Monday, July 25, 2011

Do Kids NEED Two In-Home Parents?

The other day, I was checkin’ the Tweets, gettin’ all social-media-esque and stuff, when I came upon a Tweet that brought me up short. For my in-the-flesh friends, I can already hear your comments: “Brought you up short? That wouldn’t be too difficult!” Yeah, yeah, har har. Ooh, I like that sound. Har har! Aargh! (Sarsgaard!!!).

The Tweet that halted me stated: “One of the blessings for children with two parents is learning that life has more than one voice. “

This seems innocuous enough, right? Fair statement, sweet reflection. Still… having been the child of a single mother (my father was very involved in my life, but he lived 1,000 miles away) and having known many kids who were brought up both well and broad-minded by single parents, this statement did give me pause.  I figured I should read the full article to which the Tweet linked. I don’t want to “out” the Tweep or organization in question, because I think they meant well, so I’ll note the text here rather than link to it:

“My husband thinks I’m too protective of our six-year-old twins and I think he’s not careful enough. How can I convince him to be more attentive?
“One of the blessings for children with two parents is learning that life has more than one voice. Fathers and mothers nurture, discipline, love and struggle with their children quite differently. My own research has shown that dads tend to encourage more exploratory behavior, while moms play it closer to home. These normal tendencies, though not absolute, are intriguing to children. So enjoy the differences – don’t regret them.”

I understand what they are trying to convey – in the Tweet and in the brief article itself. While way over-generalized, there are key elements of truth in this man’s answer. However, in its brevity, I find the statement to lean toward ignorant for a few reasons. To me, it:

·  Disregards/dishonors single parents (whether single due to individual adoption, divorce or death of a parent)
·  Disregards the impact/influence of other adults that parents include in their children's lives
·  Disregards the benefits of parents who themselves actively help their children see different points of view
·  Disregards single-sex-parent households with its "dads tend to do this" and "moms tend to do that" commentary

Again, I'm not saying the entire concept is wrong, but I THINK it's conveyed too narrowly.
My mom and me at my wedding.

So anyway, as I mentioned, I was raised in a “non-traditional” though unfortunately very currently traditional family, and I was self-aware enough while reading the Tweet and article to know that I may be reacting to this with a bit too much sensitivity. Therefore, I reached out to my friends for their insights. Below are four reactions from moms of widely varying age ranges and family situations. I’ll let their eloquent responses do the talking. (Yes, I got their permission to use their statements and names.)

“That response was BS and not helpful at all to the question.  They just didn’t want to tackle what was appropriately guided behavior for the 6 yr olds (and I find myself asking that question a lot for my 4 yr old who thinks he’s almost ready to move out and get a job).

"Most single parents (and even most 2-parent households) are not an island.  Our children experience a variety of approaches to life, boundaries and more importantly problem-solving skills, when they are outside of our care.  That may include family, babysitters, daycare, schools or just hanging out with friends.  I noticed the last time I went somewhere with a friend and her 2 children that we have similar but slightly different approaches and language that we use to keep an eye on our kids and get them to behave appropriately.  I learn something from nearly every parent I encounter and our kids are probably keeping notes too.  I don’t think the idea that 2-parent households are the only (or even primary) way that children learn the world has more than one voice."

“So, the woman who posed the question needs to read "Fifty Dangerous Things (you must let your kids do)".

“Now, on to [the organization’s] response. It is narrow-minded to think that children learn "more than one voice" from any number of parents in the home - children learn voices from everyone if, and only if, you teach them to pay attention. I am a single mom and my daughter has certainly learned that there is more than one voice to be heard - hers is first, mine, her dad's, her teachers, her friends, her friends' parents, her elders, her minister, her neighbors - the voices of the entire village that help bring her up in this narrow-minded, oft one-sided world. But note, hers is first on my list. Why? Because she must learn now that hearing what others say is good but making her own "right" decisions is what is best for her.”

“I think in the context of the question that was asked, this answer is okay-ish.  (But sometimes I think two parents can do more harm than good if they can't find a common ground.)

“But I don't think the response 'dishonors' single parents. It does makes the point that 'more than one voice' is important for kids to hear.  I think single parents need to figure out how to get 'more than one voice' in their kids' lives.  Single parents can get real overprotective of their kids, since they're the ones who have sole responsibility!

“My friend, P, was a single mother who bemoaned not having a 'man's influence' in her kid's life.  But the bottom line is that not only could she have arranged that -- she didn't want to.  She didn't want others to have much influence at all in her kid's life, and the kid suffered (I think to this day) for not having the 'other voice' all the years.”

“You might want to Google Al Franken and Focus on the Family.  He's recently made comments rebuking their opinions on same-sex marriages by going through the research that they defend.  He talks about the health, stability of kids, etc.  When I saw the [organization’s] quote (and I haven't read the article, so perhaps there is more in there), I didn't necessarily think that they were excluding same-sex parents, but it did promote the same reaction as you - far too narrow, and likely offensive to some of [the organization’s] parents. Just something to check out. I heart Al Franken.

So there you have it, from one of the best panels I could have hoped for. But there are just 5 of us commenting here, and all of us women. What’s your reaction?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Punching a Third Grader

Did you ever do something sort of dumb or even downright mean to another person, either on purpose or by accident? No. Right? Not you. You, like I, have never done anything that negatively impacted another individual. Like I have, you have lived a life of perfect fabulousness regarding the direct influence of your actions on others. But what if you had not?  Just for a moment, imagine that perhaps you had done something that actually hurt another individual, either physically or emotionally. Then imagine, outrageous as it seems, that at the time that you committed this act – either mildly agitating or downright grievous – you failed to apologize. Time has gone by, and now stepping up to say the most difficult three words in the English language – “I am sorry” – seems pointless.

Have you experienced anything like that in real life? You have??? Well, do I have news for you!  Wait for it… wait for it… there is no statute of limitations for “I am sorry.” Seriously! I totally looked it up! Okay, I didn’t really, but I happen to know this is true from direct experience. Even better, I didn’t get this experience being the do-badder, the person whose conscience might feel a smidge soothed by getting that ginormous apology off my chest. Oh no! I can tell you this from the side of she-who-was-wronged. Yea verily. Read on.
When I was in third grade, back during the middle ages before the advent of Duran Duran and double flipped-up Izod collars, my mother and I moved to a new town. As I settled into the elementary school in said new town, apparently I ticked off a few of the local kids, particularly one fellow third grader to whom I will only refer as J.
As it happens, J was a bit of an overachiever, as was I. Unfortunately for us both, and quite out of both of our control, the school district I’d attended before moving to this town was a little more advanced when it came to elementary Reading curriculum. I started my new school having completed the Reading curriculum for pretty much the entire first half of the school year at my new school. (You may be getting a hint of why I believe in a nationwide, standardized elementary school curriculum… but that’s not today’s topic.)
So anyway, I thought it was pretty cool being in my own Reading group at the ripe old age of 7. (Hint to Third Grade Teachers: Do not try this in your classrooms. Bad idea.) As any 7-year-old might do, I wanted to talk about this. Wonder about it. Be in open awe of it. In other words, I was a bit bragadocious.
J, who himself was one of the “smart kids” and proud of it, surprisingly did not find my boasting appealing. So one day, as we lined up to head back to class after recess, J hauled off and punched me square in the stomach. Knocked the breath clean out of me. I remember walking back inside, doubled over, holding my stomach and trying to remember how my lungs worked and wondering what the f*** had just happened!!
Remember, I’m talking about young kids here. Little 8-year-old J and little 7-year-old me. BUT it gets better than that, because little 8-year-old J was wearing… wait for it… a BOY SCOUT uniform. Yep. I wonder where in the Boy Scout oath it calls for putting snotty girls in their place with a swift right upper cut to the diaphragm. That must be an optional line.
But it gets better! Oh yes. You see, because J was so wonderful and well-behaved most of the time, no one believed me that J was the criminal mastermind behind this heinous act. Not the teacher. Not the principal. In fact, they tried to get me to pin it on another boy, a slightly less unrumpled figure named Chris! Poor Chris. But I don’t crumble that easily under pressure. I stood my ground.
For years afterward, J refused to admit that he had hit me. He absolutely would not cop to his actions.
Me, about a year before all of this happened.
I don't know what's more tragic... the gut-punch, this hairstyle or the shirt-tucked-into-shorts gorgeousness.

UNTIL… several years later, J and I were both at a pretty large post-high-school-graduation party. He didn’t know I would be there; I didn’t know he would be there. We lived about two houses apart and hung out on occasion, but we didn’t really qualify as “friends” (a pity really, because in all seriousness he’s a great guy). By the time we encountered one another at this party, J was a smidge tipsy. Out of nowhere he looked me squarely in the eye and said, “You know that thing that happened back in third grade? That was totally me, and I just want to say that I’m sorry.”
I would not have been more shocked if he’d said, “You know how my hair looks naturally brown? Well, it’s actually a flamboyant neon orange that I have to color nightly by dousing it in carburetor fluid.” But you know what? J’s admission and apology made my night. It made my summer, really. I didn’t feel gloaty or proud to have been proven right. I just felt a tremendous sense of relief and gratitude. All over an apology for a punch in the gut that had happened 10 years earlier.
Now, my gratitude and happy feeliness may have been a bit dampened by the fact that as J imbibed greater quantities of alcohol, he felt compelled to return to my side often to repeat and reinforce this apology. Over the course of several hours. I say “may have” because his initial apology had me so giddy that I couldn’t help but be charmed by his continued protestations of “I’m serious. It was me, and I’m sorry. No  really. I did it. I did. I hit you back then. And I’m really sorry.”
To this day, I don’t know if J finally ‘fessed up and apologized that evening because it was the end of our school days and time to move on to our adult lives or if the guilt (or just the silly lie) had finally gotten to him one too many times… or if perhaps this was the first time we’d been at a party simultaneously where liquid courage was provided.  No matter what, I’m so happy it happened. It still brings a smile to my face, many epochs hence.
So anyway, while you and I know that you would never do something moronic or cruel to another individual – either by accident or by direct intent – should that unlikely event happen at some point, and should you be afraid to apologize immediately (or just not have the opportunity), make sure you apologize at some point. Don’t let time go by just because you think it won’t matter anymore. It will.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Lovers, The Dreamers... and Me

I was all geared up to write a post about something funny that my best friend texted to me today, but this whole situation about that young boy in New York, Leiby Kletzky, has me in knots. I can’t stop thinking about him and his parents and his community. Between this child and Caylee Anthony and all the other kids we hear about – or don’t hear about – in the news… if you allow it to, it can really eat you up inside.

So today we’re going to focus on something positive and light, to fight off the grief and focus on hope. Today is about the little ones. Our little ones. Yours and mine. Whether you’re a parent or a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, a cousin or a friend of a very young member of our species (or two, or three), let’s chat about our tiny people. Even if your child is all grown up or is gone-too-soon, I want to hear about him or her. What is your keenest memory or favorite ritual or funniest story? What would you share with the world about your child, if you could?

I’ll start. My favorite ritual with my kids is singing to them at bedtime. Just before my little Bear was born, I developed an urge – from where, I know not – to relearn “Rainbow Connection.” Do you remember that song? Kermit the Frog sang it in The Muppet Movie. I adored that song when I was little, and in recent years it’s resonated more and more for me. So from the first day I brought my son home from the hospital until well into his twos, I sang him “Rainbow Connection” every night at bedtime. Looking back, if I had to choose a Kermit song, "Rainbow Connection" was probably a better choice than “It’s Not Easy Being Green.”

When Ballerina was born 17 months later, I decided to stick with the theme of rainbows and to sing her “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” It stuck for a while, but once the kids were old enough to communicate, it became clear that they both really loved “Rainbow Connection” best.

About a year ago, the bedtime singing kind of faded away, but a few months ago, out of nowhere, both kids started asking for “Rainbow Connection” again just about every night. So it’s our ritual once more. I even recently posted a video of myself on YouTube singing that song so that my husband could play it for our kids at bedtime when I went on a business trip across the country. For. Realz. (Don’t bother looking for it. It’s not searchable. Besides, YouTube is probably going to send the copyright police after me for singing it and posting it online. That is if the Defenders of Quality Singing don't get me first.)

I admit that tonight, while I sang to my no-longer-babies, I felt a pang, an ache, for Leiby Kletzky’s parents, knowing they won’t be able to have their bedtime rituals with him any longer. They won’t have the chance to hug him tight and give him a good night kiss. Not tonight. Not tomorrow night, either. So I hugged my two just a bit longer and gave them extra kisses, and I’ll try to remember to do those “extras” often. Oh, and I admit that maybe I sang “Rainbow Connection” with a bit too much gusto tonight… but what is it they say? Sing like there’s nobody listening?

I’ll leave you with the lyrics to “Rainbow Connection” (written by Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher), but before I do, remember to go to Comments below and share something about your special little ones!

Rainbow Connection

Why are there so many songs about rainbows
And what's on the other side
Rainbows are visions, but only illusions
And rainbows have nothing to hide
So we've been told and some chose to believe it
I know they're wrong, wait and see

Someday we'll find it
The Rainbow Connection
The lovers, the dreamers and me

Who said that every wish would be heard and answered
When wished on the morning star
Somebody thought of that, and someone believed it
Look what it's done so far
What's so amazing that keeps us star gazing
And what do we think we might see

Someday we'll find it
That Rainbow Connection
The lovers, the dreamers and me

All of us under its spell
We know that it’s probably magic

Have you been half asleep, and have you heard voices
I've heard them calling my name
Is it the sweet sound that calls the young sailors
The voice might be one and the same
I've heard it too many times to ignore it
It’s something that I'm s’posed to be

Someday we'll find it
The Rainbow Connection
The lovers, the dreamers and me

La da da dee da da dum
La da da da da dee da do

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

FOMO & The Social Media Mean Girls

My friend-slash-coworker and I were nattering on Facebook about social media, and she introduced me to a fabulous new wordcronym (word + acronym): FOMO. Have you heard of this term? I may be the last person in the English-speaking world to have learned about this, but it stands for Fear Of Missing Out. Isn’t that a fantastic term??

FOMO came up in conversation because we were discussing (lamenting? whining about?) the incessant barrage of new social media sites that are touted as “must knows” and “must participates” and “you’re a loser if you’re not on this one.” I may be calling myself out as a big losey-loser, but when Google+ was introduced, I kind of had a 3-year-old, shoulder slumpy, mouth-turny-downy, “aw, Mom do I HAVE TO learn this one, too??” moment. There, I said it.
"I have to learn ANOTHER social media site?? For realz??"

Look, I’m all about new technologies and communication tools that help us all stay in touch and re-establish social bonds and gain a country’s worth of sympathy when we have freaky airplane seatmates and show off photos of our dogs or kids or fancy pedicures. I get it. It is good. But this idea that we all have to be on every social site imaginable, continuously monitoring the state of each other’s nose hair and constantly making profound statements and observations to prove our excessive expertise… frankly, it’s laughable.

Yes, there are (virtual) piles of tools to help us share our fabulousness with the socialverse with a few easy clicks, but that doesn’t equate to being social or even really communicating. That’s referred to either as a piecemeal monologue or simply spouting. Do you know people who do this sort of thing in person? You do? And… how much do you enjoy hanging out with them? Just sayin’…

As for all of these sites being required participation, it’s just silliness. It’s becoming a competition, and a ludicrous one at that. It’s bordering on teenage clique-ish peer pressure. Think back to the time before the advent of social media. On what planet were any of us “expected” by all of our friends to purchase and read every single newspaper in the county and to simultaneously monitor every single TV station available? “Oh my gosh, did you notice that Janie still hasn’t subscribed to the latest newspaper, Smalltown’s Weekly Wag?? She gets the Bigville Daily Tribune and the Smalltown Daily Citizen and the Big-n-Small County News, so I can’t imagine what’s holding her up with this new paper. She’s so behind the times. At least she can work a remote like a fiend and run the full set of channels twenty times an hour.”

If you need further proof as to the lunacy behind all of this, think about people who already manage multiple pages on Facebook (personal page, company pages, client pages, etc.) and LinkedIn profiles and YouTube channels and accounts on Twitter – only four of the growing roster of social media Mean Girls enforced sites. And as of last week they now have to learn to work and keep straight yet another site we’re all expected to flock to. Seriously? I mean, just this past week, I’ve seen three tweets from people who manage multiple Twitter accounts apologizing for becoming confused and cross-pollinating their tweets, citing Twitter schizophrenia. Twitterphrenia Twitterphrenia’s not included in the latest version of the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM, but keep your eyes open for the next edition.

Think we'll select YOU for one of our Circles? Do you even know what a Circle is?
Either way, we can probably bet we’ll see these poor, over-social-media’d Friends and Connections and Tweeps appear on Google+ very soon as well. It’s that darn FOMO that keeps rearing its ugly head. FOMO and peer pressure and fear of the social media Mean Girls. Are you afraid?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Why Must X = A?

I’m going to apologize ahead of time that this post may be a little rambly and brief, but it’s late, I just watched a really bizarre movie and I’m brownie-drunk (it’s possible, believe me). Still, I’ve had this thought running around in my head all day, and I have an irresistable need to share it with you. You’re like my collective therapist, only I don’t pay you. Sorry. I’m cheap like that.
The thing is, I have several friends who are in various states of de-marriage-ation. That’s just the technical term, of course. The common term is divorce. Oh, you’ve heard of it? Yes, sadly common. For those few of you who have followed my rants for a while, you’re aware that I am divorced. So this is somewhat familiar territory for me.
So that being said, here is my question: Why is it that when people get divorced, so many feel compelled to become enemies? In other words, why must Ex = A(nimosity)? Seriously, people, what is that all about?
Of my friends who have gone through divorces within the past five years, some have been cheated on, while others have been the unfaithful ones. Some ended long marriages where the connection just wasn’t there any longer, and others ended brief, passionate-but-unsustainable marriages. In some cases kids were involved – from very young children to adults with their own families. Some divorces were one-sided and others were mutual. But no matter the scenario, no matter the guilt or innocence of the individual, about 95% of them have one thing in common: extreme bitterness and vitriol.
Now, if you don’t have kids (of any age… adults are still kids where their parents are concerned), be as angry and snitty as you want. Have at it. Snipe and wine and flail and entirely destroy your dignity for all anyone cares. But when kids are in the mix, honestly, unless abuse of some kind was going on, I just don’t get allowing or even encouraging the situation to degenerate so horribly! Why do people do this?
And I’m not even talking about the awfulness where people use their kids as weapons against each other. Like talking negatively about your ex in front of the kids. Or fighting for custody when you didn’t even really help co-parent when you were married. Or sending a kitten “home” with your kid to the other parent’s house… the parent who is allergic to cats.
No, I’m just talking about maintaining a basic level of civility and respect, even if you can’t feel any vague level of friendship toward your ex. Even if you look at your ex and think, “I know I dug you enough at some point to say I DO and even to bear your child, but for the life of me I can’t fathom what I was thinking. I must have been on drugs.”
Not possible, you say? You wager there’s too much pain in divorce, particularly when you throw kids into the mix? Okay, I take your bet and raise you three sets of parents. What do I mean? Well… my Mom and Dad divorced when I was 2 years old. By the time I was 8, I had a Stepdad and a Stepmom as well. And you know what? All four of these parental types get along. And I don’t mean that they tolerate each other’s presence. I mean that they check in on each other. I mean that they really enjoy spending time together. I mean that at both of my weddings, my Mom and Stepmom spent time chatting like long-time girlfriends while my Dad and Stepdad went off to smoke cigars. It seriously freaks out my friends whose divorced parents can’t stand to be in the same building as one another.
My Dad, me, my Stepdad and my Mom
My husband, my Stepmom and one of my 4 (yes 4) sisters.
But that’s only two sets of parents. The third set is my in-laws. They divorced a couple of years ago after a very long marriage. It doesn’t matter for the sake of this ramble why. What matters is that they remain very close. My Father-in-law visits my Mother-in-law often (they live in different states now). They look after each other, even though they are no longer bound to each other by law.
As for me, my Ex and I spent some time not talking after we split up, but we never descended into cruelty during that raw new period during and right after the divorce.  These days we’re Facebook friends. Yes, like, OMG, I know how totally juvenile that sounds, but we live on opposite coasts so IMHO being regular coffee buddies would be a bit challenging. SMH. Are you LOL'ing? Me neither. The point is that we check in on each other here and there to make sure all is well. We can still be not only civil but caring. It’s possible, people. Ex can = F(riend).
So anyway, I guess I’m just saying that I wish more people could realize that divorces don’t have to include spite and fury or trying anything to win or to maim the other person. I mean, it’s a tough situation that’s still going to hurt like hell even if you get the house and the dog and the bank account and custody. Your heart’s still going to feel broken. And if you did bad stuff that led to the divorce, you’re still going to have to figure out how to look yourself in the eye while you’re brushing your teeth.

Am I crazy? Should I petition to rename myself Pollyanna? It doesn’t matter, I guess. I’m going to go have some more brownies and milk, then it's off to bed. Have a fab weekend! Thanks for listening. Don't send me a bill.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Caylee Anthony – Why It Matters

If you are an adult alive and awake in the United States today, it’s almost impossible that you remain unaware at this point in the day of the verdict of the Casey Anthony trial. Even if you didn’t watch the verdict being read on live television, if you were anywhere within spitting distance of social media, you couldn’t possibly have missed the flurry of outrage that spread across the Interwebs when Ms. Anthony was found Not Guilty of any charges related to harming her daughter, Caylee.

Among the flurry and frenzy on social media sites were several comments expressing “enough already” or even “it’s not important, move along.” To be fair, some of the “enough already” comments had more to do with information overload experienced by those who live near the city where the trial happened and who were tired of every other news item being drowned out by this case. Fair enough and amen to that. But for those who claim that this case and this verdict weren’t important… to put it bluntly, I couldn’t disagree with you more.

Before I get into the main part of my post, I want to point out that the first two words of the title of the post aren’t “Casey Anthony” but “Caylee Anthony.” Casey Anthony, in my opinion, really doesn’t matter. Whether you think she killed her daughter or not, her actions have proven time and again that at the very least she is exceedingly narcissistic and more likely is a sociopath. She did nothing to announce to anyone that her daughter was missing in the first place and has done nothing at any point to help anyone locate her child or determine the cause of her daughter’s death. But Caylee Anthony… she matters. Not mattered, as in past tense, but matters. Still.

It’s often said that one of the oddities of human nature is that we feel more profoundly affected by tragedies when we relate to single individuals rather than to vast numbers. We have trouble wrapping our heads around large scale human catastrophes. Remember the tsunami of 2004? All told, that terrifying wave killed more than 230,000 people. That’s no typo – two hundred and thirty thousand. Think about that casualty figure for a moment. Try to get your brain to fathom what that means in terms of humanity and tragedy. It’s difficult, isn’t it? It’s just so… huge and overwhelming and unthinkable. Finding the right emotion for a disaster of that magnitude is tough. But then imagine one single mother on that day who clung to her small child as tightly as she could, desperate to save him, desperate to survive the torrent, until the waters finally tore him from her grasp. Imagine the agony of that one woman trying so frantically to save her young son, her beloved child, only to have the undeniable force of nature overpower her. Think about her loss and her unbearable grief, and then think about your reaction to her story. Bear in mind, I’m not speaking of a single situation but of thousands that happened that day, sadly. And yet, it’s easier to empathize with and sympathize for that single woman and to grasp the despair of that one mother’s plight than it is the full scope of the tsunami event.

As with the one lost child among the thousands who perished in the tsunami, Caylee’s death is both a singular tragedy and a representation of so many others. People around the country and around the world cared about her disappearance and her situation and her recovery and the trial. We cared and we hoped and we grieved, and tonight we mourn for what many of us feel was the loss of an opportunity for justice. We don’t care because we knew her personally. Of course not. And no, we don’t consciously think of her as a symbol. She was Caylee. She was a child. We grieve specifically for her loss.

But part of why we focus all this attention and emotion and grief and hope and anger on Caylee is that she is just one of so many abused and hurt (and worse) children in the world. She’s not a symbol, but she is “one of” nonetheless. She is one of so many children who, either at times or throughout their youth, are unwanted, discarded, disdained, mistreated, abused, simply tolerated or completely untolerated. There are thousands of children in our country and in the world who simply are children, who are physically unable to be self-sufficient, who didn’t ask to exist but who do nonetheless, who are completely reliant on others for care and feeding and housing, who yearn for and have an instinct to crave and work for love and affection. But let’s face it – in the most basic sense, children exist at the whim of the adults who are responsible for them. And there are adults out there who do not perform that responsibility appropriately (to put it mildly).

As with thinking about all of the tsunami victims, it is literally impossible – to the point of madness – to think about and feel “enough” sympathy for all of the abused children in the world or enough loathing for all of the neglectful or abusive or murderous parents. There are so many of us who want justice for every single mistreated child. We want to rail against abusers and wrap our arms around the tortured children and make the world a safer place for all those who can’t protect themselves. But as individuals, we feel that’s impossible. We feel impotent to make a dent in this grand breadth of awfulness. So instead, we collectively focus on one child, with every part of our heart and every ounce of our hope. We pray that she’s found safe, and when she isn’t found safe we pray that the awful excuse of a human being that did this horrible thing serves some sort of justice. Because if we can’t bring all of the abusers and murderers of children to justice, then maybe we can at least have justice this one time. And then, when we feel justice has not been served, we cry out collectively, because if justice can’t happen for this one child, how can we hope to save the thousands of children still out there being abused and mistreated? If we can’t save one, even posthumously, how can we hope to save the rest?

So this, my doubting and aggravated friends, is why this case and this trial and this verdict were so important to so many of us. We wanted to see a difference made. We wanted justice for the one so we could imagine justice for the many. We wanted to feel that some good could come from this tragedy, even if we couldn’t save the girl… even if the good that came from all of this was simply our own internal justification and fire and drive to get out there and do more to protect the meek and bring the bad guys in and make the world a better place and make a difference.

And rightly or wrongly, because of today’s verdict, right now it feels like a losing battle.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A First That Hurts

Last week marked my mother’s birthday as well as that of her best friend, Sharon. It also marked the first time that we had to celebrate Sharon’s birthday without her. If you’ve ever lost someone close to you, you know how these special “firsts” can take you by surprise, bringing you up short and almost halting time for a moment. Once you get your bearings again, the day seems to echo with an odd resonance.

Today’s post is my dedication to Sharon. I promise it’s not weighty or depressing, because that wouldn’t do justice to Sharon, who epitomized the exact opposite of depressing. If you’re looking for off-kilter or even a little funny, you may want to check out my last 2 posts before this about a really odd seatmate of mine on a flight to Phoenix or some surprisingSkymall offerings. However, I promise you that if you read on, there’s a good chance you’ll understand why I believe so strongly in the goodness of people.

My mom met Sharon during her freshman year in college. Not long after my parents divorced when I was 2 years old – and I’ll tell you, all of my parents and stepparents are good friends, so it’s possible, people – my mother and I moved close to Sharon and her family. As a single parent of a small child, my mom had to lean on her support system, so I got to spend a lot of time with Sharon. I count her as another mom, in many ways.

That's my mom on the left and Sharon on the right. Weren't they cute???
So what was she like? Let’s start with the surface stuff. Sharon was beautiful. Seriously. You know how some women are said to “light up a room” by just entering it? That described Sharon. She was blonde with huge eyes and an even bigger, omnipresent smile. Her smile…  it was infectious. And it emanated from within. Even when she discussed serious topics, her smile would only disappear for a brief time. It’s like she couldn’t contain the positive inside her.

Sharon loved to laugh with her friends and family and to focus on the joys in life. When talking with family and long-time friends, she got a kick out of retelling shared stories and incidents. For instance, she loved to remind me about how when I was very small I was inexplicably terrified of her first husband, Tom, a very kind, gentle man who happened to be very tall. One time, when I was maybe 4, we all – Sharon, Tom and their kids – were piling into Sharon’s car to go somewhere.  As we were getting situated, I did one of those slow movie glances to my left – staring briefly at the legs on the seat next to me and traveling up the body until I reached the face – and started screaming when I realized I’d ended up next to poor Tom. Poor, kind, gentle, very tall Tom. But in Sharon fashion, she simply laughed, said “Oh Megan,” and moved me to a different seat.

That’s the thing about Sharon. She rarely got outwardly angry. Don’t get me wrong, she was tough and strong and driven, and she kept us kids in line. But even if you did something to upset her, being with Sharon felt… safe. Sharon was love personified. I know that sounds hokey, but it’s a fact.  

Sharon and me, 1979.
I have so many memories of Sharon and her family. Going on vacation to the beach (Rehobeth? Bethany?). Spinning on the flat spinning thingy on the playground near their house in Virginia. My mom and stepfather getting married in a lovely ceremony in Sharon’s backyard in New Jersey. After the wedding, my new sister and I stayed at Sharon’s while our parents went on their honeymoon, and by the time they returned we had acquired a black kitten. I could go on and on. There’s a quote in my favorite movie, Field of Dreams, that describes how I’m feeling while writing this: “The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces.” Can't you just hear James Earl Jones' voice saying that line? Best. Movie. Ever.

But I digress... Sharon, she radiated. That positive spirit of hers was almost palpable and seemed to infuse her entire being with enviable energy. As my mother says, she never let moss grow under her feet, and she was always involved in something. Think you can’t have several successful careers in one life? Don’t tell Sharon. During the many iterations of her career, she was involved in sales, marketing, training, property management, and education. In Miami, while managing a high-level job at a prestigious college, she also established a very successful high school for at-risk students.  She even volunteered with the Civil Air Patrol, an organization her wonderful husband continues to support.

Sharon was ill for several years before she finally succumbed late last year, but she had the kind of spirit that made it almost impossible to tell she was sick. Even when she knew her time was going to be short, she always kept charging ahead. Her illness and the treatments for it kept her from working full-time, but Sharon still continued to make her mark. Among other things, she helped set up a law office for her daughter, managed benefit dinners for a homeless shelter, remained involved in Civil Air Patrol activities, as well as helped set up a trail system AND wrote a book about Quechee, VT, her final home town.

There were so many times during Sharon’s last year when the doctors were sure that this was it. We needed to prepare for the inevitable. And then Sharon would miraculously bounce back. When I say bounce back, I mean bounce back. I mean that yet again she would travel, visit friends, chatter away in her sweet, high-pitched voice that 100% mirrored her personality. There was one point late last summer that seemed more serious, and it was at that time that the thought popped into my head, “Wow. She may not see another Thanksgiving. How can she not experience another Thanksgiving?” I’m not sure why this particular thought kept spinning around my brain, but it knocked me off my feet. And then, a few days later, Sharon bounced back again.

We suspect, frankly that the Queechee book project – making sure it was completed and perfect – kept her alive and motivated in her final months. She was absolutely determined to finish that book! True to form, Sharon didn’t want to shirk her responsibilities, let anyone down or make anyone finish what she’d started. Let me tell you, Sharon finished that book. 100% complete, not rushed, not thrown together. Perfect. And she did it all with that incredible Sharon smile.

In among all that joy and positivity, Sharon did have one regret: that she didn’t go to the doctor earlier to find out what was wrong when she started feeling unwell and that she didn’t get a colonoscopy years earlier. (That’s one regret because it’s all tied together, you see.) In the end Sharon, was diagnosed with colon cancer. She fought her cancer for years, and she made those years count. There were highs and lows, but the fact remains that she truly lived her life before the diagnosis, and then she truly lived her life after as well.

So for those of you who know me and who get sick of my insane need to look at the positive, to find the silver lining even in the worst of scenarios, now you know where I learned it. Now you know why I can take in all those strange and sometimes happy and sometimes tragic topics I practically ingest – news and books and films and articles – and still remain convinced that people are innately good and that the world is pretty wonderful. It’s been taught to me over a lifetime by two amazing best friends – Sharon and, of course, my Mom (who is still here) – who shared so much in common… most importantly and amazingly, all things considered, a joyful outlook on life.

So happy birthday, Sharon. Thank you for all the gifts you gave to all of us… including the best one of all: time with you.
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