What Are We So Afraid Of?

SCAN0130 gloomy

These days, people are afraid. Afraid for our safety, for our children’s safety, for our future, for the future of the planet. Today’s world is very different from that of just a couple decades ago. We have all had the conversation that starts, “Back when I was a kid…” This is often followed up with stories of independence, of playing outside, of parents being unaware of where we were and what we were up to. And then the regrets that it couldn’t be like this today. But why not?

Studies show that most places in the U.S. are safer today than ever. Violent crimes and child abductions are down (and it has always been true that few abductions are committed by random strangers). The FBI reports that the rate of violent crime from 1991 to 2010 was cut by almost half, with a further reduction of 6.9% from 2010 to 2014.

I grew up in the suburbs, where you needed a car to get to the most interesting places. There was a small strip mall with a convenience store that Mom would send me to when we ran out of milk, or we would go to get a candy bar, or kill some time browsing in the mom and pop pharmacy. We rode bikes, played in the park and traveled from yard to yard. From the time I was about 10, I frequently rode my bike to school a couple miles away from home. After school, I would head out, sometimes alone, exploring neighborhoods and meeting dogs and their owners, coming home when I got tired or it got dark, whichever came first. I doubt my parents ever worried about my safety or even gave much thought as to where I was during those few hours.

My own kids, as well as everyone else’s, freely roamed the couple blocks surrounding our house when they were young. They all knew to be within the sound of mom’s voice and heaven help them if they didn’t come home when called. (Full disclosure, they rarely went that far. One summer, our house was the place to be. One day I counted 15 kids in my yard.)When I think about how different things are today than 15-20 years ago, I ask myself if I would still let them go out to play, unsupervised. The answer is yes, except for the fact that today I might have a neighbor report me for child neglect or endangerment. (This strikes me as rather funny, because to some, I was an overprotective parent.) In the early 1990s, I let my children, in 3rd grade and kindergarten, walk the two blocks to school, alone. (If I stood on the sidewalk, I could see the crossing guard at the school corner.)

My neighborhood is no less safe today than it was then, but today, when you see kids walking to the ball field or to Rita’s they are usually accompanied by adults. Now it is rare to see children running down the street or hear their calls in a summer twilight game of manhunt. I am sure that some of this is due to an increased use of technology, but I think a big part of it is that parents have been convinced that it is not safe to let their kids go out to play.

I understand that some neighborhoods are not safe, but many still are. I am surprised every time I hear a parent say they wish their kids could go out to play. Why can’t they? I believe they still can, but they would have no one to play with since everyone else is afraid.

Why the change over a generation? Life is different now, even more so than it was for the prior generation. Instant news from around the world has us worrying that bad things are waiting on our doorstep. Television and film depict horrifying crimes, sometimes against children. Amber alerts sent to TVs and via texts add to our fears (even when these events are outside of our area). I also think that many new laws are creating more concerns. Did people worry about being molested in a department store bathroom before these laws put the idea in their heads?

Cell phones and their tracking apps make it easy to keep tabs on where your family is at all times. Is this necessary, or even healthy? Do these apps make people feel more secure, or worry more? Don’t we, as adults, have more interesting things to do with our time? Is there really any reason for us to be afraid?

Old People Have All the Fun


I recently went to see My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. At one point in the movie, Yiayia is dancing in the street, dressed rather oddly.  This made me laugh, perhaps more than it should have and I leaned over to my daughter to warn her, “That will be me in 30 years.” Later that week, we went to a college performance of music inspired by Disney movies. While the band played an arrangement of “Bare Necessities,” I thought (as I frequently do when hearing live swing music) of my grandmother and her love of dancing. I thought it would be wonderful if she were there to enjoy it with me and wondered if she would have tossed convention aside and danced in the aisles in appreciation of the music. I continued my daydream that we would all join in and how much fun it would be for spectators and musicians alike.

If you know me, you would realize how fanciful these thoughts are. I am and always have been a rule follower and generally shy from the spotlight. I love to dance, as long as no one is watching. I wonder if as I age, this will change, if much like my verbal filter has started to fail, my self-consciousness will begin to fade away.

Pondering this more (yes, sometimes I think too much) I realize the blame for this rests on societal expectations as well as my own insecurities. Why do we concern ourselves with what others think? Maybe because sometime people tell us what they think, and it is not always kind. There are expectations of how people are supposed to behave and, like it or not, our age (or the age we appear to be) influences these expectations.  A tantrum is understandable when one is 3, it is shocking when one is 8. In the same way, an older person can get away with speaking her mind or bending the “rules,” while one who is middle aged is expected to behave.

I guess as I approach my second half century around the sun, I am considering age more and what it means to me. I was raised to respect my elders and value the contributions they have made. I think that if one has lived well, there are certain privileges that come with the territory. I know many people fear the big 5-0, but I am ready to embrace it. My future is very different from my past, in some ways, I will have more freedom and I plan to enjoy it. Years ago I discovered the Red Hat Society, a social club for women over 50. Based on a poem, the idea is that the women get together, wearing a purple dress and a red hat. This type of zaniness sounds like fun to me, anyone want to join in?

And So The Dinosaur Years Begin

I am turning 50 this year and am beginning to see disturbing signs. Despite the fact that I am college-educated and see myself as an intelligent person, I am more and more being frustrated by what I don’t know, specifically with regards to technology. This is amplified by the ease with which some other people pick these things up.

I remember as a child being puzzled at my grandparents’ difficulty with technology. It was all rather simple. Technology made things easier.  I know that these things come easiest to those who are younger; I have been tech support for my parents who, although they use computers regularly, sometimes need a little help. There are some programs I need to relearn each time I use them, since I do so infrequently, but computers and technology don’t scare me. I use them regularly, so why am I now struggling with what the rest of the world seems to find easy? The joke about asking a five-year old to help is no longer a joke, so it is not at all funny.

My first experience working with computers was working with my college newspaper. I was handed two floppy disks and sent to the computer lab with printed instructions:  insert the DOS disk, turn on the computer, wait, insert the PC-Write work disk, create a file and start writing, then save and remove disk. By today’s standards, this was a lengthy process. At first, I was a bit intimidated, but it was really pretty straightforward and easy. No problem.

After college, I worked for a computer trade magazine, where we wrote about what was then very cutting-edge technology: the idea that computers made by various manufacturers were now able to work together. In our office, we used Digital computers and their proprietary word processing and in-house email system. Unlike most companies, our email transcended our building and was connected via phone wires to other offices throughout the country (we were very cutting edge). Although I had no computer background, I was able to write about hardware and software and connectivity as well as industry standards and protocols. I will admit that I didn’t always fully understand the more technical information, but could ask the right questions. I saw my role as a translator for the office managers, to help them understand the new technology in simpler terms. The tech guys (at this time, it was pretty much just men) were happy to answer my questions and I got positive feedback when the articles ran. Basically, they were happy that I “got it” and could get the information out to the people who made the purchasing decisions.

Fast forward a couple decades. Most houses have multiple computers (plus tablets, smartphone, smart TVs, etc.). These are all meant to make our lives easier. They are, in theory, simpler to use. They are, supposedly, more intuitive and can be customized for your individual wants and needs. (We even have SmartFridges now!)

Like many other people, I use a computer every day. In fact, I am at my computer for a large part of almost every day.  I use it to write, research, read, communicate with people, edit photos, and most recently, create and update my website. This is where I have hit a wall.

I have always been independent and have a “Do It Myself” mentality.  If I don’t know how to do something, I am willing to learn. I want to know how to do things, how to troubleshoot and fix things myself.  Right now though, I am overwhelmed. I keep telling myself that I can do this. I understand the basics of computers. I can follow directions, but lately it seems like crucial steps are missing. I read directions, which tell me to complete Step A, then Step B, Step C. Next you move on to Step D, but if you don’t have X, Y or Z, you need to click here, which takes you back to Step B. One afternoon I found myself in a seemingly endless loop and had to call in my own personal tech support, who, unfamiliar with the specific program, asked me some questions I did not have the answers to. (Which somehow made me feel both more and less stupid.)  Ultimately, the problem was solved, but not without gnashing of teeth and feelings of inadequacy.

I am starting to think the problem is the “intuitiveness.” What is intuitive today was not so twenty years ago. My kids have taken to telling me that I am “cute” in a way that is not quite so condescending that I hear “You are stupid.” To them, Snapchat is intuitive. To me, it is not. I keep staring at the screen, tapping and swiping until something happens, and I hope I will notice what I have done so I can repeat the process (usually this means I wait until the kids are around and ask them to show me).

Keeping up with technology today feels like playing a game where the rules keep changing. Of course this is a part of life: things change, they always have and always will. However, the speed at which they change today is difficult to keep up with. New apps and programs are developed each day, and older ones are upgraded and improved.

Technology has of course generated its own language. This is not unusual; most disciplines have their own terminology, those terms and phrases that the general population doesn’t use. In fact, most people don’t even know specific terminology for say, composing music or welding pipes, or those used in farming or medicine. And people in specialized fields generally don’t expect others to know and understand these terms. But technology is different. The language of computer technology has permeated society. It is everywhere.

Years ago, adults had no need to keep up with the current terms. Youth have always had their own phrases, and keeping them separate from the older generation was the norm. But today, when you hear young adults using unfamiliar terms, they may be relevant. They may be words that you are expected to know, that will be a part of your job, instead of the youth slang previously used merely to befuddle older people or make them seem out of touch. Now we have to figure out which ones are relevant and which we can ignore.

Many people carry multi-functional, personally-customized computers around with them every day. Social media has brought technology to the forefront and the ability to “Google” anything means that people can further customize their systems. This I think has created a society that accepts this as the norm and people have started to assume everyone else has the same basic knowledge. If not, “just Google it.” But how do you know what you don’t know? How do you learn when the “basics” aren’t so basic?

This made me think about a teacher I know who had students write detailed directions on how to do something. The example provided to them was how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. For the purposes of this exercise, nothing was to be assumed. (It was actually best to think of Amelia Bedelia as being the reader.) This was a challenge for many students.  The point of the exercise of course, was to develop better writers, ones who would not make assumptions about their readers.

When you are writing a “how-to” in particular, you want the reader to understand and be able to follow the steps. When you start off promising “5 Easy Steps” they darn well better be easy for your target audience. Making people feel stupid is not a good way to attract a following, and it is simply not nice. Until I find that easy tutorial, I’ll keep muddling through, and grumbling.  I’m getting older, but I’m not ready to disappear or surrender yet. Expect this dinosaur to hang on a while longer.

Are “Top” Colleges the Best Preparation for Life?

A recent article I read about a child who was devastated about being rejected by Harvard struck a nerve with me. Despite the fact that only about 10% of students who apply to Ivy League schools are admitted (and many of those rejected do meet the qualifications), this student believed that there were no other options. In fact, his father said it was “the only good school.” I believe that most people see the folly in that line of thought, but this pervasive thought, that only certain schools, (those rated the “top” colleges), are acceptable, needs to be addressed.

I see this story as a wake up call. We can and should be doing more to help our children move into adulthood. They will not always get the brass ring. Not everyone who is deserving gets the prize. And that is okay. Being accepted into what you consider to be your dream school at age 18 is not necessary to be successful in life. The “brand” name schools are good ones, but that doesn’t make the less known ones “bad.” College rankings should be used as a guide. Depending on the source and the criteria, different schools end up at the top. If you are willing to work hard, you can get a good education, even if you are not at a “prestigious” school.

I don’t believe in the notion that some schools are inherently better than others. I do think however, that some schools are better for certain students than others. There are a lot of factors to consider: size, location, price, student/faculty ratio, education and experience of faculty and more. Any specific quality can be a plus or a minus, depending on the needs of the student. There is also the fact that not all children develop at the same rate and some students don’t hit their stride until their late teens, which will rule out the “top” colleges for them. Some of these students may actually end up with more successful careers than those in the top ten percent of the graduating class. What is comes down to is this: you get out of it what you put in.

Suicide and stress levels in college age students keep making the news. In the US, we appear to have a mental health epidemic, especially among our brightest students. How did this happen? How can we reverse this trend?

My own children span ten years and I have seen a dramatic difference in the general attitude about higher education and a corresponding spike in stress and anxiety level. My oldest and youngest are similar in their drive and ambition. Both were part of a crowd of high achievers. Both have friends who applied to and were accepted by Ivy League schools. All of these children are obviously intelligent and accomplished, but the older group of students was much more relaxed about the entire application process. Over the years I have seen more and more anxiety among teenagers as a whole as college acceptance letters roll in, with an overwhelming “need” to get into the “good” schools way out of proportion with the needs of real life.

With my oldest, little was said about the application process. Students simply got it done and went on with their very busy lives until the letters started coming in. A few worked on applications over the summer, but most completed them just before the deadlines. Maybe the fact that Facebook only existed for those who already had a college email helped, but there was little fanfare about these acceptances. Yes, there was nervous anticipation on the day acceptances were provided online (for the few colleges that did this) or when one heard that a certain college’s letters were arriving in homes, but only one’s close friends generally heard about the results until Student Decision day came along in the spring.

It was a completely different story for my youngest. Her classmates talked about college applications during junior year. Social events became SAT prep sessions. Essays were written over the summer before senior year (or maybe even during junior year). Applications were in well before the deadlines (even before senior year started). And then they waited, and stressed. I doubt that their parents appreciated it, but my daughter’s friends commented on my lack of pressure throughout the process. Most colleges we visited said they wouldn’t look at a single application before the deadline. I didn’t advocate waiting until the last minute, but saw no reason to cause any more stress than existed in the day-to-day schedule of the rigorous course load my child had chosen. I knew that the applications would be completed on time, and besides, it wasn’t my responsibility; it was hers.

A Generational Shift

Something changed in society during the years in between. My children attended the same schools, with many of the same teachers. If I had to say what I noticed most, it was the expectations, both from the parents and the school. I remember sitting at a meeting many years ago where a parent requested that the school district institute a policy of giving homework over the summer to help alleviate the need for re-teaching in the fall. Mine and a few other voices rejected that idea, insisting that such breaks were crucial for recharging and spending family time. But there was a quiet push, an undercurrent that drove everyone to expect more.

As my youngest was getting ready to start high school, I noted a concern among the parents about college preparedness. There was a drive to push our children, to choose a challenging course schedule, to add AP courses; there was a focus on post-secondary education and careers that was absent just ten years before, and it was present as these children were ENTERING high school. The earlier group of parents seemed content to let children find their way. This second group seemed very much focused on ushering our children through the process and into young adulthood.

I have come to the conclusion through my completely unscientific observations that this is something that we have created ourselves. Parents and teachers alike are piling expectations on teenagers and this is creating a stressed-out generation of learners. It is time for teachers to stop reminding students each and every day of their junior year that it is “the most important” year of their educational lives. Yes, teenagers need occasional reminding, and anyone who has parented one knows that they rarely hear anything the first time you say it, but enough already! Parents have to back off as well and focus on their children doing their best, not on getting the highest possible grade.

I worked in a high school as a paraprofessional for several years, mostly with honors students in an English class. Without fail, when they had papers returned, about half the class immediately pulled out calculators to determine their updated grade average. At a time when they should have been looking at their writing, evaluating what they had done well and what they needed to work on, all they cared about was the grade! Of course this pressure came from outside, whether from their parents, their teachers or society. My job was to read and grade student essays, and one in particular sticks in my mind. One student wrote about bringing home a writing assignment, with a grade of 89, which was a good grade for this student. The parent’s response, “Why didn’t you get an A?” What was a proud moment for this student quickly turned into disappointment at failing a parent’s expectations.

Parents need to know that with writing in particular, there are no perfect papers. You are not likely to see a 100% grade on an essay. Why? Because there is always room for improvement. Perfection is a goal that cannot be achieved in writing. The grammar may all be right, but there is always some way to improve on how you say something. Why is this important? Because in many classes, students are graded on what they know based on how well they express their knowledge. In writing.

The media has added fuel by focusing on how the U.S. lags behind other countries in some area of education. Since we cannot be second to anyone, this has generally resulted in increased efforts to teach skills that we are behind in, often to the detriment of those in which we are doing well.

The government has made a step in the right direction in reducing the frequency of testing. Here too, teachers have been forced to contribute to the instability of children’s mental health. With their jobs on the line if students don’t test well, they have stressed the importance of these standardized tests, causing even children who test well to have physical symptoms such as stomach aches and headaches at test times.

Parents recognize the importance of grades, since that is how students get into the “better” colleges. Every parent wants the best for their child and it is natural to want better for your child. Sometimes this results in parents getting overly involved, sometimes to the point of completing assignments and even college applications for their children. With many more students are applying to colleges today than did 30 or even 10 years ago, the competition is greater. As parents, we tell our children to reach for the sky. We also need to teach them how to cope when the sky is too high, this time. Being a teenager is hard, I think more so today than when I was there. I think it is our job as parents to prepare our kids to handle things without us.

When I get into a conversation on this topic, I am often posed a question like this one: “Given the same level of experience, which neurosurgeon would you want cutting into your brain, one from an Ivy League school or one from a state school?” I am not convinced that a more expensive or more prestigious school automatically makes one more skilled. Personally, I would want the doctor who sees me as a person, one who knows something about me and my life, who practices medicine due to a desire to help people, not one who sees all patients as a number, a notch on the belt.

These interpersonal skills are not taught in college. It is true that some are picked up along the way, as a side effect of living with a large population, but most of these have to come with the student. These are the things as parents we can foster: patience, a sense of empathy, how to listen and how to treat others with respect and compassion.

I am proud of my children, for their accomplishments, but more importantly for the people they are. They are the kind of people I would want to work for and with, the kind of people I can trust to make sound decisions about my future, the kind of people I would choose to spend time with. These are the things that matter, not what name is at the top of your college degree (or if you even have a college degree for that matter).

Irresponsible Preaching and Irresponsible Journalism

IMG_7430Today I am breaking rules. I am talking about politics and religion (okay, not exactly, but politics and religion are both tangentially related to my story). I believe in rules for the common good, but also in tolerance. People should be left to make their own decisions, as long as they are not harming others or infringing on others rights to live peacefully. I know that this is complicated and that people have differing ideas about what constitutes doing harm, which ends up causing so much discord in this world. I also think that we have the responsibility as adults to take a stand where we see injustice and call out those who claim to be working for the common good when it appears that they are instead working toward some hidden agenda.

What was reported

This morning I read an article that almost sparked a full blown rant. This story told of statements made by a certain politician’s “favorite pastor,”, about Girl Scout leaders. According to the report, he made a statement that Girl Scout leaders should be killed, that they should have “a millstone put around their necks“ and they should be “drowned in the sea.” The article further said that he later confirmed that he was being literal. Anyone who knows me realizes how these statements would set me off.

What kind of a person says that? How can a man of God actually endorse what is essentially random violence? He is condemning a group of people (mostly women) based solely on their dedication to the young girls in their community, some of whom sorely need the structure and benefits provided by the organization. An organization that I believe in, that fosters community, that builds good citizens, that encourages girls to do community service and to work with their own churches to earn religious medals which they can then wear proudly on their uniform.

Having been a Girl Scout leader for 15 years, I am particularly outraged. This is hatred, pure and simple and I as I have often told my children, hate is the work of the devil. No good can come out of hatred. Anger, which frequently goes along with hate can sometimes be used to motivate people to achieve a positive end, but not hatred. Hatred takes over, it is a black hole in one’s soul that grows and takes more and more from the person harboring it, until it spills over and hurts others as well. But the person who is hosting this evil is not immune. He or she will not gain from hate, hate only takes.

It is an unfortunate truth in our society that the same few people tend to be the ones who organize and run events. This means that the Girl Scout leader is likely to also be involved in the PTA and also be the Sunday School teacher. And this man, who supposedly shares the word of God, is allegedly telling people to eliminate these individuals.

Again, what kind of person does this?

I understand that people have their own beliefs and I am not one to force my own opinions and beliefs on anyone. I have a strong faith, in a kind, loving God, a father-figure who wants us to be the best people we can be. I am also a Christian, in the sense that I try to live my life as Jesus taught, with goodness and tolerance, lifting people up, not tearing them down.

I fear for our society that there exist people who feel the need to do otherwise and who are in a position of leadership that gives them the platform and prestige that causes otherwise sensible people to believe that this kind of behavior is okay.

What was really said

In the spirit of fairness, and responsible journalism, I tracked down said sermon and listened to what was actually said. I found that he did quote that particular Bible passage while talking about Girl Scouts, but not really in the context that was portrayed. His comment about the millstone was directed at those who would harm children and the implication was that Girl Scouts, through promoting abortion and contraception (note this is not true; this propaganda rises up every year and is disproven) is harmful. There was no statement, even implicit that all leaders should be punished. However, as he continued,  I found what followed to also be disturbing.

While this was not even mentioned in the sensationalistic article I read this morning, it is something that while not violent in nature, still has the potential to be harmful. He said that important values, based on scripture, could not be found in Girl Scouts, that looking at their website, there was no evidence that the organization upheld these values. While I think that the Girl Scout Law certainly does echo concepts promoted in the New Testament, the specific ones he is referring to certainly are not there, for good reason.

The Biblical ideals that he is looking for include these from 1 Timothy and Titus:

1 Timothy 2
9In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; 10But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. 11Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. 12But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. 13For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 14And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. 15Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.

Titus 2
4That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, 5To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.

Wow. Is that really what we want to teach our daughters? To be silent, to not teach, to be subjected to a man, to be obedient? Now in full honesty, I don’t believe that is what Timothy or Titus is saying. If you read the text in its entirely, there are also guidelines for men’s behavior which include “a pattern of good works,” not being corrupt, being sincere, hospitable, patient, generous, etc.

However, here we have a “leader” telling people that girls should be obedient and implying that those who encourage them to do otherwise are encouraging them to ignore the teachings of the Bible and should be punished, severely. I think that by focusing on what the Bible “tells” young women to do without the corresponding directions for young men, some could infer that men do not have similar obligations, that men can do as they please, that only women have to behave honorably.

I don’t feel the need here to talk about how this doesn’t fit in with modern times, how life is very different today than it was 2000 years ago. The lives of women today are very different from centuries or even decades ago. Women of today are not silent and are also more educated and independent than in previous generations. This does not mean that there are not women of faith and good values. In fact, there are more women than ever in leadership positions in church life.

This further prompted me to revisit the Girl Scout website. There on their “about” page is their stated mission statement: “Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.” There is also a section where Girl Scouts addresses faith: “Everything in Girl Scouting is based on the Girl Scout Promise and Law, which includes many of the principles and values common across religions. So while we are a secular organization, Girl Scouts has always encouraged girls to take spiritual journeys via their faiths’ religious recognitions.” Honestly, I am not finding anything here to condemn the organization.

This a la carte use of religion has the tendency to be divisive. Sensationalistic journalism compounds the problem. Is it simply that we are living in a world where since everyone is bombarded by images and soundbites all the time that no one really listens and pays attention anymore? Or are we simply too lazy to check facts and decide instead to believe the words someone else chooses to write (twisting the truth ever so slightly, either by mistake or design)?

I for one, want to believe in people. I want to find good in everyone. I don’t want to believe that people can be evil, that they can utter hateful things, that they can twist the truth or even outright lie. But sometimes they do, and someone has to stand up and call them on it.

Why I Was Late to the Sisterhood

100_9209Facebook informed me that today is International Women’s Day, much in the same way it announces other “special” days (I have more to say on this, but that will be the subject of a separate post). I saw several posts celebrating women and talking about this year’s call: “Pledging for Parity.” Maybe it is the fact that it is a big political year, but it seems to me that posts on this topic are more frequent, repeatedly causing me to think about my own feelings about gender relations.

I recently wrote about my coming to grips with being a feminist, but this morning my ponderings went a different direction. I thought about how I am a relative newcomer to the sisterhood, that unlike many young women today, I grew up with few female friends and never belonged to a group, complete with a cute name, such as the Fabulous Five or the Stupendous Seven.

When I was very young in fact, most of my friends were boys. This was in part due to the demographics of my neighborhood, but also because I had no interest in “girly things.” In fact, I was rather snobbish in my disdain for frilly clothes and makeup. The boys played outside and were more accepting. I don’t remember a boy ever calling me bossy; plenty of the girls did.Things were simple and where you stood was obvious. Like all kids, I sometimes disagreed with my friends, but with the boys, it never felt like a fight; issues didn’t linger and fester. Things usually resolved themselves, most of the time rather quickly.

As I approached tweendom, I changed my mind about the clothes and makeup, but still distrusted groups of girls, finding them cliquish and gossipy. I had no desire to be part of a group that said that some people had to stay on the outside. I believed this about these girls (looking back, with little to no evidence that it was true) and distanced myself. I wanted no part of a group that was all girls, and none of the traditional activities for girls (such as dance or cheerleading) interested me.

This is not to say I had no girlfriends. I had a few, but for the most part, time spent was one-on-one, not in groups. At this point, the boy friends dropped off (lest they be referred to as boyfriends) and I felt no need to increase my social circle and compromise my values. I had a few close friends, that was enough.

This didn’t really change until I became a mom. The first few years were isolating. When our oldest started school and we got involved in our local community, I realized what I had been missing. I found my village. Before I knew what had happened, I was swapping birth stories with strangers, as well as tips and struggles about parenting. Many “me toos” later, I realized I had joined a sisterhood. As my children and I have grown, those relationships have grown as well, to the point where I have several friends who are as close as family. I can honestly say I don’t know how I would have coped with the challenges life has thrown me without these women by my side.

Now I look at young women and almost wish I had discovered the concept of this sisterhood sooner. I know that their relationships will change over time, and some friendships will not last, but it must be nice to have a group who can say they knew you “back when.” I watch them gathering as they get older. Their interests and activities have changed, but the giggling and affection (and even a bit of the competitiveness) is the same.

Though shared history is a glue that can hold people together, having similar experiences can work in the same way. I find that even growing up in different places and sometimes slightly different times, some things were just the same: fashions in hair and clothing, school experiences, navigating the social waters as an adolescent and figuring out (to use today’s terminology) how “to adult.” I have found that the sisterhood is not as exclusive as I once thought.Though I am late to the party, I have been welcomed and now am happy to be here.

My Worst Fear Came True – I Inherited My Grandmother’s Chest

My biggest fear growing up was that someday I would have Grandma’s chest. You may be questioning this statement and picturing some hideous wooden box, however, I am not talking about a Hope Chest or anything of the sort, but the chest she carried beneath her chin and above her waist. Grandma was stacked! Her hugs sometimes made me feel like I was being swallowed. But unlike me, she never seemed to feel uncomfortable about it.

Grandma knew how to get attention. She worked as a singer in nightclubs and had a wardrobe of flashy clothes that showed off her attributes. As a young girl, I was shy and embarrassed, but also somewhat awed by such displays. Now I appreciate the value of having assets and being comfortable with them.

Her bras fascinated me, in a strange sort of way. They were indeed “boulder holders.” I wondered how she stayed upright and didn’t topple over. Walking through crowds had to be a challenge as well. There was no way to avoid noticing her breasts. I secretly thought that they helped her float in the pool.

As I matured, I happily settled in with a comfortable 36B, which was in proportion with my 5’8” medium -build frame. I had no complaints and though I got my share of attention, did not have the problem some of my friends did, that their bosom was expected to carry on a conversation with men.

When I had kids, though, things exploded. I made the choice to nurse my children and soon discovered how large bras could get. I was surprised to observe that my bras were large enough to possibly be used to haul home some of my purchases from the produce section. (I did not try this, for obvious reasons.) I wondered if it was permanent and how long my back could support the additional demands placed on it. I wondered if the young me was right and they could be used as flotation devices. I never got to find out because I couldn’t find a bathing suit that fit right.

I was shocked. How could this have happened? No one told me that they could triple in size! I was going to need an entire new wardrobe. All those cute tops I had were history. Luckily, the demands of caring for children gave me more pressing things to worry about and I was able to push my boob woes to the back of my mind. I resorted to wearing (very) oversize shirts (mostly from the men’s department) since I was completely unwilling to buy any maternity clothes after the baby was here.

Sleeping became a challenge. Any way I tried to position myself was uncomfortable. Laying on my stomach was out of the question and any other position pushed my arms out to uncomfortable angles. I managed to find come positives though. I convinced myself that my waist had shrunk, since I couldn’t see it at all anymore. I also found that at any event with a buffet, I had a built-in shelf for my plate.

My babies grew up and my chest subsided, to a point. Surprisingly, I found that I was happy to not go back to my pre-pregnancy size. I had gotten used to the new look, and although I was not unhappy with the old me, I like the end result.

Despite my acceptance of Grandma’s gift, there are downfalls. All the prettiest things: dresses, shoes, even bras, are designed for tiny people. Finding something pretty in a larger size is a challenge. Designers seem to forget that if you have more on top, you need to have more fabric at the bottom. Shirts and dresses alike are frequently too short for my comfort. Button down shirts that fit right everywhere else gape open several buttons down. Then there is the oft cited lack of attention when speaking to people, particularly men. I do sometimes have the temptation to reach out and lift a chin even so slightly in order to make eye contact.

The chest I possess would not have looked right on the 18-year-old me, but today, the curves suit me. Once it became reality, I came to terms with my fear. After all, short of surgery, what choice do I have? Besides, Grandma was the best; I am happy to be compared to her.

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

SCAN0004In our house, this past weekend was full of politics. We spent part of Friday and much of Saturday watching the live stream of Washington and Lee University’s Mock Republican Convention. The school has a long-standing tradition of every four years holding a mock convention for the party which is not currently in the White House. This is very involved and is research-based, culminating in the “convention” with the expected pomp and swagger. The school overall has a good track record, predicting the nominee correctly 19 times out of 25.

Overall, I think it was a wonderful experience for the students who got a glimpse of our political process and how it works. There was an impressive lineup of speakers, which included Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich, as well as Grover Norquist, Ed Gillespie, Ann Coulter, and KY Governor Matt Bevin. These speakers imparted their wisdom to the students and, once they were done getting in their partisan sound bites, most of them gave some very good life advice.

They told students to be innovative, to use technology to improve the common good, to think, to work to make the world better, to not be sheep, but rather shepherds, to be leaders. I think these are all things that we can stand behind and show that we do have things in common. The speakers that were best received by the mostly student audience (who by the way were not all Republicans) were those with a positive message.

It was interesting to observe the mock process and to watch the reactions of the students to the speakers and to the vote that followed. I am sure the event sparked animated conversations at the post-convention celebrations. From conversations with people associated with the university, (and comments made by speakers who are also alums) I have learned that this event is one of the things most remembered by students in their four years there.

Later Saturday was yet another Republican Presidential Debate. I have not watched all of the prior ones (in fact this is the only debate I watched in its entirely on either side), but this one did strike me as particularly argumentative and personal. I guess as the primaries occur and things heat up, this is frequently the case. I think it was notable that one candidate pointed out that the high level of negativity was likely to bring the party down as a whole.

Personally, I am getting weary of politics today. The rhetoric is only serving to make the US more polarized. There is too much talk of us versus them. I worry that the current political season is too angry. Recent years have seen politicians talking about defeating people, not policies. Right now, there is discord about approving the appointment of a new Supreme Court justice, even before anyone has even been proposed to fill the position. Taking politics out of this, should our country go a year without a fully working branch of government?

When I look at what is discussed at presidential debates I have to shake my head. I grew up believing I live in the best country in the world, one based on tolerance and respect. A country where anyone could rise to be and do anything (though in practice, until recently only wealthy white men were elected to the highest positions of power). Today I see people vying to be the leader of this great country who are talking about who people decide to love and marry and who will make decisions about personal medical decisions as if these are the issues of greatest import in this world. I am hearing people who may soon lead the free world talk about fellow world citizens in a condescending, even rude manner. I am hearing people throw phrases like “Pro-abortion” around (really, is there anyone who is advocating for more abortions?).

We live in a world of labels, but there is no one-size-fits-all label for anyone. I have friends who are on polar opposite sides of the political realm. When you look deeper, this opposite-ness really only pertains to some issues. When I witness heated discussions about political issues, people hissingly call each other liberals or conservatives as if each is inherently bad. On a n individual policy level though, there is often some agreement. Not all conservatives agree on all issues traditionally espoused by the conservative movement, likewise, not all liberals want to see the same policies enacted. In fact, most people I know cross “party lines” on at least one issue supposedly of great importance to the side they more closely identify with, ideologically speaking.

What sort of example are we setting, for our children and for the rest of the world? Those of us who come from families with a long history in this country have ancestors who came here for a better life. Some were escaping a bad situation, others were adventurous and ambitious. Our ancestors did not agree on everything, yet they found common ground and found ways to coexist and build communities together. Yes, in many cases we have been a nation of neighborhoods, where like-minded people found each other and lived near each other, continuing long-held traditions and establishing new ones. Yes, there has been conflict between them, sometimes violent, but in the past we have had leaders who have stepped up to help find the common ground, to find a way to get along, to get past our differences.

I think we are looking at this process all wrong. Pointing out our differences is not working. Name calling is not working. Standing firmly to party lines is not working. We should be doing more listening, searching for common ground, seeking out what we AGREE on. I think many will find that there is more there than they think. Working together is how we can make America great again. I only fear that this realization may come too late.