Archive | November, 2009

Today, No One Can Talk To You

23 Nov

From the second they’re born, we want to protect our kids. In the delivery room, the doctors can’t hand them to us fast enough.

Never mind that we just gave birth, and possibly someone’s stitching us up where the sun don’t shine. We want to hold them, cradle them into safety.

They take their first steps with us holding fast to tiny hands. They hear their first songs because we sing them.

Then, we get those gut-punching, searingly painful moments when we realize they’ve toddled and walked and run to a point in their lives where we can’t protect them anymore.

For me, that punch came driving my little girl home from second grade, when I asked “how was your day?”

A tiny voice in the back seat sighed and said, “Sad. Alyssa said no one could to talk to me today.”

Alyssa (and of course, no, that’s not her real name), ruled my daughter’s second-grade classroom. Not the teacher, too young and inexperienced to deal with the bullying. Alyssa reigned.

She would send my daughter home with assignments. “Color this for me or no one can talk to you.”

She made an identical animal habitat box as my daughter, and told everyone my daughter copied her. Never mind that my child was the only second grader at the school who knew what a fennec fox even was, and brought her project in three days early, where Alyssa transcribed her report down point for point.

I fought back as best I could. We would role-play, and talk about things she could say in response. We talked about standing up for yourself. I met with her teacher. We would talk about setting boundaries, and the importance of standing up for yourself.

The bullying would wax and wane, but was never extinguished. Mostly because like a moth to a flame, my daughter would forgive Alyssa and befriend her again. Get close again, and get hurt.

Finally one day, when my daughter won a coveted fitness buddy medal, Alyssa threatened her. “Give it to me or no one is allowed to talk to you at recess all month.”

And at that, my daughter had enough. She said “no.”

In the car that afternoon, she was exuberant with the power of standing up for herself. We did a “I’m not gonna take it dance” in the kitchen.

Then, the next day, I got a call from the assistant principal. In revenge, Alyssa had told all the kids in the second-grade class that my daughter had sex with her dogs.

Told all the kids. In her second-grade class. That my daughter had sex with her dogs.

Honestly, if I could have reached Alyssa in the moment I heard that, I would have slapped her to the ground. Never mind she was only eight. I wanted to tell my daughter every family secret this girl’s mother had ever shared over coffee, and arm her with the real dirt to fight back the vicious lies. I wanted her out of the school, out of the class, out of our lives forever.

And mostly, I wanted my daughter to never speak to her again. I asked her why, when Alyssa hurt her over and over, she would still forgive her, still talk to her, still be her friend.

“What kind of friend does that?” I remember screaming in frustration as we drove home. “She’s not your friend.”

I can still hear her, the quiet voice from the back seat.

“Mom, it’s not about what kind of friend she is to me. It’s about what kind of friend I am to her.”

I realized in that moment, that she was not choosing to be a victim from some place of weakness. She was choosing to forgive, from a place of great strength. More strength than Alyssa’s bullying would ever have.

Of course, the bullying hurt. But she was not letting it change her. She refused to participate when Alyssa chose another target. She spoke up for herself, she found adults who would hold Alyssa accountable. But then, she chose to forgive, and be kind anyway.

I didn’t stop worrying. I didn’t stop wanting to protect her, didn’t stop talking to her about making good choices in her friends. But I stopped seeing her as a victim.

She and Alyssa were never in the same class again, but as it got close to elementary school graduation, I watched in the pick-up line as my daughter hugged this girl goodbye.

And when I expressed some surprise, the voice in the back seat said “Oh, she’s changed. She’s nice now.”

Dear Twilight Haters: Bite Me

20 Nov
Oh, I know, they’re not great works of literature. Plus, it’s so hipster to be anti-trend.

Oh, the irony. If they were real, they'd be too hipster for "Twilight," too. You're *so* Bella. Ha!

 
No doubt, the Twilight series offers plenty of silliness to fuel your disdain. Some of the dialog in that first movie? “Spider monkey?” Are you kidding me? “Team Edward” versus “Team Jacob.” I know, right? So dorky.

As for Me?

I am on team “talking to my kids about shared books we’re reading.”

I am on team “put down the wii controller, turn off the TV, stop texting your friends and read a book.”

So yeah, I read all four books in the series. My daughter reads them, too. I’ll probably pull her out of school early today to go see “New Moon.”

When you have a middle-school daughter, you keep those tenuous lines of communication open by whatever means necessary.

We talk about Edward’s stalker tendencies, whether Bella is really making wise choices, what it’s worth to give up for love, and what things of our selves we hold on to.

And we also discuss whether Robert Pattinson or Taylor Lautner is hotter. Yeah, so? What are you going to do, take my Mother of the Year badge away?

When my daughter was little, I was an expert on Junie B. Jones. Those aren’t great intellectual reads, either. But they were the kindling that fueled her love of books.

With my son, it was the “Spiderwick Chronicles.” When he came to us, at 8, he announced he HATED reading. So we started reading out loud, books that captured the imagination of a second-grade boy.

Now, he loves books so much, he marks on the calendar the day the next volume of the “39 Clues” series will come out. He starts wheedling for a trip to the bookstore as soon as we get within striking distance.

And yes, I read those books, too. Because I want him to know what he values, I value.

And because they know that, when I tell my kids, “try this book,” and hand them something a little meatier, they are more likely to trust me.

So, hate away on the “Twilight” series. I would, but I’ll be too busy giggling conspiratorially with my daughter on the way to the movies.

Also? Team Edward. Like there’s any contest.

 

The Cape of Defiant Hope

19 Nov

The tsunami of grief strikes without warning, even miles from tragedy’s epicenter.

Swallowing us whole, this wave of terror and loss, tortuous heartache and helpless worry. Tumbles us until exhausted, we slam into something as jagged and harsh as the storm itself.

But solid, it alone stands fast against the waves. So we hold on.

To hope.

This hope is not warm and welcoming like a feather bolster on grandmother’s bed. Not wedding-day hope, not hope that wraps us in its arms and promises all will be okay, hush, don’t worry.

This hope stands in defiance. Obsidian, created with a hiss when unfailing love hits the icy waters of unspeakable odds. Hope as brutal as the storm itself, hope that dares us to cling to it, slicing our hands when we grasp it.

But we hold on. Partly because we have nothing else, and mostly because we know this fierce hope offers our only chance at survival, the only thing stronger than the waves.

And while those waves rage, we cling. The salt-water of doubt stings into a thousand tiny cuts. High tides of grim prognosis and unfavorable odds slam us, dare us to let go.

But we hold on.We beg humbly for mercy, or we scream angry curses, or we do not speak at all, having abandoned the idea that anyone is listening.

It does not matter. As we hold on, grace transfigures these all to become the same prayer. And it is heard.

Then at moments we feel we cannot keep our grip any longer, illuminated in flashes of lightning, in the midst of the waves, we realize something that changes everything.

Others cling with us.

That knowledge sustains us, fuels determination that we will not surrender to the storm. We wedge our bleeding hands into the crevices of the Cape of Defiant Hope, and we do not let go.

We hold on.

Anissa

18 Nov

I don’t know Anissa Mayhew, not really. We’ve exchanged a handful of messages on Twitter. I read her blog. She makes me laugh.

Because of the voyeurism that is the blog world, I see her picture often on the blogs of friends, their twitter background, posts about conferences and parties and blogger trips. She is laughing, or smiling, always looking like she has been freshly spritzed with Eau de Up to Something.” From their stories of boob-grabbing and disco dancing and deciding their shoes look like a porn star’s, apparently she usually was.

She was getting ready, in fact, to go on a Disney Cruise with other bloggers this week. I read her post about it yesterday, first with twinges of jealousy, then connections of complete sisterhood when she talked about her swimsuit-wearing terrors. Girl, I have pictures of myself with Shamu from this weekend where you can’t tell which mammal’s which. I GET it.

Then last night, the updates started flooding my Twitter stream. Despair and heartbreak and faith and worry — all in 140 characters or less. She’d had a stroke, was in ICU.

Thirty-five, a wife and mother of 3. 

Too young. Too needed.

This was Anissa’s second stroke. She wrote a beautiful post called Rice and Buttons about what she’d lost, and what she’d gained, as she struggled for recovery from her first . I’d encourage you to read it.

As she fights again now, I join with her friends and family in prayer for her complete recovery. I ask you to do the same. The reports on her condition are heartbreakingly serious.

Her friends at Aiming Low also have ways you can tangibly help her family, if you are moved to do that.  That site is pretty swamped with traffic right now, so if you get an error message, the information is also cross-posted here.

Lessons From a SeaWorld Slumber Party

17 Nov

This weekend, I was fortunate to be invited to spend the weekend with a dozen other bloggers from around Texas, plus one token New York goddess, for a sleepover at SeaWorld San Antonio.

I mean, these were brilliantbeautiful, accomplished women. I am still befuddled as to why I was invited. Maybe SeaWorld’s teacher had a rule that you have to invite all the kids in the class, even the awkward one. But you know, despite my fifth-grade experience, I was not about to pass up a chance to sleep at SeaWorld. So I didn’t question.

Lesson 1: Sometimes, You Have to Fake It

Jellyfish in the aquarium at SeaWorld San Antonio

Our first stop on the SeaWorld private tour was the aquarium with its amazing coral reef display. One of the other bloggers asked our camp counselor, Chance, if the coral reefs themselves were live coral.

Chance, who by the way is working on his Ph-flipping-D, explained that, taking that much live coral from the wild would be devastating to the environment. So SeaWorld fakes it for the big tank, and has a few small aquariums with real coral. They also send scientists to coral reefs use their aquarium research to combat reef bleaching in the wild.

My lesson? Whether it’s telling someone who gave you the weirdest gift in history that you LOVE it, or making a coral reef from artificial materials, sometimes faking it is the gentlest choice.

Lesson 2: If You’re Going to Swim With Sharks, Make Sure They Aren’t Hungry

Of course, when we got to the sharks, we had another crucial question for Chance. “Why don’t the sharks eat the fish swimming around with them?” Despite their fierce reputation, turns out sharks are pretty lazy. Chance’s “I almost have a PhD” answer was worded fancier. He said “sharks are opportunistic predators.” They figure out they’re going to eat regularly, and they stop murdering their aquarium-mates.

If you don’t see a life lesson for this, you’ve never had a job. Seriously. Keep your boss updated, do your work on time and be productive, convince them that “Fish are friends, not food,” and they won’t bite your head off.

Maybe.

Lesson 3: Sometimes, The Opposite Sex Is More Trouble Than They’re Worth

I stole this picture from Colleen Pence. Visit her here: http://voices.mysanantonio.com/colleenpence/

We learned from trainers in the Sea Lion and Harbor Seal exhibit that only the male sea lions get to be in the shows. Not because SeaWorld is a sexist operation, but because male sea lions are way bigger and look more impressive on stage. Also, if they had girl sea lions in the show tank during mating season, the boy sea lions would just fight with each other and chase the girl sea lions around.

Then, the little otter and the walrus would have to do the whole show by themselves.

So, you know, there’s a reason Human Resources discourages inter-office dating. It starts with sharing a mackerel and the next thing you know, the otter and walrus are talking about you, and resenting your three-hour lunches where you come back with your hair all messed up. If you’re going to do it, be cooler than a sea lion.

Lesson 4: Sometimes,  What We Don’t Have Is A Blessing

Beluga Whae at SeaWorld San Antoni

Emily McHann took this adorable picture. Her site, http://TheMotherhood.com is very awesome.

One of the most captivating stops on our trip was backstage with the beluga whales, who were so amazing and adorable that all 13 of the bloggers on the trip basically just squealed and took pictures and ignored Chance while he tried to educate us. Sorry about that. Did I mention Chance is about to get a PhD? In patience, apparently.

But between squeals, I did learn that belugas, unlike most of the whale family, have no dorsal fin. That’s because they spend a lot of time swimming under arctic ice sheets, and fins on their backs would be a liability.

I believe in a Master Designer, who knew fins and ice sheets don’t mix. I believe, too, that sometimes He doesn’t give me what it seems like everyone else has, because He doesn’t want me to be like everyone else.

I wish, sometimes fiercely, that our daughter had been born with both sides of her heart developed. But I have seen purpose in what we weren’t given, gained perspective and faith that lets me move under the ice of uncertainty without getting battered.

Lesson 5: If Mama Ain’t Happy…

SeaWorld San Antonio

Emily took this, too. Of the beautiful Debi Pfitzenmaier chatting with Shamu. You can find Debi at http://sabusykids.com.

Orcas, Killer Whales, the fiercest predators in the ocean? They are a matriarchal society. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

We learned that if the oldest female in the pod at SeaWorld sets the rules. If she decides the show is not happening, it doesn’t happen. You can’t *make* a 9-ton animal with 56 sharp teeth do anything.

The alpha woman killer whale also decides who fits in the pod, and who doesn’t. Sometimes whales have to go to a whole new park if she doesn’t bestow favor.

I’ve noticed my house works this way, too. If I am stressed out and snappy all morning, pretty soon the little orcas are biting each other’s heads off. If I get on one kid’s case in front of the other, we get a case of sibling piling-on. If I want the show around here to go on as scheduled, I gotta be jumping for mackerel like my life depended on it.

Even if you’re not an orca, or a mom, that principle works in business, too. If you’re in a position of power, use it for good. Sure, you can bully people into heading to another park. But you can choose to use your influence to include and build up.

Lesson 6: If You Can Get Excited About The Mundane, People Will Love You

SeaWorld San Antonio - Bottle-nosed dolphin

See? SMILING.

Our final stop at SeaWorld before heading home was a chance to feed the dolphins. As soon as they saw their trainer, they started flipping like crazy, leaping out of the water, swimming up to greet us, chirping and clicking and I swear, even smiling.

All this excitement, and over what? The fish they get every freaking day.

I tell you, though, that they were my absolute favorite animals of the trip. From the squeals and laughter and camera-clicking going on, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Their enthusiasm was contagious.

No one said “no thanks, I’ll just sit over here and check my email.” Even moms who were a little nervous about those dolphin teeth were grabbing those slimy dead fish faster than swag bags at BlogHer. Because those dolphins were working it.

News flash: A smile and some enthusiasm gets the same response for people. Don’t fake it and get annoying, but find a reason to be happy and treat people like you’re glad to see them, even when holy mackerel, you’ve seen these fish before.

SeaWorld San Antonio - bottlenose dolphins

Special thanks to SeaWorld San Antonio for the invitation. They’ve got a cool behind-the-scenes blog worth checking out. And Erica, Kelly, Joy, Heather, Dwan, Colleen, Debi, Rachel, Julie, Emily, and Kami, it was an honor to spend the weekend with you. I’ve got more to say on the experience of being gifted with such talented and creative friends, but that’s a post for another day.

How Not To Be A Moron on Twitter

16 Nov

In the last week or so, I’ve become VERY popular on Twitter. People who usually never talk to me are sending me cryptic private messages, filling up my inbox with whispered secrets.

 “ROFL, is this YOU in this video? http://clickhere.com.”

“I think I’m smarter than you, take the IQ challenge here. http://youareamoron.com.”

“I’m making $400 a day on Twitter, click here to find out how. http://noreallyclickitsfun.com.”

“I like to call sweat pants buffet pants.”

Well, the last one was a real message. But the other three, all of which I received 30 billion times each, were all spam direct messages, not sent to me by friends, but by internet hoodlums who had gotten a hold of my friends’ Twitter accounts. How’d it happen? They got the same spam message in their inbox, got curious about the link, and GAVE AWAY THEIR PASSWORD.

Seriously. Y’all, stop doing that.

What happens next is embarassing. Some of your friends start sending you messages back, “Hey, you sent me a spam mesage.” Some report you as a spam-sender and block you. The rest of us, though? We are quietly judging you.

We are wondering why you were worried enough that you might be in the “OMG, is this YOU??” video to click.  Just what kind of Paris Hilton-style tape do you have out there?

We’re rolling our eyes that you thought you could make $400 a day on Twitter. Silently smirking that you wanted to take an IQ test to prove you were smarter than us.

As if.

Listen, I get it. I clicked on one of those once, a link promising to show me who was stalking me on Twitter profile — entered my password, then watched in shame as my account sent out unauthorized messages on my account.

Not only did I then have to deal with the hassle of deleting the offending tweets and changing my password, everyone knew I was a dork.

It’s like that Anna Kournikova virus that spread a few years back. Click on the link, and not only did you send all your friends a virus, all of them knew you had clicked because you wanted to see naked pictures of a hot tennis player.

I didn’t fall for that, because hello? My racquet doesn’t swing that way. But Mike Wendland, the technology writer for the Detroit Free-Press, did. And got to tell the whole world about it when he sent the virus to a thousand of his dearest friends and business contacts. His column about it is a classic.

So next time, before you click on a link, think long and hard. “Do I want everyone in the free world knowing I was interested in free Viagra samples, easy breast enlargement exercises, an inside look at the secret world of the Kardashian sisters?”

If not, don’t click. Just say no.

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