Opinion and Oppression

Our home is like many American homes; it may be like most American homes, as Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. This morning we were sad and confused. My husband reminded me, in the midst of my hopelessness and anger, to be strong for the kids.

They woke in the middle of the night to find out the results, expecting to hear we have our first woman president. Half asleep, they all cried and asked “Why?” and I could not answer. I was grateful when they woke again this morning, that I, having not slept, had thought more about what to say to them, and that I didn’t have to break the news again; that part was done.

The next part will be more difficult and will take longer, requiring what seems now like superhuman strength and understanding. We have to parent our children in a country, our country, that has exalted ignorance and hate to its highest office. My husband and I have to parent two smart little girls and a wonderful little boy with special needs in a country that declared its hostility to all of them.

When people talk about coming together despite our “different opinions,” and “different values” in the context of this election, I want to remind them: Racism is not an opinion. Anti-semitism is not an opinion. Denying people rights based on whom they love or how they look or worship? Oppression, not opinions. Making fun of disabled people and calling women names on social media are not expressions of personal beliefs, but rather proof of character, or lack thereof.

I didn’t say a word to my kids about values in terms of our President-elect. During the election, we discussed political parties and that the parties have different values. Our President-elect has shown he values nothing over fame; he is a criminal, a danger to women and minorities, and the hero of a white supremacist shit show. We cannot compare our values to his.

My three children have known only Barack Obama as President. They know only a President with grace, wisdom, and compassion. They have watched their President cry with the American people, and learned he has cried privately with grieving families. They have seen their President speak boldly and nobly when so many were fighting him. They cheer when they see his face.

They cheer when they see Hillary Clinton’s face. They made posters for her that are still on our door. They wore buttons and tee shirts proudly stating they were with her. They have seen me cry with pride and awe listening to Mrs. Clinton speak about her commitment to the welfare of women and children.

Both the President and Secretary Clinton spoke today with extraordinary composure and generosity, reminding us of why we need leaders like themselves.

My children will never learn from us to disrespect the office of President and Commander in Chief. But they will never hear from me that they owe respect to any person who governs with and promotes hate, fear, guns, and exclusion. They have heard many stories about our President-elect; they know what he has done and threatened to do. I am satisfied summarizing to my children, He has frightened many people. We must be extra good and kind now.

Clearly we are in an invigorated era of open discrimination and mockery, where the racist can hide behind “an opinion,” and the homophobe and misogynist behind, “religious beliefs.” One of our challenges is standing up not only to threats and bullying and persecution, but also to the cowardly acceptance of these as nothing more than contrary views. We cannot accept acts of inhumanity as part of our American way.

My mother told me last night, as I sobbed into the phone, to concentrate for now on my children and my family. Tonight our neighbor’s cat spent some time with us; it was a nice and needed distraction for me. When he went back with my friend, my younger daughter put together a care package of balls of yarn and left it outside our neighbor’s door. “I want him to have a special gift,” she told me, smiling ear to ear with satisfaction.

Of the young people that voted, most voted for Hillary Clinton. I am relieved our future would seem to value acceptance and peace and our planet. The future is where our hope lies, where our children will thrive, where the lessons of this election will have been played out and learned; the future is bigger and brighter than this moment, and one day, it will also be female.

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Just Calm Down. Sometimes Don’t.

My husband made the mistake of telling me to calm down last week. After an hour of my asking the girls to help clean up, the younger one was lying on her back on the floor, and the older one sitting casually on the sofa. Breakfast was on the table and the rug, their beds were unmade, clothes were hanging out of drawers; they had to leave in two minutes. I let them know I was not pleased seeing everyone sitting around. I said something like that.

But I said it louder and with different words. Angrier words. When my husband, desperate to get the kids out of the apartment on time, said, “Calm down,” I lost it. (I’m not making a case for more screaming or rage. You know how I feel about that.) I heard “Calm down,” and it’s not okay to expect people be responsible for their mess, their stuff, their responsibilities in a family. Calm down because you’re asking too much. Calm down because you should think about everyone else’s feelings first. Calm down if you want people to listen to you.

All those are true, some of the time; asking for what we want is complicated. Sometimes asking runs into demanding; and demanding is desperate. When we are desperate, as parents or people, the line between reason and rage is hard to see.
“Talk to them,” my husband said. His experience of the world is that talking works. Talking gets a response. Talking validates. My experience is that although I may talk for an hour, no one does anything until I get angry. By no one here, I mean my three kids. That’s not always true, but it feels, some days, it’s more true than not.

Don’t do what I do because it’s right or healthy or that it works well. I am not sharing because I have a great idea. I’m sharing how frustrating “calm down” can be. I’m sharing because that line moves; it has been difficult to know in the moment on which side I stand.

Being heard is a struggle. We are told to be nice, first. But nice and calm doesn’t always get results. Women aren’t supposed to get riled up in public, or at work, or with their children, or in front of their children.

When we are out of line, it doesn’t go unnoticed. In my own experience, anger can be unreasonable and an overreaction. Sometimes, anger appears unreasonable in the moment because it is the anger of a ten thousand moments of staying calm.

Here is the trickiest part. What phrase do I repeat most often in my home? “Calm down.” Calm down, the neighbors don’t appreciate the noise. Calm down, we’ll find your book. Calm down, you don’t need to cry over this. Calm down because you’re too loud, too anxious, too emotional.

I thought about this and my own reaction.

“Don’t let anyone tell you to calm down when you’re trying to get what you want,” I said to my girls standing in the doorway, about to leave for school. “‘Calm down’ is not valid when you are upset over something you need and no one is listening.”

I was angry on top of angry for being told to calm down in front of my daughters; so I doled out wisdom to them while passively-aggressively jabbing my husband. Again, don’t do as I do.

My husband apologized. Of course he did; he meant nothing by it.

So why did I feel diminished?

Many of us question our thoughts, our purpose, ourselves daily. I go through the day trying to do the right thing. And when I trip up, when I snap at a customer service rep on the phone, when I am late to pick up my kids, when I say no more than yes, I don’t let it go. I am in a race to make up for mistakes past, present, and future. Calm down is proof I’m not doing it right.

Calm down begins an argument you can’t win.  Calm down invites defensiveness that requires a more emphatic, more insistent This is not an overreaction. It is maddening.

I wonder if my kids experience Calm down the way I do. Although I suspect they don’t actually listen to me, I am guessing they absorb the implied criticism of Calm down.

It’s no wonder they they cry harder, they fight with more intensity and stamp their feet when I say it. They are pleading: Just listen to me, and in the absence of alternatives, the only way to make a point is to say it louder. I know that frustration. It is human nature to push back, to be acknowledged. It is human to need encouragement more than criticism.

I will not eliminate this phrase from my parenting tools. I will overreact when I’m tired and worried and feel defeated. When I am on the verge, and when the kids are climbing the walls or hysterical about missing leggings or a broken Iron Man arm, I will try perspective checks. I’ll remind them their words are important, but don’t always need to be shouted. I’ll ask myself on which side of the line I need to be to be heard. And when my children have something important to say, I hope they’ll know to scream in the face of Calm down.

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How to Make Coffee (and Better Choices)

Become addicted to The Tunnel on PBS (optional: pay handsomely per episode because you erased all the episodes you recorded). Start watching as soon as your husband* goes to bed, tell yourself you won’t be tired, and make sure you get little sleep the night before the second day of school. (*May substitute wife, partner, roommate, or child; but do not alter the ridiculous number of hours you stay up watching.)

Ignore first alarm. Ignore second alarm. Wake up with five-second window in which you must decide to shower or not.

Decide it’s going to be a “workout clothes” day. Wonder if you’ll work out.

Curse coffee maker for not turning on. Curse yourself for leaving a glowing review on Amazon for this coffee maker. Wonder if you can go back and edit that.

Yell, “WHY WON’T THIS THING TURN ON?”

Glare at child when she suggests it’s not plugged in.

Check plug.

Repeat yell.

Realize lid is not closed. Feel satisfied with problem solving skills.

To save time, decide to use ground coffee instead of beans.

Yell to other child to help you find ground coffee in the pantry you re-organized yesterday.

Check the shelf she points to. Feel satisfied your child also has problem solving skills.

Measure coffee. Fill reservoir. Find correct setting. Hit “Start.”

Wait ten minutes, pour coffee and realize you never put the filter back.

Dump the two cups of grounds you have just poured.

Clean all parts of coffee maker, burning yourself because, of course, everything is still hot.

Begin again with measured coffee grounds.

Wait ten minutes, pour coffee and realize you put the coffee in the wrong basket.

Find coffee maker manual.

Clean all parts of coffee maker, burning yourself because, of course, everything is still hot.

Begin again with measured coffee grounds.

Using sarcasm, ask children if they really need to be in the kitchen right now.

Wait ten minutes, realize you never poured the water from the carafe into the reservoir.

Yell at children that you’re going to be late for school.

Pour water into reservoir and decide it’s ok and you can bring coffee with you.

Wait ten minutes and realize you don’t have a portable coffee mug.

Google, “Is tea healthier than coffee?”

Bookmark an article to share on Facebook later while feeling smug about life choices.

Again, feel good about problem solving skills.

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At the End of the Day, It’s All the Same

Today was a total shit show an interesting day. My son completely lost it was in quite a mood after he dropped a donut on the floor of a coffee shop. He ran out and away from me, and I couldn’t find him for a good minute clearly communicated his feelings by asserting his independence. It was 90 degrees out and I was sweating from fear and the heat as I ran after him a really nice day to be active outdoors together. When I finally found him saw his cute little face around the corner, I screamed curse words loud enough for New Jersey to hear “Hallelujah!” I called my husband at work to curse at him too get his take on the situation.

Later, when I didn’t know where two of my kids were all was quiet, and while railing against first grade math helping with homework, I thought, Holy shit, we may survive the afternoon This is really nice.

While the kids were watching t.v. solving word puzzles while after doing homework, I realized that I had fallen asleep on the sofa for an hour lost track of time. I hadn’t even ordered made dinner. I quickly logged onto Seamless scoured the fridge for something to throw together. As usual In the absence of anything healthy, I ordered burritos.

As I was getting up from the table more times than I would think physically possible to retrieve things from the kitchen they could get themselves serving my family, I almost had a panic attack when I noticed I had ordered my daughter the wrong meal. She began wailing at a pitch to wake the dead used words to express herself boldly. She continued for thirty minutes; I was fed up impressed with her attitude enthusiasm. I said, “If this doesn’t stop, I will leave and not come back!” “Maybe you need some alone time.”

By bedtime, I had just freaking had it with everything we were all tired from the day. I turned the lights out not caring if after everyone brushed teeth.

I lay in the darkness, moving from one child’s bed to another because they insist they can’t be alone we value extended co-sleeping. I lay in the darkness, feeling guilty, like a failure, like the worst mother, anxious about everything to do after they fall asleep and the next day introspective about all the emotions of motherhood. I lay in the darkness of their room, grateful that tomorrow will be another day.

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Unwelcome Journey

Mid-morning I began to experience the beginning of a panic attack at my computer. A second cup of coffee may have been the cause, or the aftermath of a week with three kids at an amusement park. Or nothing at all. The symptoms crept up and stayed. My heart began to pound, my throat started to close so that it was impossible to swallow even water. I moved my hands around, turned the light off and on, proving I was living and still in this room, willing myself to stay. I tried to work, but intrusive and obsessive thoughts circled viciously; I worried I would pass out if I took a shower.

Panic attacks are not new to me, yet I still worried I was dying. As I write this, I am still worried. Eventually, reluctantly I had to leave my apartment to get supplies for my daughter’s homework assignment. The steady rain added to my growing sense of doom. I breathed my way to the store. In through the nose, out through the mouth. 

Wandering the aisles of Walgreens, I felt lost; I could find nothing I needed, felt like I’d never been there before, felt alien and ineffective, unable to locate the hairspray I had bought only recently. I worried again I would pass out. I paid without making eye contact. Reach for wallet, get card, swipe card. Don’t look at me. I neglected most of what I had gone there for, but I managed to leave with poster board, the most important item. Walking out, I didn’t bother to open my umbrella; it felt too scary and too much. Panic attacks render one irrational while they last. Simple, almost involuntary tasks are impossible.

In the rain, I managed back to wait for my son’s bus. My pocketbook lately stocks my anti-anxiety medication. I slipped one under my tongue for the second time today, not caring passersby would witness this.

The medication helps with symptoms. But the relief is slow and often brings open weeping with it. I don’t know why that is; perhaps it is the anticipation of relief, perhaps the mysterious experience and departure of such terror can only leave us humbled.

To describe acute panic is also impossible. But as I tried to do so this afternoon, I thought–too late–that is is not unlike an asthma attack. It is a crisis, and not a time to talk things through. Asthma attacks require medication and can be deadly; panic attacks, however, feel deadly but will often subside on their own, after a time, even without medication.

Having had both, I can say that with both, the experience of losing control over the body and mind suddenly and drastically brings one outside of normal thoughts, outside of whatever tethers us to the everyday going and getting and shuffling around the apartment looking for a book or keys. At lunch with a friend once, a panic attack came on; I had the sensation I was going to fall over the side of my chair, so I fiddled with the silverware in front of me to hold on.

As much as panic attacks only give the illusion of being disconnected from this world–I have said “I don’t feel like I’m here” during more than one–they leave one with the exhaustion and disorientation of having taken a long uncomfortable journey. They leave you feeling hungover with dread, grateful to have returned, and planted in the knowledge you will be leaving again, and you won’t know when.

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What Was Really Done This Break

Tomorrow is back to school after a long holiday break. And about one hour before bedtime tonight, one of the girls found her homework, meant to have been easily done one page a day over the break. I, of course, hadn’t opened anyone’s backpack since they got home two weeks ago. (Their lunches may still be rotting, but that’s another story.)

She did as much as she could of her homework, and wrote, “Forgot” on the pages she didn’t get to finish; I laughed when I saw that, but it is indeed, accurate. I was annoyed with myself for not making sure the kids were doing whatever work they were assigned all along their break–how many times had I screamed about too much television anyway? Why hadn’t I just been a little more organized from day one–or three or four or seven? Why can’t they just be more organized? Why do I have to remind everyone of everything all the time; don’t I get a break?

And then I thought about all the “projects” they worked on–the bizarre, rambling, sweet stories and songs and plays they authored; the pictures that were drawn; the shows performed in the living room and at grandma and poppy’s house–and I realized their time was spent sometimes being very loud and messy, but often using imagination and skill. Certainly, there were too many Good Luck Charlie episodes playing on weekends (I had a dream I was in an episode recently if that tells you how many I have seen), and there are many new toys now played with and ignored; but balanced with those have been original and strange stories about confused princesses and sinister foxes and superheroes tapped out on the computer or written in magic marker with accompanying drawings.

As well, the girls started reading new series of books. I know because they like to tell me when they finish each chapter, sometimes when they finish a single page.

Anyway, I have to brave the lunch boxes. But here is an original recent short story by the six-year-old girl. (I fixed up her grammar a bit. Her spelling was actually fine.)

Once upon a time it was a sunny day and everyone went outside. But only one person did not. He was home watching T.V. and eating a sandwich. But then it got dark and he went to his room and cried. And he did not get to go outside the other days either but then it was snowing, so he did not get to go outside when it was snowing. So he cried until January. Then he went to his papa’s house. It was too hot to go outside, so he cried even more but he got over it in April. 

 

 

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SpongeBath Is Perfect for Germaphobes in the Kitchen

I have, for many years, been more than a bit of a germaphobe. Before I had children, I was actually more anxious than I am now. Having children forces one to accept that sometimes dog pee will end up on little shoes, and those little shoes will end up padding around the apartment. As well, warnings of “DON’T PUT THAT IN YOUR MOUTH! IT’S FILTHY,” only increase the likelihood of found objects being put into mouths.

So out of necessity, I’m more relaxed now.

At home, I try, however, to reduce germ-y disgustingness wherever I can: canisters of wipes are out in both bathrooms and are used and emptied constantly (I know because I am pretty sure I am the only one using said wipes); floors are washed several times a week at least; kitchen counters are wiped down after every use (again, me and me); and dishes are washed and the sink cleaned several times a day (guess how I know this).

To clean counters and the kitchen sink, I have always relied on paper towels. Sponges become gross collectors of germs, and I never understood how to correctly “clean” them. I buy paper towels in bulk, and we go through them with impressive speed (impressive being the rate at which we are creating waste).

Recently I was sent SpongeBath to try and to review. I rarely review products; when I do, it is because the product fits into our lifestyle. A germ blasting sponge attacker I knew was up my alley. (That is a figure of speech: alleys are of course notoriously dirty.)

SpongeBath sanitizes the sponge continuously, so that you are never spreading germs on a clean counter. The product was developed by Tod Maitland and Matthew Flannery and is represented by New York City internist, Dr. Keri Peterson (who is also a friend of mine). I was quick to set up SpongeBath next to the sink; the set up took about five minutes and has eight steps to get started–to get started cleaning that is.

With honesty, I have to tell you that it took some getting used to–this grabbing a sponge to clean things. Remember it’s clean, I had to repeat to myself at first. But it’s quite easy to use the countertop system, and the cleaning cartridge can be replaced every month to ensure optimal cleansing.

Now there are fewer paper towels going into the garbage, and I’m confident surfaces are still getting clean (again and again and again).

Although I was sent the first generation of the product (currently sold at Bed Bath & Beyond), SpongeBath is in its Next Generation of production and will have more improvements to design and efficiency when launched; visit the Kickstarter campaign to learn more about SpongeBath Next Generation.

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Disclosure: I received the product and compensation in exchange for a review. All opinions are, as always, my own.

 

 

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