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No One is ‘Just A Person’

Where do kids learn to bully?

We watch in horror as middle school boys bully a grandmother on a bus and wonder how these boys could be so cruel. Do they not realize the intensity of their words? Why did no one stand up for that poor woman? How could something so awful be filmed and posted to YouTube for bragging rights? Did these boys honestly think they were being funny?

I think what those boys did was awful. I am physically sick when I watch the video of them taunting the woman on the bus. My heart aches as she tells them she is crying. I want to hug her.

And it seems that a lot of other people would agree with me. The outpouring of support for her is apparent in the thousands of dollars that have been donated to her. No person disserves to be bullied like that.

And yet, children are still bullying and we don’t know why.

At what point will we admit that we are a society that celebrates bullies? Sounds awful right? A bit extreme? Surely I’m exaggerating, right?

I’d like to introduce you to Louis C.K. Before yesterday, I could not have told you who Louis C.K. was. Had you shown me a picture, I might have recognized him from his small role on Parks and Recreation. I was unaware that he was a stand-up comedian who stars in a series that recently began its third season on FX.

Last year, Louis C.K. got drunk on a flight to L.A. In a series of drunken tweets, the comedian made a few very vulgar tweets to Sarah Palin. According to one article, it’s these tweets that the comedian is best known for.

Yesterday morning, Louis C.K. was interviewed on the TODAY show. During the segment, C.K. was asked about his tweets toward Sarah Palin. This was his reply: “It’s caused me some problems, that I wrote s–t about her. But I also, why not, man? But what is she? She’s just a person,”

She’s just a person.

As if being a person wasn’t reason enough to quiet his drunken tongue. Or in this case his drunken fingers.

Perhaps this comment sparked something in me because I had literally just watched the Karen Klein interview on that very same TODAY show. Just ten minutes earlier, I listened as the TODAY show anchors asked Mrs. Klein how these boys could be so mean on the bus. Is it really so hard to believe that these boys might have thought they were being funny? Perhaps, they are confused by the mixed messaging they are seeing in the world around them.

If C.K. had directed these comments at a race or sexual orientation, organizations would be demanding an apology. If he continued to stand behind his words, as he does about his tweets towards Sarah Palin, his image would suffer. We saw this happen when Tracey Morgan, another comedian, made inappropriate comments about homosexuality.

And yet, instead of being disgusted with C.K., Joan Rivers wrote a glowing article about him for TIME magazine, which named him one of the 50 most influential people. Can we all agree that TIME magazine named a bully as one of its 50 most influential persons? There are billions of people in this world. They can’t find 50 that are influential for something other than their ability to tear other people down?

Let’s be clear. Bullying has many forms. Bullying is physical abuse. Bullying is emotional abuse. Bullying is harassment. Bullying is making a joke at someone else’s expense. No matter who the person is. It doesn’t matter if the person is young, old, gay, straight, young, old, fat, thin, liberal or conservative. No one deserves to be treated that way. No one is ‘just a person.’

My hope is that media outlets like the TODAY show and TIME magazine would be able to understand that.

More Than a Princess

I love to listen to my kids talk about what they are going to be when they grow up.

My boys read books about firetrucks and want to be firemen. They build things out of their tinkertoys and want to be architects. They see their daddy speak in front of a congregation and they want to be pastors.

My daughter wants to be a princess. She also wants to be a mom. I would love for her to be a mom. I love to hear her talk about wanting two babies, a boy and a girl, just like her and her twin brother. I feel good that I’m doing something right if she considers my main occupation to be something she would like to be.

But I also want her to know she can be a scientist. She can be an engineer. She can be a doctor.

In addition to knowing the story of Rapunzel, I want her to know the story of Grace Hopper. Grace was a pioneer in the field of computer science and conceptualized the idea of machine-independent programming languages which led to the development of COBOL, one of the first computer programming languages. I understand about 25% of that sentence but I want her to know that she can learn to understand all of that sentence if she wants to.

I want to teach her about Rachel Carson who’s attention to environmental concerns led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Her writings about the dangers of pesticides helped changed the culture of pesticide use and led to a national ban on the use of DDT. This ban is cited as a major reason for the comeback of the bald eagle and other nearly-extinct species.

I want her know the story of Marie Curie, the first person to earn nobel prizes in two different categories — Physics and Chemistry. She coined the term “radioactivity” and she discovered polonium and radium. Curie faced extreme obstacles, being a woman in her field, and had to work hard for respect among her peers.

I get that a children’s book about radioactivity might be a bit difficult to explain, but we have a book about Loius Pastuer and the discovery of microscopic germs. I’m sure someone somewhere could come up with a book about isolating radioactive isotopes that children could understand. If they made the cover pink, I’m sure my daughter would love it.

Raising child of both genders, my children are exposed to all types of toys. I’d like to believe my husband and I do a good job of fostering non-gender stereotyped play. My son has a doll that he’s more attached to than my daughter is to any of her dolls. Both of my sons enjoy cooking in our play kitchen. Every so often, I can encourage my daughter to help her brothers build a train track. But mostly she just wants to have tea parties with her Barbies and push her baby in a stroller.

In closing I leave you with this video. I first saw this in college while taking a seminar about children and media.  My teacher showed us this SNL commercial. I found it hilarious. I now see the element of truth to this commercial.  My daughter would totally rather play this version of chess than the other version. (If you don’t see a video below, here is a link to the website: http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/chess-for-girls/1357683/)

An Open Letter to the (Late) Bug From My Garage

Dear Bug From My Garage,

I feel I owe you a small apology. I cannot help but feel your death could have been avoided. We met so briefly as you were scampering down the driveway. I misunderstood that look in your eyes to be a look of excitement but I now realize it must have been a look of fear. In hindsight, being chased down the driveway by three preschoolers must have been terrifying for a little guy like you. You had no way to know they didn’t mean any harm.

You need to know they had the best of intentions for you. You should have seen them carefully choosing which bucket to make your new home. They searched the yard for the perfect items to fill it with. The sticks and dirt were meant to provide you comfort and remind you of your natural environment. I hope you were able to find some relaxation during those first few moments in the bucket.

Which brings us to the incident with the bubbles. I must confess, I was otherwise occupied mowing the lawn and did not see my children pour the bubbles into your new home. That must have been terrifying for you. Please know they meant no harm. See, we recently lost our only pet, a goldfish. You can see why it was only natural for them to assume that all household pets thrived in a water environment. Maybe if I had only let them get a dog, you would still be with us. I can vouch for these kids that they aren’t the magnifying-holding ant-burning type. They don’t seek out to harm insects. They only meant the best.

Please know you did not die in vain. For the fifteen or so minutes that you were a member of our family, all was right in the world. The joy you brought to them temporarily extinguished all animosity they usually hold for each other. There was no fighting, no hitting and no yelling, just a mutual love for a new pet. You could argue I should have seen the writing on the wall. As their mother, I should have known they would not know how to properly care for a beetle. But please see it from my perspective. Do you know how infrequent these moments of unity are?

You should also know your calls of distress did not go unnoticed. Moments after your passing, a beetle friend of yours managed to fly under my sunglasses and wreak havoc on my face. In your memory, instead of squishing him, I merely flung him into the yard. I cannot confirm nor deny whether he survived the blades of the lawn mower. But that can hardly be blamed on me if he didn’t.

In conclusion I’d like to thank you for the memories. I’m sure my kids have already forgotten about you, which became evident about an hour later when they captured a worm, but I will always hold a special place for you in my heart. Thank you for providing 15 minutes of peace in my otherwise crazy day.

Sincerely,
A Grateful Mom

Susan attempts to write fiction.

In my last post, I mentioned that I was participating in the Great Writers Series.  Today’s challenge is to take initiative. I decided to take a stab at writing fiction. It’s something that I’ve thought about doing for awhile but just don’t have the time to commit to writing anything. Below is the first installment of a short story I’ve wanted to write. (In case you are wondering, Day 2 was a task that didn’t require writing anything.)

So here it is. I apologize in advance for how long it is.

 

I recognized her the moment she walked in.  Her dark brown hair was shorter now and she had clearly learned how to control the frizzy disaster that she styled in high school. She seamed shorter, though I knew her decreased height had little to do with her actual size and more to do with the memory I had created of her. Her eyes still sparkled like a clear blue ocean. The only thing new was a three inch scar on her left cheek. Looking at her now, she seemed so human. So normal. Had she always looked so normal or was it my maturing as an adult that finally allowed me to see her this way?

I was pretty sure she hadn’t seen me. Most people try their best to avoid eye contact when they are arriving late to church and looking for a seat. From the back I watched her walk halfway down the aisle and find a seat on the end.

I couldn’t look away. I was still in disbelief that she was even here in the same room as me. A million thoughts raced through my mind. Was this her first time at this church? How long has she been back in the area? Had she ever left? Where had she been for the past 10 years? Did she remember me?

I knew the answer to the last one. I had hoped that time made her forget, but for the same reason that I remembered her, I knew she would remember me.

I looked around at the 500 other parishioners in the congregation. Every one of them knew me as the Pastor’s wife. The stay at home mom of two precious little girls. Every person except one.

As if equally disgusted with me, my stomach quickly began to betray me. I had roughly 45 seconds to get out of that sanctuary or I would be spewing all over the Burns family sitting in the pew in front of me.

Not realizing that my husband was watching me as he preached, I stood up and ran out of the sanctuary and into the bathroom. I barely had time to lock the bathroom stall before I was throwing up. Over and over my stomach muscles tightened until finally there was nothing left. It wasn’t until it was all over that I heard the toilet flush in the stall next to me.

“Honey are you okay?” I heard Sally Stephenson say to me.

Of all people to be in the bathroom with me right now, I’m stuck with Sally Stephenson. Sally Stephenson was practically born at this church and knew everyone.

“I’m fine, thank you Sally.” I said as I walked out of the stall to rinse my face off.

“Don’t worry, sweetie. I won’t tell anyone. You think it’s a boy this time? Chris will be so excited.”

“Huh? Oh a boy? Haha…I’m not, um, I think I just ate something last night that didn’t agree with me.”

“Oh of course, sweetie. Again, my lips are sealed.” With that, she finished washing her hands and left me to myself.

I knew what I had to do. I didn’t want to call Keith but he was the only person in the world who would understand what I was going through. Keith and I had become friends my freshman year of high school the same way I became friends with all of my guy friends. He had a crush on my friend Melissa and in an attempt to get closer to her, he befriended me. Eventually his crush on Melissa faded but our friendship didn’t.

We hadn’t spoken for years. After the incident, something was different between Keith and I. As close as we were, being around him was a constant reminder of that night. The following day, we both knew that things would never be the same. A few months later we both left for college and didn’t speak again. It was only recently that I received a friend request from him. I accepted and left it at that. Hopefully he had his number public on his profile. I’m sure he did. From his status updates I could tell he was still living the single life, partying late and hooking up with random girls. Keeping his phone number public was an open invitation for girls to call him any time.

I would wait to call him during naptime. I could hear people outside the bathroom which meant that the service had ended. I left the bathroom and did my best to blend in while looking to make sure she had left.

“Hey beautiful. So Sally Stephenson just passed me with her fingers crossed mouthing ‘hope it’s a boy!’ What’s that about?

“You are kidding me! Man, she didn’t waste any time did she?” I was about to lean in to give Chris a kiss when thought against it and gave him a hug instead.

“But really, are you okay? You look a little pale.”

“I’m fine. Really. I think it was just the steak sub from last night. I’m fine now. I’m going to go get the girls.”

“Sounds great. I’ll be home around two. Tony and I are going to try to plan the next three months of worship today at lunch, so we might run late.”

“Take your time. The girls will be napping anyway.”

The next few hours were a blur. I picked up the girls from Sunday School and drove home. The good thing about lunchtime with a two-year-old and a four-year-old is that it doesn’t take much to stay involved in the conversation. There are only so many topics that preschoolers care to talk about. Lunchtime is pretty much always the same. Hannah is two and her life revolves around Dora the Explorer. Faith is four and has decided that she is too cool for anything made for girls. Naturally this creates a bit of tension around the dining room table.

“Mom, Dora like Peanut Butter Jelly?” Hannah’s latest routine includes asking me if Dora would approve of her actions. If Dora doesn’t like jeans, Hannah won’t wear jeans. If Dora doesn’t like milk, she won’t drink it.

“Yes, Hannah. Dora LOVES peanut butter and jelly.  She also loves to wash her hands before lunch.”

“Dora doesn’t like Peanut Butter and Jelly. Dora hates peanut butter and jelly. She told me.” Faith’s latest routine includes disagreeing with everything I say. Chris is convinced that it’s just a phase but I’m not. If she’s like this now, what will she be like as a teenager.”

“No, Faith, Dora loves Peanut Butter and Jelly. And Faith, you need to wash your hands please. Please do not mention Dora again to Hannah. You know it upsets her. If you do it again, I’m taking away your Power Ranger sword.”

I spent the rest of lunchtime diffusing potential outbursts between the girls. In the back of my mind I kept repeating this morning. Naptime could not come sooner. I needed to call Keith.

At last the girls were in their rooms sleeping. I found Keith’s number on Facebook and began to dial. This was going to be awkward. He probably hated me.  No, he didn’t hate me, he friend me on Facebook. He’s over it now, right? I didn’t have time to think about it for too long.

“Hello?” The voice on the other end of the phone sounded older and more raspy than I remembered.  Did I dial the right number?

“Um, I’m trying to reach Keith Milescot. This is Megan Duncan. I mean Megan Campbell. Well I’m Megan Duncan now, but I –“

“Meg, I know who you are.” Silence.

“Oh right. Hey Keith. How are you” More silence.

“I’m good. Just waking up actually. I was out pretty late last night.”

Just waking up? It was 1:30 PM. The last time I slept past 9:30 was easily 8 years ago. Not to mention past noon. Who was this guy? This was a mistake. He’s not going to understand. He’s not going to help. What was I thinking?

“Meg? Are you still there?”

“Yes. Sorry, I am. Look I’m sorry for calling. I didn’t realize that I was going to wake you up. I wasn’t thinking. I wake up at 6 AM every morning because of my girls.  Oh hey, I have two kids! Crazy huh? Who would have thought? Remember in tenth grade when I said that I was never going to have kids?”

I was rambling. I knew I was rambling but I couldn’t stop. The words were coming out of my mouth faster than I could think of them. I kept talking until finally he stopped me.

“Meg. I know you have kids. I’ve seen them on Facebook. They are adorable. I loved the picture of your older one dressed up like Superman. She’s like a little you.”

“Yeah, she is isn’t she?”

“Definitely.”

The small talk was over. At some point I was going to need to tell Keith. I took a deep breath and began to speak.

“Keith, I hope you don’t mind that I called you.”

“Meg it’s okay. Really.”

“I saw Kate.”

I am a writer.

I am a writer.

I am a writer because being a writer is a lot more socially acceptable than being someone who talks to oneself. I do that too. I’ve done that for as long as I can remember. Literally. I remember being 8-years-old and sitting in my room pretending that I was the newest cast member of Full House. I would talk about how awesome it was to be a member of such an amazing cast and how Stephanie Tanner and I were real-life friends. Just incase you are confused, let me clarify. I did this out loud. Not in my head. I sat in my room and held fake celebrity interviews with myself.

As the years passed, the celebrity interviews morphed into stories about how I met my fictional husband, or how it felt to win the lottery or the level of commitment it required to make it to the Olympics as a figure skater. Whatever  my passion of the week was, I was telling a story about it.

It seemed I always had a story to tell. Even if no one was listening. Stories, whether fiction or nonfiction, were literally spilling from my mouth. Sometimes, the words were too powerful to speak to an empty room. I was no longer telling fictional stories about a parallel life that didn’t exist; the stories in my head were a summary of my experiences mixed with my thoughts and feelings surrounding those moments.

So instead of a talker, I became a writer. So that I could share my stories. So that I could make sense of the swirling thoughts and emotions in my head. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter if anyone ever reads my stories. I’m used to being the only person in the audience.

I write because I have stories to tell.

For the next 15 days, I will be participating in a Great Writers series by Jeff Goins. Today is Day 1, the task was to declare that I am a writer. The above post is my response to that challenge. My goal is to take part in the next 15 (business) days. Wish me luck!

 

The Little Boy with the Toy Story Backpack

He is my first-born.

Spending time with him always brings back memories of a simpler time. A time when you could schedule your entire day around the needs of only one child. A time when going to the grocery story was a fun excursion to get out of the house, not a stressful event that ends with tantrum and tears. A time when you could take a nap with the baby and there was no threat of another child waking up too soon.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad he has siblings. I know he would be bored around the house without them. I enjoy watching him play super heroes with his brother. I love hearing him help his little sister with the words to a song. He loves to be the big brother to twins. He’s so proud of his younger siblings.

He’s the child that made me a mom. And that is always something he’ll have that his siblings won’t. His siblings will always be my babies, but he will always be my first baby. He will hit most of life’s milestones before his siblings. He’ll be the first to enter Kindergarten, the first to become a teenager, the first to drive a car.

And so, when I stood and watched him walk away with his grandfather, ready to board a plane to take him halfway across the country yesterday, I couldn’t help but look in disbelief. Is that five-year-old pulling the Toy Story backpack on wheels really my little boy? He looks too grown up: walking through the airport like he does this every day, casually looking back at me and waving one last time before going through security.

Whether he’s 5 or 15 or 25, he’ll always be my first baby.