Thursday, February 24, 2011

Poem Time!

I was walking down a street in downtown Atlanta tonight and the poem below came to me. I'm not saying it's good.  I just need a title.  Help me out and give me suggestions, please?


While I walked down the twilit street  
Our song played poignant in my ear.
I felt you reach to hold my hand
Just like we did that yesteryear.

You walked with me in rhythmic step
Invisible but clearly there,
And wound your fingers close in mine
And laid a kiss upon my hair.

The past still held me as the tune
Stepped back to give another song
Its voice. But as the notes began
I felt the wind caress my palm.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011



What a piercing feeling is shame.

Shame is looking into your own eyes in the mirror and understanding that you are pushing aside your dearest priorities.

Ah, shame.

I have a friend – someone I not only like but admire, someone whose intelligence and strength are incredible – who is battling breast cancer for the second time in her life; she is only my age. A few weeks ago, this dear friend asked me to participate with her in our local 3-Day Walk to fight breast cancer. Could I have been more honored and thrilled? No way! I was beyond proud that she asked me to walk with her. Did I jump at the chance and say, “Of course! You can count on me!” I wish I could say yes.

Why did I hesitate? Fear. Stupid, selfish fear about my job prospects. Emphasis on the word “stupid.”

Here’s where my past caught up with me. During my up-until-now career, I ran into the occasional hiring manager who would consider a candidate’s consideration of his or her personal life in context of a potential job as proof that he or she would not be dedicated to the job in question. In other words, if a candidate, during an interview, asked about things such as expected office hours, overtime, vacation rules or even health insurance, that person was deemed too self-focused to hire. How could that individual possibly be counted on to effectively prioritize work if he or she could even recall they had personal life when discussing a potential job?

I mean, heaven forbid a working parent might be excited enough about a job opportunity during the interview to want to get a head start on ensuring adequate childcare is explored in advance… just in case an offer comes in. God forbid the candidate asking for these details might like to make even mental preparations for pet care, established travel plans, sports activities or anything else that might have to change with a new job. Clearly, it’s not about preparation. It’s distraction, lack of focus. Or at least so say these hiring managers.  (If you’re not reading heavy, dripping sarcasm in these words… I just don’t know what to say.)

So now I’m facing the prospect of daily classroom observation in the fall – I’m so excited about it!! – but I’m shaking in my Naturalizers at the idea of asking my academic advisor or the administrator at my placement school if they’ll allow me to take one day off – one single day – to complete the 3-Day Walk. I have the opportunity of a lifetime to walk with and support my friend, who is fighting for her life, and I’m acting like a chicken. The worst part is that I know that any program that wouldn’t support my participation in this event, that wouldn’t see the loss of a single day as miniscule in importance to the impact of solidarity in the face of this battle, shouldn’t matter enough for me to worry anyway.

But I am worrying. I’m worrying like an inexperienced kid (“It’ll be on your permanent record!”)rather than the seasoned grown-up I’m supposed to be.

So this is my public declaration that I’m going to put aside my fear and ask about taking that day to be there for my friend.

Because if I don’t… what a shame.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Index Cards, My Valentine

Dearest Index Cards,

Won’t you please be my Valentine? 

I’m sorry that I never noticed you before.  All those long years ago, back in high school, then during college, and then again in MBA school, I was so self-focused, so intent on doing things on my own.  I ignored you, focusing my attention on my own “pure” memory skills, my natural ability to retain the huge amount of new information thrown my way every day by teachers and parents and friends and TV shows and Teen Magazine… and that worked for a while.  You probably think I didn’t know you even existed. In truth, I didn’t want to rely on you, didn’t want to rely on anyone or anything except my own wits!

But age, with all its challenges, can bring a new clarity.  When I recently stepped back into the scholastic universe, I realized that my ability to acquire new knowledge had changed a bit. Yes, this old dog can learn new tricks, but those new tricks have to make room between all the old knowledge – much of it only useful to win pitchers of beer at trivia night – crammed into my aging grey matter.

Oh, Index Cards, you’ve saved me! Or at least you have given me a new way to lock in what I’m learning. You willingly sacrifice your blank space and give me a way to remember new ideas and concepts.  I rejoice during an exam when I recall an answer by envisioning my own messy scrawl on your clean, white surface.  And I do remember, almost every time.

Index Cards, oh Index Cards, I’m sorry I never paid you attention before now! But maybe, just maybe, it was a matter of timing.  Maybe now is just our time to be together.

You mean so much to me, Index Cards.  Please be my Valentine.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

National Stop Bullying Day

I have a TON of schoolwork to do today – and the sheer amount of work in my program will be the subject of a post coming soon (quick snapshot: worker bees forget how much work school is, – but the gravity of what today represents is pushing me to write to you all. As some of you know, bullying has been hitting a little too close to home for the last year or so, and I’d like to share a few experiences and thoughts. Read on or exit out… whatever you choose is fine. This one’s for me.
My Bear is 4-1/2 years old, and he is a sweet, bookish child who makes a point of sharing and complimenting and thanking. Every single time he is given something – a lollipop at the doctor or a piece of candy at swimming lessons or a toy – he insists on getting something for his little sister, too.  And for 2 years now, he has been the target for aggressive kids. I hate labeling it “bullying.” Whenever I do refer to what happens to him as bullying, the whole thing seems so harsh, so huge… my heart hurts too much. Because he’s 4-1/2 years old.
Think back to when you were that age. Think about how you saw the world and how dramatically things impacted you. Small children go apoplectic about not getting to watch a TV show or fall to the ground in distress when a friend won’t share. Do you remember trying to sort out how you’re supposed to behave in new situations and being just filled with joy from praise?
Now think about being the kid who doesn’t necessarily fit in entirely, the one who tries to play with other kids but who gets tongue-tied or who is a little clumsy or who’s just not as rough-and-tumble. Even little kids can feel awkward. They’re not oblivious as so many people seem to want to believe. And to then have those other kids you want to play with call you names and make fun of your awkwardness and tell you you’re not included and push you down and hit you when the teacher’s not looking and refuse to play with you and ostracize you… Try to think about how that feels to a 4-year old who is just forming an image of his place in the world and his ability to be accepted and loved. 
Here’s the kicker, people.  From my experience, and this is just my experience, the victim is the one who deals with all the consequences.  That’s right.  Not the bully.  The victim.
Let me give you a few highlights.  When Bear was not quite 3, a child in his class (at our former preschool) took to hitting Bear every chance he got.  I was never told by a teacher, but rather I started seeing bruises, and Bear acted differently about going to school.  When I spoke to the Administrator, she acknowledged the hitting (WTH??) and explained that the other child had developmental challenges.  And she left it at “we’ll try to keep the boys apart.”  What???  Excuse me???  I’m sorry that the other child has challenges, I truly am, but please tell me what will you be doing to help and correct that child with those challenges aside from just trying to act as a barrier?  Because I’ll tell you all, acting as a barrier didn’t work. The bruises kept coming. The consequences were ours alone to bear – Bear’s fear of going to school, Bear’s retreat into himself, Bear’s reluctance to play with other kids, and our ultimate decision to go to another school.
There have been more instances in the year and a half since, even though Bear is at a different school. Like I said, he’s a sweet, gentle and awkward kid, and aggressive children see an easy mark in him. Most recently, a boy has been taunting Bear and calling him names almost every day, much of which I witnessed directly. Let me tell you, it never fails to knock me over seeing such small children act so mean. When I brought it up with the head of the school (again, I had to bring it up, apparently it didn’t merit attention) I was informed that the boy in question is the youngest of three boys, so he’s just acting out. I was told the teacher would try to encourage this boy to be more empathetic. Super. So, because he’s belittled by his brothers, it’s understandable and sort of okay for him to take out his frustration on Bear? I appreciate the effort to try to redirect this child’s thinking, I truly do, but are his parents being told that their child is being mean to another child? Are they expected to help him learn to behave in a more appropriate way? Are there consequences for them if this behavior continues?  
Let me give you a final perspective, and then I’ll leave this alone.  This has been happening on and off for a while, and since I recognize that Bear’s gentle and awkward demeanor may be at play here, I’ve asked the teachers to help him approach other kids and teach him ways to interact with them, things I’m working on at home, too. To be fair, the teachers are trying, and I appreciate their efforts. However, when we talk about how it’s going, the teachers fall back on the fact that Bear isolates himself, and they seem to see this as the reason these efforts aren’t working, like the isolation is the cause of all of this. Excuse me for seeing things differently, but perhaps this is a learned behavior brought on by all of this cruelty.  Perhaps what Bear has learned is that by isolating himself, he protects himself – even temporarily – from the hurt. Perhaps his decision to isolate himself shows that more work needs to be done to reassure him that the other children are learning new ways to interact and that the onus isn’t entirely on Bear to change.
Because in every case, we’ve been given information on what WE need to change and what BEAR needs to change. Not the other child. Not the bully. Nope. Bear. The victim.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Think Before You Speak

(This one’s for the Daddies out there – current and future. Mommas, listen up, too!)

I stopped at Target this morning on the way home from dropping off Bear and Ballerina at preschool. While I pondered which colored highlighters to purchase – a critical decision in grad school world – a man around my age wandered into my aisle chattering away on his cell phone.  Either that or he was speaking to a black plastic object... I choose to assume sanity first.  Anyway, these words came out of his mouth and made me flinch, “… And I told her in no uncertain terms that boys only want one thing and they’ll say anything to get what they want. I was a boy once, so I know how boys are.”

Raise your hand if you’ve never heard something like that before. Anyone? Anyone? It’s a common statement, right?  Well, if you have girl children and are planning to have this discussion… don’t. Please.

First, what does this have to do with my current education? A lot. In our psychology class we’re learning about behavior, reinforcement and motivation. Understanding this has everything to do with helping a blossoming, still innocent girl avoid having a boy take advantage of her. This also relates to research I did for my job several years ago on how incentives rarely accomplish what they’re intended to do. 

The long and short is this… think past the warning to its not-entirely-logical-because-I’m-still-at-a-formative-age conclusion. Think through the entire stream of logic as it may be understood by the girl:
  • Girl WANTS boy’s attention and approval.
  • Dad SAYS boy wants sex.
  • Therefore, GIVE boy sex, GET boy’s attention and approval.
Do you see where I’m going with this?  And forget piling on the warnings.  How effective are the following warnings in preventing undesirable or dangerous teenage behavior?
  • Smoking is addictive, makes you wrinkle, costs a lot of money, causes lung disease and may kill you.
  • You may make really stupid decisions when you’re drunk, and driving drunk may kill you or someone else.
  • If you get in a car accident while not wearing a seatbelt, you’re much more likely to be severely injured or die.
  • Not everyone looks good in jeggings, and those that don't look good look bad.
Those warnings don’t even convince adults to make smart choices!  The impotence of a warning about boys’ motivations + a girl’s innate motivation to be accepted by her peers (and boys) + a girl’s innate (and even minor) rebelliousness + daddy's helpful hint as to how to gain a boy’s attention = all the ingredients to help a girl make a bad choice.  On top of that, if a girl at a young age becomes convinced that boys’ romantic desires and overtures are all focused on sex, she is likely to grow into a woman who believes the same holds true of men.

So what can you do? Well, think about your goal first.  What do you want your baby girl, who is no longer a baby you can protect at all times, to believe?  Then, think about what your daughter wants, most of all.  Figure that out, and then tell her the truth, tell her exactly what you want her to believe. And talk with her, not at her.  Trust that even young girls can understand glimmers of “real” in your words.  And remember, she wants to learn, she wants to know things, she wants to understand how things work and she wants to please you... though that last part gets lost sometimes when she's swoony about a boy.

For me, someday I want to tell my baby girl that some boys have only one thing in mind, let's be honest, but that so many other boys out there are like budding versions of her Daddy. They want a friend first, someone they can talk to about anything and everything, someone to share secrets with and to laugh with unselfconsciously, someone who will understand tears, someone who is not afraid either to apologize or forgive. I want to tell her that many boys are wonderful, so if she finds someone who tries to pressure her into physical intimacy, she can feel secure in the fact that he may be just a wrong choice, no matter how appealing he seemed before.

And then I want her to give me the name of that boy so I can go teach him a lesson of a different sort.  ;)
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