was beautiful.

Nice come on line, I replied. Did you have an answer? She did. She remembered when she did feel beautiful, a few years into what was a long term relationship. It took time, trust and confidence.

I wondered about the question. My answer would be, Um, as soon as you tell me, sweetheart. Okay, I may be a little out of practice with come back lines after 20 years of marriage.

I don't feel beautiful. I never have. Now, before you all start saying beauty is in your heart and all those nice things, the reality is I am not traditionally beautiful as a woman. I'm tall, broad shouldered, and have a more masculine appearance. You could say I'm handsome and I'd believe you.

While I was sitting having lunch in a small cafe today between classes, I heard some comments from the two guys sitting next to me that stung.

It always stings. I try to have thick skin, to realize some people are simply stupid, but it always gets to me.

It's snowing like crazy. I'm in jeans, a sweater, and muck boots (which probably won't come off till April this year). It's New England, it's winter and I'm thinking stilettos aren't the best choice with a foot of snow on the ground.

They started, loudly, talking about "shemales" and how they wished people would dress right.

The implication was that my gender was their business. It wasn't. I'm having lunch. Does it matter if I have breasts or a penis? One more comment and I was going to dump my soup in their laps.

It hurts. Do you have to make fun of me? Because, I was pretty much the only other person there aside from an elderly woman and two young lovers who were holding hands and kissing between every bite.

I glared at them and they snickered and went back to talking about football. I wish it wasn't quite that stereotypical but it was what it was.

The reason I can't answer the question about when I felt beautiful is because I don't fit. I was still raised as a girl, with little girl expectations of beauty. My mother would put books on my head and teach me to walk with good posture- she never did that with my brother. When it came time to wear makeup, she tried to give me lessons. I remember I was working at Burger King after school and the heat of the grease and makeup were not going to work well together.

I passed.

While I identified as a boy in so many ways, I was still a girl. Society ingrained certain expectations, even in me. I rebelled against them. If my mother said, Oh that's pretty, I'd put it back on the rack. I didn't want to be pretty.

But I did want to be beautiful. Pretty felt weak but beautiful meant power.

That is what it all boils down to, I realize. Power. Those two white guys felt they had every right to snicker away. To make me uncomfortable, to make a judgment and deem their worldview not only acceptable, but worthy of announcing.

Although I doubt they thought that deep. You have to wonder, though, what inspires people to be randomly mean.

All I know is I'm jealous of my friend's response, her real belief that she is beautiful (she is, by the way. no question). There is not only a level of self esteem but a sense of power I wish I had.

Maybe then it wouldn't sting.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Arizona Shooting: Bitter Rhetoric Needs to End

At the end of the day on Saturday, after the memorial was done, a few of us were sitting around, laughing, talking. I don't know who heard the news or how, but suddenly there was an iPad running a report about a shooting...


I couldn't quite understand what I was hearing. A US Representative from Arizona was shot in the head? A judge and little girl were dead? More? How many dead? One, maybe two people involved...


Another young white man armed and dangerous. I thought about Tim McVeigh. Columbine. Waco.

Was he part of a group? Do we have more to fear?

I didn't need to know if it was a liberal or right wing group- my mind was clear about that whether or not I was right or wrong- I wanted to know if there was more to come.

Representative Giffords was shot because of what she believed. The people around her were shot, and killed, because of what Giffords believed.

I've received threats and nasty notes because of what I believe. Nothing I've ever taken seriously. Nut jobs. Whatever, in the famous words of my teenage son. Now? I have to I putting my kids in danger?

Let's be clear about one thing- right wing, left wing, this man is a terrorist. He used violence as a way to create fear. Being white, with an anglo sounding name, he was not labeled as such for quite a while.

Don't retreat, reload, says Sarah Palin.

As we head into what could be one of the most contentious political elections in our history, I hope the one thing we learn from this event is that our political discourse must change. We have to be able to think, debate and discuss without taunts or violent innuendo. Both sides are guilty of that.

I have been guilty of that.

In 1968, Memphis Sanitation workers went on strike, carrying signs that simply said, "I am a Man." It was a simple statement of dignity that demanded respect. It didn't say, You are an ignorant bigot. Stop being a racist jerk. Instead, the message was clear, powerful.

We need to return to those kind of messages, packed with emotion, without pointing a finger at someone else.

In the coming days, the debate will rage about who is responsible for this shooter's state of mind. Ultimately, he was responsible for himself. He is the one with blood on his hands.

The rest of us, right or left, need to acknowledge that it's time to change our messages. We are all responsible for the bitter rhetoric that has become commonplace in our country.

It's time for change.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

My Sister's Memorial

Jake played harp. Flawless. Zachary read a piece he wrote about her as an aunt. Stunning. Ben put together photos. Beautiful.

I sobbed through most of my speech.

My friend who ran the service... amazing. She talked about how it was the darkest day of the year, for the last 200 years (solstice with an eclipse). She talked about how she saw the love between sisters, with illness, and how hard it was.

Walter and Allan both spoke. Both with deep love.

Friends did readings.

The songs, sung with beauty, left me crying. I'll Fly Away and Down to the River to Pray.

People who were here, who didn't know her, said they felt like she was there, in a moment. They felt like they knew her.
I have to say, I didn't feel like she was here. I feel like she's gone. really gone.

Ben cried. I mean, sobbed in my arms at the end, for a long time. It was my tears that let him let go. My sorrow let it in. I saw that. I held him and held him and finally, he pulled away. I gave him a tissue and he threw it on the ground.

You've used that!

Then... my honorary daughter came up to him and held him. And the two of them cried.

I cannot explain how much that meant to me.

Tonight? Jake's best friend is here sleeping over. Zachary's best friend? has been here since yesterday at 3pm. He helped us set up, clean up, and hugged me so tight I thought he was going to break my rib. He's here again, too. Jeanine's uncle and aunt and cousin with family all came from iowa. Her mom, her sister, too.

The cats are finally out of the locked room. During the ceremony? My dog sat at my feet, as always. People snapped their fingers, trying to coax her away, but she didn't move.

Cathy's oncologist, who I invited, came by at the very end, after most people had left. She said, I had to tell you, the autopsy results were in. The cancer was aggressively in my sister's liver. They never understood the whole picture, she said. Stem cell... maybe it would have worked. Probably not. She said, you did the right thing. There was no hope. she said, I know Cathy wanted anything if there was hope. There wasn't any.

You did the right thing.

What a gift.

What an amazing gift.

This is what I said today:

My sister. Or, as Zachary pointed out, my seester.

I cannot believe she’s gone. After removing her from life support, I sat with her, and expected at any moment she would sit up and crack a joke. It was impossibly hard to whisper to her to let go.

I didn’t want her to let go. She was my big sister. A protector when I was scared as a little girl of our parents fighting, she would let me crawl into her bed and talked to me about anything and everything to drown out the loud voices.

And I was her protector when she was scared and sick in Savannah. I went down and brought her to a safe place. It was the first time in my sister’s life that the world around her wasn’t toxic. She was loved for who she was, not what she could give.

It was the way we were with each other. Always there to take care of, to hold, to love. We lived very different lives, but there was an unbreakable bond between the two of us. We made it through so much together. There were those who tried to pull us apart- but no one ever could.

We were seesters.

She was a wonderful aunt to my boys. Of course, she drove me nuts with all the inappropriate humor and gifts that I specifically told her not to buy. She would say, uh huh, and on Christmas day, the boys would be ecstatic, and I’d be shaking my head.

In this last year, the boys were a gift to her. She loved having them for sleepovers, and they loved going, as Aunt Cathy always had chocolate, chocolate and then, a little more chocolate. The time she spent with them, gave her incredible joy. She marveled at who each were becoming, and would tell me over and over, how much she loved them. How blessed she felt being their aunt.

My sister and I had a lot of adventures, most of which my kids will have to be 25 to hear. The one constant, through it all, was laughter. We always found a way to laugh at every situation. It was much easier to laugh because we knew if we started crying, we may never stop.

She told me, over and over, to let it go. Let it all go. I told her over and over she couldn’t run away. We knew the other was right.

In the end, she went home. After years of cross country travel, chasing men and their dreams, multiple houses, she finally went home. She stopped running.

I love you my seester. I miss you so much.

I promise to let go of all the bad. All the pain.

But I will never let go of you.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy New Year, 2011

A couple of thoughts as I go into the new year...

The second to last conversation I had with my sister, she said to me, live like tomorrow isn't coming. You never know. It's true, and for her, very true. Yes, she was sick, but what hit her was astoundingly bad.

If you tell your kids it's time to clean? Whatever fighting or yelling had been happening stops. They scatter. Fast.

I am way more capable than I pretend to be. I actually know my way around a computer, can find my way around on the subway, and am able to lift heavy things. I'm getting a little tired of being pegged as someone who cannot (although I have certainly fostered such thoughts.).

The next time they say Snookie is dropping from in a ball? It better be six stories instead of six inches. What a disappointment.

New Years Eve is highly overrated. I will never, ever experience the crunch of Times Square and I feel pretty good about that.

I am starting to come to grips with the fact that I'm an orphan. Sure, I have some family alive but not any I'd ever talk to again. My sister was it. It's over. I finally understand, although not yet deeply, a friend of mine who has been alone in the world for some time.

My wife's family is beyond fabulous. Some are coming to my sister's memorial. Yes, there will be a tequila toast. Odd to write this after saying I have no family- I do have family. But I don't. Both are true.

Everyone- if you love whoever you are going to leave all your worldly goods to? Get organized. I've only shaved off a teeny tiny bit of the iceberg and I'm overwhelmed. Paper bags are not the best filing cabinets. I'm not complaining just... overwhelmed.

Don't ever forget to say I love you at the end of a phone call. Always. Even if you're pissed.

And now I'm going to get ready for dinner. A couple friends are coming over. I'm not quite up to it but it's time to shake the cobwebs and get back to life again.

Happy new year. It's gotta get better, right?