Monthly Archives: May 2011

Going Beyond Memorial Day

I do not agree with the reasons we went into the war in Iraq. That said, I have always supported our troops. I believe that our armed forces personnel should have the equipment they need, proper medical and psychological care when abroad and returning stateside, appropriate compensation, and support for their families. I believe they deserve thoughtful leaders who protect and value their lives and sacrifices by carefully considering the reasons we go to war and via the resources they make available for our troops to effectively do their jobs. I think our current defense budget is preposterous, and that input from the ground up should be considered to effectively back expenditures that are most necessary to the safety of our troops and success of a mission.

This weekend, many of us will have an additional day away from our workplaces to remember the casualties of war. For most people, this means remembering those KIA or MIA. For those with a more dated but broad definition of “casualty,” it includes noting the sacrifice of those soldiers/sailors/marines who were wounded in the line of duty. These individuals have given the ultimate sacrifice, their health and lives for our country.

However, this Memorial Day, I hope we also remember the less obvious forms of sacrifice made by our living, breathing troops. They give up creature comforts, tasty food, cleanliness, warm and soft beds. They give up time with families in the safety and familiarity of their homes. They give up stability; they move across the country and world, wherever they are stationed. Each time, they are required to reconstruct their lives leaving friends and family behind, and become accustomed to a new place and people. They give up huge chunks of their children’s lives when they are separated for lengthy periods. Youth and idealism are sacrificed as our young recruits get a taste of death, despair, hardship, and fear. Our troops give up mental and spiritual well-being as they experience the true horrors of war, something that American civilians can barely comprehend despite the devastating images and reports that we experience through media outlets.

Only those family and friends intimately connected with men and women who have been to war can witness the internal devastation, can know what parts of the soul were sacrificed for us. My own mother recalls her father, my grandfather, a WWII Navy veteran who served in the Philippines, screaming in his sleep as images of his war experience returned to haunt him. He remained silent about his time in the service throughout his life; he could not come to grips with his experience.

Our troops give more than we can ever honor in one day, more than I can put into words in a flimsy article. No matter on what side of the political spectrum we stand, we cannot fail to see what is given on our behalf. Sometimes it is for reasons we do not agree with; those Americans who are pacifists can never condone the state of war which requires such sacrifice, but that does not invalidate the tremendous sacrifices made by our troops. We are indebted to them.
We owe it to our troops to be aware and listen to their needs and to advocate for them with our political representatives. We owe it to them to stay informed of current issues that affect our military and our country and to give thoughtful, objective analysis to each unique situation. We owe it to them to only ask them to make these sacrifices when there are no other options. We owe it to them, to take a moment aside from our extended weekend, our barbeques, friends and families, to consider those who do not get an “extra day off” because they are serving our country.

We need to translate our remembrance into an everyday consciousness that existed during previous wars, when Americans were not distracted from the serious issues of the day by Lady Gaga, Pippa Middleton, Justin Bieber, or petty political bickering. I can only imagine what would happen if we as a people sacrificed, even to a small degree, our physical and emotional comfort on behalf of our country. What a different world it could be.

For other ways to support our troops visit: http://www.uso.org/

 


I Wish my Daughter would Lighten Up on the Cleaning Already

V vacuuming the playroom

V vacuums the playroom

As I am writing this, my daughter, V,  is consuming her breakfast:  blueberries, strawberries (pronounced “strawh”), bananas, vanilla yogurt, and pancakes with syrup (or “dip” as she calls it).  About every 30 seconds, I hear a whimpering, whining sound as she puts away her yummies.  Why?  Not because she needs more food or wants attention.  No, it is because she has yogurt on her fingers and she wants it wiped off.  Yes, my daughter is a neat freak, and it’s all my fault.

I know my mom is going to laugh at this post.  I was the child she had to bar from the house during sand play because I would repeatedly seek to wash my hands in between mudpies.  I was the child who, when arriving at our cabin in Northern Michigan for vacation, would spend the first hour unpacking, organizing and cleaning my room before running down to explore the beach or play in our backyard fort.  So, really, I suppose I had it coming.

There are moments when I secretly love this characteristic of my daughter.  When she asks to “clean, clean,” I am more than happy to give her a dusting cloth and have her follow along.  I have pictures of her pushing the vacuum and she loves to load the dryer and push the on button.  She likes to help unload the dishwasher, drying the cutting boards and Tupperware and putting the items back in their respective cupboards. And she always tells me when she spills, usually with an urgent tug to my hand.  She always helps clean up when asked.  For this, I feel grateful!

Then there are the times when I want to say, in exasperation, “ENOUGH, ALREADY!”  When she pulls out all my washcloths to “wash the bathtub,”  when she pushes the lever to close the dishwasher and turns it to clean when I want to unload the dried items.  When she goes on a crumb hunt, and hands me every crumb she sees on the kitchen floor (this can be many) to put into the trash.  Mostly, I just want my little chick to relax; when food, markers, fingerpaint, or dirt get on her hands, she frets like a little old lady with plastic covers on her couch.  I want her to shut her eyes to the mess for a bit, and just enjoy the freedom of being a little messy for a minute.

I know the feeling of seeking control over my world by cleaning.  We have lost over ten loved ones since our wedding ten years ago, and while in a state of mourning, I could be found distractedly straightening mail, or scrubbing the heck out of whatever dirty dish was in sight. Whenever my husband and I bicker, he can always gauge my emotional state by the flurry of cleaning activity in our house.  When we moved out of state when V was 8 weeks old, to a place where I knew no one and was struggling with being a stay at home mom after working out of the home for 16 years, I scrubbed our foyer on hands and knees with my daughter in her Bjorn and dusted all the baseboards and crevices in the hallway doors.  I wiped down all the blinds.  I identified a little too much with Brie Van de Kamp on Desperate Housewives; I yearned to have that kind of perfection in our home.

Then my daughter turned one, and 15 months, and now 18 months.  She’s running circles around me, talking, expressing herself, and engaging in her own cleaning frenzies.  I desperately miss her babyhood, those precious moments where she was all mine to cuddle and snuggle.  I knew those moments would pass quickly, and I appreciated and savored her infancy, but there were moments when I could have let the dishes pile up for a day, or swept the dust piles into a mental corner to gaze a little longer into those long lashed smiling baby eyes.  I could have let myself enjoy the time more if I allowed myself to shove the mess into the background from time to time.

This is why I want my daughter to lighten up on the cleaning already.  I left the marker from her morning drawing session on her hands as sort of a test:  can she let herself be a little messy and savor the moments of joy in her day?  I hope I can teach her more than housework as I put myself to the challenge.  I’m walking away from a perpetually messy kitchen to go blow some bubbles outside with my daughter.  We’ll vacuum the crumbs off of the couch later.


Building Birdie Beds

Bird Nest

Building Birdie Beds

Materials:        Raffia or moss from a craft store

Cotton balls

Plastic Easter eggs or brown paper craft eggs

Paint (optional)

Age:                1+

Objective:  To learn about birds and their homes

Instructions:

Take some raffia or dry moss from a bag and with your child, fashion it into a circle.  Press down in the middle to make an indentation.  Tear cotton pieces from the cotton ball and add some “down” to the bird’s nest.  You can also add bits of grass or leaves that you gather outside for an authentic look.

Add the plastic eggs, or paint with tempura paints, let air dry, then place them in the nest.

Talk about how birds build their nests.  Find some stories at your local library about birds and read them together.


Living in a Barbie World: What I Plan to Teach my Daughter about Real Life Barbie

I played with Barbie dolls until I was 15.  Mostly, I made my sis wait to begin the actual play between the dolls while I arranged Barbie’s beach house, an old Hawaiian Tropic display stand my grandmother rescued from the dumpster at the Ben Franklin store where she worked.

I also dressed up as a pirate, wrote and directed my own two person plays in our woodland fort and burned words into wood with a magnifying glass.  I studied my own blood under my mini microscope.  I rode bikes, volunteered, wrote poetry.  I painted.  Barbie was one part of my life, and her silky smooth hair, ample bosom, and excellent wardrobe held little emotional sway over the woman I was to become (except that I still love to organize and decorate my home!)

What mattered to me were the real life Barbies.  An honors student with a strict moral code, I was considered eccentric by some and uninteresting by the teenage males from whom I longed to receive attention.  Flatchested, with glasses and braces, I was one of the last in my peer group to develop.  I remember nearly missing the bus after spending entire mornings in the bathroom trying to tease my bangs, ratting and spraying them into a poor approximation of the popular hairstyles of the time.  I fried my delicate fine locks with a disappointing perm.  I tried to produce K-mart versions of designer jean and mall purchased outfits with little success.  Looking back, I feel so sad for that little girl, so longing to find a door into the world of the beautiful people, a door to admiration, attention, and (in my naïve romantic heart, I believed) love.

Plastic Barbie was not my nemesis.  It was the real life girls I saw around me every day that left me feeling inadequate and childish in comparison.  It was the walking, talking, breathing beauties that bedazzled and befuddled me, and from what I could tell, the men around them.  So when my friend Julie asks me, as a trusted friend, my take on Barbies and what I plan to teach my 18 month old daughter about them, I have to answer this:

Yes, Barbie represents an unattainable standard of beauty that even the best looking women cannot approach.  Her unreasonable dimensions, plastic parts, and cornsilk hair are so obviously unachievable, as a woman, I never thought to try.  She is not real, any more than a Cabbage Patch Kid, or a Kewpie doll.  Any sexuality is implied by the context given to her big boobs and skimpy clothes, ploys women in the real world use to attract male attention.  And to counteract her flimsy exterior, Barbie has gotten serious.  She can be found representing every profession from movie star, musician, to doctor, veterinarian, scientist.  She now is doubly intimidating; she has beauty and brains to boot!

We have turned Barbie’s features into a cultural phenomenon; we made her sexy by applying our standards of beauty to her and have made her into more than a doll with a PR revolution.  She is part of the cultural conversation about who we want our daughters to become.  But the real conversation should be about how we teach our girls to look inside themselves to discover their beauty, their unique gifts.  Barbie dolls are no bigger than the messages we adults attribute to them and model in the real world.  If we believe large breasts and expensive clothing are important, our children will learn these values.  So the question becomes:  what messages are we the parents sending to our girls about how to find value inside.

The fact of the matter is we continue to vie against all the Victoria Secret ads, alcohol commercials, popular kids shows, female pop artists who equate obvious sexuality with beauty.  During the time periods where our kids pull away from us, they become increasingly vulnerable to all the external messages telling them who they need to be in order to be valued.  We parents are a small force to counteract the streams of media that tell our girls what they need to be to have money, fame, success, love, worthiness, and we are set up for failure.   It is up to us to help our children understand and critically evaluate these messages before they get to the age where they stop listening!

A very strong, thoughtful parent, much like my friend Julie, can help his/her kids to live in the world without internalizing the values of the world by starting early and carefully balancing parental censorship with continued, intentional education about what makes a woman beautiful.  Nurturing our children’s natural gifts can give them something to feel confident about when they second-guess their value.  Maybe then, the external supports that our children look to when they feel less than beautiful, will help shore up a positive self view that goes deeper than  big breasts or the gratification of male attention.  If that means a household ban on Barbie, that is each parent’s decision to make.  Barbie will be allowed in my house, but so will science, math, sports, literature, a love of learning, and frank conversations to impart a value system my child can lean on.  I hope to talk to my daughter when she is young about examples of true and deep beauty.  The real women (and men!) in a child’s life can model and counteract the expectations that we gals are no more than the societal reflection of our beauty.  We are interesting, caring, educated, talented, athletic, strong, uniquely stylish, revolutionaries.  We can stand proudly next to the Barbies of the world without trying to become them.

I hope when my daughter sees women who are better dressed, immaculately groomed, those who are naturally stunning, or witnesses attention being paid to these women on the basis of those factors, she can feel confident and secure in herself, rather than envious and inferior.  I hope I will instill in her a broader definition of beauty, provide enough consistent love and attention that she does not need to look outside herself or those who truly love her to feel valued.  Then, perhaps, the real and plastic Barbies can coexist alongside the rest of us in peace.


Going Grey and Growing Up

You know you’ve hit the middle age slump when you look at pictures of yourself in college, and even you can tell, you don’t look the same anymore.  Maybe it is your dewy skin texture that is now revealing fine lines around your eyes and mouth.  Maybe it is the grey hairs that you barely admit to having or the receding hairline, what I’ll call “slightly frayed around the edges.”  For me, (yes, I am admitting this on a blog to the world), it is the appearance of extraneous chin hairs and white eyebrow hair that are peeping out to argue with my neighbor who believes I am a “23 year old girl.”  Ha!

And it’s the grey strands creeping at alarming rates, into my hairline, just at the forehead.  They cannot be disguised any longer by a change of hairstyle; they stand out even when my mommy ponytail says, “but I’m young and youthful…” I think really, when the grey comes in, perhaps the ponytail should go.

So I am forced to admit the ugly truth:  I ain’t gettin’ any younger.  I look at my husband, who I believe will look 25 when he is 60 (except for the hair, which is turning a distinguished shade of silver in spots), and I curse his smooth Mediterranean skin.  For I know the day will soon come, when people start to ask, “Who is that old lady out with that hot guy!?”  I have the type of skin that looks great when young, but turns blotchy with sun exposure and sallow with age.  I have the type of hair that fades to mousy and the arms that sag and wave in the wind despite my half hearted attempts to tone by lugging around a 22 lbs toddler.

As I take a hard look at my reflection in the mirror, I wonder what my new appearance will bring with it.  As a petite, blondish, perky gal, I have always struggled with the fact that people do not initially take me seriously.  It takes people a bit to see beyond my exterior to see that I have some depth of spirit or mind belied by my pixie persona.  I wonder if going grey will add some heft to my person, and what that will do to the person I am, when I don’t have to respond to stereotypical expectations at the outset of a meeting.

There are moments when I debate covering up the grey.  I have colored my hair before, back when it did not actually matter and I wanted to try on a new skin for a bit.  Now, it seems like I’d be covering up something else. I think about what my grey strands might say if they could speak.  Could they tell the trials I’ve been through since my twenties?  Could they reveal the losses in my life?  Could they chronicle my journey from a wide-eyed small town gal to the person I have become?  What does it mean to go grey?

I consider growing out a long grey braid, like a wise old Earth mother; that would make me seem wise, right?  But I have learned long ago, that I can’t expect my appearance to tell the world anything about me.  I can only know what it means to me.  Only I can know what I carry around in my pores, my hairs and the particles of my soul.  I carry my story around inside me.  I hope to pass on some of my life story to my daughter, after all, she shares half of my genes, perhaps she’ll go grey too.  And wear her grey proudly next to her fresh Mediterranean skin.  This will be part of her story, who her mother and father were and what they gave to her along with her life.

So I think I’ll keep the grey for now, and keep my prerogative to change my mind a little later.  The chin hairs gotta go, though…


%d bloggers like this: