La La How The Life Goes On

Archive for November 2011

Today I was shopping at the Savers thrift store. Yes. I was buying my 3 year old clothes AGAIN because she grows every two weeks, and I’m just not paying 36 bucks for a velour skirt when I can get it in primo condition for $6.99…all the while supporting Big Brothers/Sisters. It’s a straight-up no-brainer.

Now, we routinely drop kid clothing and toy stuff off at the Savers if we don’t have a neighbor or friend who can use it. I don’t necessarily consider it charity because they are actually doing me a favor by taking it off my hands. Today, however, I was behind a woman in line who apparently feels that “the amount of really quality designer stuff I drop off here” entitles her to treat the Savers staff like second-hand losers. You’ll love the irony that she was loudly berating a staff member for “overcharging” her a dollar on her…wait for it…light-up Christmas church figurine. Yes, she believed the price to be $5.99, not $6.99, and she would not be paying “premium” because “this isn’t goddamn Bloomingdales!”

All of which got me thinking that we need to add a new level to what we Juifs (well, really just me) call The Rambam Rorschach Tzedakah Test. Tzedakah is the Hebrew word for both justice and charity. It is a commandment that all Jews must perform Tzedakah. There are certain kinds of tzedakah that are considered better than others. The levels of charity, from the least meritorious to the most meritorious, as compiled by The Rambam (google him) are:

Giving begrudgingly.
Giving less that you should, but giving it cheerfully.
Giving after being asked.
Giving before being asked.
Giving when you do not know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient knows your identity.
Giving when you know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient doesn’t know your identity.
Giving when neither party knows the other’s identity.
Giving in a manner that enables the recipient to become self-reliant.

Truth be told, even though I was laughing to myself about adding a “Giving so you can treat the recipient like shit” level, I really did think hard about what we do as a family for others. Do we give because we want recognition–or because it’s the right thing to do? Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That, of course, since what is important is the giving. But if I’m really trying to teach my girls to love others as we love ourselves, why would it be okay to give less than we should? Or to want the recipient to be grateful? It says nowhere in Judaism that we should give Tzedakah only to the worthy, the pleasant or the grateful. “Tzedakah, Tzedakah shall you pursue.” End of command. And as inconvenient as that now makes my life, it is what it is. You give because you should. And, hopefully, you give not so the recipient will be nice or grateful or beholden to you, but so that the person will no longer require charity.

These are the reasons we donate our third night of Chanukah gifts (what we would have spent) to Heifer International. By helping a family across the world or right here in the US to acquire an animal (cow, sheep, goats, chicks, honeybees), you give them food AND a trade or a product to sell to others. You create commerce, and you help a family, a village, a community to become self-sustaining.

Or there is another family favorite, The Smile Train. For a ludicrously low cost they can perform cleft lip and palate surgery on one child, thereby changing that child’s life forever. In many nations cleft issues are a death sentence, so the effect of that (in the West) simple surgery truly is not only life, but a life of self-sustenance.

I’d love to hear from you all about your favorite causes, from anywhere on the Rambam Scale. Put them in the comments and hopefully we can spread the word to others:

If you wish to experience peace, provide peace for another. –The Dalai Lama

“They give food, out of love for Him (Allah), to the poor, the orphan, and the slave, saying: We feed you only for Allah’s pleasure – we desire from you neither reward nor thanks.” –Quran,76:8,9

If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one. –Mother Teresa

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…I will offer a review of How To Not Be A Clueless Jerk, However Well-Meaning.

I say the following things with love, darlings. Not because I am an advocate for adoption (it is a personal decision that I don’t feel is at all appropriate to convince you of), but because I am an advocate for my kids, who happen to have joined our family via adoption but who are NOT DEAF.

My kids hear you ask how much they “cost.” I’ll tell you as soon as you tell me what yours cost. If your answer is anything but, “priceless” I don’t want to know you.

My kids hear you offer your anecdotal story of your cousin’s neighbor’s uncle who adopted a kid and boy, was he nothing but trouble. Thank you very little for making no differentiation between children adopted as infants and children adopted at older ages and from challenging circumstances. Thank you very little for assuming that every issue every adopted child has all comes down to the adoption, as if they are not just regular people like you and I, with personalities, fears, hopes and dreams that have little or nothing to do with the circumstances of their birth.

My kids hear you asking me why we didn’t adopt “a needy kid from right here in America.” My kids can hear you calling them charity cases. So dont ask me that question until you have asked yourself why YOU have not adopted a needy kid from right here in America. That question assumes that the purpose of adoption is altruism rather than selfishness. Perhaps it is for some, but honestly, the BabyDaddy and I wanted to have a family, and this was how we did it. Nothing more, nothing less. We went to China because that is where our daughters were. Please also consider that the question assumes that our family planning decisions are open to debate by strangers rather than, as they are for all couples, deeply personal.

My kids hear you saying those girls are so lucky. If you mean that we are all lucky to have each other, just as are other families who love each other, then thank you. If you mean that somehow they should be grateful, then you need to shut up, because my kids can hear you saying that they owe me something for being their mom, and that is never a message I want to send.

My kids can hear you lamenting “what a shame it is how they treat baby girls over there.” Now, is this insight gained from extensive travel to China, coupled with many years of studying the language, culture and customs of this vast and surprisingly heterogeneous nation–or did you see something on TLC or in the Readers Digest that made you such an expert on Chinese reproductive policies from 1990-2011–and such a poor judge of appropriate topics for childrens ears? Even if every terrible thing you said were true, WHY would you say it in front of children?

Finally, and most importantly, my kids can hearing you asking, “What is she?” Really? Really? What is she? Well, she is a human child, whose “real” mom, for the record, is typing this. Although she does have a birth mother to whom we are eternally grateful, but about whom you, as a random stranger, are entitled to zero information, however politely you ask.

So when I answer (or politely deflect or refuse to answer) your rude, although well-intentioned questions, please don’t take offense. Don’t think I’m sensitive. Don’t think I’m ashamed of my daughters’ histories. Please just look at my girls, look at me, and see a family that you don’t need to dissect or intrude upon in order to support.

It’s true. No one in Vegas is flying me in to blow on their dice. No one is impatiently waiting to hear my lottery number picks. No one is filling my inbox with requests for interviews about my secrets to good health. Nope. It’s rather evident that I am not so lucky in the grand scheme of luckiness. In fact, if you survey my entire existence you will more than likely be forced to concede that–holy crap–that chick has had some bad luck!

But save your “oh, honey” pity-filled face for someone else, darlings. Because although my luck may be for shit, my blessings runneth over. I know the story of my life is one illustrating the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, rather than radiating the warm sunlight of great good luck. The Babydaddy has more than once heard me wonder aloud, “Who do I have to fuck around here to catch a break?” To be sure, you can never consider me lucky. But please always consider me blessed.

Yes, I carry a deadly bone marrow-killing gene that I could not risk passing to biological children. Bad luck.
I am Mama to two girls who are the center of my universe, who teach me daily to be a better person, and who–I know for sure–were always meant to be mine. Blessed.

Yes, I languished near death for a few months there, hanging on, praying I’d see Bambina turn 3, preparing myself that I wouldn’t. Bad luck.
I received the stem cells of a selfless 26 year-old school teacher who agreed to donate, like, yesterday. Took some days off work, took the shots to stimulate her marrow, sat at Dana Farber for hours to donate…to a total freaking stranger, sight unseen. Just because she felt it was the right thing to do, however inconvenient. Blessed.

Yes, I have had almost every post-transplant complication ominously foretold in the “risks” section of the 75-page consent form that at the time you shrug off because–hello?–you are one stranger’s sneeze fom being tits-up; what’s a little potential osteoporosis and systemic immune suppression next year when you might snuff it this weekend? Bad luck.

I have learned numerous important things from these complications. First, that we surround ourselves with possessions and activities and images of ourselves that seem indispensable. Until they must be relinquished. Which is when you realize (sometimes bitterly) that you wasted many, many hours of your life on things that amount to nothing. Which is when you are forced by sheer necessity to lean on and gain strength from the things that mean everything. Blessed.

Second, I learned that, however shitty I may feel my situation to be on any given day, that there is always someone who would gladly trade places with me. Just as I am moping to myself at my weekly pheresis appointments about being fat from meds and my face looks tired, and my goddamn Sports Illustrated Swimsuit career is fucking over before it began, in walks a teenager with GVHD so bad that his skin is peeling like a 3rd degree burn, his intestines are shedding layers, and every minute he is awake he is in constant, unrelenting pain. And I feel like an ungrateful ingrate bastard to confess that I momentarily lost my appreciation for the life I have. Blessed.

Finally, I learned that sometimes its okay to not be The Woman Who Can Do Everything, even in front of my kids. 98% of my life I am all about demonstrating, illustrating, showing by example that no matter what ill wind knocks you down, that you can and will get up and keep going. I once saw a funny cartoon in college with the title Press On Regardless. It has been my motto–and my primary hope for my girls–ever since. If you get knocked down, you get up. If life hands you a big steaming pile of dog shit, you make some aerodynamic dogshitballs and you hurl those mothereffers right back in its face. You press on regardless, come what may. Except for those few days in the middle of dogshitball-making and pressing onning where you just…can’t. And so you don’t. Which means your kids sometimes have to man up and get their own damn cereal. Sometimes dear friends’ birthdays get lost in the haze. Sometimes you just have to let your family see you sweat. And only then do you realize that nobody cares if they have to get their own cereal, or remind you to send a thank you, or whatever. They are just glad that you are here. Blessed.

One of the least discussed aspects of the Penn State case is the bravery of the kids who told someone about their discomfort with Jerry Sandusky, thereby leading to the grand jury investigation that put a stop to his alleged crimes against children. As a parent, I cannot express how gratifying it is to hear that some of these children spoke up, because that is precisely what I pray I am raising my girls to do.

Our house rules seem disrespectful in the eyes of many older people, but we don’t happen to care. Our rules? Our girls are under zero-zero-zero obligation to touch, kiss, hug or otherwise interact with any adult with whom they feel uncomfortable. End of story. We require them to say polite hellos and make eye contact, but we never say, “Now give great aunt Flossie’s friend whom you’ve never met a hug.” Why? Because forcing that interaction teaches your child that some social situations with adults require you to turn off or not listen to the part of your brain that is urging you against it. Imagine if your boss introduced the new IT guy and then required you to hug and kiss him to be polite. Insane, right? And yet we expect it of kids all the time. I never want to teach my girls that “manners” require them to show affection to grown up people for whom they feel no affection. Again, we don’t allow general rudeness, but we offer interested adults a fist bump or a high five instead.

Although, having just said that, I actually do teach my girls to be rude. Bambina and I have had many a conversation regarding Adults Behaving Badly. I have taught her that it is 100% okay to be “rude” to any grown up who is acting inappropriately. For instance, one guideline: there is not an adult in the world who needs the help of a kid. Not to find a lost dog, not for directions, not for anything. Adults can always find another adult if they require help. Therefore, you have my permission–and direct order– to run away, yell, do whatever ” rude” thing you need to do to get away from that adult, because that adult is behaving inappropriately. My kids are under no obligation to be polite to inappropriate adults, and under every obligation to tell me if it happens because–again–grown ups deal with grown ups.

One day two summers ago I was bringing the trash cans out from the backyard while Bambina was playing in the front yard. As I came around the side if the house I saw an older man talking to her and trying to get her to shake his hand, from which she was recoiling. I went incandescent. I ran over to him and said, “hello?” He launched into his “I was just saying hello to this lovely lady here.” me: stone faced, clearly unhappy. So he continued quickly with his, I was just out for a walk and thought I’d say hello. To which I replied, “well, hello. See you later.” I was fucking FURIOUS, and Bambina could tell. So we had a chat about how she had done nothing wrong but that man had behaved very badly by talking to a young kid without her parents present, and how adults should know better. How that man had behaved badly and how she had done the right thing by not taking his hand when it didn’t feel right in her tummy. I could see her relief when she heard me say that, because she knew that I understood that weird mix of confusion and nervousness she had been feeling when an adult is doing things that make you feel uncomfortable. Which led to our other guideline: if you ever feel that feeling, get away by any means necessary and tell mama, tell anyone.

In the end, what we want most for our girls is that they always have a feeling of agency over their bodies, a sense that the only person in control of it is them. A belief that no one has a right to touch you or have you touch them unless you feel okay with it. More important than that, perhaps, is the belief in the fallibility of adults–and this is where we get pushback from people who believe in traditional manners–that saying No to a grown up is accepted and encouraged if that grown up is asking you to do something you know is or feels wrong.

Thank goodness those kids in Pennsylvania had that sense of personal agency. Thank goodness they felt like they could say something, felt like they had the right to speak the truth, damn the adults behaving badly and damn the “respect” and damn the “politeness”. It took tremendous courage; tragically, a courage illustrated most keenly by its utter absence in the adults.

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Which begs the question of how long a man can ignore evil and still consider himself good.

I am speaking, of course, about the absolutely stomach-churning grand jury report detailing years of child sexual abuse at Penn State University by assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Or, perhaps more accurately, I am speaking of the years of obfuscation and coverups of this abuse by university principals. The Penn State board of trustees has quite rightly fired both Joe Paterno and President Spanier effective immediately.

Why am I blogging about this when, until a few days ago, I could not have explained the difference between Joe Paterno and Joe Piscopo? Because this situation is so egregious, so horrifying and so disgraceful that it transcends any one athletic program or any particular university. It cuts to the heart of child exploitation, abuse and endangerment. It cuts to the heart of the often consequence-free environment in which many athletic programs operate. It cuts to the heart of how we, as a society, fail to protect at-risk kids from predators.

A few disturbing defenses I have read online:

1. Where were these kids’ parents?
Yes, let’s begin by blaming the victim. Then let’s ignore that Jerry Sandusky set up his foundation specifically to gain access to children who were vulnerable. Please note that wealthy kids with 6’4″, 200 lb. fathers living in a stable home environment were not targeted. That is no coincidence.

2. Why are we crucifying Paterno?
If I have to detail this to you, then you need help. He was told that his assistant coach was, at minimum, being “inappropriate” with young kids in his locker room; at worst he had been seen anally raping a child in his locker room. Hello? You want to give him credit for sending it one level up the chain as if his responsibility ended there? Please remind me to not leave my children in your care.

3. These guys aren’t totally to blame because they were not expected to know the signs of pedophilia like perhaps elementary and high school staff might.

What part of seeing or learning that a middle aged man put his penis in a 10-YEAR OLD BOY requires an advanced degree in social work? It’s straight-up criminal depravity that ought to have been taken to law enforcement (as the law requires in cases of child abuse) before Sandusky had a chance to leave the building. Still not convinced? What do you imagine would have happened if Sandusky had been seen raping a 10 year- old girl? And what of the grad assistant who witnessed one of the rapes? Well, he has been in full employment of the football program since that time. Clearly the powers that be at PSU allowed a monster to remain in their midst, in close contact with young boys. For that they are morally, even if not legally, guilty as sin.

4. Just another example of homosexuality’s evils.
Please listen, morons. Homosexuals are attracted to adults of the same gender. PEDOPHILES are sexually attracted to children. I’m not sure how much plainer I can state it.

5. It’s a travesty that Joe Paterno as been fired! He is praying for the victims!
Well, let me be not the first to say the victims don’t need Paterno’s fucking prayers; they needed him to lift a goddamn phone ten years ago. They needed him to maybe ask himself what he would do if that boy had been his child or grandchild. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have let it drop. Paterno’s program bore the motto, “Success with Honor.” I challenge you to find any honor left in his office. He got credit for all successes of the football program, and he must take responsibility for its abject moral failures. This is bigger than football and bigger than Paterno. This goes to the values of an entire university community that must repair its now-destroyed reputation.

So much anger and disbelief and heartache at a school I’ve never attended with a football team I’ve never seen. So what’s the real reason I care? Because I pray to God that YOU would step up to help my children if they were being hurt. I pray to God YOU would not value your job more than the life and safety of a child. I pray to God that YOU would not allow any adult–even one you like–to harm a child, however “nothing major” it seemed. I pray to God that all of us resolve to see the humanity in everyone– even the poor, at-risk and nameless among us.

I Like Ike

Posted on: November 3, 2011

Election day here in Jonesville is fast approaching, as is the frequency of the vote-for-me mailers and school dropoff grip-and-grins. We have a ton of people running for school committee and alderman this year; so much so that even political dork Mama cannot keep the candidates straight. The BabyDaddy and I have therefore agreed that we will vote for only those candidates whose names allow us to add a Fletch-inspired nickname. So, Mitch “The Fish” Fischman, you can count on our support! As can you, Josh “The Krintz” Krintzman! Whattup! Of course, this means that we will have no choice in 2012 but to write in Chris “The Chris” Christie for POTUS…

In other hyper-local events, our PTO deadline for making an annual fund donation just passed. The suggested amount was $100 per student, in lieu of having many fundraising events throughout the year. I’m really trying not to swear here, but ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS?! For real? Have they looked at the demographics of our school? If the Joneses cannot even begin to consider that amount I can only imagine how that request must come across to many of our other families from very modest means. Yes, it said “any amount” is great, but you lost me at the second zero. Why not stress participation instead? why focus on a number that, for families with multiple kids, could total $300 or $400? Even to a person voting only for Fletch characters, that just seems insane.

As much as I love Halloween, I truly love when it is over. I love kiddies in costume, I love their palpable joy at being handed candy for no good reason, I love the almost valedictory neighborly socializing before we all begin to hibernate for the winter.

I do not love adolescents in “costume” [mickey mouse ears with their regular outfit] expecting candy at my door. Are you kidding me? Don’t you have boys to be texting or something? Get dressed up for real or get lost.

I do not love people giving out granola bars or pretzels instead of candy. This is Halloween, folks! I don’t give you an Easter egg at Christmas, do I? So give out the candy already. If you don’t want to, then don’t hand out anything. It’s my job as the parent to decide how much candy my kid eats, so you don’t have to do the nutrition job for me. Kthxbye.

I do not love communing with my neighbors in 30 degree weather. “Hello, Global Warming” is all I’m saying. Snow on Halloween. Nuff said.

Leading up to Halloween, we had–as usual–Baby Sister being a total pill, refusing to participate, and in general impeding the preparations for everyone else. It started around 3pm–the usual time when she morphs from cute funny happy monkey to what my dad would have called “a bear with a sore arse.” As we were getting out of the car she refused to put on her shoes. REFUSED. For 15 minutes. So I said fine, walk into the house with bare feet, but you have to carry your boots and your jacket. Think ill of me if you must, but I subscribe to the concept of natural consequences. If you dally around in the AM and forget to put your lunch in your backpack then you will have no lunch. (Well, I usually give one “freebie” as in, this is the first and only time I will drive your lunch to you after drop off. Act accordingly). So, I was thinking that she would step out of the car, freeze her damn feet off and immediately beseech me for her precious boots, all the while apologizing profusely for being three and obstinate. Well, just as the moment was about to happen (minus the apologizing part from my fantasies), some guy walking his dogs says, “Oh my goodness! She shouldn’t be out in the cold like that! It’s too cold! You should put some shoes on her!”

Really, motherfucker? Really?

And as quickly and smoothly as an autumn leaf falls from the tree, Baby Sister sees that the global balance of power has shifted. She is no longer ready for her boots. She is ready to hear more from this obviously well-informed dog owner who is appalled at her Mama. She begins to prance around in her bare feet, proud of her ability to bring total strangers to attention. Nay, to bring total strangers to shocked horror in their kindred disapproval of Stalinist boot-loving Mama. From this moment on, there will be no boots, there will be no obedience. There will be only Baby Sister, fittingly on this Halloween, living the words of Robert Burns in Tam o’ Shanter: nursing her wrath to keep her feet warm. I was beyond furious. So I just said, “Yes, I’m aware that she needs shoes. Thanks.” Luckily my icy stare made know-it-all dog owner take off before he saw Baby Sister’s boots coming at him.

Which brings me to people who let their dogs take a shit outside my house: please don’t. The other day I saw a woman letting her dog shit on that strip of grass near the curb. Picture if you will: your lawn, then the sidewalk, then that 3 feet strip of grass before the curb. The dog is dumping on my grass! I know, I know, she’s going to pick it up. But hello? I put my bags on that grass when I’m getting into the car. My kids play on that grass. It’s MY FUCKING GRASS. But she’ll pick it up! She’s got that plastic bag thingie! Great. But a dog has still shit on my grass. Still not convinced? How about I come and take a crap on your kitchen floor? Don’t worry! I’ll scrape it up when I’m done! No problem, right? Because if I remove large chunks of poop from your floor it’s like I haven’t really pooped, right?
It’s called curbing your dog for a reason. The whole world is not your dog’s toilet.

Speaking of toilets and neighbors, I was recently the recipient of divine retribution for being a dickhead. The people a few houses down from us put three gross mattresses out on the curb and there they sat for weeks. Weeks! The BabyDaddy and I, not usually the type of people to get all huffy about stuff like this since we have two kids who essentially destroy everything, completely could not stand looking at these mattresses every single day. We’d harrumph about it over dinner: “Why are they there? What is wrong with these people?!” We’d make grrr noises as we drove past them. We’d tell friends about the nasty mattresses blighting our street for weeks on end. We’d imagine terrible things about the motives and manners of the people to whom these mattresses belonged. And then we put our TV out for municipal bulk pickup. “Call by Friday at 1pm, and pickup will be that Saturday between 10 and 4.” I made the call days earlier. Uncle Neil left work early to come help put the 800 pound TV out there on Friday. Saturday AM arrived and we felt so glad to see it go–unlike those heathens and philistines whose mattresses were STILL THERE. Only, it didn’t go. Not that Saturday. Not that Sunday. Not the next Saturday. Not the Monday after that. Oh no, friends. It took 6 phone calls, three online requests, and three weeks to finally have our TV removed from the front of our house. Only 6 days later than the mattresses.

It became clear that WE were now no doubt the object of our neighbors’ irritation, with our big old redneck TV and stand sittin’ out there for weeks on end. All we needed was a couch and an old fridge and we’d have been set up for watchin’ them there raccoon races wit’ ma kinfolk from Pennsyltucky. Horrifying. Until yesterday when I drove up the street to see–on our neighbor’s curb–a washing machine and a toilet. Hosannah! A commode! Toilet beats TV any day! We’re saved!

That said, I really hope the town picks it up soon. Mostly so my neighbors don’t feel bad about their trash for weeks on end, but also because I’m sure if it stays there someone will let their dog crap in it.