Sunday, November 6, 2016

1968 - Frightened at Five - Film at 11

I was walking with my daughter taking our morning constitutional on a brisk fall morning.  The leaves were starting to turn and the sky was a calm blue.  I tried to keep my mind focused on the positive – the beauty around me and how blessed I am to have my sweet children and a loving husband.  But for some reason I felt panicked.   I felt lost even though I knew exactly where I was.  I started to think about the election and the twinges of panic started to build – that helpless feeling I used to get in my parent’s living room when I was five waiting for dinner and seeing very disturbing images from Vietnam on the evening news with Walter Cronkite. 
At five, I wondered how adults could watch such a show – a show at that young age that I knew was real and not pretend.  The newscasters would talk about the war and good kind men like Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy Jr. would try to make the world a better place.  I liked both those men – they were dads and with big families like mine.   But sitting in the living room holding my Barbies, the world which should have seemed ordered became very unpredictable. 

I would see and hear terrible stories about the IRA (Irish Republican Army) who creating acts of terror in the name of my culture and religion and innocent people were being killed in the crossfire.  I was afraid that somehow because I was in this country and those things were happening in Northern Ireland that people would think my family was part of those acts just because we were Irish and Catholic.  I would imagine it’s the same terror an American Muslim child feels when something bad happens in the name of Islam either in this country or other places. They feel that they will be blamed because they share that same religion but like me would never raise a hand to hurt another human being but the stigma of being part of group that was actively trying to bring down the status quo in a very violent way is there.

I was afraid that my older brothers would be drafted into a hell hole that would not allow them to leave alive or if they survived they would not be the same people that I loved.  My mother threatened to send them to Canada if they were drafted which put my father who was a veteran of World War II in a bind because in his heart of hearts he knew that he could not send his sons over there.  Luckily, the war ended before they were old enough to be drafted. 

As adults we seem to forget that current events can leave its mark on our children and the terror that I felt in 1968 when the world seemed so upside-down is probably the same that our kids feel now with an election that is filled with frightening predictions no matter who is elected, a year of mass shootings, talk of deportations, race riots and the threat of armed insurrections after election day. 
For instance, I remember my older sister Kathy was having a slumber party the night that Bobby Kennedy was shot.   My child-like mind loved that the girls were going to play games and my younger sister Sharon and I got to have M&Ms in Dixie cups in our room just like the teenage girls.  Then the news came through and I distinctly remember seeing a brick wall and police sirens and red lights.  My mother was crying because another Kennedy had been shot and it brought back the memories of November 1963 which was also the year I was born.  The next morning the girls in the slumber party awoke to the news that Bobby Kennedy had died at 4:44 am.  

The day before my 5th birthday on April 4, 1968 – Martin Luther King was shot and killed.  Ironically Robert Kennedy was the voice of reason in Indianapolis when he had the terrible job of announcing the passing of MLK to a crowd that was not aware that he had been shot.   His words were pure eloquence and helped keep that town from rioting when so many cities were plunged into chaos in those days after the assassination – here are some excerpts from that speech:

“For those of you who are black and are tempted to fill with -- be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, and he was killed by a white man.
But we have to make an effort in the United States. We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond, or go beyond these rather difficult times.
My favorite poem, my -- my favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote:
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.
What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We've had difficult times in the past, but we -- and we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it's not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.

And let's dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.”

1968 saw too many good people cut down their prime – not just the Kings and
the Kennedys but fathers in Vietnam who would not live to see their child’s next birthday1968 was the most expensive year in the Vietnam war with the US spending $77.4 billion ($527 billion by today’s standards) on the war. The year also became the deadliest of the Vietnam War for America and its allies with 27,915 South Vietnamese (ARVN) soldiers killed and the Americans suffering 16,592 killed compared to around two hundred thousand of the communist forces killed.  Compare that to 4,486 U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq and 2,345 U.S. soldiers who died in Afghanistan during our current conflicts.
As adults I think we assume that our children don’t pick-up on the world around them outside of their school, after-school activities and latest shows on the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon.  We try to protect them from the bad things that go on outside, but they do pick-up on what is going on- with all the wall-to-wall coverage and the inevitable election they are seeing our anxiety no matter which side of the isle you sit on.  I knew my parents were upset about the things with the war, gun violence and race relations.   It was tough trying to reconcile why anyone would think sending young men to the dangerous jungles of a foreign land to fight people we didn’t need to have a fight with. The sights of Vietnam from the news are still locked in my memory and the terror of those images as a five year old is stored and accessibly managed from the safe distance of 48 years hence and the assurance of my parents that everything would be okay even when they had no idea if it would be.  But that’s what American’s do – we pull it together and get it done when we need to and many times we’re there for each other – that’s our baseline.   

Our country has endured a Revolutionary War and the redux in the War of 1812,  the Civil War, WWI, WWII, the Korean War, the McCarthy Hearings, Civil Rights, Vietnam War, Watergate, Dessert Storm, Hanging Chads, 9/11, the War on Terror and any number of mass shootings – and somehow we managed to work together and get through it.  I remember crying in the aftermath of 9/11 outside a building and having a stranger give me a hug- I didn’t even have to say why – it was just understood.   Yet here we are 15 years later and the vision of American could not be more far apart between the Trump and Hillary supporters.

Just as much as I want to put on my game face and tell my kids that it will all be okay – I’m not entirely convinced it will be.  I remember people worried that the election of a black man would cause racists go to nuts and there would be carnage in the streets – but there wasn’t. 
A co-worker of mine at the time told her husband to get their boys from school  because now that there was a man of color in the White House the black kids wouldn’t listen to their white teachers and there would be gang fights everywhere in the suburbs.  Of course that didn’t happen (although race relations has been dealt several set-backs over the last few years.)

The transfer of power during the election of 2000 was a perfect example of how our democracy works.  It didn’t work out in my political favor but there were not riots or calls for an armed overthrow of the government.

But even as I despair about the divisions here in the US, I see hope in an unlikely place like Vietnam.  It’s now an international tourist destination – beautiful and a foodie haven.  Recently Anthony Bourdain went there and not only visited some wonderful restaurants but showed how US Vietnam vets where making peace and getting closure.  John McCain - a man  who was captured and a prisoner for five years in Hanoi - was instrumental in getting relations normalized between the US.  In fact the Vietnamese people in their 20’s and 30’s have never even known war – that’s how far that country has come.  When I saw that on CNN – I cried because if a country that lost so much over 40 years ago can move on – so can we.

So considering all we’ve been through America – are we up to the task of this election?  Can we look past diatribes and demagoguery to make a rational choice for president?   Are the next four years going to be nothing but each party blocking the progress of the other?  Will our children be able to sleep knowing that the adults have it under control? These questions have been keeping me up at night and there are no easy answers – I wish there were.   My optimism has dimmed but maybe we’ll rise above the pettiness of this election and forge a new path and show the world we’re better than what they’ve been seeing on CNN and FOX .  That’s my prayer and the thing I’d tell that frightened five-year old both now and back in 1968. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Finding Amber 2

It was Amber's 20th birthday - the birthday that straddles the winding river between teenage-dom and adulthood. My sweet daughter - true to nature wanted to go to Skate Country and spend the day with her sister skating and having icees and pizza.  We figured that on a summer afternoon on Friday the place would be open and didn't bother to see if was before we left the house. 

We drove up to a completely empty parking lot and learned that the skating rink was only open at night.  Quickly recalculating, I said - "Hey do you want to see Finding Dory?  I know I have Group-Ons for it."  Both girls gave a resounding "YES!" and we were on our way.  

I have blogged before about what the movie Finding Nemo had meant to me.  I had seen it with Amber in 2003 when she was seven and had been diagnosed on autism spectrum for four years at that point. Here is the link for the original blog.  Click here to read Finding Amber .  We had seen the movie again in 2012 and it touched me as a parent of a child with developmental disability and how far our journey had come: from Amber's first diagnosis as a toddler,  fearing that she would not be able to take care of herself, over compensating by doing everything for her and worrying about how people would treat her.  So here we were in a dark theater getting ready to see Dory's journey as a fish with short term memory loss and her flight into adulthood.  One of the really cool things was the audience was not so much composed of little kids but of teens who loved Finding Nemo and wanted to relive the magic of that first movie. 

As the young sweet little Dory works up the confidence to ask questions of her parents or other people - she must always preface it by "Hi. I'm Dory. I suffer from short-term remembery loss."   She also worries that she's constantly letting her parents down.  Of course, I got the feels immediately.  The sight of this sweet little thing trying to find her way in the world hit home and having to apologize for her disability was heartbreaking.   Her parents try to keep her safe but a rogue current carries her away and she is lost.  Unlike Nemo, young Dory can't remember exactly where she lives and as years go by, she starts to forget who her parents are.  It's a worst case scenario for any parent but for a mother of a child with a developmental disability it exposes your worst fear.   You then see Dory over the years - growing  up, constantly asking for help, explaining her disability and swimming further away from home.  Eventually, she meets Marlin and helps him find Nemo. 

It didn't dawn on my then, but in Finding Nemo, you had two characters with disabilities who had to take control and eventually help save the day when most people would have written them off. I was so focused on Nemo and his handicap that Dory seemed more of a comic foil than a character who was also struggling with her own challenges.  But her way of handling life actually made sense - she had confidence in herself because she didn't have any other choice.   When Marlin talks about wanting to protect Nemo from everything her response is a wake-up call to any overprotective parent:

Marlin: I promised I'd never let anything happen to him.

Dory: Hmm. That's a funny thing to promise.
Marlin: What?
Dory: Well, you can't never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.

When I first saw this - Amber was a child and the idea of her

being out in the world was theoretical - it would be years before she would be on her own and it was just something I didn't want to deal with at that point.  I just wanted to keep her out of harm's way, keep her from getting her feelings hurt from kids who might make fun of her, keep her from trying something new that she might fail at and feel embarrassed.  But the reality was that I wasn't so much protecting her - I was protecting me.   The idea that the world would not embrace your child because they are out of the norm is scary so you overcompensate.   You answer for them, you do as much for them as possible to soften the blow of anyone hurting them.  

There are so many plans that you make from the time your child is born - the birthday parties, the dances at school, the first boyfriend, the prom date, the wedding day.  Then you are told that they are on the autism spectrum and will go on the special education track.  The idea of how they will be as an adult one day is sidelined so you can get them from pre-school, to kindergarten, to grade school, hoping they can make it through the challenge of middle school and then high school.  At graduation, they will get a special education diploma which means that after 12 years of school they still need to take a GED to get into a community college or get a job.  You see the posts from parents who spend the spring of their child's senior year on social media wondering if their child got into the college of their choice.  You are just hoping that your child will be able to find a job, find an apartment and make ends meet.  You worry that you need to plan financially to still support them in adulthood and provide for them in your will to help them when you're gone and pray that her sibling will keep an eye on her finances.  It's pretty heady stuff to deal with when your kid is just getting out of their teens.  

As time goes on - you realize that your plan was just that - an idea but that nothing is set in stone.  You have a chance to create something out of the norm and because there are so few books about girls with autism.  You realize that you are going to have to make it up as you go along.  A plan is not really something you can ever really count on and you have to take things day to day.  Dory exemplifies that and says rather forcefully at one point, "I've never had a plan in my life!" 

For us control freaks that line seems like heresy. How can you never have a plan - how can you go through life without knowing how to get from point A to point Z - there always has to be a plan for God's sake!   But as Dory explains further,  “The best things happen by chance."   So I reflected on that quote and having a daughter who has what the world perceives as a disability - autism.  She is in my life to teach me that the most wonderful things happen when God laughs at your plan, throws it aside and gives you something incredible that you might not be able to comprehend at the time.  

Amber cannot be simply defined as someone with a disorder, a disability, or a disease - she is my daughter and one of the sweetest, kindest people I've ever met.  While some signs of autism, particularly Aspergers, can seem like the person you love is not connected and can be obsessive/compulsive - we've been lucky that Amber's symptoms are pretty mild and how they manifest are different in girls than boys.   She gets jokes, has a sense of humor and loves animals.  She still has a hard time making eye contact but her social skills have come a long way since she was younger.   She's rarely given me any type of female teenage drama that most parents must endure.  I can count on one hand the number of times that she's ever rolled her eyes and said "Whatever!" 

In a recent interview, the director of Finding Dory Andrew
Staten explains how he sees Dory and how he wanted to bring in her back story and relationship with her mother and father.  "Her parents don't try to change her. They just want to help her own who she is. Being a parent and seeing my kids grow up and enter the world, I realize that all kids are born with certain temperaments, flaws, quirks — and it will probably be who they are. You probably spend most of the time worrying about those things as a parent, too — you don't lose sleep over the things they do well. The best quality I could give Dory's parents is that they never doubt her." 

At the end of the day, I think most parents worry if their kids can make it on their own.  If we've done our jobs hopefully they will be creative, independent and loving people you've always prayed they would be.  Dory, even in light of her short term memory, is strong, smart, loyal and can even speak whale.   To quote Dory, "You have to let go and see what happens," because despite your best efforts - you won't be around forever no matter how hard you try.   And when that day comes - hopefully you'll have a good laugh with God about your plan. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

A Guide to Women’s Rooms for #Trans-Phobs and other stuff

As a mother of a trans daughter, it amazes me that some people believe that men are going to use the trans-bathroom issue as an excuse to throw a skirt over their Johnsons to accost us.  I thought I would give the law makers of North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, South Dakota and Wisconsin, as well as the Arizona Department of Education a tutorial on how women’s and girl’s rooms actually work. 

Okay, so you know how women usually travel in packs especially to
to the restroom right?   You see the lines going out the doors because there is very little downtime in a ladies’ room.  Do you actually think we are going to stand by and watch a man accost a young girl or woman on our turf?  REALLY?!!!??  I mean have you ever seen a cat fight between two women – that is nothing compared what we would do a man that was posing as one of us and then trying to assault a little girl.  It would be bad, super, super bad.  Really.

I’ll let you in on a little secret – for you men – those tampon or napkin dispensers that are on the wall –simply for show.  We actually keep those supplies in our purses.  So while we are in the bathrooms not only do we plot total world domination but we get vital training.  Because those dispensers have weapons and switch blades in them so that if the event a man posing as a woman with a skirt over his Johnson tried to hurts us – we have the training to slice his Johnson in half.   

Now many of you legislatures might be thinking that “Wow – I have never heard of that.” There’s a good reason – it’s because we’ve never had to use it because it’s a 100% myth that a man dressed as a woman is going to attack us in a public bathroom. You’re trying to legislate against something that does not exist. 
Let me tell you what does exist – in encounters involving trans people in bathrooms, you know who does get attacked? Trans people. A survey of 93 transgender adults in DC found that 68% had been verbally attacked in a public restroom, while 9% had been physically assaulted. Over half of trans people developed health problems like urinary tract infections from avoiding using bathrooms in public.

Another survey found that 70% of trans respondents reported being denied access, verbally harassed, or physically assaulted in public restrooms.
And ironically, it’s anti-transgender legislation that will put men — transgender men — in women’s restrooms, and transgender women in men’s rooms.

Not only that – most women bring their young sons into the ladies room rather than having them go into a men’s room unattended.  Are you really going to tell an already stressed out mother that her five year old son can’t be in the women’s room because his gender does not fit those perimeters.  God help the cop or security guard that tells a mother that.  Seriously – snip, snip.
For you educators that are also fighting the federal government over the use of bathrooms by transgender students, a study by Georgia State University has connected anti-transgender policies with increased suicide rates among transgender students.

Now I realize that in 2008, many of the trans-phobs got freaked because Barack Obama was elected president by a majority of Americans and in 2012 he was re-elected by a pretty decisive margin.  There were not hanging chads like in 2000 when the election was between two white guys. But this is the year 2016 and trans-phobs - you can’t tell people where to go to the bathroom – you lost that right in 1964 with the Civil Rights Act. 

The Federal Government is telling states if you discriminate against transgender students in schools - you will lose Federal funding for your state education program under both Title 9 and the Equal Access Act.  So now some of these states like Texas want to make it a State’s right issue when it comes to transgender students and their access to using bathrooms and are suing the government.   REALLY!!  

Let me back it up another 100 years from the Civil Rights Act to the Civil War when the Federal Government had to let folks know that you could not use “States rights” argument to justify enslaving another group of people because it’s just wrong on every level – there’s no defense for it.   It took a Republican like Abraham Lincoln and four bloody years of fighting to bring the country back together after over 620,000 people died in a conflict that never should have happened.  He’s probably spinning in his grave that now that his party is supporting all this state’s rights crap.  

But there are people like the Target Lady who has 12 kids and wants
wants to use the bible to legislate.   Let’s back it up to 1776 where we had the Revolutionary War in which we fought England to separate church and state to insure that all men are created equal and entitled to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.   Another fun fact, our founding fathers wore wigs, ruffles and hose so maybe being trans is actually guaranteed by our constitution.

Look, my daughter is one of the sweetest kindest people I know.  When she uses the bathroom she uses for the same reason we all do to just pee and nothing more.   She’d be the first one to bring down anyone who wanted to hurt a child in a bathroom.

If you want to put your righteous indignation to something real that helps children - how about the fact that 13.5 million kids in our country do not have enough food to eat.  That’s one in five kids in the greatest country in the world who go to bed hungry.  For the law makers in Mississippi – it’s 29% or roughly one in three kids in your state – if I were you I’d be more focused on getting your constituents help for something that really exists like hunger rather than a fake problem made up by homo-phobs.  Now that summer is here – many of those kids won’t have access to subsidized breakfast and lunches that they do during the school year which makes their hunger more of a crisis.

Heck – 12 children bible totting anti-Target Lady – I’ll stand by your shoulder to shoulder if you take community hunger on as a cause and we ask people who are shopping  at Target to donate groceries to their local food banks and your first Starbucks is on me.

So to recap, you can’t segregate people by bathrooms as per the Civil Rights Act and Title 9.  Mothers are probably going to bring their young sons into the bathroom because they don’t want to expose them to a men’s room.  Let’s work to stop something real like food insufficiency in this country. 

And if a guy comes into our public bathrooms with a skirt over his Johnson and tries to assault us- we ladies can handle it and by handle it I mean cut his penis in half – so we got this REALLY!!