Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Is My Family Tree Good Enough for America?

I'm no stranger to racist comments. A kid in junior high would call me by different Mexican foods every morning while we stood outside waiting for the first bell to ring. He'd come up with a new one each day. My favorite was when he would call me "tortilla", because he would without fail mispronounce it TOR-TILL-YA, which gave me an opportunity to laugh in his face and call him an idiot. Something I should have done on all the other days as well. Hindsight.

(In case you're sitting there saying tortilla to yourself and wondering what the correct pronunciation is, it's TOR-TEE-YA.) 

I'm still subject to racist comments fairly regularly, even as an adult. I've before been referred to as a wetback and though it was supposedly "in jest", it was only slightly, as are all remarks of its kind. Another time I was playing Bunco with a group of ladies and one of the women made a comment about seeing an Obama sign in someone's yard and followed it up with, "I'll bet they're Mexican." I don't know exactly what that was supposed to mean, but I was in tune enough to know she didn't mean it as a compliment. I've been part of conversations where someone will mention needing to hire someone to mow their yard or do work around their house and someone else will comment, "Go find a Mexican." And I won't even get into the things I've seen "friends" post on Facebook.

Granted, a lot of times the people who make these comments in my presence don't realize I am Mexican simply because I don't look the part. You see, I'm half white. Not that that's a valid excuse for making them in the first place, but it is what it is and the unfortunate truth is that experience has taught me to mention my heritage in casual conversation early in a relationship, simply to save them from embarrassment later on. While the "mention" usually only includes a statement like, "My dad is Mexican," the rest of the story goes like this...

My grandmother was born in Mexico in 1929. My grandfather was born in Mexico in 1926. They married at the ages of 15 and 17 in January of 1944. They had, respectively, 3rd and 6th grade educations. They came to the United States in 1945, with their first child, in hopes of providing her a better life.

They started out in a small border town called Donna, Texas. They lived there until the summer of 1954, when they moved to another small town, this one in Northeast Texas. This would be the town in which my father, the 3rd of 9 children, would meet my mother, and the town I would come to know as "home".

My grandparents were blue collar workers. They worked hard, and for many years. My grandmother worked mostly as a cook, first in a local hospital, then later in a restaurant. She was actually the "kitchen manager" at the restaurant. Her son owned it. She eventually came to be lovingly known as "Mama", and is still called that today by just about everyone who is a native to my hometown. My grandfather worked first in a local ice cream factory then, upon its closing, as a service person for a local business owner, and finally as a custodian for the high school I attended.

They worked as resident aliens for 40 years, until 1985 when they became American citizens. I was in 4th grade and still remember that day. Possibly because I got to miss school to attend their naturalization ceremony, but more likely because even at the age of 10 I was aware of what a proud moment it was for them, and our entire family.

Waiting for the ceremony to begin. My grandparents are in the middle.

A few members of my family outside the courthouse following the ceremony in which my grandparents became U.S. citizens. That's me on the right in the sweet knee socks.

My grandfather died at the age of 69 when I was a freshman in college. My grandmother is currently 86 years old.

The legacy they have created includes eighteen grandchildren. Eleven of us have college degrees. Three are currently in college working and on-track to earn a degree. From the eighteen grandchildren have come twenty-six great grandchildren. One of those is old enough to have graduated college and has since entered the police force. Another is currently in college. From my Mexican-born grandparents and their nine children, eighteen grandchildren, and twenty-six great grandchildren have come a host of contributing members to society - businessmen and women, law enforcement officers, social workers, managers, medical professionals, teachers, and accountants.

Me with my grandparents at my high school graduation. 

On paper, my grandparents didn't add up to much back when they first came to America. They were young, uneducated, and poor. But they recognized that there was opportunity for a better life in the United States. My story is just one of hundreds...thousands...probably hundreds of thousands of families who came to America with nothing in hopes of making something of themselves. And they did it despite the odds.

"The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else's problems. These aren't the best and the finest. When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're sending people that have lots of problems...they're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people." 
                      -Donald Trump

Mr. Trump, I take exception to your generalization of an entire country and its people. I am only the second generation of my family to be born in the United States and I find the use of fear mongering and the perpetuation of racism to support your political agenda despicable. But I must admit that there is one statement you've made on which I will agree - it turns out some Mexicans ARE good people.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Born On Third Base

No time to read? Now you can listen!

Last week one of my neighbors texted me to ask if I had any knowledge of bookkeeping. I (hesitantly) texted her back that I'm a little rusty, but yes - I actually have a degree in accounting. I use the word "hesitantly" because it seems that no matter where I go, accounting follows me. I haven't worked full-time in accounting in about 10 years, and in that time of hiatus I've arrived at the conclusion that I decidedly do NOT want to be an accountant when I grow up. Apparently the universe has different ideas.

It turns out that the reason she wanted to know is that she works for a non-profit organization in town that provides food and shelter for families in emergency situations. The woman that had been handling the books needed to resign due to some personal health problems and they were looking for someone to take her place. I've really been wanting to find a volunteer opportunity like this for years and this one just happened to find me, so I jumped at the chance to do it. I've heard that God puts you in certain places at certain times for certain reasons. Well…THAT. And for once, I'm actually glad that this accounting degree thing JUST WON'T QUIT.

SIDEBAR: This is the internet after all, so as ridiculous as it is, I feel it's necessary to include a notation that I'm actually extremely grateful that I have a degree. It took a lot of hard work and even more student loans to get it, so before anyone jumps down my throat about how fortunate I am and that I shouldn't complain: I KNOW THIS. Chill and keep reading.

Friday night the same neighbor texted me and asked if I was available to ride with her to a local hotel to help out a family in need. The family (Mom, Dad, and 3 kids) are currently living there and had been locked out of their room because they were unable to pay. They had an EBT card and a $97 hold had been put on it when they put $11 worth of gas in their car earlier that day. With the hold, they didn't have enough remaining on the card to pay for the hotel and they were going to be on the street until they got paid on Monday.

The organization gets as much information about families as they can before they are granted help, simply because they run entirely off donations and want to make sure they are begin good stewards with donor's contributions.  So after we spoke with the front desk and paid for them to stay through the weekend, we talked a little with the mother.

Before they found themselves in the situation they are currently in, they had been living with family. One of the family members in the home was very ill, and the mother became her caregiver. Unfortunately, the family member passed away, the mother's help was no longer needed, and they were no longer welcome to live in the house.

"I knew once we moved into a hotel, we would never get out. I didn't want to move in here, but we didn't have anywhere else to go."

My friend asked if she had been able to find employment. (She had to quit her job to take care of the ill family member.)

"I've looked. I can't afford child care and now we don't have any family to help out. I can't find a job where I can work while they are at school because I don't have a diploma. So no one will hire me."

"Have you looked into getting a GED?"

"I went to take the test. I didn't know anything. I couldn't answer any of the questions. I quit school when I was 14."

Her eyes watered and she looked at the ceiling as she said that last part. I don't know that I've ever seen a human being wear shame like I saw when she told us that.

We gave her a hug and a number to call about taking classes that would prepare her for taking the test and asked that she let us know how things are going. Honestly, I wanted to take the whole lot of them home with me, but there is a certain degree of professionalism and (for lack of a better word) distance required when you're dealing with these situations on behalf of an actual organization, and not out of your own pocketbook.

I got home and thought about what I'd just witnessed. We've worked hard to get where we are, there's no arguing that. My husband literally started on the lowest rung in his company and worked his way up. But there is also no arguing that there IS such a thing as being born on third base. And we were. Don't confuse this to mean that we were handed our successes - we weren't, and there was a lot of hard work involved with getting us where we are - but there are some circumstances that had nothing to do with anything we did personally that put us a little ahead of the game.

It's not as if I've never realized this before, but I don't think it's ever been quite so glaringly in my face. I don't have a memory of sitting face to face with someone who can't dig their way out of the hole they've dug for themselves and have subsequently, and continuously, been shit on by life.

My husband and I were raised in homes that valued education. Quitting school at any point, let alone at the age of 14 was NEVER an option. Had I attempted such a thing, I believe wholeheartedly that my parents would have personally escorted me to school, and to every class, probably even holding my hand, until I had a diploma with my name on it. And nothing I have done "earned" me a family that cared that much. That's just the card I drew.

It is hard to imagine that there are people out there who have no interest in whether or not their children succeed, because for most of us that is our number one priority. It's easy to say, "Well, quitting school was her decision. What does she expect?" To that, I agree. It was an especially terrible decision, and one for which she continues to pay. But I would also say, "Have you met a 14 year-old?" Making good decisions aren't exactly their strong suit. Furthermore, I don't know many people who can say they HAVEN'T made a bad decision(s) in their lifetime that could have had worse consequences than they did. As I think about this, I'm having flashbacks to a few college weekends. Also age 17. Moving on.

When the subject of welfare or "government assistance" is discussed, I don't think I've ever NOT heard someone say, "I've worked hard and earned EVERYTHING I've got. Why shouldn't they?"

I don't doubt that people who say this have worked hard. I believe that is likely true. But where did you start out? Did you grow up with a family who instilled a strong work ethic? Did you have a person, or people in your life who made you believe you were valuable? That you could make something of yourself?

Of course, there are people who grow up without all of those things and still manage to beat the odds. If this describes you, I salute you. You rock. I personally know a few people who fall into this category and I am amazed at their perseverance. But, truth be told, had I been raised made to feel less-than or worthless or, worst of all, unloved - I can't say with any certainty that I would have come out on the other side anywhere close to where I am. In fact, I feel like there's a good chance that life would have gotten the best of me. If I never once heard that I could be someone, where would I be?

Would I be struggling to put $11 worth of gas in my car?
Would I be wondering how I was going to feed my children tomorrow?
Would I have a safe place for my family to sleep tonight?

This isn't a debate on whether or not there are people out there who manipulate the system. Of course there are. There are bad eggs in every group - regardless of their socioeconomic standing. I'm going to oversimplify this with a personal example.

When I was in college, I worked at a vet clinic. There was a staff rotation for "weekend duty", meaning coming in to feed and medicate any animals that were staying overnight. There was a client who had a Rottweiler. He was the kind of guy who you could tell owned a Rottweiler because it was a Rottweiler, which by default made him a badass. Sorry for the stereotype, but you know exactly the type of person I'm describing. And I swear to the heavens that he checked to see exactly which weekends I would be working as to make sure he boarded his dog on my watch. That dog was the bane of my existence. He was huge, he didn't listen worth a shit, and he hated - HATED - being in a kennel. And it was my job to put him in one. Yayyyyy.

One weekend, he was being particularly obstinate and no matter what I tried, I could NOT coerce him back into his kennel. I tried everything. When I finally decided that he wasn't going to go in voluntarily, I went over to grab his collar so I could drag him in. He bared his teeth and growled at me. I'm no idiot, and I was certainly not interested in being mauled by a large dog that day. I called the veterinarian and told him that if he hoped to return to his office on Monday and find it NOT destroyed, that he needed to come help me kennel this dog. Otherwise, good luck and I'll go ahead and leave my key under the mat. I have never liked Rottweilers because of that experience.

A couple of weekends ago, I was out on a trail when I passed a woman who was walking her dog. A Rottweiler. As I passed, the dog got close enough to me and nudged my hand with his head. She pulled him back and reprimanded him. I scooted over to let them pass, but I could tell that the dog meant no harm so I stopped and let him sniff me. He rubbed his head on my hand again, so I bent over and scratched behind his ears and patted his head. He didn't want to maul me. He just wanted a little love.

Two dogs. Same breed. Different home life. Very different outcomes.

Like I said, I am oversimplifying here. But then again, am I?

Later that night we received a text from the woman we helped at the hotel (and before you get all up on her for having a phone - it is the most basic phone you can have with no data plan, and she texts using one of those free texting apps so it comes through in about 7 different out of order text bubbles). It said, "Thank you for saving us. We have not been in this situation before. I have always had a home. When I get back on my feet I want to help other people who need it because I know how it feels. I know how it feels to have no one and to be scared because you don't know what is going to happen. I just want to give back."

There is so much more to this story and about this woman that I could share, but my point is this. Before you make the decision to pigeonhole everyone who could use some help, or who is down on their luck, or who uses government assistance, please stop and think about this woman. And when you look at your life, where you've ended up, and still make the decision to go forth in life with the mentality of "What's mine is mine!", stop and ask yourself "Where would I be if….".

It just might change your perspective.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Taking a Swing

Don't have time to read this? Check it out - I'm a podcast!

The last time I published a blog post was on August 9, 2015. I haven't written since then for a lot of reasons - kids started school, we moved across the country, the holidays, I'm lazy. Anyway, the day I published that post, I was really excited. I felt strongly about what I wrote. I felt like it had meaning and purpose, and unlike a lot of things I put out there in the blogosphere - I felt like it was pretty well written and that I had done a decent job of getting my point across. Then, that afternoon, another blogger accused me of plagiarizing something she had written on a similar topic. It was super irritating. Mostly because I had never even read her blog post (so how was it possible to steal her content??), but also because my post was from a specific event that had happened that I had PERSONALLY witnessed. I'm not going to bore you with the details, but in short I HADN'T ripped off her idea (anyone who knows anything about me would know I'm not that kind of person), and the whole experience kind of gave me an "F this" attitude. If this is what bloggers are like, then I don't want any part of it. Meanwhile, not ALL bloggers are like that. I'm furious at myself for having such a quitter attitude, and I'm more than disappointed in myself that I let someone so insignificant get under my skin.

But I can't blame my lack of writing entirely on that incident. Before that I hadn't written anything since April. Of course, I have a list of things I can blame that on - including lack of inspiration - but, if I'm being honest, I can blame most of it on deciding that I'm just not good enough of a writer. The blog world is tricky. Everyone tells you to do it for yourself, and maybe that's why you start your blog. It WAS why I started mine - as an outlet. We had recently moved to California, I hadn't made a lot of friends, and I was bored. And lonely. I'd be lying if I said a part of me didn't hope that something would come from it. At first it was enough to have my friends comment and tell me how much they enjoyed my words. Then I discovered that there were groups of bloggers out there who considered themselves to be part of a "tribe". Oh, how I wanted to be part of their tribe! I wanted to be in with the populars. I wanted to be invited to sit at the "cool table". I wanted to go "viral". If I could just get the right people's attention. If I could just write something funny enough or moving enough or figure out a way to use the word "eleventeen" in just the right place…then, THEN, I would be one of them. But it never happened. Don't get me wrong - I got a few accolades and fist bumps from some really great people. But, it kind of felt like the time you DID get invited to sit at the cool table because you wore the right designer jeans one day, but the day eventually came that you went to get dressed and discovered that those jeans were in the washing machine. And that day you're back in you're same old non-designer jeans and you wander into the lunch room to find that your seat is taken.

Writing stopped being fun because I was no longer writing for myself. So I stopped writing at all. Because that's how you really go places. By quitting. Sigh.

A couple of days ago I sat in the parking lot of the gym WILLING myself to go inside. I could not think of a place I wanted to be LESS than I wanted to be at the gym. I don't know why. I don't always feel that way. It was just one of those days. But as I sat there staring at the building, trying to think of a good, legitimate excuse to leave, I remembered I had downloaded Elizabeth Gilbert's "Big Magic" on Audible. I told myself that I didn't get to listen unless I took my ass INSIDE the gym, so I eventually got out of my car and went inside. I listened to her for over an hour - and YES, I was exercising that whole time.

The author said so many things that, like many other readers I'm sure, felt like she was speaking directly to me. Telling me to get my head out of my ass and get on with it already. She said that we've (I've) complicated things by making it about someone other than myself. She said we should make things because we LIKE making things. I should write because I LIKE to write. Painters should paint because they LIKE to paint. Bakers should bake because they LIKE to bake. Haters should hate because they like to hate. Ok, she didn't say that. My daughter is 14 and Taylor Swift has taken over my life. Anyway..she said that we should stop looking for permission to create. And that was exactly the push I needed.

Last spring I listened to the Serial podcast. Sidenote: If you haven't listened to it, you should. I was instantly hooked and got all kinds of shit done around my house because I wouldn't let myself listen to it unless I was being productive in some form. But I wasn't only hooked on the story, I loved the idea of a podcast. Doing a podcast sounded like great fun. I mean, there's not much in this world that I like more than talking. Ask my husband. He would like me to shut up occasionally. He doesn't say that in so many words (usually) but I can see it in his eyes (because they're rolling). It probably has something to do with the fact that I like talking to him most right after he's put his headphones on to listen to music or watch youtube videos. It's kind of like a Pavlov's dog reaction. You know, how kids' suddenly… URGENTLY…need Mom the second she picks up the telephone. Put on your headphones? Nope. I just remembered something really important that we need to talk about right now. Guess what I saw on Facebook today.

Anyway, podcasts. Shortly after I finished listening to the Serial, I started listening to audiobooks. Something I had never really gotten into previously because I somehow felt like I was "cheating". Like I wasn't really reading. (For some reason I tend to set a lot of stupid and unnecessary rules for myself that NO ONE on earth will EVER care if I follow.) So here I am, listening to podcasts and audiobooks, all the while thinking, "That would be so cool! Talking about whatever I want, whenever I want, and no one can interrupt me." But there's one little problem. I haven't written a book. And what do I have to talk about? So, like most ideas I have (and I actually have a surprising number of ideas), I let that one fizzle out.

Then I listened to "Big Magic". And I realized the reason that I let things fizzle out is because I'm afraid of failure. I don't think that's anything unique - I assume most people don't start a project thinking, "I hope I really suck at this."

Last week my mom was out shopping and she sent me a picture of a decorative canvas that she thought would be great for my son's bedroom. It said, "You can't get a hit if you don't take a swing." He plays baseball, and this is actually a conversation we've had with him frequently during the season. We would get frustrated with him because he went through a streak where he would just stand there and watch perfect pitches go by. We would ask him why he didn't take any swings, to which his answer would always be, "I'm afraid I'm going to strike out." Ironically enough, he struck out more frequently from NOT taking swings than he did when he actually tried to make contact. My husband would tell him, "It's ALWAYS better to strike out swinging."

Hmmm. It's always better to strike out swinging.

WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING? I am being thrown all these pitches and I'm just standing here with the bat resting on my shoulder. Maybe the pitches aren't perfect, and maybe I won't even make contact. But how will I ever know if I'm not even willing to get in position?

So this is it. I like writing and I like talking so this is me taking a swing. I might strike out, or I might get  a little hit and then get thrown out at first, but hey - at least I'm taking a swing.

*You can also go here to listen.

Sunday, August 9, 2015


I don't know where to start with this post. I'm angry, which usually doesn't bode well for me when it comes to writing something with any hope of it turning out at all coherent. So I guess I'll just dive right in and see what happens.

I saw a post on Facebook (of course) that bothered me so much that I actually woke up in the middle of the night stewing about it. It was a rant about buying school supplies and how in the world one child could possibly need or use as much as was on the list. I get it. School supplies are expensive. I'm shocked every single year when I get through the check out line and watch my total grow and grow...and grow. It's amazing how paper and notebooks and folders and pencils and erasers and scissors and gluesticks add up so quickly. I'd be lying if I said I never perused one of my children's  school supply lists and begrudgingly thought to myself, "Seriously?!?" But here's the thing. I'm pretty damn fortunate - as are my children - that we can walk down the school supply aisle and I am able to tell them to pick out whatever glittery folder and bedazzled pencil case they'd like. That we can go over one aisle and pick out a new backpack that doesn't have stains all over it or rips along the seams, complete with a matching lunchbox if their heart so desires.

Remember that Facebook post I mentioned? Here's the part where I get pissed. It didn't end with a simple complaint about how much money was spent on the supplies. It went on to say that they were going to write their child's name on "every single thing" so that when one of the other kids used it they would "know who to thank". Wait. What??

There are children who arrive to school on the first day empty handed, and WELL aware of it, as they watch their classmates waltz in donning new clothes and shoes, a brand new backpack strapped over their shoulders, carrying grocery bags full of supplies that they proudly hand over to the teacher as they walk in the classroom. I'd be willing to bet serious money that the child who quietly sits at her desk on the first day with not one single gluestick to contribute to the pile didn't make that decision on her own. But yes, let's make sure she's even more aware that she is using something that isn't hers by putting our name on everything that is OURS with the expectation of receiving credit for our "generosity".

What is this "What's mine is mine" mentality teaching our children, anyway? Is this going to be the line of thinking for future generations? I realize that people who aren't willing to do their part are a drain on society. But why is it so hard for some people to see that IT IS NOT THE FAULT OF THE CHILD. The unfortunate truth is that deadbeats exist and sometimes (all too frequently) they procreate and that poor child did not get a choice in the matter when they were brought into this world!

I should have stopped while I was ahead and not read the comments to that Facebook post. But I'm me, so I did read them, and of course came across something else that enraged me. It said something along the lines of, "Not only do we buy the school supplies those kids need but most of their food as well! Even at home! " Are. you. kidding. me?

While he didn't specifically name the program he was speaking of, I have to assume the "even at home" part he was referring to was food stamps. This issue is a major hot button for a lot of people because "I WORK TOO HARD FOR MY TAX DOLLARS TO BE PAYING FOR SOME ASSHOLE WHO IS TOO LAZY TO GET OFF THE COUCH AND GET A JOB!" Right? We've all heard that rant. We've also all been witness to those people in line ahead of us at the grocery store who fit the cliche of "welfare queen" with their perfectly manicured nails and expensive purse and the latest and greatest smart phone, but then proceed to whip out their government issued food card. I won't lie - that business is annoying. But have you ever seen a woman in line with holes in her shoes holding a toddler dressed in pajamas that were too small and loading up the checkout belt with diapers and milk and baby food? I have. I've actually seen that scenario more frequently than the former but no one seems to want to talk about it because it might make these programs seem legitimate and heaven forbid a single cent of our tax dollars go to people who are less fortunate than ourselves. After all, there are people who are abusing the privilege so we should just get rid of it altogether.

I could write this entire post on pure emotion, but facts are far more effective. So I did some research. It was hard to know where to start so I decided to go with averages. I used non-partisan websites and information so as not to run into biases. I found here that the average american worker pays approximately 31% in income and payroll taxes. That means if you make $50,000/year you would pay approximately $15,500 in taxes (keep in mind these are estimates and don't take things like itemized deductions into consideration). That money gets divided up between different areas of government spending, the biggest chunk being the military (approximately 27 cents per tax dollar). The rest is divided (unequally) among things like healthcare, interest on debt, social security, veterans benefits, food and agriculture, education (a depressingly low percentage), and a few other programs that have a percentage so minimal they aren't worth mentioning.

Food stamps are included in the category of "Food and Agriculture", which is estimated to use 4.3 cents of every tax dollar. That particular category also includes Federal Crop Insurance (which I admit to not knowing much about), so only a portion of that 4.3 cents is actually put toward food stamps. At the end of the article where I found the information I just cited, they offered a link to a calculator that breaks down where your tax dollars are most likely spent. An itemized "receipt" of sorts. Pretty cool, eh? So, I clicked on it, entered in the $15,500 that I've used as an example here and found that approximately $463.63 of those annual tax dollars would go towards the food stamp program. That is roughly $1.27 per day. In my opinion, that seems like a very small amount to give in exchange for knowing a child might get a hot meal a few nights a week, but I'm betting there's still a lot of moaning going on right now in regards to that number. So let's take a minute to further examine it.

According to this article, as of September 2014 there were approximately 22.7 million households receiving food stamps. Divide the $463.63 we established earlier by that number of households. That comes out to .00002 cents. So, in paying $15,500 in taxes, you are contributing…well, not even close to one whole cent per household on food stamps. Still pissed?  How many times have you left a penny in the "extra change" bowl at the convenient store? Thrown one in a fountain and made a wish? Or how about dropped one and just left it on the ground?

Still not convinced? Okay. Let's say you go out to dinner at a mid-priced restaurant once a month and spend $8 on your meal. We'll assume you don't lick the plate clean and leave a bite of your burger and some fries - approximately 10% of your meal - on the plate. If you take the 80 cents that you didn't eat and divide it by the 365 days in the year, you've just figured out that you've donated more per day to the dumpster behind your favorite eatery than you contributed per family on food stamps.

I get that people work hard for a living and that there are lazy, no-gooders who do nothing more than sit around and wait for handouts. But as much as we complain about having to pick up the slack for those who give the less fortunate a bad name, there are people - LOTS of people - who are honestly down on their luck and could use a helping hand. So say what you will about welfare and food stamps and the "lazy" people who use them. There are and always will be flaws and loopholes in the system that allow dishonest people to take what they don't deserve. It's just the way of things and, yeah, it sucks. You can be pissed off about the fact that you have to buy more school supplies than you should because some other kid's parents wouldn't (or couldn't), and you can get your panties in a twist because you have to pay the government a couple of dollars a day to feed some other family that isn't your "responsibility". But I'm personally pretty freakin' proud to live in a country who has programs put in place to help people who need it - ESPECIALLY CHILDREN…even if those programs aren't perfect.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Bubble Wrap or Billboard

Changes are on the horizon in our home. My daughter is in her last couple of months of junior high, which means high school is right around the corner. Please pass the wine.

We moved to California a little over 3 years ago. It was the middle of the school year and up to that point, they had attended a public charter school. After visiting several schools in the area, we chose to put our children in a small, private Christian school. There were a variety of factors that came into play when making that decision - the fact that we are Christian being one of them, of course - but if I'm being honest, it was mostly because the overall "feel" of the school felt similar to the one they were leaving, and we felt it would be the easiest transition. 

Now that my daughter is about to enter high school, we have decided that we want to move her to public school. Again, there are a variety of factors coming in to play here, but simply put - we just think it's what's best. Like all decisions we make as parents, we could soon learn that we made the wrong one. I think that may have happened one or eighty-seven other times but who's counting? For now we're listening to our heads and our hearts and trusting that God has a little something to do with how we feel. 

As you can imagine, my daughter is apprehensive. She's got friends - a lot of them, actually - who aren't leaving her current school. The new school is close to 10 times the size of her current one. As far as we know, she'll only know a few people when she first starts out. These are very real, and very legitimate fears. We've told her this and we don't expect her to suppress them. 

But one night recently as we were discussing her anxieties about the move and why she was so skeptical she said something that really broke my heart. She said…deep breath…"But, Mom. There are going to be kids there who aren't…Christian." 

Oh, sweet girl. 

My mouth gaped open for a minute. I shut my eyes and shook my head. She knew immediately that what she said bothered me. 

"I'm sorry! I'm not trying to be mean!" 

I know you're not. But what a disservice I have done for you and I'm disappointed in myself. Somewhere in my attempt to teach you how to be a good Christian, I apparently neglected the most important part! You see, when Jesus gathered his disciples he did NOT say, "Listen up, y'all. We all agree that this Christianity thing is awesome, right? Well, I really think it'd be super cool to keep this club exclusive, so don't go telling anyone else and for sure don't hang out with anyone else. Yuck. Now grab a coffee and talk amongst yourselves."

Nope. Not how things worked AT ALL (I mean, besides the obvious).

I  know lots of people who are Christians, obviously. Most of them walk the walk. They follow God's word and they "do unto others". But some of them…well, let's just say they don't paint us in the best light. They spend a lot of time congratulating themselves on being "Christian" and looking down on everyone who happens to be different. Those people frustrate me a little because that's really not the best recruitment strategy if you think about it. 

I also have friends who aren't Christian. I can think of one specifically, who is a different religion and her set of beliefs is quite different than mine. But let me tell you, she is a wonderful person. She is funny and hard working and talented and brilliant, and she is also one of the most philanthropic people I know. She's just lovely. If I went through life opting to only interact with people who think exactly like I do, I wouldn't know her. And I would really be missing out.

I know you're not perfect, but you've got such a big heart. So big that sometimes I swear I can see it beating. I see it when you're willing to help classmates with their homework even though they haven't been a good friend to you. I see it when you come to me and ask if you can invite a girl over who you don't usually hang out with because you know she's having a hard time and could use a friend. I see it when you see something sad on television and then come wake me up in the middle of the night because you can't stop thinking about it. I see it when you feel sorry for the homeless people you see on the side of the road and when you want to save every stray dog you see - even when we're on vacation and our hotel doesn't allow pets.  

As much as I'd like to (and trust me - I'd really, really like to), it's not fair to keep people with hearts like yours all wrapped up tight in a safe little bubble. Hearts like yours are the biggest, flashiest billboards that Christianity could hope for. Hearts like yours are meant to go out in the world and be seen. Even when it's a little bit scary...for both of us. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Get Out Your Red Pen

In the 39+ years I've spent with me, I've learned by now that making resolutions is a pointless exercise (speaking for myself, of course). Although this year I actually considered some pretty lofty ones there for a minute.

"This year I WILL clean out the kitchen junk drawer(s) and throw away all of the pens that don't work."

Then I couldn't accuse everyone of stealing all my good pens. Also it has the word "clean" in it. Nope.

"This year I WILL go through all of the mail in a timely matter and not let it junk up my kitchen counter/table/every surface in the house."

Well, that's not even a little bit reasonable.

"This year I will NOT drive for miles and miles after my low fuel light comes on every single time and have to hold my breath until I get to a gas station."


"This year I will fold and put away the laundry when it comes out of the dryer instead of letting it accumulate in one million baskets scattered around the house."

Now I've officially gone off the rails. I should stop.

I'm not a huge fan of the whole New Year's mentality anyway. It's too much pressure. Like it's supposed to be some magic reset button on life. And if something goes wrong on day one, the whole rest of the year is screwed. I don't like that - not one bit. Maybe in part because I say I'm going to "eat healthy" and then I go and do things like eat Chick-Fil-A and Taco Bell and frozen pizza and Ghirardelli toffee squares on January 1st right out of the gate.

No, seriously. I actually did that.

Whatever. It was a delicious day.

On New Year's Eve several people in my newsfeed posted a quote that said, "Tomorrow is the first page of a 365 page book. Write a good one." The idea behind that quote is great, and I'm not knocking it or the people who shared it. But there's something about it that just doesn't sit well with me.

When I write a blog post, I spend about an hour editing before publishing it. I know, right? ONLY an hour for edits? These masterpieces should take much longer than that! You're really too kind.

Even after spending all that time going over and over…AND OVER what I've written, I still go back and find spelling mistakes and grammar mistakes and countless ways I should have worded something differently. If the first draft was the final indicator of how good the finished product was going to be, every writer in the history of ever would probably starve to death.

My point is (believe it or not I do have one) - if you screw up on day 1, or day 5, or day 364…there's always room for edits.

So this year, whenever I screw up - AND I WILL - I will resolve to remember that EVERY day is the first page of my new book.

Monday, November 10, 2014

You're Entitled, They're Entitled, EVERYONE'S ENTITLED!

When my daughter was about 3, she had an epic melt down in Wal-Mart. When it happened, I'd estimate we'd been wandering those aisles for approximately 6 weeks. Or maybe it was 30 minutes. I can't really remember, as all time is lost when you walk through those automatic doors into the fluorescent expanse of discount excess with a toddler in tow.

I don't remember exactly what she was losing her mind over, but she decided she wasn't walking one more step and proceeded to throw herself onto the floor screaming. I picked her up and sat her in the big part of the cart, my eyes shooting daggers at her chubby, tear-stained little face. I continued toward the check out line, tossed a few more things in the basket, and eventually made my way out of my own personal hell on earth.

Shit that was embarrassing.

When my son was 3, we were in a restaurant when he decided he'd had about enough of sitting still in his booster chair. Screaming and kicking and all-around unpleasantness ensued. Not uncommon behavior for a 3 year-old because let's be honest...3 year-olds are nightmarish little creatures. After pleading with him for a couple of minutes to kindly get his act together (and him declining by continuing to not cooperate), my husband removed him from the scene. I asked for a couple of to-go boxes, scooped up what was left of our food, paid the bill and left. Sigh. We tried.

I can personally see a glaring difference in these two situations. While my daughter's tantrum was likely annoying to witness and listen to (and probably humorous to the other moms who were smugly shopping without their children), we weren't preventing anyone from getting their shopping done. She wasn't blocking the aisles or throwing things off shelves, or hindering other customers' general reason for being there.

However, when we were in the restaurant, my son's misbehavior was negatively affecting the dining experience of other patrons. While it was seriously…SERIOUSLY…inconvenient that we had to leave before we were finished, it would have been unfair to stay and ruin it for everyone else who was sitting in our area. We knew that taking a toddler into a restaurant (that wasn't equipped with a jungle gym) was a gamble, and the losing end of that bet was to have to bail before we were ready. We played and lost.

This weekend my husband and I decided to take our kids to tour the Winchester Mansion. We'd gone ourselves several years ago and told the kids about it, and they've been asking for us to take them ever since. If you ever find yourself in the California Bay Area, you should make the drive to San Jose and check it out. But it's not cheap. And there are lots of stairs and windows and tight spaces and not much (any) room inside for running around. Which is why my husband and I were surprised to see a family join our tour with a baby that was probably around a year old, a toddler and what I'd estimate to be a 6 year-old. The parents were so attentive that had I not seen them all walk up together, I wouldn't have even known who the kids belonged to for the rest of the tour (there really should be a sarcasm font). The mom did hold the baby for the duration - except for the time that she put her down and allowed her to repeatedly open and close a couple of the 100+ year-old doors in one of the rooms.

The toddler ran (and I mean ran) ahead of the group the majority of the time. The tour guide even asked him to hold her hand a few times so he wouldn't get hurt - you know, since HIS PARENTS couldn't be bothered to do that. Hellooooo they were here to enjoy the tour, you know.

The 6 year-old left handprints on every century old beautiful leaded glass window she could reach. But in her parents' defense, they didn't realize it seeing as she was so far away from them that they couldn't possibly see her doing that. How could they be expected to tell her to stop if they didn't even know it was happening? DUH.

Fortunately, the kids didn't behave in ways that prevented anyone from being able to listen to the guide or enjoy the tour. They were no more than mildly distracting. And I can't say that I am 100% sure that if one of the kids would have started screaming that their parents wouldn't have done anything about it, because that didn't happen. Thank goodness. But given the indifferent attitude I witnessed the rest of the time, I would have been surprised.

I'm not suggesting parents shouldn't take their kids out in public. Of course they should. That's how they learn appropriate public behavior. But not paying a lick of attention to them or neglecting to reprimand bad behavior is teaching them that it's okay to be inconsiderate of others and the property of others.

And there was my A-HA! moment.

It is no revelation that kids today feel entitled. I truly believe it is becoming an epidemic. But why wouldn't they feel that way? Think about it. They see it all the time in their parents. Those parents this weekend felt no obligation to manage their children's behavior. After all, they paid to be there, too. At least that's the message they were sending to the rest of us.

I think most of us would agree that it's considered taboo to say anything negative to a parent about the way their kid is behaving. Remember - I'm a parent, too. My stance on that is almost always mindyourownbusinessthankyouverymuch. The problem we encounter here is that it seems like people these days feel entitled to take their kids wherever they want and allow them to act however they want - without repercussion. An "I paid to be here, so too bad if my kids ruin it for you," mentality so to speak. That's not okay, either.

There ARE places that it really doesn't matter if your kid has a melt down while you're there (i.e. grocery stores, Target, Wal-Mart, the mall, the park, any restaurant that has a slide in it, any restaurant that gives out game tokens, any location that has a ski-ball machine, any location that rents something to wear on your feet (bowling shoes, roller skates, ice skates, etc.)…and Costco). If you don't have children and choose to go to one of these places, know that there will be children there and there is a good chance that one or 12 of them will be screaming because something isn't going their way. That's what kids do and it's really none of your business if it's not hindering your reason for being there. GET OVER IT.

Then there are the places that it DOES matter if your kid has a melt down while you're there and you need to do something about it. That would include any place yourself AND OTHERS are paying** for the privilege to be. And church. Which I know is a touchy subject because Jesus loves the little children all the children of the world. Well, so do I but that doesn't mean I'd prefer to hear them scream over listening to the message. If they're having a full-on episode, be considerate and take them outside.

I get it. I was a parent of toddlers and I was tired. SO TIRED. I was hoping to be able to hear the entire sermon that one Sunday without having to go to the cry room. It made me want to throw my own little tantrum to have to walk out of the movie when it was only half way over. DAMMIT I just wanted to eat a meal in its entirety. DEARLORDJESUS do you even KNOW how badly I needed to get out of the house and what it took to even get me there in the first place?

The thing is - none of those things were any one else's problem. When I signed up to be a parent, I signed up to miss out on a lot of things that I really would have liked to do. Because even though parenthood is awesome (no really), raising kids and doing the right thing is pretty fucking inconvenient almost all of the time. Deal with it.

**Airplanes don't count.  I know it sucks to listen to a screaming kid but what are we supposed to do, throw them out the emergency exit? Get a grip.