More Amazing Disoveries (A Desert Reunion Part 2)

Lightening up things for your weekend, today I am finishing up the story of my first visit to meet my birth family.

We left off at the end of day 1, the initial meeting. (if you missed it, you can read my first post here).The next morning my Mom and I had some free time to ourselves so we walked over to a local diner and ate breakfast. We shared more details of our individual days and deconstructed where she saw similarities and differences. Shortly after we got back, my Birth Grandmother, let's call her G and her husband, R, came with her 3 grandsons, and my cousins. They are the sons of my Birth Father's younger sister and they are all middle school and early high school age. Additionally, I also had the pleasure of meeting the boys' father who suffers from Huntington's disease, which necessitates the boys living with G and R. It was snowing back home, and almost 95 degrees where we were, so we decided to go swimming at the pool in the complex.

Since it was day two we were all feeling much more comfortable with each other and the conversation came free and easy. It got to know my cousins and had a great time playing ball in the pool with them and racing them from one side to the other. I also took time to talk to each of the adults individually and ask them similar questions about what my father was like when he was younger, about his time in the military, about his wife that passed away. As an ethnographer I find that talking to enough people about a common event, a more complete picture starts to emerge. We all tend to remember things slightly differently and with different focuses, and with all things there are always more sides to every story. So, talking to them about these things gave me a more complete impression of my background history and the type of family that I ultimately come from.

After swimming, we all toweled off and went back to the little vacation home my Mom and I were staying at and made barbecue and had a mini-party. We talked some more and then retired back inside where I played Pokémon with the boys and my Mom practically grilled G and R for as much information she could get, just in case we didn't have this opportunity again.

By the time they left I was exhausted, but probably happier and more at peace than I have ever been. It was amazing how quickly I clicked with everyone. There was a definite feeling of coming home. As an anthropologist I of course had to sit and analyze it from a nature vs. nurture point of view, trying to identify all the places that I was influence by my parents (adopted) and where I was influenced by my genetics.

Our last half day, G and R came to hang out with us before taking us to the airport. By this time my head was so full of information it was swimming and I had to break out a notebook so that I could take notes. It was at breakfast  I made some of the most amazing discoveries of the weekend. I finally remembered to ask who in the family had curly hair since everyone in my family and The Husband's family all have straight hair with the sole exception of my middle child who looks like the second coming of Shirley Temple, or the real-life re-creation of Fancy Nancy. Turns out, G, or Raindrop's great grandmother, straightened her hair so much she lost some of her curl, but when she was little her hair was SUPER curly. Hooray for recessive genes. Excited I asked if she had any pictures I could take back to show my little Raindrop. Laughing she said, "Oh no, I hated my hair so much growing up that one day while my mom was out I snuck in and burned all my school pictures and I would never let anyone take any pictures of me." I made a mental note not to share that particular detail with my daughter since we have worked so hard to get her to love her hair.

The ultimate revelation for me was when we started talking about how sick I was with each of my pregnancies and she told me that was the reason she only had two children was that she was terribly sick too. (Wow, that would have been awfully nice to know while I was going through it!!) Then she told me that after she had her two children she was unable to stomach any type of scent or perfume except Shalimar. I laughed and said that was so funny because I had the same thing happen to me, only I can only stomach the Warm Vanilla Sugar from Bed Bath and Beyond. This became one of my favorite moments from the weekend because she stared at me for a full 5 seconds before laughing and asking me if I knew what scent Shalimar was? Apparently it is vanilla based. WOAH!!!! How weird was that?!? Turns out that while I am quite literally the spitting image of my Birth Mother (thanks to pictures my Birth Father's family had and the joys of social media stalking), my personality is chipped very clearly off the block of my Birth Grandmother. We are both spitfire and gumption, we are both left-handed (as far as I know the only one's in the family) and we both suffer from save-the-world-itis. Meeting her was understand myself so much better.

Some other things I learned that weekend; chemical sensitivity runs in the family, as do food allergies. We also all have a tendency to perform in the higher spectrum academically and all suffer from the same too-many-irons-in-the-fire problems. I also learned that becoming inflamed over politics, talking people's ears off and a general level of intensity that can be a bit much for your average person is not just a me thing, it is a family thing.

In one short visit I learned more about myself than in the previous 30+ years of living. Even my Mom made the comment on the plane home that she understood me so much more after seeing me with my birth family. It felt effortless to fit in and I felt totally comfortable around them. I couldn't wait to visit again.

We Are All Equal....Until We're Not

This blog primarily focuses on the work/family balance.

As in all things, I feel pulled to put things into a cultural or anthropological perspective, because I believe that many issues that we focus on often go beyond what we immediately see. One example, to illustrate, is the failure of condom promotion as the main staple of HIV prevention in Brazil in the early 1990s. Scholars found that in fact, the flaw wasn't in the lack of education, or the solution in more funding and education. The flaw was in not addressing the cultural norms and expectations between gender relations and cultural rules surrounding sexual interchanges. The problem extended all the way down to the way gender was perceived in that area, focusing on the acts one performs in a sexual interchange as being more important than one's physical gender*

I would like to bring this same level of analysis to the current phenomenon that has become known as "Gamergate." To get a more expanded explanation of what this phenomenon is, and how far it has spread, you can read these articles: Facts about Gamergate or Fixing Gamergate. But, the gist is that  basically there are a lot of seriously pissed off adolescent males who are threatening female gamers, game creators and reviewers. It started with accusations of a female game creator using a sexual relationship with a journalist in order to secure a positive review.  Despite the questionability of the accusation, once it became publicized it became a flashpoint for a larger issue of gender inclusion in gaming. As the phenomenon gained steam the criticism expanded to include all women involved in gaming, to the point where many high profile ladies have had to alter their lives not just by changing numbers or email accounts, but actually leaving their homes and cancelling events they are scheduled to be at. These women have received death threats, rape threats and vitriolic hate spewed at them. In many cases these threats are issued for no other reason than their existence in what is largely considered to be a male dominated community.

Now, as an anthropologist I am dying to unpack this and look at what would cause this phenomenon. It has to go beyond simple misogyny, or the male psyche turning feelings of vulnerability into a more socially appropriate emotion. In my opinion, which can be taken with a grain of salt or ignored completely, is that these men are reacting to a phenomenon that has more to do with our workforce/family balance than anything to do with basic gender relations. The fact is that we have disabused our males in America. We have sold ourselves a bill of equality and by doing so, we have de-valued traditional gender roles.

Time out: Let me take a moment to say, NO, I do not support traditional gender roles in any way. I do not think that women belong in the home, or the kitchen or the bedroom or whatever screwed up ideas people have. I think that women are strong, capable, intelligent and desirous of intellectual stimulation as much as men. That being said, let us return to the argument at hand....

Anthropologists will tell you that social roles are very important to the smooth running of a group of people. They provide structure and guidance as well as giving social participants a boost of self-esteem when they perform well in socially acceptable roles. And herein lies the problem.

American feminism focused on equality. (for a detailed discussion you can read my posts; Working Like a Man, or How American Feminism Failed: Part 1 and Part 2). Women were told that we were equal in all ways to men. We are not equal though. If anything we are very, very different. That is not to say we aren't both capable, merely that we approach things differently. Two tools might get the same job done, but not in the same way.

As a result, women have subsumed what were traditionally male roles. We have become productive and capable workers. We have become providers. We have become doctors, lawyers, construction workers and even soldiers. There is nowhere left that could be considered an unspoiled male domain.

But, here is the key. We took their jobs, their abilities, their roles in the family, but we didn't give them anything back in return. We maintain, as a culture, not necessarily as individuals, that men cannot be emotional, sensitive, caring, vulnerable. We uphold the "be a man" stereotype, but we don't give them anything unique with which to obtain this. We have intruded on their cultural roles and yet we have denied them the same access to ours. How many men are allowed in childcare? Very few. The reason? Well, of course men who wish to spend their days with small children must obviously be pedophiles. Men who stay home with the children are more common, but they are still not always treated as fairly. They are often banned from playgroups or Mom's groups or MOPS (Mother's of Preschoolers). Those are for women only. We are equal to them, but they are not allowed to be equal to us. In fact, they are to be mistrusted as sex driven deviants who could rape, molest or otherwise attack an innocent person at any moment.

The real alarm bells for me were when a parent suggested that the Dads involved with our Watch Dog program in our kids' elementary school (a really great program designed to get Dads back involved with schools and provide involved male role models for boys) should all be background checked because she didn't want strange men around her kids, but did not extend that same request for the PTA moms. Or, my Mom's neighbor whose adult son came to stay with her when his daughter was having a sleep over, because otherwise none of the girls would be allowed to come over if there was another male in the house.

Seriously!? What kind of message are we sending the men (and the women) in our society? We are telling them, women are equal to you, but you are guilty until proven innocent. You can't cry at movies, you can't bear children, you can't be soft and caring because that would be unmanly and you certainly can't say anything bad about a woman because that would be misogynistic. Men are not allowed to ban women from anything, and yet we freely ban them from things all the time.  No wonder they are angry. We short changed them. We took away their path to self-esteem and branded them dangerous. Are we really so shocked that we have created a self-fulfilling prophecy?

I believe this social encroachment is why these gamers are reacting with such spewing hatred. The hatred is, of course totally counter-productive to their ends, not to mention self-destructive and just plain wrong. But, the fact remains, that they are attacking and doing so in force. Real women are in very real danger in many ways just for being a part of the gaming community. I think that these young boys have chosen this as their line in the proverbial sand. They have declared war on women and it isn't going to be pretty. It is going to take at least a generation to remove those resentful roots from men who feel that women have taken over their last bastion of the male-centric social sphere.

Up until the last decade, female gamers were much more rare. As games have diversified, so have gamers and these primarily young, white, males feel the need to fight back, to protect their refuge of male aggression. (This was where I originally had a discussion prepared on the cyber-reality of the gaming world being more real to many of these men because it allows for a release of pent-up male aggression, but I decided to save that for another day so that I can expand it to include interviews and reflections from other Moms).

So, that is my take on the problem from a social critique viewpoint. But, a problem is no good without a solution. And here it is. Simple. Elegant. Easy.

You know that new push to get rid of the phrase, "like a girl?" (The Always Video is here)? Well, I think we need another movement. We need one to get rid of things like, "man up," "grow some balls," "stop acting like a sissy/wuss/faggot," "is that a doll you are playing with?," "real men don't cry." We need to teach men that they are just as equal to women as women are to men. They can be caring, emotional, vulnerable and sensitive without being a geek or a wuss.

There is no superior gender. There are no roles that can't be fulfilled by an individual with those specific talents. All people are born with gifts. It is time we celebrated those gifts themselves, and not what gender package they happen to come in. We need to stop treating men like the enemy and maybe, just maybe they will stop acting like it.

Male anger is not going away. It is scary and damaging and unhealthy, but it is not going away. If anything, mass shootings, rapes, attacks and virtual bullying/harassing has only reached a more fevered pitch. If we don't start raising men; respectful and kind with their own unique path to self-esteem, we are going to find ourselves on the front line of a feminist backlash not seen before.

And with that I leave you with this thoughtful article from The Guardian,  Why Are Some Men So Angry? It discusses many of the same things from a slightly different perspective, but he too cautions that a storm is coming.

(Vera Paiva, Sexuality, condom use and gender norms among Brazilian teenagers, Reproductive Health Matters, Volume 1, Issue 2, November 1993, Pages 98-109, ISSN 0968-8080,
Donna M. Goldstein, AIDS and women in Brazil: The emerging problem, Social Science & Medicine, Volume 39, Issue 7, October 1994, Pages 919-929, ISSN 0277-9536,

Parental Pinch Gets Tighter

I was trolling my Facebook news feed  yesterday and came across this article about criminalizing childhood independence. The gist is basically that there are cases throughout the United States where parents are being charged with child abuse, child neglect and so forth, for not being vigilant enough in monitoring their children, "This has been a nationwide pattern, thumping parents who are caught not hovering."

This article deeply concerned me, not because I believe that we should hover over our children, or that I am concerned for the children involved in these incidences, or even that I believe that the level of independence subscribed to these children is even justified or ok. My concern is that this yet one more constraint that we insist on placing on parents who are already facing hardships on so many fronts as it is.

It has been my growing belief that in many ways, despite the world being a statistically safer place now, parenting was much easier in my parents' day in age. My mother, raised in a small town in PA in the early 1940s was quite often turned out in the mornings on non-school days and was expected to find some way to entertain herself until the lunch bell rang. They were then turned out again until dinner time. My mother has often commented on the cleanliness of her Mother's house and I have often defended the state of mine by commenting that things are just different now. There just isn't any time to work on the house. I am too busy supervising my children. No longer can you send your kids outside to roam the neighborhood, or go to the park or, heck even play in your own front yard anymore in order to get something done. A dear friend of mine was visited by CPS because she let her upper elementary and middle school boys play in the font yard and the street "unsupervised." First off, she has big picture windows in her front room so she could clean and watch and second off, has anyone heard of street hockey or kick the can? No? Of course not. It is so much safer to park your kids in front of a t.v. screen, or give them a pad so they can play "educational games." It is the only way you will know that they are safe. And if they want playdates, they can just log on to online gaming, that's way safer. *cough, cough* But, at least you know where they are, right?

Mothers in a time crunch, especially working mothers have so many legislative rules to follow now that make their lives so difficult. You can't leave your children in the car while you run in for a gallon of milk. You can't leave the 3 and 6 year old home with the 9 year old while you run a quick errand. You can't even toss everyone into the car anymore. Instead you have to take 15 minutes to buckle them in properly every time you get in and out of the car. You can't even hire the 11 year old next door to watch your little one's so that you can run errands (a job I did for the neighbors across the street for years, but started at 11 watching a 2 and 4 year old). Now they don't want kids under 10 in a house without a child that is 12 and older....or in some states 13 and older. How do parents have a job that say, starts at 8:30 when school starts at 8:40? They aren't supposed to drop off before a certain point, the kids aren't supposed to walk to school by themselves, so parents end up having to pay for before school or after school care which is just another huge added expense to families. These are the families who under the old paradigm, might not need it. I myself was a very responsible latch key kid during certain times in my life.

This year I had to get permission from my school to let my 3rd and 1st grader walk to and from school by themselves. For the record, our house backs up to the school. They don't even have to cross a street until the cross walk in front of the school. It is less than 50 yards/2 minutes. AND I NEEDED PERMISSION. Additionally, I have actually endured comments from other parents, who clearly don't know where I live, about allowing the girls to come to school on their own. It started when my little one decided naptime was 20 minutes before the girls got home from school. It seemed safer to have them walk home together than to leave a sleeping toddler and dash up to the school, and saner than waking him up after 20min and listening to the screaming for the rest of the night.

Meanwhile, why we are penalizing parents here in the States, Raktim Mitra, an urban planner in Toronto published his study, referenced here, that children who are allowed to explore their neighborhoods with other children, rather than in direct supervision of adults were physically healthier, got more exercise than the kids who were under constant adult supervision. It also alludes to the idea that those kids who are not allowed unsupervised time tend to have delayed development in regards to decision making skills.This is not surprising when you think many times in order for parents to get something done and still keeping their kids safe, they utilize screen time since they can't send their kids outside unsupervised, and parents are already under a time crunch as it is.

Our expectations on parents these days is reaching the ridiculous, if not completely untenable. We somehow expect that if we are just vigilant enough that we can somehow bring the child mortality rate to 0, but that is just not possible. And so every time a child dies from a tragic accident we seek to legislate the incident in order to feel like we have some measure of control over the situation. Or we seek to blame the victim by putting the family under a microscope to see what they potentially did wrong so that we can somehow explain how it happened, thus inoculating ourselves against future tragedies.

The fact is that we can not hover over our children protecting them from every single danger they may or may not encounter without subsequently removing any chance they have of growing up to be healthy, self-regulated, responsible adults. We have to let go a little or we end up like the parents of
college students who are unable to function without parental help or parents who attend their adult children's job interviews and even attempt to negotiate their children's salary (read CNN's take on the subject). This phenomenon has become so prevalent that Forbes magazine wrote an article in 2013 on how employers should embrace this trend, and then provides guidelines to follow in order to avoid lawsuits involving breach of privacy and discrimination. We are doing our children a grave disservice. We need to teach them to stand up on their own, deal with disappointment and make good decisions. And then we need to give them opportunities to practice this without fear that "big brother" is going to come knocking on our door and charging us with neglect.

Building independence in your children is a very slow and gradual process and unfortunately it really isn't something you can legislate because each child is different. Taking law and requiring that children under a certain age have to be with children older than a certain age, such as a 9 year old requiring a 13 year old in the house with them is deeply unfair to parents who work jobs with inflexible hours and no way of getting children home from school. Many families can not afford before and after school care, which can be pricey. In this case the parent does what they have to in order to survive, but they risk being arrested if they are found out. And yet our economy is such that we almost require households to have two incomes, but then we turn around and penalize families with young children at every turn by making everything harder for them and then placing them under a giant spotlight of criticism if anything bad happens to their children, from a simple broken bone to a child abduction or fatal accident. The first thing we always ask, "Well, where were the parents?"

We can not keep leveling this culture of fear on families. It isn't healthy or realistic for them and it certainly isn't going to help our children in the long run. We need to learn to trust more, and hope for the best. No one wants to be the one who becomes the statistic, it is unimaginable, but I am pretty sure locking our kids in the house with t.v. and video games while negotiating everything for them all the way up to their first raise as an adult is not really preparing our children to defend themselves. And it is pinching parents even tighter as the proverbial rock and a hard place (read: economics vs. child rearing) gets tighter and expectations of what the perfect parent looks like soar.

True Confessions From the Heart

*deep breath*

*deep breath*

It is going to be okay, I can do this......

*deep breath*

So, here goes nothin'.....

Starman is quite possibly the best thing that has ever happened to me as a human being. You might find this statement offensive because I do have two other, perfectly lovely, children. But, these children did not fundamentally change my entire world paradigm thus making me a much better person. So, unfortunately they do not get to be included in the above statement.

Let me explain. I have spent most of my life HATING men. I spent a good deal of college writing short stories on the total uselessness of the sex in general and describing, in detail, all the science-fiction-y ways that we were going to render males useless, even in their most basic role of conception and parenthood. I even applauded those few science fiction shows that featured some form of Matriarchy and, as I am sure is not a surprise, my favorite superhero was Wonder Woman. After all how could I not love a superhero who came from an entire island of Amazon warrior women. It was not just unease, it was genuine bafflement of what the male "species" could possibly offer to us, when the female "species" was so very clearly superior.

Some of you reading this might be tempted to sit back, nod your head and think that this is clearly because I have some sort of Daddy-issues, but let me assure you this is the farthest thing from the truth. My Dad is every bit the quiet, English professor intellectual. He is smart, and funny, and extremely well-read. He is just "macho" enough to like cars and movies that have lots of gore and aliens in them, but shy enough to make him largely nonthreatening. Unless you are his daughter or his wife, in which case you are very well aware that a powder keg lurks at the end of his ridiculously long fuse and that in no way do you ever want to reach the end of it. I love my Dad and even in the throes of my male-hatred, he was always considered exempt because he was absolutely wonderful.

In fact, I love my Dad so much, that I very stereotypically went out and married a man very much like him. Neither one are fans of people as a general rule, they both have an intimidating intellect that make me feel stupid in comparison sometimes and they both harbor a deep love of movies involving aliens ripping people to shreds, or serial killers stalking people through space. All in all, they remained the two exceptions to my all-men-suck mentality. The fact that they are friends is an added bonus for me, and all the male companionship I required. (I should mention that my husband is so amazing that he married me KNOWING my viewpoints on men, and loved me because, or in spite of them...either way... That is how awesome he is!)

Now, I will tell you that I had a few dating experiences that traumatized me fairly effectively in this department. This is not something I will discuss here, or possibly ever, but it did nothing to dissuade me in my sexism and if anything just solidified my belief in the position. My husband was definitely a HUGE exception to the rule and in fact, after we became friends, he spent 6 very determined months attempting to persuade me to date him. My argument, which was iron-clad as far as I was concerned, was that we got along WAY too well and that if we went out on even one date, that it would clearly end in us getting married and having children. This was undesirable because it would spoil my plans to become a world-famous, globe-trotting anthropologist...and besides, I hated men! He eventually convinced me that one date did not make a marriage proposal and I was being utterly ridiculous... but the joke is on him because we know who turned out to be right after all.

But, back to the hating men thing. Flash forward to my first pregnancy. I was sure I was having a boy and on the way to the ultra-sound I was convinced that the tech was going to tell me that's exactly what the baby was, a boy. I naturally voiced these ideas to The Husband, which in hindsight turned out to be a mistake because he mistakenly thought that I was privy to some ancient women's prognostication and was very surprised, and disappointed (though he nobly attempted to cover it well) when the tech excitedly announced, "It's a girl!"

I can not even tell you how relieved I was. I absolutely did not want a boy. Of course I said what any polite NORMAL person would say, "I don't really care what gender it is, as long as it's healthy," but that was a BIG. FAT. LIE! I was terrified that I would have to raise one of those males and had no idea what on earth I would do with one. It was a huge thrill that my first child was a girl, so that I could learn how to parent first before tackling my own prejudices. That way if the next one was a boy, I could focus on other things, like what I was going to call his penis (a penis, BTW) and how to talk to him about why it insisted on changing sizes periodically without warning and how to treat women when he was born a scumbag. Starting with a girl sounded much less threatening than doing that AND figuring out how to keep a baby alive.

This was a comfort to me when we got pregnant with #2 and we decided not to find out what the sex was. My pregnancy was vastly different, (read: WAY, WAY, WAY sicker) so, OF COURSE it HAD to be a boy, because only men will torture you like that. Everything... every heartbeat check, the way I was carrying, the wedding ring on the end of a all pointed to boy. But that was ok. I just assumed I already had MY child and this next one could be The Husband's. In fact, I was so sure that I was going to have a boy that I thought I might as well start looking for full-time work because I am not going to want to stay home with a boy all day. (yes, as suggested in my previous post, this is that aforementioned part where you may start to find me largely unlikable. Please bear with me, I do get better).

Even checking in to Labor and Delivery the nurse listened to the heartbeat and said, "Boy?" and my husband assured her we didn't know because it was a surprise. Her response was, "well, I have never heard a heartbeat sound like that and had it NOT be a boy, so I look forward to meeting him." In fact, on the way over in the car I had commented to The Husband that the only way this baby was going to be a surprise at this point was if she popped out a girl.


No one, not even the doctor, could believe it. But, sure enough, #2 was a bouncing baby girl. And as an only child who secretly spent her entire childhood fantasizing about a long lost twin sister....or any sister at all, I was beyond thrilled. Even The Husband was thrilled because, "Hey! I already know how to take care of one of those." And we all went home happy.

Now during all of this child conceiving and rearing my other friends were doing much the same thing. And here is where I admit to being a very terrible person. When a friend would come to me and tell me they just found out their first child was a boy....I would actually feel sorry for them. I would feel a little smugly sad that they would never know the awesome awesomeness of having girls, because....let's face it....they are WAY better than boys. And for families (and I can think of 3 off the top of my head that I sort of dread the idea that they might be reading this) who had 3,4 and even FIVE boys *shudder* I felt a deep profound sadness for them that their lives were so empty with nothing but boys to love them. I would say to The Husband, "it is so, so sad that their children will grow up to leave them. You know how the saying goes; A daughter is a daughter for all of her life, A son's just a son until he takes a wife." I would also mention the comment the director at my Grandmother's assisted living home made to my Mom one day about how you can always tell which residents have daughters and which ones have sons. The one's who have daughters had decorated entrances and always had company for holidays, while the one's with son's just get a check every month, lived with empty doors and hardly had any visitors.

I even felt jealous of the 90+ year old woman my grandmother played bingo with because she had SEVEN daughters and I thought that must have been magical. I thought this right up until she mentioned one day at bingo that she had been spending nights with a gentleman downstairs and that she really hoped she wasn't pregnant again. That was when I thought maybe having seven girls wasn't so magical. Maybe having seven girls left you just shy of sanity. But at least her door had decorations and that was what was clearly important.

So, while I was feeling smugly satisfied with my own house which dripped in pink, ponies and princesses and looked down on households that had to endure superheroes and Nerf guns, I got pregnant with #3. Again I was HORRIBLY sick, but at this point I knew without a shadow of a doubt that God would not make me suffer with having to raise a boy at this point. After all I was so very excellent at raising girls. In fact, I was just as shocked as my soon to be middle child was when it was declared that we were having a boy and I silently echoed her cries of "NOOOOOOOO I HATE BOYS! I DON'T WANT A BROTHER, I WANT A SISTER!!!" Even The Husband was unsettled at this point because as he put it, "Hey, I've got this girl thing down now. I don't know how I feel about starting over with a boy."

Everything changed with he arrived. Even in the hospital I began to notice differences between him and his sisters. For one, they never seemed to need to burp, ever. So, I felt a little dumb holding a screaming third baby as the nurse gently suggests, "Have you tried burping him yet?" Sure enough it worked like a charm and that was when I realized. Boys were different. They were gassier than girls, and it clearly wasn't their fault because they just came that way. There was no way around it. They were genetically and fundamentally different. Now, notice I said different. Not worse. Not better. Different. And thus began God's gift to my education. I fell in love with boys. I fell in love with the ripped jeans and the rough and tumble. I fell in love with the way he would lay his hand on the side of my face telling me how much he loved me, made all the more sweeter by knowing I would not always be the main woman in his life. I began to see how lucky my friends with all-boy households really were. They were free of the drama and the emotional turmoil. Their sibling fights might present themselves as more aggressive and sudden, but they blew over just as quickly. There wasn't the days long glaring and dagger-like, passive-aggressive anger that made me long for a knock-down-drag-out fight that was over as soon as it began.

As I started to see how unfairly I had treated the men I encountered, I also started to notice how unfair we are to the males in our lives as a culture. I have almost become a men-anist (like feminist, only for men). I have noticed the stupid male roles we give them on t.v. like the bumbling Ray Romano, or the players like Barney Stinson. It bothers me when we roll-our eyes at every dead-beat-dad story and act like we aren't that surprised. I notice all the things we tell young boys about "being a man" and "stop acting like a girl" and it bothers me. It used to bother me just from a girl's perspective, but I am different now. Now it bothers me that we won't allow them to be vulnerable, emotional, caring.

I look at his little sleeping form and I see the man I hope he will become; respectful, kind, honest, responsible, his Dad and his Grandpa. I see his face in all the men around me now and I realize how unfairly I have judged them. I have not done men justice, and I see that our society has not done men justice. I rejoice when a friend tells me her first will be a boy, because "you know boys and their mothers" is not just an expression, it's a real thing. I know that now. I quietly feel bad for all the uncharitable thoughts I ever had about friends with all male children and I hope that they know if they read this, that I love them and that I am truly sorry. I just didn't understand.

And maybe my Starman won't call me much when he is all grown up, or maybe he will. And maybe he would rather write a check than come decorate my doorway, or maybe not. It is up to him what kind of man he will choose to become and I will accept him wherever he is at. He is special, not in spite of being a boy, but because he is a boy.

I May Have Lost My Mind

Ok, so here is the thing.....

I diligently spent all week working on this fantastic piece of analytic writing to present to you on Gamergate and the presence of male aggression. I have been very busy fact checking everything and making sure all my edits are grammatically correct.....then I actually re-read it and realized, "Holy Crap! I can't publish that!! I will be crucified on sight, or, I think it is on sight... self-respecting women's rights proponent can write what I just wrote and live to tell the tale. I have to do something else."

So, here it is Friday and I have nothing to offer up to you except the promise that maybe I can temper my insanity enough by NEXT Friday to be able to present this article I worked so hard on. Hopefully in a much more sane manner. Don't get me wrong, I totally believe in what I wrote, but let's just say it is not yet palatable for normal human viewers yet. Also, I need The Husband to read it because it is about gaming and if he is passionate about anything else in life (besides me and the kids) it is about gaming. I am not joking. He actually belongs to a group that lobbies political entities for various reasons to balance freedom of speech with responsibility in video games....or some such nonsense. He gets really, really into it, which is the main reason I wrote the article in the first place.

We were laying in bed earlier this week and he was watching some news story on the Gamergate phenomenon. Being genuinely checked out of the video game community (primarily from disinterest) I had to inquire what on earth they were talking about.

As an aside, I actually like playing video games. And I really like my husband. What I don't really understand is the passion for the industry that would require someone to join a group that lobbies on behalf of them....or, for that matter the level of dedication that would cause people to issue death threats because of video games (you will understand more after my original post is published if you aren't already familiar with it). But, in all fairness I never understood the soccer...or football player who shot people after losing, or the whole idea that the highest incidence of domestic violence occurs after the Super Bowl. I don't actually know if that is true, but it has been said often enough for me to assume some truth to it, and either way, it makes a good illustration of how I totally don't get that level of passion for a game.

Sorry, back to topic.

After hearing his very, very detailed explanation of everything involved I sat up in bed and declared, "What a great topic for my blog!!" I then questioned him extensively before going to sleep. I began work on it almost immediately the next morning. I was excited to share my deep, and potentially brilliant revelations on the whole thing. After I finished though, I realized there are some truths that are just too hard to swallow. And there are some truths that make you sound like a woman-hating maniac, or in other words I sort of forgot to add the whole "spoon full of sugar to help the medicine go down" and thus I left myself looking like a raving lunatic, and possibly the new enemy for all women-kind. So, you are getting this rambling diatribe instead.

I think perhaps I may write what would be a potentially appropriate companion piece to the Gamergate discussion first. It is a post that has actually been heavy on my mind for a long, long time. I was planning on writing it two years ago before I took my hiatus. The problem is, and the reason I haven't written it yet, is that I am afraid it may make me a terribly unlikable person. After all, I may live by brutal honesty about myself, but sometimes polite exchanges are there to maintain a certain level of social civility. I am afraid that if I admit the truth I might be crucified for that as well.....

Now that I write this, I am thinking I WILL go ahead and write that article.... Look for true confessions of the heart next week. And also a spectacularly offensive article on Gamergate. After all, we aren't anything if we aren't true to ourselves, right?

With that, I wish you all a wonderful weekend full of warm fuzzy family moments. I hope you are feeling so warm and fuzzy by Monday that you are willing to look past the insanity I will present to you next week and continue to stick with me.

A Desert Reunion

I must start this post off with an apology to my readers. I am sorry I left you hanging two years ago with the post, I'm Leaving On a Jet Plane which chronicled my nerves about flying out to meet my birth father and his extended family for the first time. I even promised an article, post-visit, but shortly after I took what turned out to be a two year hiatus from my blog.

So, here it is. My very much overdue recount of that trip.....

Day 1:
My Mom was awesome and went with me so I didn't have to go by myself. Also, she wanted to thank them for giving her the opportunity to raise me, which she got a chance to do. My nerves were heightened as we touched down on the tarmac, and I admit to popping into the bathroom for about five minutes to take a deep breath and steady my nerves before exiting the security area.

My Birth Father and his Mom were coming to pick us up. They were running a bit late and I was strung as tight as a drum by the time they arrived. But, amazingly, the minute I spotted them, I knew it was them. I will be completely honest, I knew he was a combat war veteran but I was still taken a back a little when I met him. In many ways he is literally held together by steel bars and screws. While something I hardly even notice anymore, I was thrown off guard initially. (This reaction is important to the following events).

They asked if we wanted to grab something to eat and we stopped at a little local restaurant for a late breakfast/ early lunch. We sat there talking and getting know each other. The conversation was easy, but it was obvious all four of us were nervous and hoping the visit went well. My birth dad was obviously feeling self-conscious about my initial reaction to his appearance because he was trying to explain how he obtained all of his injuries. Because he was excited and nervous he was doing so fairly loudly and periodically his Mom would lean over and ask him to bring the volume down.

I don't remember all the exact details, but he was talking about various combat scenarios he had been in and all the places he had been stabbed or shot. In describing all of his military missions, including the people he had killed and the many times he came close to dying, somehow the conversation turned to a time when he and a date walked out of a McDonald's moments before it was "shot up." At this point his Mom put a hand on his knee and mentioned that he might want to turn the volume down and change topics. So, the conversation went back to other things and the meal continued.

Then suddenly two cops show up and approach our table. They escort my Birth Dad out to the parking lot and start talking to him. My Birth Grandmother was horrified and tried to go talk to them but they asked her to remain in the restaurant. After about 15 tense minutes (and my vaguely wondering what we had gotten ourselves into), they finished searching him and came in apologized to us. They explained that someone in the restaurant had called 911 and said that someone was bragging about murders he had committed and was planning to shoot up the place. My Birth Dad then said to the policemen, "I think you owe her an apology. This is my daughter and I am just meeting her for the first time. Thanks for helping me make a great impression."

After this I could tell they were both extremely anxious as to how my Mom and I were going to react, but quickly relaxed when it became obvious that we thought it was pretty funny. Here we were, less than 90 minutes into meeting for the first time, and already the cops have shown up. It turned out to be a fantastic ice breaker and we all laughed about it for the rest of the weekend. I am actually grateful it happened, because I think our nonchalance about the whole thing helped illustrate my Mom and I better than hours of talking could have and afterwards we were all totally easy and nerve free.

We went back to my birth dad's house where his Mom dropped me off and offered to drive my Mom to see the sights while we had a chance to get to know one another. It was incredible. He pulled out boxes of pictures and practically went through his whole life (although meeting as adults, combined with a life in the army led to an uncomfortable level of over-share when it came to romantic exploits).Turns out he had a whole bunch of trophies for cooking. He became one of the top chefs in the army and was even responsible for holiday meals for the officers. He even had the pleasure of cooking for one of the presidents (although I admit I can't remember which one, George W. Bush, Sr. I think). Since cooking is one of my favorite hobbies I thought that was a rather fun discovery. He cooked lunch for me and after watching him I have never made bacon the same since. His were magazine level perfect.

 He had pictures of my birth mom too (if I ever met her face to face she would have an awfully hard time denying me as we are spitting images of each other). After spending the day together it literally felt like someone had taken a cable cord, plugged it directly into my brain and downloaded an entire database of information. I was on overload, but I didn't want to quit.

I think the thing I took away from that day was the fact that, despite his often violent life experiences, he absolutely has a very big, and very kind heart. It was obvious to me that the things he had been asked to do in the military have affected him profoundly and the disabled veteran label almost fits more emotionally than physically. I think the things he did in defense of our freedoms both make him proud and eat him up at the same time. But, the thing that has remained untouched is his level of kindness. Everyone in his small housing community stopped by at some point that day to meet me. They all had wonderful things to say about him. He was obviously well-liked and that some of his PTSD and agoraphobia quirks were just because "he [was] a crazy veteran," as one of his neighbors put it. They just took it in stride as part of who he is. It made me proud to be his daughter.

After about six or seven hours our Moms came back and we visited for a while. Then they took us to a small property that they owned nearby that was in between tenants. When it was just my Mom and I we talked about the day and all the things we had learned. Then she turned in while I sat up processing all of the information I had just ingested.

Coming up Next...... Day 2: More Amazing Discoveries

The Bigger Better Blog

Welcome to the wonderful re-launch of The Two-Penny Soapbox. Some things may look different, but the content will remain the same; honest, thoughtful and occasionally angsty. I will still be looking at the issues surrounding work/family balance with the occasional anecdote about my crazy family and periodic musings on adoption.

Now for some housekeeping issues:
This new incarnation of my little corner of the universe will (hopefully) remain more structured than previously. Posts will be updated twice a week; once on Monday morning to start your week off right and again on Fridays, just in time to give you reading material for your lazy weekend mornings, waiting for your child's game to start, sitting in line at the movies, or even on the potty....hey, I don't judge. As always, I ask you to keep your comments thoughtful and respectful. I will delete anything I think is inappropriate because, hey, this is my little corner and I can do that.

Now.....without further ado.....let's talk about.....
The Flu.

The flu you ask? What a strange topic for your re-launch. But, as it happens, the flu is very much at the heart of one of the biggest challenges to the work/family balance in America. The flu, especially certain strains, can knock you down for a week or more. It is the concept of being "out sick from work" writ large. In large families it can take ages to travel through everyone, thus extending the time you are quarantined at home. This is a huge problem for any family, but most especially two-income families.

We hear from the CDC and news outlets that we need to stay home if we are sick. Moms outside the school complain when kids are given Tylenol to keep their fever down and sent to school anyway. Bosses lament that their department is all sick, and yet they discourage workers from taking "time off." And lastly, we all lament when more severe flu strains careen through the community because they can be scary and we don't want to increase exposure to those who are vulnerable. What our workplace is reluctant to acknowledge is that when the flu hits, and some strains hit with a vengeance, it can take weeks, even a month or more to get an entire family back to health. What are families, especially two-income families supposed to do in that situation?

Two weeks before Christmas break my middle child, Raindrop, got sick with the flu. She actually was down and back up within three days and only missed 2 days of school total. I work sporadically so I have no problems begging off work to stay home when one of the kids are sick. Then the next week my oldest, Snowflake, got sick. She was really sick. I mean really, really, really sick. I took care of her for 2 days and then I got sick. I got really, really, really sick. Raindrop walked herself to and from school (which is practically in our backyard) while Snowflake and I laid on the couch and despaired at how awful we felt. Meanwhile Starman demolished the house with the flourish of a bored 3 year old while I lay helpless to stop it.

I was home Monday and Tuesday with a sick Snowflake. Wednesday I got sick and by Friday night I was so ill my husband had to take me to the ER where I spent all night getting IV fluids and other fun things. I had the beginnings of pneumonia, severe dehydration and a 104.5 fever WITH fever reducers. He took me in, despite the fact that he had gotten sick himself that morning. Being the end of December he was, of course, out of  Paid Time Off (PTO) so had to take the day unpaid.

The following Monday was Snowflake's 9th birthday. Starman was sick now too. Happy Birthday Kid. Sorry your sick. Let's watch our 100th movie. The husband was home again, more missed pay. We were all sick except Raindrop, having already fulfilled her role as "Typhoid Mary." Now by this point we were staring down a missed birthday, Christmas and Christmas Break and no one felt very good at all. The husband dragged himself back to work after three missed days and a weekend. There is a very good possibility that he infected others in his department as he really shouldn't have been back yet, but 3 days of no pay after birthdays and Christmas is enough to throw us into a tailspin when we only have one reliable income, so he went. Three and a half weeks total and we were all starting to feel better and were officially declared not contagious by our doctor.

Now, I only chronicle this whole story to you, my reader, to make a point. It took 3 1/2 weeks....THREE WEEKS.AND THREE DAYS...where someone had to be home with sick kiddos or sick themselves. That wasn't intermittent either. It was 3 weeks straight. And that was just one sickness, what if we had just gotten over something else a month earlier. Now, imagine we are a dual income family. You are paying for childcare regardless of the children are there, school is getting missed and no one is getting paid. How do you do it? No one gets 3 weeks of sick leave. And even if they get 3 weeks of PTO, no one is going to save it all until the end of December, just in case since it is a use it or lose it thing. But being sick when you are out of sick leave puts you in danger of being fired.

So what do families do? They do what they have to. The problem is that that is how so many people end up getting sick. We should really have a system that promotes staying home when ill to protect those that are young, or older, or are immuno-compromised. We should stay home to reduce the spread of viruses, but we can't. Our work system here in America is not designed to care about the person, much less the family. We care about productivity and work hours and the presence of people in the office. Things are better with the advent of telecommuting, but many jobs still require your presence. And some jobs don't provide PTO or sick leave at all, leaving workers the impossible choice of sucking it up so they can pay their bills or staying home and resting in order to protect strangers and co-workers.

I feel a little bit like I am beating a dead horse. Some of my readers might remember that I discussed this same thing back in 2012, in my post The Trouble With Illness. In that article I argued that we need to add more sick leave. I stated that,  "By providing more sick time, we would actually get sick less." Sadly, three years later we have made little to no progress in this arena. In fact, in many ways we have slid backward. Illnesses seem to last longer and sick leave seems to have gotten shorter. although this is a subjective observation no based in statistical information at all. I am merely basing it on the vocal frustrations of families around me. The longer the illness lasts, the more likely someone is to return to work/school/child care while still contagious.

The other problem is the concept of the Doctor's note. Workers abusing the sick leave system have encouraged companies to demand a "sick note." So now, even though a worker may be missing work unpaid, and knows that the illness isn't severe enough to visit a Doctor is going to clog up the Doctor's offices just to obtain this piece of paper that is the equivalent of Mommy calling you in sick to school. Companies are saying "your word isn't trustworthy enough, we need an authority figure to confirm your story." However, the cost of this visit might be pricey depending on whether the company provides a quality health care plan or not and many doctors feel pressured to fill out sick notes if someone is in their office, even if there is no obvious physical need.

Now for the biggest irony of all. You can be fired for being sick! Not kidding. It is legally true in the majority of American states, with a few exceptions. It doesn't matter if you have a doctor's note or not. Unless you qualify for the Family Medical Leave Act  (FMLA) and have the proper paper work filed in a timely manner, you can be fired. No wonder people go to work sick. No wonder they drop their kids off at school pumped full of fever reducers and hope for the best. A few sites provide legal breakdowns of this;

But perhaps the most informative and comprehensive analysis of this phenomenon comes from one of my favorite, and oft referenced authors, Joan C. Williams, Distinguished Professor of Law, UC Hastings Foundation Chair and Director of the Center for WorkLife Law. Her article, Once Sick Child Away From Being Fired, discusses the problems that illness creates for workers with younger children who can not be legally left at home by themselves.

Knowing you can be fired for missing ANY work, regardless of how sick you are is alarming. It then becomes unsurprising that people go to work contagious and send their kids to school contagious. Of course, this compounds the problem by exposing other kids to the illness, thus putting other parents in the same predicament. In many ways illness is very much at the heart of the work/family problem here in America.

We spend an awful lot of time talking about the health care system, the Affordable Care Act, and the cost of health care, but what we don't realize is the hidden cost of health care reflected in an economic system that focuses on the company line and not on the individual worker. Since so many are married to their jobs in America, maybe we should provide a system that supports families in sickness and in health.