Sunday, May 27, 2012

Love the Warrior

As a liberal, I naturally hate the idea of war.   I don't think it's just a liberal thing - if you ask most people - they will tell you that war is a bad thing.    Politicians will tell you that they use it as a last resort when all other diplomatic means break down and if there is an immediate threat to the safety of innocent people.  Force must be used to maintain the order.  However, you would have to wonder how quickly those same politicians would go to war if they had to fight it themselves or if their own children were immediately going to be on the front lines - then it seems like restraint would rule the day.   In a perfect world, war would be nonexistent.    Peace would be the reigning principal and the world leaders would work to uphold that ideal.  Unfortunately this is not a perfect world - not by a long shot.   According to the - there are over 42 armed conflicts or wars around the world and the US is involved in four of them in places like Iraq, Iran, the Philippines, and Djibouti.   But this blog is not about discussing the political fall-out of war.  It's about appreciating those men and women who serve because it's their sense of duty and honor to do so.   
My father served in the army in the 179th Signal Repair Company in World War II.   He was in Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes, and Central Europe.   He was lucky enough not to see any direct combat, but I'm sure there were people that he knew in boot camp or even in his hometown of Lexington, MA who went to war and never came back.  He would talk about being in France and learning to speak French pretty fluently.  He talked about giving a shipment of wool sweaters to the people on the French countryside who were cold and didn't have enough clothes to keep them warm.   The soldiers passed out the sweaters and blankets out to a very grateful village.  He'd smile when he thought about that - soldiers being good will ambassadors instead of warriors.   There were also the humorous stories about soldiers trying to mail back a whole jeep back home which was amusing but you would think the supply sergeant would notice after a while.   If my dad had a really bad experience during the war, he never let on.   From what I understand, he got out relatively unscathed physically and emotionally, but others were not so lucky.   Max's dad, George, saw combat -  really bad things that forever scar the soul.  Friends and commades being blown to bits.   When he lived with us, he'd talk about the war.  There was no romance just sadness.    He prayed that Max would never experience the same thing.   But at least when both my dad and Max's dad came home, they were treated like heroes and got a chance to go to college on the GI bill which is how my father met my mother.    Back then, we did the right thing for the greatest generation.  

When I was a young girl growing up in the late 60's and early 70's, the Vietnam war was as close as your TV screen.  I remember seeing it on the 6:00 p.m. news while we all sat around eating our sausage noodle casserole.   It was violent, gritty and very scary.  I remember my mother being afraid that my brothers would be drafted and saying that she would take them to Canada if they were.   My father would voice an objection or two, but in his heart of hearts, didn't want his boys over there.   It must have been hard trying to reconcile his sense of patriotism and still see the war we were embroiled in as being so wrong and not wanting your sons to have any part of it.   My sister Kathy demonstrated against it and was very vocal about her opposition.   For me at six or seven, it seemed like anyone who went to the war would be killed and the thought of my teenage brothers going over there terrified me.   What were the adults thinking?  Sending people off to a foreign place to kill other people never made sense to me but then war never does - it doesn't matter what age you are. 

When those Vietnam vets came home, they were treated so shamelessly.  They were called baby killers, spit on, and generally humiliated because it was such an unpopular war.   They didn't get the applause at airports that our soldiers do now (thanks to the realization of how badly we treated the Vietnam vets).   Again, I was a little kid and confused by the fact that those men could have been my brothers and yet they were being treated like criminals just for doing what the government had asked them to do.    Most of these guys were not enlisted, they were drafted - they had to serve whether they wanted to or not.   After giving what they could to this country - how did we repay them?  By shunning them because we couldn't admit that the US had lost a war and it wasn't their fault.  No wonder the Vietnam vets had the mental health problems they did - you sacrifice your youth and vigor to be treated like an outcast?   It took decades before they finally got the help they needed from the VA hospitals. 

The Vietnam Memorial has the names of the 60,000 men and women who lost their lives in that conflict and it's a shiny black marble so that you can see yourself in the names of the those that have fallen.   It's a chilling reminder about the human cost of war.  Too often, we just get the numbers, the billions of dollars that it costs but seeing the names of 60,000 people cut down in their prime is awe inspiring and sad.   They were like us - with hopes and dreams and we didn't love them enough when they came home from that horrible war.  They ended up broken.  Every member of Congress should be required to go there, see it and talk to the families of the fallen before they can even think of declaring an act of violence like war.   They need to listen to a heartbroken mother and say "Dammit there has got to be a better way - our soldiers don't need a war to prove themselves!"

Wars are mostly about land, political or religious extremism.  Most of the time it's about all three.   We call upon our warriors to fight the good fight that we can't do ourselves.   They become symbols for our freedom.    But they are more than just symbols, they are sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, cousins, teachers and friends.   They have people that they love dearly and that dearly love them and both sides of the equation are losing sleep worrying about each other and all the milestones they are missing - the birth of a new child, birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, school plays, championship games, etc.    While we sit down bitching about the economy and which political party is right - they are over there hoping they'll be back safely to witness that next milestone.    They truly live their lives from day to day and we often don't give them much thought if you are not friends or a relative of a person in the service.    It takes Memorial Day or Vetern's Day or a holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas for us to really think about letting them know how we feel to send them letters of support or CARE packages.   Is it that we're ungrateful?  Maybe, but I think it's more than that for those outside the realm of military service.  We can't comtemplate the sacrifice and it's just too overwhelming to think about so it's easier to not think about it at all - to not thank a serviceman when we see them in uniform when they come home for leave.   But it's important to acknowledge that sacrifice - to acknowledge the emotion.  A soldier surprising their child at school to see their play when that little one thought their mom or dad was 5,000 miles away and seeing the looks on both of their faces as they hold each other tight is enough to make even the bravest general wipe a tear.   We take those moments for granted but a soldier just can't - they are too precious.    Everyone has an opinion on whether we are right or wrong to get involved in our present conflicts - that is the complicated part.   But we can agree on one simple thing: you don't have to love the war, you just need to love the warrior.  

Sunday, May 20, 2012

What a Boob! - Adventures in Parenting

Call it the boob seen around the world.  For those who have been under a rock for the last week, this Time magazine cover shows a young hot mom breast feeding her three year old son who happens to be standing on a chair.  The title of the article - "Are you Mom Enough?" - attempts to throw more gas on the Mommy wars - pitting working moms vs. stay at home moms vs. the moms who would rather bottle feed (both working moms and stay at home moms can fall into that category).  The look on the young mother's face seems to challenge women to "man-up" - to be willing to have the balls to whip out a boob and feed their kids - no matter what, where or when.  It's part of a movement called Attachment Parenting  which encourages moms to breast feed at will - anytime time of the day or night and to be completely available to their children including having the child sleep with mom and dad.  In short, the child is the center of that parental universe - there are few limits. 

Just to be clear, I have nothing against mothers want to nurse their children into toddler-hood.  I actually breast feed both my kids until they were at least two and a half years.   I did it as a working mother for both.  With Amber, I had an office job in Miami and nursed her in the morning while taking my "Pump-N-Style" to work to pump my utters two times a day.  I found that I could pump almost a quart of milk daily that would be quickly frozen when I got home so that Max would have it to feed Amber during the day.  At that point, Max was a stay-at-home dad.  In fact Max was so good at taking care of her that if he'd been able to nurse, I would have been completely unnecessary.  When I got off work, I was so full that I had to feed her and would ask Max to not give her much in the two hours before I got home.   The feeling of full breasts was very uncomfortable as I would ride home from the office on Metro-Rail.  My breasts would engorge to twice the size leaving at night then they were in the morning which would sometimes get me more attention then I wanted from lonely businessmen who were also riding public transit.   But the best time of the day was coming back to my baby, sitting in the rocking chair and having that quiet time with the two of us - it also gave Max a break. 

My work situation when I had Daniel was completely different - I was working as the marketing director of a theater in mid-town Atlanta which was filled with women, a few gay men and one straight guy.   I'd work from home half the time and then bring him with me into the office where he was welcomed with open arms.   He'd be part of the staff meetings - sometimes being used as the truth stick - for instance if you were holding the baby while giving your report, you couldn't tell a lie or embellish - the infant kept you honest.   When it was time to nurse him, I'd cover his head and be discreet while writing press releases or memos.   The young unmarried women thought it was sweet.  The gay men were surprised that boobs had another function rather then holding up strapless gowns and the straight man of the group was just totally weirded out.  But the job at the theater was probably the most kid friendly that I ever had.  When I left there to go work for an healthcare organization within  Rotary International - I was back to the working women's hours and breast feeding around my working day.   

Breast feeding certainly had it's hazards and public support for this natural act has not always been there.   I remember taking five year old Amber swimming when Daniel was just 12 months old at a water park.   Daniel was getting fussy and I decided to feed him as discreetly as I could with my hand over his face because I didn't want to leave her while she was in the water to get a towel to cover Daniel.   My feeding breast had more coverage than the other side which was in a simple halter top.   Not only that, the pool had tons of kids around who weren't noticing or bothered by this since they had probably seen their own moms do the same thing with their little siblings hundreds of times.  But it caught the attention of a teenage female lifeguard who told me that I would have to leave the pool area to nurse.   When I explained that the in the state of Georgia, I had the right to feed my son in public, I was informed that according to her "it was not appropriate for young children."   Huh?  I mean if not for infants or young children, who exactly is breast feeding appropriate for?   I wanted to scream - "Look, you Baywatch wanna-be - this what God designed them for - not just to be fun muffins for your boyfriend!"  

Another time when Amber was a baby and I was at a conference, there was no place designated to pump at Florida International University - so I had set up in a bathroom and sat in a make-shift lounge area to pump.    A young woman came into the bathroom saw me hooked up with tubes and baby bottles hanging out of my shirt and exclaimed "Is this a science project?  Oh my God, what have they done to you?"   Her face was horrified until I told her that I was a nursing mother and that I was expressing my milk so I my baby could have it the next day.   "And here I thought it came from cows - this is crazy!" she said as she quickly exited the bathroom never to drink another glass of milk again.    Yet another instance of the importance of explaining to our young women what breasts are really equipped to do. 

When they both got to be over two years, I would begin to plan my exit strategy.   I had put in the time and now I wanted my body back but it was always with a bit of remorse.  After all, I was the "Lactonator" - a superhero that could soothe my babies in a way that no one else could.    I also had a fabulous bust-line for the first time in my life (I would go from a 32 A+ to a 38 C+ cup).   I would be lying if I told you that breast feeding was all about the babies - it gave me Vegas showgirl hooters for the first time in my life and it was hard to let go of that.   But the middle of the night feedings were wearing me out (even if I brought the kids to bed with us - it was still hard to really sleep deeply if you were worried about rolling over on the baby).   I needed a break and I needed to be my own woman again without a child velcroed to my breast.   It's a choice that I hope I would not be criticized for anymore than a woman who decides to bottle feed should feel guilty about her decision.   We're all just trying to do the best we can with what we've got.  

Which is why the cover of Time Magazine bothers me.    What the hell does asking "Are you Mom Enough?" really accomplish other than making everyone defensive?  Why does parenthood and being a mother in general have to be such a freaking competition?   Are we really trying to turn out a better super baby?   Why are working mothers made feel so bad about not being home all day with their kids by other women?   Why can't working mothers understand that staying home all day with a baby or toddler is not a break - it's being on call 24/7?   Why can't we all admit that sometimes we just don't have all the answers - that despite our best intentions, our children are going to be just that - children who will blurt out an overheard  comment about that bozo at work or church at the worst possible moment?   That they will melt down in public and there's just nothing anyone not even the best parent can do about it.    There are times when I think I have it perfectly together and times when my kids will do exactly what I ask them and peace reigns supreme.   I'll step back and think "Damn, I have this mom thing down."  Then there are times when I'm shrieking at my kids like a fish wife and monologuing like a super villain and wondering who or what gave me the right to reproduce.   

Look, as a parent, you're going to have up days and down days.  Days when you love your kids beyond reason and days when you won't like them very much.   I'll tell you one thing that those perfect parenting books won't tell you - that despite your best intentions, you child is not an extension of you.  They are their own person and they will become the person that they are meant to be.  The best you can do is offer limits, support, love and be there for them.   I guess that's my issue with Attachment Parenting is that if you want time for yourself - it means you're selfish.  Well screw that - it makes you human to want to sleep in your bed with your husband without a little body flaying around all night.  You're human and as a parent you are going to make mistakes - own up to them and your kids will respect you for not being perfect.   Getting into Harvard might be your dream but not theirs - so ease up on the insistence on the 4.0 average.  Stop over scheduling them so they can get a scholarship that they might be too burnt out to enjoy by the time they actually get to college.  Childhood goes by in a blink - let them have their time in the sun without constantly taking them from one after-school activity to another.   In my opinion, there is no way you can be a completely perfect parent, but there are thousands of ways to be a good one.  Find your own path and enjoy - your kids will thank you for it. 

Monday, May 7, 2012


At the risk of sounding like an old fart, I remember a time when phones had cords and when you needed to talk to someone, you had to stay in one place to talk.   You might do something else like read or draw while you were on the phone, but you didn't have the ability to walk around the house.    When cords got to be 10 feet, it gave you a little more mobility to make dinner while you were on the phone.   Multi-tasking wasn't much of a concept back in the 1970's - you just did one or two things at a time like your mom catching up on her soaps while ironing.    When you got into your car, you put in the radio and that was it - your job was to drive.   Sure, there were moms then as now, who needed to keep their kids entertained while they drove to errands, but that's what books were for.   People were able to focus better, actually talked to each other either in person or on the phone and made eye contact when they spoke in person.   These days we have cell phones that can text, give you GPS, let you know when you have appointments and gaming systems that can give the the sensation of running, bowling, playing tennis, dancing, playing games over the internet with someone in a another state or country.  What these these things can't give you is basic human interaction so that you can gauge how the people you are talking to are really doing and (gasp) give you some quiet down time to think. 

In improvisation, one of the first things I teach is how important it is to stay present.   We live in a world where even if you are talking directly to someone, there is the constant threat that your cell phone might buzz to let you know that you have an e-mail or text.  The person might glance to their iPhone to see if it's more important then you.   Worse, even if you don't have that infernal smart phone buzzing, you're still thinking about the text you need to send, project you need to finish, e-mail you need to respond to, phone call you need to return and bill you need to pay on the web.   You might be looking someone eye-to-eye, but your brain is giving them, at best about 30%.   When did being able to focus on one thing become a liability.  If you're constantly being asked how you are at multi-tasking, generally the person asking probably means - "Hey I have a hard time managing just one project at a time, and I hope you do too, so I won't feel so bad."   I've seen entire staffs share a collective ADD because they have to handle so much.  It all manages to get done, but usually not as well as it would have if everyone had been able to focus on just doing one thing at a time.  And yet, being able to juggle multiple projects and still take on more seems to be a twisted badge of honor.   I'm not saying that you have to just do one project for a week at a time but at least while you're focusing on it for an hour you're not also trying to do six other things.   It creates a whirlwind that just sucks the life out of you and you feel like nothing is getting done.  

One thing I will say for Skype is that at least you can see the person that you are talking to see how they are responding to what you have to say.  It's also hard for them to try to do something at the same time because the other person would see it.   Because the laptop camera is stationary, you can't really wander away to another room because that would take you out of view.   So, just like the days with the short phone cord, you can't really move around that much and have to stay present. With a smart phone, you can move around but who wants to be having a conversation while walking and web casting at the same time?   That sounds more like a trapeze act then a conversation.    In my recent job search, I've had countless phone interviews.  For me, that 's a tough way to interview - you can't see the body language to know if you are truly answering their questions the right way or if you need to give them more.   I had one phone interview and when I finished answering I was met with silence.   I wondered if the call had been dropped or I had said the wrong thing.  I then heard the clacking of the key board and realized that they were typing and might have been sending an e-mail while I was talking.  Of course they could have been taking notes but then they would have noticed when I stopped talking and would have mentioned that they were in fact taking notes. 

Another reason to like is that Skype it keeps you in touch with the people you hold near and dear.  I'm always touched by the fact that military families are able to Skype so that the soldier, their kids and spouses can be reassured that everything is alright.   The soldiers get to see their children as well as talk to them and the kids can show their dad or mom their latest grade, art project or loose tooth.   Even if they are half a world away, for that moment it seems like the only thing separating them is a slim computer screen.  The children can hear their parent read a bedtime story and go to sleep with the image of someone they love reading Winnie the Pooh.  Skyping is the next best thing to being there.   

Technology is supposed to make our lives easier and yet the more plugged in we are, the less down time we have.   It was supposed to cut our work time in half but it seems to have doubled it.   You can't go on vacation without promising to check your job e-mail or voice mail once a day so if there's a crisis, you know about it.   Wanting to say, "Hey, I need to unplug, so I'll check my e-mail when I get back," makes you seem like you're not a team player.  I once worked for a guy who expected me to check my e-mail at least twice a day while I was on vacation to justify the time that I was taking off.    It was my vacation time, yet that wasn't good enough.  I had to stay in touch in case I had to put out any fires by remote and I needed to be able to text back within an hour if he needed me.    Frankly, that's not a vacation it's just not being in the office.  

Facebook is another technological entity which is a two edged sword.    It's a vehicle that's supposed to let people know who are and what you think.  You can use it to network and let others share in some good news.  You also have be careful about what you post if it's not always positive.   I've posted a few political quips only to be roundly criticized by my "Facebook friends" who didn't share the same opinion.   I'm all for differing ideas, but I have to wonder if the vehemence of the response would have been so strong if it were in person or on the phone.    I'm guessing I could would couched my terms more carefully, and the responses in dealing with a live person would have been more muted.   It's also interesting that when people don't have anything to say or anything new happening in their lives, they often rely on some really cute kitten pictures with a caption just to get people to notice them.   

Probably the most disturbing technological trend is texting and driving.   It should be a no brainer that in choosing between maneuvering a gadget that weighs a few ounces versus a vehicle that weighs a few tons - the car should win out.   Yet some people - particularly teens are so addicted to texting they can't let it go once they are behind the wheel of a car.   Unfortunately that behavior affects more than just the errant texter: 

About 6,000 deaths and a half a million injuries are caused by distracted drivers every year.
While teenagers are texting, they spend about 10 percent of the time outside the   driving lane they’re supposed to be in.
Talking on a cell phone while driving can make a young driver’s reaction time as slow as that of a 70-year-old.
Answering a text takes away your attention for about 5 seconds. That is enough time to travel the length of a football field.

There are apps that you can get on your phone to let people know you are in your car and you'll return their messages later - no one deserves to lose their life over a LOL :p.    Yet our obsession with being plugged in is killing us and taking it's toll on our quality of life.   It's okay if you can't be contacted every waking hour of the day - it doesn't make you less worthy - it just makes you sane. 

I guess some of us are afraid to be alone with our thoughts. I once worked for a woman who had to schedule and double schedule every hour of the work week.   I'd also notice on her calendar that she tons of events planned for the weekend.    There was no down time, no time for introspection.   It didn't make me admire her ability to juggle tasks it made me wonder what she was running from - why couldn't she stop - why couldn't she just say no?   She was frequently frazzled and late for almost every appointment but she had to keep going - her schedule was handling her - she was not handling her schedule.  And yet, if you tried put in an hour to two in which she was not meeting with someone or on her way somewhere - she'd rail like somehow she was losing her edge.   In reality being so over extended was making her less sharp not more.    

I try as much as possible to unplug before I go to bed and read.   I also like to run with music and then pull off my ear buds for my last mile so I can feel the rhythm of my breath with the sound of my feet on the earth.   I try to listen the birds in the trees who use their own songs to talk to each other.   I like to take long walks in the park and have found my own thinking spot that's quiet and has the sound of a stream running nearby.   It's calming for me to be near water and just listen - to hear the sound of life running quietly on it's own.  (click here to see video
I sat for 20 minutes and watched a bird clean itself in the stream and then fly to a tree to be with his flock.   It was calming, it was uncomplicated - it was simply nature.    I think we all need to unplug on a regular basis.  It doesn't make you less important, it makes you more human.   This new technological frontier has benefits but without limits it can push you towards gadget-cide.   To quote Albert Einstein, "Why does this magnificent applied science which saves work and makes life easier bring us so little happiness? The simple answer runs: Because we have not yet learned to make sensible use of it."  If Einstein could see it 80 years ago, we need to see it now.   So go outside, breathe in the spring air and just be - trust me, you'll feel much smarter than your phone.