Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Gun Dialogue, not Debate

Recently, I stopped by Walgreens after work. As I was checking out, I noticed a man standing outside the door, arms crossed, a pissed-off look on his face, a holster with a pistol on his belt. I have a massive phobia of guns, so my heart started to race, my palms started to sweat, and I started looking around for a place to dive should he come inside shooting. 

Then I spoke to the clerk. I said, “Um, so there’s a guy with a gun outside the door.”

She said, “Is he pointing it at us?”

“No,” I replied, “but I just don’t like the idea of walking past a guy with a gun to get to my car.”

“Well, it’s his right,” she said, fire in her eyes. “I’ve got guns in my house, and I’ll fight to keep them.” She was pissed. At me.

“I totally support your right to have guns at home,” I told her, “but seeing them out and about makes me feel like I’m in the Middle East.”

“I don’t go anywhere without my gun,” she said, the color rising in her cheeks. “My husband doesn’t either.”

At this point, I was mad, too. I just wanted to buy some Smartfood. I really wasn’t in the mood for a debate.

I countered by saying I hope nobody’s guns go off accidentally (something I read about often). She retorted that they don’t if you get trained, which her 8 year old already was. She then actually bordered on shouting as she said to me, “What’s the first thing you’ll think of if someone breaks into your home?”

“The fact that many people die by their own guns during a home invasion,” I told her, walking out the door. At this point, I was ready to take my chances with Open Carry Joe than Angry Walgreens Wendy.

This was just a couple of days before the UCSD shooting. It’s been a week of prodding as far as my gun phobia is concerned.

But it got me thinking. Neither of us was going to change each other’s mind during that debate. Why? Because we were angry. Angry at each other, rather than angry at a situation. Trying so hard to be right rather than trying so hard to find common ground.

When a tragedy like UCSD occurs, my instinct is to blame. To blame all the folks who value the 2nd amendment more than I ever will. To want to shake them until I see things the way I do. But this is America. It just doesn’t work that way here. And that is a great thing.
I come from a family where almost everyone has a different political view than I. I work with people who are almost exclusively Conservative. And yet, I respect, value, and understand where they’re coming from on many issues. We know each other as people, so we can’t just pigeonhole each other as ignorant or heartless or whatever.

So, when these tragedies occur, I turn my mind instead to how every mother in America – Republican, Democrat, Independent, whatever – is scared to death this will happen to her baby. Fathers are worried about their families. People are worried about their spouses or parents or siblings or friends. We are all worried. None of us wants this.

My political allies and I are afraid that our society will become more and more violent. We worry that automatic weapons will obliterate our loved ones in the blink of an eye. We worry that anyone who wants a firearm can get one – despite age or insanity or prior records. We worry that we’ll become a shoot-em-out culture of doom.

My political opponents are afraid that the 2nd amendment will disappear.  They worry that they won’t be able to protect their families and their homes. They worry they won’t be able to hunt or shoot guns recreationally. They worry that our society will become socialist or totalitarian or something other than free.

All of our fears are real. All of our concerns are real. And for the most part, we are just good people who want a good life.

So, let’s stop debating and start dialoguing. Listen to each other. Stop fearing or polarizing or ridiculing each other. We both fear the extreme. And guess what – a lot of people stand to make a lot of profit when we fear. People consume when they worry – buy more weapons, buy an alarm system, buy a guard dog, buy a big bucket of chicken wings to eat to take my mind off of this. Let’s stop feeding people our money and start listening.

When I was a kid, there was no seat belt law. When one was proposed, it was the end of the world. The government was meddling in everyone’s business. This wasn’t America anymore. And now look at us – we’re still America. We’re still free. We just have a lot less fatalities per year from car wrecks.

That’s how I see it with guns. My students get a lot of joy and focus from hunting; I’d never want to take that away from them. Many people, including my best friend from college, feel secure by arming their homes; I’d never want that to be taken away from them. But this doesn’t mean than people with dangerous mental instabilities or police records should get guns. It doesn’t mean that we should have magazines of ammunition that can wipe out entire classrooms of first graders in moments. It doesn’t mean that the 2nd amendment means unlimited access.

But that’s my take. I’m interested in what you have to say. But I’m not interested in anger. Or blame. Or ignorance. We’ve already got way too much of that.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Reasons to Judge Other Moms

Not long after Stella was born, I swore off mommy message boards. Notorious for perpetuating the "Mommy Wars," they fed my negativity and certainly provided fodder for my miserable mental post-partum state. I found myself feeling inferior at everything I did, certain someone was judging my every parenting move. Because, on those boards at least, the women slung accusations around like pillows at a pillow fight. One where people have slipped bricks into the pillows.

Then I found a local message board here in Louisville and I was pleasantly surprised. The women were supportive of each other, knowledgeable about many topics, and delightfully accepting of varying parenting styles. I'd found my cyber tribe.

But recently, there's been some negativity on the board. Someone posted a "I cannot BELIEVE what I saw a mom doing today" post and people hopped on, slinging insults about that woman's great sin. Then another post. Then another. I've remained mostly silent, opting to stay out of the comments, but I've been really disappointed and sometimes even angry. I live in fear that someone will come on and post something they observed me do (Louisville is a small town, after all) and why it makes me a terrible mother. Fear NOT of being judged. As a middle school teacher, I'm used to that. No, I live in fear of what I'd say BACK to that unsuspecting poster.

Women need to support each other. Or as the great Ani DiFranco says, "Trust that women will always do their best. Trust our differences make us stronger, not less."

Yes, as a tribe, we must guard each others' children. I've called CPS several times in my years as an educator when I feared abuse, neglect, or a home not conducive to raising a child. What I didn't do was passive-aggressively post about it online so everyone could join me in bashing the family. Of course, if a kid is hurt, I'm angry at the adult. Of course I'll take action. But if someone's doing something against my personal style, it's just none of my damned business.

I have no doubt the board will even out soon. Most of the women there feel as I do. But I'm taking a breather to be safe.

So, in the meanwhile, I decided to start a list of all the reasons I've heard people judge other moms (not just on this board, but in all realms of life). Please, feel free to add your own to the comments. My thinking is if you've done something on this list, maybe you don't need to judge anyone else. Because someone is already judging you, and my guess is you don't like it.


·         You spank your child.
·         You don’t spank your child.
·         Your child eats fast food.
·         Your child eats sugar.
·         Your child eats only hippy organic food.
·         You let your baby have ice cream.
·         You gave your baby eat solid food before six months.
·         You gave your baby solid food before a year.
·         Your baby only drinks milk and will never learn to eat.
·         You formula feed your baby.
·         You breastfeed your baby in public.
·         You’re drinking a beer while breastfeeding.
·         You breastfeed your toddler.
·         You breastfeed your preschooler.
·         Your kid is raised by other people at daycare.
·         You’re a stay-at-home-mom with no life.
·         You’ve never left your kid with a babysitter.
·         You go out without your kids regularly.
·         You let your baby cry to sleep.
·         You nurse your baby to sleep.
·         You share a bed with your baby.
·         You make your baby sleep alone.
·         Your baby sleeps in a bouncy seat or swing instead of the crib.
·         Your baby takes a pacifier.
·         Your baby uses you like a pacifier.
·         Your baby is circumcised.
·         Your kid is throwing a fit in public.
·         You’re giving into that kid who’s throwing a fit in public (and spoiling him).
·         You’re a helicopter parent.
·         You aren’t keeping an eye on your kid.
·         You wanted to move the date of Halloween so your kid won’t trick-or-treat in a severe thunderstorm.
·         You made your kid trick-or-treat in a severe thunderstorm.
·        You drank caffeine while pregnant.
      You drank a glass of wine while pregnant.
·         You smoked while pregnant.
·         You pumped gas while pregnant.
·         You battled a drug addiction while pregnant.
·         You were one of those annoying neurotic women who wouldn’t do anything fun while pregnant.
·         You used midwives.
·         You used an OB-GYN.
·         You had a homebirth.
·         You had a c-section.
·         You think you’re a hero because you didn’t use any painkillers during birth.
·         You’re a Christian mom.
·         You’re not a Christian mom.
·         You’re married to a man who doesn’t work.
·         You’re married to a controlling man.
·         You’re married to someone you don’t deserve.
·         You’re not married.
·         Your spouse is a woman.
·         You installed your car seat incorrectly.
·         You are a car seat Nazi.
·         You put your baby in a stroller.
·         You carry your baby everywhere.
·         You’re overweight and lazy.
·         You’re thin and obviously vain.
·         Your kids watch TV.
·         Your kids never get to watch TV.
·         You’re on your phone all the time.
·         You leave your kids in the car to go on a job interview.
·         You’re on welfare.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

What do I want for Mother's Day?

Who could ask for anything more?

Lately, I fantasize about solitude. My life is incredibly social. I teach over a hundred adolescents language arts. I collaborate with colleagues. I have two children who need me at home around the clock. I have a spouse with whom I coordinate and communicate. I keep up with friends as much as I can, usually (and lamely) via the internet. My new nightly habit of reading for 30 minutes alone and in the bath has become a treasured part of my day.

Sometimes, I fantasize about taking a trip. All alone. Going back to NYC to visit my old haunts. I imagine sleeping a full night. Sleeping in, in fact. Hogging the bed. I imagine taking a long, hot shower with no tiny visitors asking me to play mermaid. I imagine only getting myself ready. I imagine walking out of the door, popping into a bagel store, ordering whatever the hell I like, then eating it - all in one sitting - with a piping hot cup of coffee that I finish while it's still hot.

I imagine walking around without an agenda, stopping to see a movie or an art exhibit or maybe even a play. Sitting on a park bench with a book when my feet need a rest. People watching. Listening to music. Walking in and out of stores for twenty blocks or more.

I imagine calling up a friend and having dinner at a place with no kids menu. Drinking a cocktail, wearing an outfit that wasn't planned around breastfeeding accessibility. I imagine staying out as late as my friend and I want, not worrying about the early wake up call the next day.

But it never takes long before the fantasy turns sour. I imagine worrying about my kids. Are they OK? Do they miss me? I'd have to find a time, a place, and storage accoutrements for pumping. I'd probably want to call home every hour, just to hear what they're doing, to hear their voices, to hear them breathing. I'd miss them. I'd feel like a boulder was on my chest. I'd feel lonely as hell.

I know because I was lonely. Before I helped construct this little family, I was aching for company. For love. And I can't believe how ridiculously lucky I've been to get them. I miss solitude, and I take it when I can - greedily, hungrily, and apologetically. But I don't need days and days of it. That fantasy is just that - a fantasy. Like dating George Clooney, who in real life would probably be moody and full of himself. (Right?) The idea is better than the reality.

This mother's day, all I want is what I have. An incredible husband. A boy and a girl, a kindergartner-almost-first-grader and an eight-month-old sweety. Two geniuses. Two squishy-sweet love muffins. Yes, they require a lot of my time and energy and attention and physical work. But they're worth every minute.

But, if you really want to get me something, just nominate me for What Not to Wear. Because then I could get that little trip to NYC and a new wardrobe to boot. OK?