Teen years provoke maternal paralysis

It’s official. My 13-year-old is an inch taller than me. It’s not like he’s a giant (I’m petite), but it’s still a shibboleth of young adulthood for him. As is the darkening fuzz on his upper lip.

Unlike all of his other developmental milestones, this one leaves me feeling cheerless. It seems to call attention to the other ways in which he’s outgrown me. He’s physically stronger. . .he can outrun, outbike, and outclimb me. He knows more. . .they really do teach kids a lot of stuff in middle school, stuff I once mastered but can no longer revive. He has his own passions—music, mapping, and math—about which I know little. He is more likely to be embarrassed by my presence than to take comfort in my company. . .not so with his dad.

This in addition to the isolation I’m already feeling in the face of the inevitable teen angst. For the first time in his life, I’m deeply missing the unbridled joy that used to greet me on my return home from even a brief trip to the corner store. Or the unconscious giggles that I could inspire so readily. Now I’m lucky if I get a nod of recognition and a reluctant “ha ha.”

So this growth spurt is getting me down, taunting me with its symbolic meaning that my son is leaving me behind. Which, of course, he is. He’s supposed to. It’s why we worked hard to raise an autonomous child. But I guess I wasn’t prepared to be treated as if I’m superfluous. . .even if I’m not. I clearly need to tweak my expectations and parenting style to accommodate his struggle and the adolescent posturing that comes along with it.

I have to set up some new rules of engagement.

  1. Seize opportunity by embracing spontaneity. No more need for teaching patience. When he calls “Hey, mom, come here!” I really should drop what I’m doing and go there. 
  2. Make use of the Google to compensate for how little I know about things he cares about and share amazement at how much he himself knows. (Flirting doesn’t come naturally to me, but I’ve observed enough mindless ego-stroking in my life to give it a go.)
  3. Don’t give up! Continue to invite his participation in cooking and errands and other mom activities he used to enjoy. There may come a day when he’s bored enough to say “yes”. Woo-hoo!
  4. Remind him I’m on his side, especially when he doesn’t believe it.
  5. Hug him often, even if he persists in pulling his shirt over his head to avoid mom kisses.
  6. Stop mourning the early perks of parenting. It’s too much like teen angst. It’s unattractive and unproductive. Get over it.

My parenting has mostly flowed naturally and easily. . .until now. Now I have to act in ways that are neither natural nor easy. My personal preference is to simply avoid unpleasant and dour people, but that won’t work when the person in question is my son. I have to resuscitate all those “dealing with difficult people” techniques in my skill bank and practice them on a daily basis. I have to be more intentional, more strategic.

I suppose the inexpertness and loneliness I’m experiencing is typical for a mother of an adolescent boy, but that offers me little solace. I’m used to being at the top of my parenting game. Inadequacy is not an option. Maybe I’ll adopt that as my mantra. . .inadequacy is not an option. . .inadequacy is not an option. . .inadequacy is not an option. If all else fails, at least it’ll give me something to do.


Toy Gun: The oxymoron of our times


We’re a country full of folks that will indulge gun culture even if they themselves don’t own a gun. This was evident in a recent discussion on a local parenting blog about whether or not it’s okay to let kids (boys, in particular) play with toy guns. The majority of contributors were pro-gun control, but not opposed to kids playing with toy guns. Support ranged from “boys will be boys” to citing scientific “evidence” for the biological wiring of boys to play with guns, and even included the spurious conclusion, “I played with guns and I didn’t grow up to be a mass murderer.”

My husband and I decided early on that we would be a no gun household, toy or otherwise. And we never wavered from that decision. Not once. Distraction from shoot-em-up play proved useful early on. But as my son grew older, we just told him the facts:  “Guns and shooting are the source of untold violence, grief, harm and death. They’re not fun. They’re not a game. That’s why we’re a no-shooting household.” Playing “soldier” wasn’t allowed, either. War isn’t pretty and it most certainly isn’t a game.

The attitude that “boys will be boys” is a dangerous one. It’s the exact same attitude that justifies violence against women in the minds of too many. If we’re not willing or able to challenge behaviors that support those kinds of harmful beliefs, then we shouldn’t complain about unequal pay for women or reproductive rights. It’s all part of the same gendered thinking.

And whatever scientific “evidence” one wishes to invoke about boys being wired for rough-and-tumble play, I suspect that boys around the world aren’t equally likely to play shoot-’em-up. . .environmental and cultural influences really DO interact with biology, you know.

As for the argument that kids who play with guns don’t grow up to be criminals, I concede. . .most of them don’t. But there are plenty of other reasons for breaking with old traditions and discouraging or disallowing toy gun play. During my childhood, I played army with my brothers (I saw to their wounds as the army nurse). I also rode a bike without a helmet, bopped around freely in the back of the family station wagon, and suffered the mumps, chicken pox, measles and scarlet fever. Do we really want the “good ol’ days” to be the definitive guide to how we ourselves parent?

I have a 13-year old son who has never owned a toy gun or a violent video game. Exposure to TV and movie violence is always coupled with exposure to or a discussion of the consequences. I see it as a parental responsibility in raising a boy in a culture that too often glorifies guns and tolerates injustice and violence. I can’t be pro-gun control without doing my part to undermine the notion that gun play is inevitable or worthy of indulgence. I only wish that other parents who claim to be gun control proponents would do their part, too.

In defense of intolerance

I got slammed a bit with my last post about not favoring the company of Republicans. Perhaps I should have been more explicit about what membership in the Republican party means by reviewing a few choice tidbits from the 2012 Republican platform:

  • supported the passage of constitutional amendments that would ban abortion and define marriage as “the union of one man and one woman.”
  • supported a “human life amendment” to the Constitution and opposed the use of public revenue to promote or perform abortion or fund organizations that do so. 
  • wished to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
  • called for extending tax cuts to rich people. 
  • supported right-to-work laws, which weaken unions.
  • opposed legislation that would “limit the capacity of clips or magazines.”
  • supported an end to “interference” with faith-based institutions on health services, traditional marriage, abortion.

This is their official platform. . .rather unfriendly to gays, women, labor, the uninsured, low-income and middle-class families, victims of gun violence, and determinedly ignorant of the first amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. . .”

Call me crazy, but I don’t join clubs that are hostile to certain classes of people. It’s why my son isn’t a Boy Scout, why the catholic church (and lots of others) is so abhorrent to me. I don’t want to be a member of a club that discriminates.

And none of this namby-pamby, “Oh, the church/club/group/party needs members from within who can help it to grow and change and become more progressive.” Bullshit. That’s just an excuse to continue to reap whatever perceived benefits of membership are available. If you’re a member of an all-white country club, prepare to be judged. It’s wrong. Boy Scout? Wrong. Member of the Republican party, that’s wrong too.

So, you want to be a Republican? Go ahead. Your choice. But don’t pretend you don’t stand for what the party stands for. Membership is free. Membership is a choice. You can join or not join. But if you do, accept responsibility for that choice. Anything less is just a cop-out.

Call me intolerant. Please. I am proudly intolerant of discrimination, hate, injustice. . .whether it comes under the protective umbrella of politics, religion, culture or anything else. . .doesn’t matter. It’s all wrong. And making such judgments may be “intolerant” but it’s also the responsible and moral thing to do.

Republicans—the ultimate party poopers

I don’t like spending time with Republicans. There are contexts in which it’s unavoidable—work, neighborhood association, school PTA, various clubs, businesses I shop at. I even learned recently that one of my son’s middle school teachers is a Republican! (At least she doesn’t teach social studies.)

Just in case you thought I was kidding. . .these are the rules my husband and I sent out with party invitations 17 years ago.

Just in case you thought I was kidding. . .these are the rules my husband and I sent out with post-elopement party invitations 17 years ago.

But I don’t ever intentionally hang out with Republicans. It just never seems to go well. You might think I could just stick with safe conversational topics, but it turns out there aren’t any. Even something as benign as “What do you do?” has resulted in being subjected to a union-busting diatribe from a school district attorney who spends all his waking hours cementing his view that teachers are the laziest creatures on the planet.

Books don’t work, either. My kindle is in constant use, but my book list reads like a communist manifesto—The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Food, Inc., The Warmth of Other Suns, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. My netflix queue doesn’t fare much better in a Republican crowd. . .recent viewings include Ricky Gervais’ Idiocracy The Invention of Lying (more on that in a later post) and Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story. Best to steer clear.

Kids?! Everyone’s got a cute kid story (yawn). But it doesn’t take long before those darned Republicans are touting charter schools as the solution to our failing public education system, their involvement with the gay-hating Boy Scouts, their kid’s golf handicap, or the “importance” of an ivy league education.

Clearly, encounters with Republicans are best avoided. But every now and then an unthinking host lures me to a party and I find myself in “mixed” company. And it can be a challenge to behave myself. I try. I know how to smile, nod and walk away. I know how to filter what I’m thinking to come out with less “bite.” But sometimes something just screams out for a scathing response. And what’s a girl to do?

I know full well that arguing with a Republican isn’t going to change their mind about anything, even in the face of hard evidence, piles of data and reason. But I simply can’t let them spout nonsense, hate, and ignorance without countering it, especially when other people are listening. It’s a matter of social responsibility.

It boggles my mind that some Democrats actually marry Republicans (Carville/Matalin or Shriver/Schwarzenegger). Don’t misunderstand— I can imagine being married to just about anyone. But I can’t imagine dating, much less marrying, a Republican. My politics are who I am, how I view the world, how I spend my time, how I choose my job, how I raise my kid, how I brush my teeth in the morning! I care not if my kid is gay or straight, an artist or a scientist, a tinker or a tailor. . .but I do care if he chooses to view the world through the lens of the Republican party, a lens that filters out all the socio-political and environmental realities that demand institutional change to achieve justice and equity. That would be an  epic parental fail. 

So, I’ll continue to avoid Republicans and they, no doubt, will do their best to avoid me. And then we can all be free to be judged by the company we keep.

Beware the atheist in your midst

Here’s the intro to a post I started last week:

“Hi, I’m Tree and I’m an atheist. My atheism tends to make believers uncomfortable. I don’t even have to say anything and I’ve got them squirming in their seats. Now, if I dared to say the things that are really in my head, that would definitely give them something to squirm about. But I know better. . .and I’m a rather polite person.”

I hadn’t gotten much further than that when I read this blog post on ScathingAthiest.com where the author concludes that there really is no polite way to explain your own atheism to an inquiring believer. No matter what you say or how you say it, your atheism is an indictment of their belief in whatever version of the magical sky daddy they profess to love.

That’s precisely the dilemma I had been rolling around in my head. . .and resenting. Believers don’t seem as put off by believers of a different faith/cult/god fan club (whatever you choose to call it) as they are by atheists. It’s as if there’s a kinship in a shared fantasy, even if the fantasy is drastically different. Now how does that make sense? If you really believe in your own god (for catholics, the one true god), why would atheism be more threatening than buddhism? Aren’t they both equally dismissive of the catholic god? Aren’t all atheists and buddhists going to share space together in hell?

Like many atheists, I wasn’t born into atheism. I had to do the work of thinking my way into it. How many christians do you know who thought their way into christianity? But whether born into it or not, if you’re a person who really, truly believes in a god, wouldn’t that be really really important to you, to your life, to your family, to every choice you make on this planet? But how many believers do you know who take their belief that seriously, or think about it at all?  Sure, I’ve met some Jehovah’s Witnesses and some born again types, but I don’t know any mainstream believers that seem to give their belief much of a second thought. And because I do give my beliefs (or disbelief in this case) lots of thought, I’m the bad guy. I’m the one who’s religiously intolerant. So not fair.

Christians have us atheists greatly outnumbered here in the U.S. Our ranks are growing and we outnumber many marginalized religious groups, but we’re not the religious behemoth that christianity is. If I was a christian, if I believed what my religion expected me to believe, I’d be tempted to simply dismiss an atheist in my midst as the annoying flea of reason that they should be to me. If I was a particularly culturally sensitive sort, I might bother to ask a few questions to try and understand why anyone would choose to deny the existence of a supernatural daddy in the sky. No doubt I would come off as arrogant and judgmental as so-called believers experience me to be. 

But that never happens. My atheism hangs like a cloud in the room. It’s not like I go around advertising it, but I don’t hide it anymore. Why should I? To spare believers their discomfort? To spare myself the trouble? Seems to me that since I’m the kind of atheist who believes that religion is the source of way too much evil in the world, remaining quiet would make me the moral equivalent of a passive bystander. Being a quiet atheist would be like being no atheist at all.

If the media doesn’t “get” rape, is it still rape?

For as long as I can remember, the mainstream media has failed miserably to cast violence against women in its true light, preferring instead to minimize the violence, excuse the abuser, and blame the victim. A serious assault on a woman by her male partner is referred to as a “domestic incident”. The murder of a woman by her male partner is explained as “the result of a love triangle.” And what article did you ever read about domestic homicide where the media neglected to quote the neighbors who express “shock” and “disbelief” that Joe Schmo could have done such a thing? And my personal favorite—“the victim had been drinking”— as if that explains everything.

Then along comes this week’s media reports of the sentencing of the two teens from Steubenville, Ohio for rape, followed by an immediate public outcry about the media’s sympathetic portrayal of the attackers. For good reason.

I reviewed a lot of the mainstream media reports (print and video) and almost all of them focused on the young perpetrators, highlighting the “horrible” and “tragic” consequences of their “mistake” and the sex offender status that would “haunt” them for the rest of their lives, limiting their job opportunities, and on and on. The rare mention of the victim was mostly to point out her drunkenness before and during the assault. Even when it came to describing the crime (digital rape, i.e., the boys inserted their fingers into the young woman’s vagina), the reports made it seem that somehow Ohio was unique in criminalizing this particular way of raping. No one saw fit to mention that digital rape with any body part or object is used by the U.S. Justice Department in compiling statistics on rape incidence, and I’m pretty sure that most states include digital rape as a crime in their rape laws.

It would seem that, once again, the media has done an outstanding job of minimizing the crime of rape, excusing the perpetrators, and blaming the victim. Nothing new, but still infuriating.

Nary a day passes in this country without another news story about the continuing war on women, most recently with the various and vicious attacks on women’s reproductive rights and the unforgivable delay in reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. Yet in the case of the Steubenville rapists, the media chose to focus on the individual perpetrators involved in this crime with absolutely no attempt to explore the context of their crime.

You don’t have to be an investigative journalist to take note of the cultural, social and political supports for violence against women. . .supports that can all too easily explain how two “nice boys” can commit such horrible, criminal acts. But here we are in 2013, and the media can’t seem to get its act together. 

The persistent failure of the media to be an ally in shining a light on violence against women makes me afraid. I’m raising a 13-year old son and I’m determined to do my damnedest to ensure that he develops a higher consciousness of the evils of global oppression in the form of sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism and all the other inequities that endure in the world. But I know I can’t do it alone. I need allies. Contemporary media could be a powerful ally. . .the immediacy and pervasiveness of their messaging has tremendous influence. But they aren’t. Even today, in 2013, they fail miserably in what I believe is their duty to inform and protect the people. We may be a “free” nation with a “free press”, but freedom comes with responsibility. Our news media have yet to step up to the challenges of that responsibility and as a result, we all lose.

Top ten famous people who had a significant impact on my worldview

A friend recently counted down his top ten “notables” on FB, people he admired and who had an impact on his life. It prompted me to make a similar list of the top ten famous people who influenced my world view. Here they are in the chronological order in which they entered my consciousness (to the best of my recollection), starting with #1 at around the age of 10.

1.  It’s a tie! watched all their movies and read all the (auto)biographies I could get my hands on. Their lives and performances were my earliest exposures to the feminist and civil rights movements. I wanted to be her and I wanted to marry him. They blew me away.

Katharine Hepburn, Sidney Poitier

Katharine Hepburn, Sidney Poitier

2. I confess I can’t think of Annie Sullivan without picturing Anne Bancroft. But the “Miracle Worker” made me want to do something that no one had done before, maybe even something that no one had ever attempted before. Age 10.

Annie Sullivan, Anne Bancroft

Annie Sullivan, Anne Bancroft

3. I guess I watched a lot of movies as a kid. My family had high ambitions for me. . .there was talk of me being a lawyer. I’m not sure they understood that the kind of lawyer I dreamed of being was inspired by Clarence Darrow. Age 10.

Clarence Darrow, Spencer Tracy

Clarence Darrow, Spencer Tracy

4. What young girl wouldn’t be changed and moved by her diary? This was my first unforgettable exposure to the Holocaust. Age 12.

Anne Frank

Anne Frank

5. My favorite of the Kennedy’s. Although I knew of his assassination, it wasn’t until some time later that I learned about him. He opened the window to my understanding that I was growing up in privilege. . .that there was another America that I had yet to meet. One of his quotes that slapped me in the face: “I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil.” Age 14.

Bobby Kennedy

Bobby Kennedy

6. I researched her for a high school project. She was then and still is my champion of human rights and one of the most remarkable first ladies ever. Age 16.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt

7. I was preparing for college when she appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. Such selflessness in the face of unimaginable human suffering. . .I was overawed. During my year of post-college volunteerism in a poor urban community, I often thought of her to keep my own burdens in perspective. It wasn’t until much later that I learned of her crises of faith which further reinforced by own inability to reconcile the suffering and injustice I witnessed with a just and loving god. . .in fact, with any god at all. Age 17.

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa

8. A sampling of American “heroes” with atheistic views. I often wondered if mainstream America ignored their atheistic/agnostic/irreligious views or if they just didn’t know about them. But it brings me much joy to share in the widespread admiration these great people inspire, even if I have somewhat different motives.In my 30’s.

From Top L counter clockwise: Ben Franklin, Clarence Darrow, Susan B. Anthony, Helen Keller, Mark Twain, Carl Sagan

From Top L counter clockwise: Ben Franklin, Clarence Darrow, Susan B. Anthony, Helen Keller, Mark Twain, Carl Sagan

9. I came to more fully recognize his virtues rather late in life in response to the revisionist history taught in my son’s public elementary school and many teachers’ persistence in celebrating christian holidays. It’s near impossible to brush up on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights without encountering Jefferson. In my 40’s.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

10.  I grew up in the 60’s with Viet Nam, assassinations, race riots. My son’s growing up with a black president, 3 female Supremes (justices, not singers), and marriage equality. I for one don’t wax nostalgic. . .it’s a new day and a better one.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama