Friday, November 29, 2013

Four

Dear Bug,

It's been four years since you left.

Actually, it was four years on Wednesday, but as we've discussed before, it's easier for all of us if we simply think of your departure date as "The day after Thanksgiving", rather than a numerical date.  It's easy to remember, and it keeps Thanksgiving from ever coinciding with The Worst Thing Ever.  Which we all want to avoid.

Four years. You have been gone for four years. It's really hard to fathom this, and as I considered it today, it occurred to me that the day will come, in the not too distant future, when I will have been without you in my life longer than I had you here.  But then, we both know that's not really true, because you have stayed by my side these last four years in a way I have trouble explaining to people without them turning their heads slightly to the side and giving me a look that is generally reserved for the senile or the intoxicated."How interesting", they say, "and what does that feel like?" 

How do I tell people what it feels like to have you by my side?  Do I tell them that you hold my hand in the car, that I can still feel your lovely little pudgy hand in mine as I drive?  Do I tell them that we talk at night, under the stars, when I see Orion's belt? That I cannot see the planet Venus without hearing you say "She's beautiful tonight, isn't she, Mama?"  That I ask your advice about everything from work to relationships to what to have for dinner?

Yeah; I leave most of that out of the conversation, because people look at me funny. "Mrs. Sump, it's time for your medication now."

So I've been meaning to ask you about how you like your new digs.  I know that cardboard box, "The FEMA trailer", was comfy and all, but I hope you like the urn you dad and I finally found.  I think it's pretty.  Heather think it looks like it has wings. I like it. It's mad of wood; it was important that you be in something that was once alive, rather than some old rock.

Anyway, Bug, I'm rambling a bit, I think because my world feels normal now, and I'm not really sure how to handle that. You know I miss you every day. I think about you every day. But I think about other things now too. And frankly that makes me feel a little bit guilty. You are still the greatest, most beautiful joy I've ever had in my life. I still love you to the depth of my soul and I know that after this world is done, you will be there, still, to hold my hand and listen to my heart.

I miss you, little Bug, and I love you more than I have words to say. Never stop walking by my side.


Thursday, January 31, 2013

Parenting a Teen In Need, and What It's Taught Me About Myself, Part 2



Part 2:  I know you are, but what am I?


You’re just a big, fat, lying, stinky butt-head!


I know you are, but what am I?

I find that kids are just a lot smarter than we give them credit for. 

One of my favorite self-help books is The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz.  It purports to be a book of Toltec wisdom.  I have no idea if it’s actually Toltec or not, and frankly I don’t care if it was handed down by aliens from Rigel 7.  It’s good stuff and I’m consistently amazed how often I refer to the Agreements.  I won’t give away all the good stuff here (because really, you should just read it for yourself), but the gist of the book is four pretty simple statements:


The first one is “Be Impeccable With Your Word”.

Second, “Don’t Assume

Third, “Don’t Take Anything Personally

Fourth, “Always Do Your Best

In practice, one of the take-away messages from combining these four Agreements is, “Don’t let your internal poisonous feelings about yourself spill over to your interactions with others.  In fact, while you’re at it, stop drinking all that poison.  It’s going to make you sick.”


Pretty simple stuff, right?

Maybe not so much.  At least not for me.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but self-loathing?  It’s an active hobby for me.  I can sing you an album of my greatest hits entitled, Reasons I Hate Me, including Bonehead Things I’ve Done that I’m Still Embarrassed About, 104 Reasons I Hate My Thighs, I’m Not Smart Enough For This Job, Sweet Resentment, I Know You’re All Laughing Behind My Back, and My Parents Are Secretly Ashamed Of Me.


Oh, you have that album, too?  How about that?


OK, so here’s the really ugly thing I learned about me while learning to parent Daisy Mae:  Every time I put her down, every time I told her she was lazy, disrespectful, slobby, bitchy.  Every time I insisted that she should comply, “BECAUSE I SAID SO”.  Every time I imposed a completely ludicrous, arbitrary or unreasonable constraint on her time and energy, it was actually less about her and more about my own feelings of insecurity.  Every time my voice echoed so loudly in my ears that I couldn’t hear her, it was actually the voice of my own self-loathing making all that noise.


Now, let’s be honest.  Teenagers are lazy, disrespectful, slobby and bitchy.  And they smell funny (true story).  But really?  That’s their problem. And Daisy Mae is actually smart enough to know what she’s doing.  In fact, when she’s being bitchy and disrespectful, it’s because her self-loathing Greatest Hits are playing in her own head.  The sad reality is that a lot of kids in foster care have the live, platinum, double album of self-loathing greatest hits.  So what the heck do I gain by listening to her album, much less singing along?

As a parent, I became a lot happier when I recognized my own insecurities and baggage and learned to turn them off when dealing with Daisy Mae. What does that let me do?  It lets me be more objective in qualifying rules and consequences.  It lets me not take it personally when rules get violated.  It lets me not drink poison when she hands it to me.  (Oh yeah, that poison thing?  It goes both ways) and it lets me hear her out on issues of rules and conduct (hers and mine) without feeling threatened.  Oh, and it lets me teach her some new songs, like Wow, You Are So Good At Teaching Others, I Love Your Sense Of Style, That Dinner Was Wonderful, and You're Going To Be RemarkableAm I perfect at it?  Not by a long shot.  But it’s better that it was around our place, and the less I let my insecurities and self-loathing cloud my interactions, the less she does as well.


And here’s the bonus: In not sharing my self-loathing greatest hits with her, I find that my own album plays at a much lower volume than it used to. Who knows?  Maybe I can stomp on that Greatest Hits album one of these days. (Yeah; not holding my breath on that one.)


You’re a beautiful, successful person.


I know you are, but what am I?

Next:  Loving them by loving you and loving me and...wait, what?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Parenting a Teen in Need, and What it's Taught Me About Myself

If you've read this blog for more than about three posts, you know that Mr. B and I adopted a beautiful, feisty teenager a couple years back.  Daisy Mae had been in and out of several homes and had lived through some not so great experiences in the lives before she came to us. Those stories aren't mine to share here; suffice it to say, however, that our life experiences during the first fourteen years she'd walked this Earth were vastly different.

Things didn't get much better after she arrived; five months after she moved in, the day after Thanksgiving, she watched in horror as the new sister she had just started to bond with died on a crowded skating rink, her mother vainly performing CPR. I remember looking over my shoulder at her and seeing her face change from shock to alarm to emotionless vacancy, tears pooling on the ice at her feet.  I remember getting in the car to follow the ambulance to the hospital, and turning to her.  "This isn't going to have a happy ending, Baby."

She stared ahead, "It never does."

That's where we started.

If there is a silver lining in losing the Bug when we did, it is this:  We had to learn to parent all over again, from scratch.  If that sounds like a sort of crappy silver lining, I suppose that's because it totally sucked while we were going through it. Looking back, however, it was a set of life experiences together that helped make us a strong family, and in a weird way, I'm grateful for it.

I'm thinking about this today, because Mr. and I are working with another family who have also taken on a teen.  This child has an equally difficult and heartbreaking past, and this family is utterly unprepared to deal with the challenges posed by the situation.  They don't have the benefit of having suffered a family-shattering tragedy that forces them to completely re-assess their value system and what's truly important.  (yes, I've just called losing Kes a benefit twice on the same page; bear with me).  The outcome of this is that their household has become an active war zone and the child is now occupying an extra bedroom at my house.

In the process of trying to help them through this crisis, and maybe come back together as a family, Mr. and I are having to deconstruct all the important and painful lessons we have learned in the last four years and try to communicate them as teaching moments. So I figure, if I have to untangle all this, I might as well write it down somewhere.

So here goes, over some period of days and weeks to come:

Part I: Stitch was right

"Ohana means family.  Family means nobody gets left behind.  Or Forgotten.

My family is small, and broken.  But it is...good."

Stitch, Lilo and Stitch, 2002. Walt Disney Company


Photo credit here: 

When I stop to think about it, my greatest fear is abandonment. When I was little, there was always that nagging fear that some day I was going to do something really terrible and my parents would stop loving me (they never did, by the way, even when I tried to "tool" my father's leather chair). I bet most of us have the same fear at some level. It never goes away, really. We want to be loved, cherished, needed. We want to belong. It is because we have this fear of abandonment that many of us try to break down relationships.  We are afraid of being cast out and so we try to make our greatest fears happen on our own terms. We pick fights with our spouses. We sabotage our jobs. We disengage from our teens. And when the rejection comes, we can say "I told you so!" and add another layer to our emotional scars.

Teens, especially those who have been left behind before, need to know that you will love them in spite of themselves. Troubled teens are so hurt from their past rejections, and so afraid of the next rejection that they will try to make you reject them.  They will lie, cheat, steal, strike out, scream, break things, just so you will throw them out and they can get it over with. Because in their minds they know it's coming. It's up to us as parents to break that fear cycle. In fact, it's just at the time that you MOST want to throw their ungrateful, lazy, disrespectful, smelly carcasses out the door that you have to re-affirm to them that you will keep them NO MATTER WHAT. Man, it's hard. It's hard to love someone who is trying really hard to be unlovable.

That tension, that knowledge that the next argument is out there, can be unnerving.  So much so that we sometimes set these relationships with our teens up to fail. We become arbitrary about rules.  We escalate arguments. We threaten them with the very thing they fear.  "If you don't like the rules here, you're welcome to get out there in the world and see how you do on your own!"

I became a happier parent the day I learned to say, "Do your worst. I refuse to throw you out. I refuse to reject you. I refuse to hit back. I refuse to fight you. Scream. Yell. Slam doors. Break dishes. Call me a "bitch" under your breath every day. I will love you NO MATTER WHAT."

That message diffuses tension. It disarms fear. And over time (not very much, either), it removes the barrier to their opening up to grow and love you back. In refusing to reject, we help avoid being rejected. And here's the best part. It costs nothing. You risk not a thing by offering unconditional love. And what you gain is a stronger family, more love back, and a lot fewer headaches.

In other words, a lot more Ohana.


Next:  Part 2 -- I know you are, but what am I?

Monday, January 07, 2013

Monday Mourning

Three years ago, almost to the day, a dear friend of mine forwarded me an article and told me to read it.  It was from the New Yorker, entitled "Good Grief", by Meghan O'Rourke.  I just happened to come across it today. 

In a lot of ways, this article became my Grieving Bible.  I've passed it on to several friends who have lost loved ones, and I hope that it's helped them as much as it helped me.

It's not a guide to grieving, but rather, a review of articles written about grief and grieving and how our societal view of grief has changed over the last 100 years or so.  As you might expect, because I am, (as my therapist describes me), "the most intentional person in the Western Hemisphere", the idea of having several potential models for grief to review and use as touchstones was reassuring for me.  Especially in those first few months after Kes died, when I was flailing around like a spider who had lost three legs, being able to read the article over and over and remind myself that "Prigerson and Maciejewski say that grief peaks at six months in most people" and "Bonnano (2007) indicates that it's not unusual for some people to be able to adapt with resilience to even devastating loss", made me feel like I was "normal".  Whateverthehell "normal" is for someone in my situation.

One of the major assertions of the article (albeit a subtle one, which I guess is why I like it) is that we don't do a good enough job of giving a public forum to our grief.  In other words, we don't mourn like we did in years past. She cites study after study that shows that those who don't have a public forum for grief, especially after a sudden loss, have more health problems, are more likely to suffer from protracted episodes of acute grief later, and generally have a tougher time coping with their loss.

OK, so why am I talking about this?  Yeah, there's a point in here, if only I can get to it...

I very deliberately have not talked about the horrific episode in Newtown, CT last month, and the empathy I have felt for each and every one of the families of those angels, big and small, who lost their lives in that senseless act of brutality. This Christmas, while our family celebrated in a more joyful and "normal" way than we have in the last three years, my heart quietly ached for all those families who were facing the utter devastation of that loss this Christmas. I was surprised that more than one of my co-workers, having watched the news coverage of the shootings, came up to me in tears and embraced me, saying, "I have thought of you all weekend; every time I saw that on the news, I thought of you.  For some reason, I didn't understand until now how devastating that was for you."

Surprising also was the reaction of Mr. B, who, upon watching the news coverage, said, "It's not fair.  You know, thousands of people lose their children every year, and they don't get a big thing on the news and parks named after their children and stuff like that.  What about those people?  Who cries with them?  Even we had news coverage and strangers calling and consoling us and scholarships and trees and stuff.  What about the people whose kids die in accidents or from cancer?  They get nothing.  It's not fair.  How do those parents cope?" 

And then today, one of my friends posted a Facebook status about tragedy and how we can choose whether or not to rise above it.  I commented that tragedy comes into our lives to teach us compassion.

But that compassion is only useful if we know about the pain that others feel.  And our society encourages us to hide that pain.  Ms. O'Rourke may be more on target than any of us realize.  It is, perhaps, a genuine loss to our humanity that we do not mourn as a community in a more tangible way when we lose one of our own.

Which brings me back here.  Several people have asked me over the years how I managed to pick up and carry on after we lost the Bug.  My standard answer is, "You do what you have to do; sometimes there's no choice."  But that's not really true. In large part, I was able to pick up and carry on because I had an incredibly wide, diverse and compassionate circle of friends, both local and across the country, who let me talk and cry and rage and think, without my having to lean too hard on any one of them.  But it's also, in no small part, because I had this space to write and to grieve in a more public way.  Because through these pages, I was able to mourn, in public, and have my cries heard and echoed.

So if you're reading this, Thank you.

And please, don't be afraid to feel your own grief, to yearn, to mourn, if that's what you need to do.  Even years later, a good cry is a beautiful thing.

And if you haven't read that article yet, do read it. Print it out. And if it touches you, write her a letter and say thanks. That's what I'm going to do tonight, I think.



Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Night of a Thousand Bubbling Purple Cow Pies



Every woman needs a therapy hobby.  Something she can do that is unrelated to both her job and the upkeep of her house that occupies her mind and hands and that produces something either useful or creative. 

In the good weather, I garden and make a variety of canned and pickled veggies. 

In the bad weather, I make bath products.  

The unwitting recipients of the outcomes from these little therapy projects are normally friends and family or co-workers, who are gifted little bags of bath fizzies, lip balm, hand cream or cold-process soap with their Christmas packages.  These recipients normally at least pretend to be grateful for them.  And every year, I try to make something new that I haven’t attempted before. Sometimes these new projects are a big hit.  Sometimes they are an epic fail. I nevertheless dress up the outcomes and foist them on my ersatz Toiletry Victims.

Last night, I attempted to make Bubble Bars, (à la Lush) for the first time, as a friend requested that I give them a try.  There are several recipes available on the web; they vary in terms of both ingredients and ratios.  All the recipes involve mixing some variation on baking soda and cream of tartar together with a powdered detergent and some corn starch, adding a series of oily, viscous or otherwise soapy-like liquids, and then forming the final product into a bar that can be cut up and crumbled under a running bath. Easy, right?

So I measure and mix these powders together, choking as I go, because I ignored the warning that I should use a respirator mask so I wouldn’t choke (because respirators are for wimps). I added a few festive candy flower sprinkles and tiny embeddable paper scraps to help it look festive.  

Things took a downhill turn after that.

The directions read “combine the liquid ingredients and drizzle into the dry ingredients, mixing and kneading with gloved hands to combine thoroughly.”  No problem.  I mixed the liquids together.  They promptly polymerized into a mass that resembled the Ectoplasmic Residue from Ghostbusters. My attempt to “drizzle” the substance resulted in my glopping the wad of goo into the center of the powders (resulting in more coughing).  I then started kneading the mixture, which commenced to expanding at a prodigious rate.  The consistency was sticky enough to pull off one of my vinyl gloves and devour it like a giant purple macrophage that had encountered a hapless amoeba.  I began punching down and kneading with more vigor, in hopes that it would behave like bread dough and give up some of its excess carbon dioxide.  No luck. I suddenly wondered if this was how Lucy felt in the candy factory; I simply didn't have enough hands to contain the growing mass of purple squish.  It quickly overflowed the mixing bowl and began to mushroom up and over the side of the bowl, landing with a series of plops on the counter like so many bubbling purple cow pies.  It began disgorging the candy flowers and paper trinkets.  I was reminded of the birthday cake from that episode of Our Gang, expecting at any time it would start making that “wheep-whoooonnnk” noise, and a rubber boot or the neighbor’s dog would pop out.

Time to set on the stove and stir

I finally managed to gather the entire mess onto a large sheet of plastic wrap and began to roll it firmly.  It deflated enough to form into a log so I could cut it into slices.  I left them on the counter to dry overnight. 

Tonight will be recipe # 2, I think; I’ll keep you all posted.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

To my daughter, on her birthday.

Dear Daisy Mae,

Today, you are 18 years old. 

I have to say that again.

Today, You Are 18 Years Old!

Wow.

I'm knocked out by what a bright, confident, beautiful young woman you are becoming.  I look at you today, and in place of the awkward, rebellious teen who entered my life four years ago, I see a young lady who can conduct herself in a fancy restaurant, who can plan a dinner party for a dozen friends, who can gracefully help her grandfather in and out of a wheelchair, without making him feel out of place.

In place of the recalcitrant middle-schooler, who would routinely use phrases like, "Mom! I'm passing!  Get off my back!", I see a young scholar who has dreams and goals and who takes personal offense when her best efforts don't product A's. Who is learning to think before she speaks. Who is learning to question and think critically.

In place of the frightened young girl, who looked across the table and said, "No one will ever marry me. No one will love me. I'm not worth it.", I see someone who has learned to build relationships, to bloom under the attention of a young man who thinks she is beautiful in ways she may never understand, to compromise and to nurture others. Who will fight tooth and nail to protect someone she perceives as powerless, no matter what the cost. And just maybe, who has started to love the person she is. Some women never learn that lesson.  Look how far you've come!

You are strong. You are fierce. You are loving.

And still there is a little girl in there.  Who still loves Barbie movies and chocolate milk.  Who is afraid that there are monsters hiding by the garbage cans at night.  Who can't sleep without her favorite blanket and Blue Bear.  Who sometimes just wants to be cuddled.

There are some who look at you and who tell your Dad and me, "You've done a great job". But we didn't do this. We just gave you room to become who you really are. You've made good choices. You have chosen to treat your body and your spirit with respect, in a time when so many girls do not.  You have chosen to take control of your academics and your career choices.  This is all you. Dad and I can encourage (nag), and suggest (nag), and nag (nag), but if you don't believe in your heart that you're doing what's best for you, none of that matters. You have chosen to be successful, and I cannot wait to see the exceptional young woman you will become in the years ahead.

You're not done yet. There's a lot of growing and learning yet to do. But you've come so far, so fast.

And I'm so very, very proud of you.

Happy Birthday.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

...and in other news

I'm currently blogging from the driveway of the house across the street.  At 11:00 at night.  Why, you ask?  Because at 10:45, while I was walking the dog, I smelled natural gas leaking from the meter.  And apparently, when you call the gas company, they take it really, really freaking seriously! 

They have advised us to vacate the house, secure our animals and not return until they clear the area. 

This left me with an unusual dilemma:  Do I feign secure knowledge that the gas company will keep us safe, and simply stroll to a safe distance and watch?  Or do I grab those things that are precious, just in case the house blows up?

Currently, I am sharing my husband's truck with Mr., Daisy Mae, three cats, a dog, and Kiersten's ashes, as well as my computer and my cell phone.  I figure everything else can be replaced.

So here's my question of the day:  If you had 5 minutes to get out of your house, what would you take with you?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Life, and the importance of living it.

Three years ago, I wrote a letter to Lenore Skenazy, a fellow blogger who writes a regular site called "Free-Range Kids".  Lenore reminds us that when we were kids, our parents booted us out the door at 10 am and we didn't come home until the street lights came on.  That we knew how to take the bus.  That we played in the mud.  And sometimes we got into fights with other kids.  We knew how to ask for directions when we got lost, and we knew how to ride our bikes to the library, and we knew how to get the pop machine at the corner store to disgorge a free soda now and again.  She worries that our children today are over-protected and over-parented and that there must be a balance there somewhere.

I wrote to tell her about Kiersten and to thank her for helping today's parents get over themselves.

I tried to raise Kiersten like I had been raised.  I wasn't as open as my mom was with me, to be certain, (mostly because I grew up with sidewalks, which are conspicuously absent here) but I sure didn't want that kid to grow up afraid of the world.  My mother-in-law was constantly fretting when I let her walk to the corner alone or let her ride her bike to a friend's house, or let her go horseback riding with the bigger kids. But I'm glad I did all those things.  She had a great time while she was on this Earth

Last week, Lenore wrote to me and asked me if she could publish my letter, even though it was three years later.  I re-read it, and decided that my opinions hadn't changed a bit, and maybe this was a good way to honor her today. So here it is, on the third anniversary of the day Kiersten left us, (which is also Lenore's birthday).

Free-Range Kids

Thank you, Lenore, for helping to honor my baby today. Because she's still my baby and always will be. I didn't expect it to feel as emotional to me as it does, but I'm glad that letter is out there.

And Thank You, sweet Bug, for another year of learning the lessons you were sent here to teach me.  I love you and I miss you, and I know you're watching and sending your love from Heaven.  You are still the greatest joy my life has ever known.


Wear a lorikeet for a hat today.  You'll thank me for it later.

Monday, November 26, 2012

What we should be, courtesy of JP Morgan Chase.



This commercial aired the other day during the Thanksgiving parade.  It’s from the investment bank JP Morgan Chase.

Let’s watch together:




Nice, isn’t it?  All Mom and Apple Pie.  

When it finished, I turned to my husband.  His immediate reaction?  “I’m not sure that commercial had enough white people in it.”
I followed with, “Was there a single person of color in that ad?” 

After watching it again, it turns out there was: there was an African-American family near the beginning, and there seems to be an Arab-American serving coffee at one point.

Actually, it’s a really nice ad.  So why did it feel so disingenuous?  Why did we both think “Oh, puh-leeze” half-way through it, even before we saw the ad sponsor?  Are we just that jaded?

Let’s listen to the messages again:

  • This is America, where everyone gets an equal shot at success
  • If you work hard enough, you can have a good life here
  • Freedom is what happens when people work hard and have an equal shot
  • Everyone here has a loving supportive family. It’s called America.


We all grew up with this.  If you read this blog, I’ll bet, by the time you were six years old, you could have held each of those statements to be self-evident.  

And that’s the problem.  If you are reading this, you were probably well-fed and well-parented as a child, you got a good education in a public school, you had all your vaccinations and went to the doctor every year, you went to libraries, and museums, and the zoo.  You were told by teachers and parents that you could be anything you wanted to be.  This is all good stuff.  Life wasn’t handed to you on a silver platter, by any means – and there were doubtless periods of financial struggle for most of us -- but you didn’t feel like you were walking through life with one leg hobbled, either.  These messages make perfect sense to you.  I know they used to make perfect sense to me.

So it’s unthinkable that this wouldn’t be the case for everyone, right?

Let’s look one more time:

This is America, where everyone gets an equal shot at success.  That is, unless you are unlucky enough to be born in an urban minority neighborhood.  Because if that’s the case, you probably aren’t getting nutritious food every day, because there are no grocery stores nearby.  But there are lots of fast-food places, and corner stores that sell pre-packaged white flour and sugar bombs, and beer and lottery tickets and cigarettes.  And there are schools, but nobody wants to work in those schools, because the city has given up on the neighborhood and they are under funded and the buildings are in disrepair.  And your parents (or grandparents) are on government assistance.  And they don’t have jobs, not because they don't want jobs, but because there aren’t any jobs nearby and there isn’t reliable public transport to get them to work at other jobs away from your neighborhood.  And nobody has a car.  Except folks who make their living preying on others.  And your parents can’t afford to get a job anyway, because if they get jobs they have to pay for day care, and day care will eat up so much of their paychecks that they live better on government assistance.  And because none of the adults you know has a job, there isn’t anyone modeling “work hard and you’ll succeed”, for you.  Still feel like there’s an equal shot there?

If you work hard enough, you can have a good life here.  That is, so long as you have a college degree and you have a skill set that others want.  And so long as your paycheck isn’t provided by any sort of public works.  Because if you are a cashier, or a garbage collector, or a day care provider…or a teacher…or a fire fighter…or a social worker… you can work 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week, and still not make ends meet, let alone afford more education or to try to take a risk and move up.  Because many CEOs makes hundreds of times what the average wage worker makes (and that CEO sure doesn't want his tax dollars going to educate a bunch of "urban" kids).  The CEO of Hostess Brands makes enough money, by himself, to pay for 700 bakers.  That’s a lot of Twinkies.  It might be enough to pay healthcare for the entire payroll.  Go ahead, work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at minimum wage.  Let’s see if you can afford an apartment and food and healthcare and utilities for you and your children.  Because it’s not about equity.  If you aren’t getting ahead, you’re just not working hard enough.  Work harder. 

Freedom is what happens when people work hard and have an equal shot.  And for those who are in a position to be rewarded for hard work, and who had an equal shot to begin with, there is a lot of freedom to be had here.  Freedom to enjoy good health.  Freedom to pursue education and to make a bigger impact on the world.  Freedom to help make others more free.  

But it's freedom to hold others back, too. 

If you aren’t in those lucky groups, it doesn’t feel very free.  It feels like a trap. 

And America doesn’t feel much like family.  Unless your family includes one really rich relative who makes 400 times what the rest of you make and tells you that it's your own fault that you're poor.

JP Morgan Chase, if you REALLY believe what you're saying, then use that considerable income of yours to help make this country what you claim it is.  Spread the message that America NEEDS to be the America of your commercials.  Invest in programs that help schools and communities.  Encourage the companies you invest in to pay a living wage to everyone, and maybe only pay your CEOs 50 or 100 times what they make.  

It'll make the world better.  And it'll be good for your business, too.  You just watch and see.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Inside the snowglobe


May.  It must have been early May because all of the crabapple trees were in bloom.  It was one of those spring days pregnant with the promise of summer warmth, but still too early to signal a real change in season.  Despite the sunshine, the threat of a coming cold front hung in the air. 

We took the opportunity to take out her new two-wheeler bike.  She had received it for her fourth birthday the autumn before and it was still shiny and new, with the sturdy training wheels and the purple basket and the tassels on the handlebars.  Watch me!  She took off down the bike trail, chocolate brown locks escaping her loose ponytail and whipping out behind her.  I pedaled slowly, coasting slightly behind her as her legs pumped the pedals in rapid, determined strokes.  This was freedom.  This was her big-girl bike, with the bell and the purple flower stickers and this was more speed and exhilaration than she had ever felt before.

We went about a mile down the trail when I started to hear thunder in the distance.  Race you back, I winked at her.  And she flashed me a smile as big as the sky and yelled I'm gonna win, Mama! as she took off at full speed back down trail.

The wind picked up as we reached the trail head and the crabapple trees, laden with blooms, began to shake. Thousands, hundreds of thousands, of petals began to shower down from the branches, swirling in the wind like giant snow flakes.  She sprinted from her bike, arms in the air, and started to dance in the petals. Sapphires eyes flashing with joy, face turned toward the sky, spinning, laughing, hands out, creamy pink skin and creamy pink petals, and waves of brown hair whirling in the wind, I'm a fairy princess, Mama! just before the first raindrops started to fall.

I passed that stand of crabapple trees today.

God, she was beautiful.