Thursday, March 26, 2015

Angelina Jolie's Tough Road Ahead

Here's my question: Why did Angelina Jolie write an Op-ed piece for The New York Times chronicling in great detail her very personal and heart-wrenching account of her recent surgery and the decisions leading up to it?

In the event you're just re-entering the earth's atmosphere, Ms. Jolie had preventative surgery last week to remove her fallopian tubes and ovaries in order to remove the key organs where cancer could set up shop. She had surgery in 2013 to remove her breasts to forestall cancer there as well. She will no longer be able to bear children and is thrust into immediate and full menopause (something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy--well, maybe). Luckily, she has six children, three adopted, and hopes to see them grow up. Sounds like a perfect motivation for surgery.

Maybe I've watched too many episodes of Scandal, where the message is always: Get ahead of the story, Spin it your way. If that was the case here, if Ms. Jolie did write the piece (if she did indeed write it) a mere week after her surgery so she could own the moment before the media unearthed it, then I feel even sadder for our society than I already do. If she did it because she has an important message, and as newly-minted public ambassador for women's health and atrocities around the world (really, don't act like you don't remember when she and then husband Billy Bob Thornton wore matching vials of blood around their necks), then I'm wondering why she had to write it Right Now, when she is just recovering and has a difficult re-adjustment ahead.

I am not here to judge her, I simply want to throw out the question.

She appears to be a person of ethics and high moral ground. I believe she  believes she now has an important message to share and is using her very public platform to do so. To be honest, I find her decision brave, as I'm sure many women do, but I'm not sure the motivation behind it is entirely so.

However, if her story raises awareness and saves lives for those women whose reproductive organs and mammary glands that have given rise to life and the sustaining of that life within their bodies and outside of them, have turned into weapons then I'm all for getting the message out.

But if she wasn't a celebrity closely identified with being a gorgeous sex symbol (in a twist of irony one could never get away with in fiction) would we care as much?  

And what would that say about us as a society as a whole?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Wherein Lies Success?

As I've stated in previous posts, I'm a part-time matchmaker, happily sticking my nose in other people's business in their pursuit of love. I had a strange conversation with a girl's mother yesterday that I haven't been able to get out of my mind. Generally I set up busy, young Modern Orthodox professionals who are marriage-minded. Sometimes I arrange singles events and allow for the free flow of conversation with some gentle directional nudging when I think a couple might suit one another. On a rare occasion, I will interact with a mother who is seeking a match for her child because in the highly religious circles she finds herself in, suggestions are pursued exclusively through a facilitator aka matchmaker.

The mother, who had gotten my number from someone I vaguely knew spent fifteen minutes extolling the virtues of her daughter's abilities--she could play any instrument (with no formal study), had been the star of the school play, could sew and design gorgeous clothing (with minimal training), was beautiful, incredibly accomplished and tremendously popular. The only problem with this list of qualities this stupendous girl seemed to possess was that she had never finished high school, choosing instead to study abroad in a vocational school (of sorts) and she was barely eighteen. And this mother had allowed all of this.

After I gasped and caught myself from shouting: Are you out of your mind? I was able to interrupt this mother's breathless praise and ask: But Why does she want to get married? What I didn't ask was: Why would you let her?

Her response: She's the kind of child who has wanted to get married since she was five years old, surely you've met girls like that? 

Well, I've met five-year-olds who want to be princesses and ballerinas and lots of little girls who play dress-up, my granddaughters, among them, and then they mature and realize Life isn't all make-believe. After asking several pointed questions that she responded to with more renewed affirmations and a healthy dose of blinders, I hung up as quickly as I could without seeming too rude. I knew I'd only heard half of the story and had zero interest in hearing the rest.

As parents we skate the thin line between indulging our child's wishes and acting as reality checker. This mother sounded batty to me and there were many layers of wrong with what she was allowing her child to pursue. I wanted to screech, Why Don't You Be A Parent? rather than indulge your child's every whim, from quitting school to making a life decision while still a teenager. 

At what point during our child's journey to mature, functioning adult do we switch from the confidence-building cheering squad and steer them to where we believe they can achieve realistic success?

How many times have I seen a young actor win a coveted award in their field and thank their parents for encouraging them to fulfill their dream and never give up. I wonder if I could be that kind of parent when the odds are so stacked against success. I am all about pursuing dreams and passions, but at some point, it simply doesn't make sense. Sure, there are doctors and firemen and astronauts who glommed onto that dream as five-year-olds and saw it through to fruition, but how many weren't capable of seeing that dream through? And as parents, how do we gently nudge their aspirations into a viable effort that yields real results rather than standing by and watching our child throw away years of life pursuing something too elusive?

One of the phrases that really drives me crazy is: "You can be anything you want to be." Um, not true, it simply isn't true. Malcolm Gladwell's ten-thousand hour rule exists after there is a certain establishment of raw talent that needs the man hours to polish and hone it. I would hate to see a tone deaf person practice trumpet for that many hours and never achieve his goal.

As parents, I feel our job is to manage expectations, cheer the victories, feel the defeats in our gut, and give our children coping skills for when life throws them a curve, which is bound to happen at least once or twice.

Yes, we get to sit in the front row of graduations, walk by their side down the aisle at their weddings, and get a VIP tour of their first major purchase: car/business/home. But in this culture where children on opposing teams are both told they're winners, the problem with going overboard trying to protect them from the big bad world is that they can't face losing and don't understand the word No

My father used to joke that when he grew up he walked to school uphill--both ways. 
Grit and true determination are vital keys to success. And so is failure. Defeat builds character and makes success all that more precious. We need to teach our kids that failures can and will happen, and as long as they get up each time, brush themselves off and try again, they will ultimately succeed.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Fifty Shades of Nonsense

Ahead of the impending blizzard about to pound those of us foolish enough to live on the east coast, I went to the bookstore to pick up a couple of beach-ready books for my Florida trip next week. I glanced at the Romance section and was fairly surprised at the absence of any notion of romance there. Yes, there were plenty of books on bondage, men objectifying women and treating them poorly, but no romance. At least not the kind of romantic and chivalrous gestures and language I would imagine any sane woman would welcome.

It's been many years since feminism took hold and it is actually considered social suicide to label one's self a feminist. The concept of Fifty Shades of Grey, an erotic depiction of exquisite sexual torture masquerading as 'what women really want' makes me gag. And in a marketing campaign that I would like to believe was thought up by a team of men, the movie version is being released on Valentine's Day. And there are now shelves and shelves of books, hastily written and barely edited (because good writing is besides the point) that exalt this new genre of Adult-Romance.

I haven't read any of these novels, and I don't intend to. Perhaps I would feel differently if I had, although I doubt it, but I'll skip the wasted afternoon. Now don't get me wrong. I lapped up Kathleen E. Woodiwiss' bodice-ripping books as a high-schooler, and although the Duke/Captain/Earl was sometimes a laconic,widowed bastard, he always got reformed at the hands of the Governess/Orphan/Widow into something worthy of her love.

My point is: What the hell is wrong with us women? 

I know, I'm sounding harsh and preachy when what I'm really feeling is disappointment. And fear, for a whole generation of women that are equating sexual satisfaction with mistreatment. Wouldn't you encourage your own daughter to run like the devil from a man who treated her with dagger-tipped gloves rather than kid gloves? Wouldn't you tell your daughter that anyone who wants to control her isn't a safe bet and to make sure to keep the exit door clearly in sight?

Call me old-fashioned, call me a prude, I don't care. Female empowerment isn't something for males to grant. It comes from a sense of self, of true confidence and being told we are worth being treated well. My new daughter-in-law bought me a plaque that reads: "A man who treats his woman like a princess is a proof that he has been born and raised in the arms of a queen." She appreciates my son and he appreciates her, as he witnessed his parents treat one another. When did that become something so easily dismissed?
Our little girls idolize Disney princesses who are brave and confident, our tweens idolize Taylor Swift, a talented and bright young woman, and as grown women we welcome men who abuse us under the guise of pleasure? 

Let's change the narrative and by all means, enjoy sex, but with someone who doesn't mistreat or seek to own you. 

Please, embrace your power as women and as enforcers of your own destiny. 
And for goodness sakes, put down the silly books and think of your daughters. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Prince William and Tiffany?

There was much ado about our royal visitors from over the pond. Oh, look how down to earth they are!! They attended a basketball game (from halftime only) went to the 9-11 Memorial Museum (laid a wreath) went to a school reunion (at The Met) etc, etc, etc. They even flew commercial!!

I'm not buying into it and I'll tell you why. Who gets court-side seats after they've missed the first half of a game? Who voluntarily goes to a school reunion and forks over $10,000 for the privilege? And speaking of ten grand, that's how much their suite cost per night at The Carlyle. Being whisked through Midtown traffic (not even a whiff of protesters in sight) is reserved for IMPORTANT people who have to be somewhere because there are other people already at these places that have been Waiting for them to arrive.

Don't tell me that the clothes the Duchess wore were off the rack--even if they weren't designer duds, it isn't as if she went into a store and shopped (or got knocked over trying to get the last Frozen playhouse) No, no, I'm certain they were brought to her at a deep discount aka free, so her appearance in them would trigger a website search for the item. 

Yes, she is demure, our Kate, and some say its because she doesn't want to make the mistake of eclipsing her husband, as did the mother-in-law she never had the opportunity to meet. She's graceful, no doubt, she's a lady even though she's a commoner, but really Lebron, even if she is 'just like you and me' next time take a shower first before touching!!

I enjoyed the tidbits the news wrangled out of the thirty second appearances we were privy to, but I'm left with a lingering question as I noticed the New York Times referred to her as Catherine on a couple of occasions. Would she have been allowed to marry William if her name was Lola or Lacey, popular British girls names?

Can we all say it's just coincidence that Kate's full name, Catherine graced the throne six times since The Plantagenets ruled in the early 1200's? Henry VIII even married three women named Catherine!

So, say what you want, they're warm, approachable, engaging, but I have a feeling if William had brought home a Tiffany from college for Christmas break she would've been sent packing, because the truth is, he is second in line for the throne and nothing less than a properly named woman who exhibits the kind of class that Kate does, would be allowed to sit by his side.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

When Did I Become Adorable?

 Apparently I've become adorable. 

I'm not quite sure when the transition occurred, but I'd been told this quite a few times this past weekend when my youngest came home from college.

I remember when I realized my grandmother was adorable. She was of the older generation when speaking loudly and colorfully, having politically incorrect opinions about everything ranging from the neighbors to the mayor to the inept postal service (pre-email days) was normative and quite entertaining, I might add. With her bouffant of done-up white hair and slash of red lipstick, we would hang on her juicy tidbits borne of conversations at the local watering hole, aka the beauty parlor.

Have I become that, I wonder? An amusing fount of harmless regurgitated gossip with little value and contribution except as the outrageous anecdote-telling Grandma that rips everyone a new one? I had more respect for my elders, and I think my child does as well, so what exactly has earned me my newly, somewhat questionable descriptor?

I think the answer lays in the fact that I still regard my offspring as a child and he is about to turn twenty-one in a couple of weeks. I do my level best not to treat him as my youngest, although his siblings roll their eyes when he dumps his laundry bag in the middle of the kitchen with the implicit understanding that everything in it will miraculously appear cleaned and folded by the time he has to leave again. I send back carefully wrapped packages of homemade food to tide him over until his next visit and laugh at the right points when he relates some of his missteps away at school and cluck sympathetically when he feels he's been undermined by a teacher or classmate.

I'm not doing anything differently than I've done over the past few years since he's begun shaving and driving. The difference is how he views me. Yes, he sees me as supportive, always having his back, but calling him out on his nonsense as I see it, but now I'm the link between him and his siblings, nieces and nephews, and grandparents, when he doesn't have the time to connect with each of them. I'm the one he relies on to tell him who is doing what when he is knee deep in law school applications and is starving for some entertaining morsel that reminds him of his goals and why he is pushing forward at breakneck speed when others might be slacking off. I am less the disciplinarian and rule maker now, because truly, he's heard it all for the past almost twenty-one years. If our family values haven't seeped in and been seared into his brain: Treat others with respect, Make a good impression, Be kind, Look for the positive...well, then there would be little point now.

I've become adorable because he now views us as equals in our adult status and this is his gentle way of letting me know that. He's told me he really likes my company and enjoys hearing what I have to say. He respects me as his mother, I know that, and my new job is to remember that he is truly an adult, as he's been for some time. Even the DMV regards him as one, switching out his Under 21 status, and of course, he's allowed to drink, duh.

When I ask him why he wants me to weigh in on decisions about his future, or on hot news topics or on a girl he's dating, he'll say, "Because you're my mommy," sounding almost child-like in his belief in my ability to miraculously fix scraped knees with a kiss.

Yes, I am. So I'll keep doing what I'm doing because of all the hats I wear: author, designer, matchmaker, wife, the one I put on over thirty-two years ago still fits very well.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Free Time?

Well, it depends on who you ask. 

The two week period between when camp ends and school starts strikes fear into many a parent's heart. These weeks are a hodge-podge of frantic school preparations, last licks of swimming, and a melancholy good-bye to a season where ice-cream and a solid blast of AC cures most woes. As children, we remember that familiar gut clench accompanying those school preparations as we said so long to our summer friendships, some fleeting, others remarkably resilient, and looked ahead in reticent anticipation of the upcoming year that would bring us one step closer to real life.

There was an opinion piece in the NYTimes a couple of days ago discussing a concept called unschooling,not to be confused with home schooling. 

In this concept of unschooling, children are free to establish much of the ground rules, relying on nature walks and other organic settings in which to learn math, social sciences, even astronomy, allowing for their natural curiosity to propel them forward. The article goes on to say that these children when integrated into disciplined, traditional settings such as college, do very well. As a mother who very clearly remembers her own children finding friends of varying ages at bungalow colonies, and allowing them the freedom to explore endlessly throughout the summer, I think there is a major distinction between summertime and all year round. Yes, the idea has merit--but up to a point.

That point being the parents' sanity. Following on the heels of all that free play comes the boredom monster. This monster has been known to rear its head when siblings are getting on each others nerves, during rainy days, and on long road trips or cramped airplane cabins.

For the child who is free-spirited, lack of structure is a gift from heaven; but even the most stalwart anti-establishment types can agree that structure is simply the way the world turns and the sooner children learn deadlines and accountability the better. Children crave a schedule. Sure, they will whine about bedtimes and rules, but it shows them deep down that someone else is in charge and doing the worrying and that in turn allows them the opportunity to concentrate on schoolwork and extra-curricular activities.

As any frazzled parent who is braving back-to-school sales in the summer heat that finally decided to show up, this period of time gives pause for reflecting on how fleeting these days are as we mentally check off a year closer to graduation and our children's future. 

So long that you finally showed up, we will surely miss you!!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Trigger Warnings

Recently much has been made about select universities' attempts at establishing trigger warnings, or alerts about course material that may contain sexual content, violence, racism, or anything that might affect someone who has been a victim of a crime, assault or has post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Reaction has been swift and primarily negative. Robert and Araz Shibley claim that 18 year olds are legally adults and should suck-it-up. Enough with coddling they say in their article, Campus Trigger Warnings Threaten Free Speech And Treat Students Like Children,

This pair of writers is really, really upset about the continued coddling going on. They assert anything can be a trigger: a sound, a song, a smell, how exactly can professors become mind-readers? If someone has a mental health issue, they should be under a doctor's care, a university can't take responsibility for students' reactions to everything. That's about the only point I agree with, and judging by the strident tone they take, I venture to say these two have probably not suffered any life-altering trauma.

The Holocaust Museum in Washington is a trigger place, and on a recent visit there, swarms of school-age children were present. Interestingly enough, two teenagers were laughing near one of the exhibits. I doubt their laughter had anything to do with the actual material being shown, but a museum docent approached them and offered them the opportuniy to speak with a Holocaust survivor they had on staff. They stopped laughing.

Maybe those critical of the need for trigger warnings at universities have an issue with the set-up of the new 9-11 Memorial museum? It is most certainly a trigger place, and warnings abound. Maybe they think the whole museum shouldn't even exist? Or perhaps the small areas set near key points to allow visitors overcome by emotion to gracefully step away from the crowds and have a few private moments of grief should be eliminated?

I have not suffered a life-altering trauma, but I have people close to me that have. A friend told me her grandson was playing with a teddy bear her late husband had purchased for him. Her husband had died suddenly, barely fifty, and the sight of the stuffed toy, five years after his death brought her to her knees. Her reaction frightened her young grandchild, but no one is suggesting that teddy bears come with warning labels.  

We are warned about the after effects of riding on roller coasters, spilling hot beverages, and airbags. These warnings alert us (adults, Robert and Araz) to possible danger. They are meant as precautions so we can be prepared. A trigger warning is simply a device for preparation, no one is playing around with our free speech, so relax everyone, please.

Angela Lee Duckworth gives an interesting TED talk about raising kids with grit. In it she states that the secret to success is determined as much by intellect as grit--the ability to persevere in one's goals, long term. Anyone who is a survivor of a traumatic event and still wakes up every day to start anew and has the wherewithal to attend college and make something of themselves has grit. Allowing these people the chance to prepare themselves in the best way that they can so as not to be overcome by emotion in front of their peers is  only fair and decent.