Follow me on Twitter

Saturday, April 30, 2016


When my son started kindergarten, my biggest trepidation was regarding the bus ride; in my day, buses were hotbeds of bullying and intimidation, especially for the littlest and most vulnerable.  I was endlessly reassured that the kindergarten class was isolated at the front with a monitor supervising their behaviors.  Plus, the kid was jazzed to ride the bus!  For him it was like a status symbol; so I relented and let him live the dream.

Naturally he was seated next to the worst bully in his class, a child who would continue to plague us throughout his early years of elementary education.  My first indication that something was wrong was when he suddenly no longer wanted to wear a knit panda hat that had previously been his pride and joy.  It took some digging before I discovered that he was being teased and ridiculed.  Of course, like any normal mother, I wanted to wring the neck of the little assh*le who was torturing him.
But because parenting from prison is a tough gig, what I did instead was explain to my boy that MEAN PEOPLE are UNHAPPY PEOPLE.  And that instead of feeling angry that someone is mean, we should feel sorry that they are so unhappy that they are lashing out at others.  My kid, being the sort of kid he is, took this information to heart. 

Unbeknownst to me, he took money out of his piggy bank and bought a gift for the brat at the school store.  He wanted to help make him feel happier.  I was secretly aghast that my lesson had prompted him to reward his tormentor, but you know what?
It actually worked.  Temporarily, but that was good enough at the time.  I did tell him that it would not have been my advice to act as he did; but I also realized that MEAN PEOPLE are EVERYWHERE and he is going to have to learn how to deal with them in his own way. 

They had another run-in two years later when the bully stole something off of my son’s desk and then flaunted it as his own.  By that time he had become a professional tough like Draco Malfoy, complete with a set of Crabbe and Goyle-like mouth-breather sidekicks.  Apart from the heartbreak of having his small treasure lifted, my son and I actually enjoyed a good laugh at this cartoonish display of villainy.  We eventually just referred to the kid as Draco and his sidekicks as “the Henchmen”.  Draco’s exploits became legendary, at least in our home.  He went from being a problem to being a source of entertainment.
Obviously anyone who follows the news knows that bullying is an epidemic and that technology has made it easier for children (and adults) to be cruel to one another while maintaining a safe distance from the emotional consequences of looking someone in the eye when you spit on them.  We all know intellectually that bullying is for weaklings; the insecure, the lost, the angry and yes, the sad.  We understand that bullying is wrong; we also realize that as long as humans exist, so will bullying.  It’s part of the human condition.

My son is in a new school now with different children; as we near the end of his first year, the class bully has asserted himself.  Although his existence was inevitable, I still feel myself tied up in knots about the fact that MEAN PEOPLE feel the need to be MEAN to my only child, who is an easygoing, flexible and respectful person.  But rather than figure out a way to pinch that kid’s earlobe until he screams, (as Harriet the Spy would suggest) I must instead embark on part two of my son’s lesson in bullying…
Yes, MEAN PEOPLE are UNHAPPY PEOPLE.  But you cannot fix someone else’s unhappiness for them; not with gifts and most likely not even with kindness and respect.  Because MEAN PEOPLE are not MEAN in response to YOU; they are MEAN in response to their own inner turmoil.  In other words, you are not responsible for anyone else’s unkindness, one way or another.  In fact, you are not responsible for anyone else’s behavior in general, so my advice in dealing with this new tormentor has been one sentence long:  just be yourself.

In life, the most important lesson we can learn is that we are responsible TO and FOR ourselves.  Many parents delay the impact of this truth by trying to shield their children from the consequences of their behaviors.  But consequences are the number one teaching tool the universe has to offer in helping us become our best selves.  As a parent now observing the parenting of those who are (quite unintentionally, I’m sure) raising bullies, this is the consistent mistake I am seeing.  Children who are never forced to “face the music” for their actions stop hearing the music at all; instead of joining the symphony of life, they remain isolated outside of its natural rhythms and out of step with other dancers.
MEAN PEOPLE SUCK.  And they are a part of everyday life, so we must learn how to cope with them.  Also:  sometimes WE are THEM.  Somedays it is our own inner turmoil that causes US to lash out at others, even people who have been kind to us, even people we love, and most especially at OURSELVES.  So not only does the anti-bullying campaign start at home as we teach our children to face consequences for their behaviors, it starts most profoundly with our relationship to our self.

“To thine own self be true and it must follow…Thou canst not be false to any man.”  How about to thine own self be KIND?  When we practice kindness and compassion with ourselves, it MUST FOLLOW that we are better able to extend these behaviors to others. 
So the next time you catch yourself being MEAN to YOU, remind yourself that MEAN PEOPLE SUCK.  Make a better choice and start a revolution.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Why You Are Man AND Superman!

I just showed my 10 year old son the 1978 version of SUPERMAN for the first time.  I had not planned to watch it with him, but I got sucked in by the mesmerizing opening credits and iconic music (he did ask:  “why are the credits at the beginning of this movie?”).  Then I just thought I’d watch the beginning (Glenn Ford has TWO SCENES and I STILL WEEP when he dies!) and then, you know.  Suddenly it was the end of the movie. 

Christopher Reeve, in the role of Superman, is the purest incarnation of everything we want our superheroes to be:  handsome, kind, smart, strong, honest, compassionate, righteous-- but not judgmental.  The scene where Miss Teschmacher saves him from destruction at Luther’s hands in return for her mother’s life epitomizes the character; not only does he agree to the bargain and fulfill it (even though he knows it will almost certainly cost him his own beloved) but instead of rejecting the kiss the villainess plants on him in his weakened state, he is touched by it.  Superman is driven purely by his moral imperatives; Superman is darned near perfect, just like most of us ***wish*** we could be.
I think almost all of us dreamed of or played at being superheroes as children; I went through a period of being fixated on Batgirl and my son’s life ambition at 4 was to grow up to be Spiderman.  He used to promise me that although he knew he would be very busy fighting crime, he would always find time to check in and make sure I was okay.  The desire to be heroic feels coded into us; but then as we grow up we become acutely aware of our fallibility and flaws, our weaknesses and limitations.  We realize we will always be man and not Superman.  We think we are not good enough to fly.

The shift happens for most of us in those gruesome years of adolescence.  We are suddenly all about what is wrong with us and how we are not “measuring up”; we become quite negatively narcissistic.  Naturally our peers are happy to assist in this and add on to the already exhaustive list of our frailties.  Raise your hand if you’ve ever been told that you’re too fat!  Or too thin! Or too smart!  Or too stupid!  Or too pretty!  Or too ugly!  Or too opinionated!  Or too nice!  Or TOO ANYTHING AT ALL!!!
I would like to pause here to acknowledge the irony that many of us have been told we are TOO MUCH OF two TOTALLY CONTRADICTORY THINGS.  Double bind, anyone?  But a friend of mine recently posted the following quote and it really got me thinking about what it means to be TOO MUCH:

“I know now that whatever you've been told you're too much of…is actually your superpower."--Jeffrey Marsh
That, my friends, is what we like to call a “radical reframing”.  One of the consistent messages of adolescence is that we need to learn to blend in; anything that sets us apart from the pack makes us easy prey.  We begin to strive for neutrality, shades of beige; we want to wear the same kinds of clothes as the others, have the same type of body; listen to the same music, share the same opinions.  Like Clark Kent, our true identities must remain a secret.  Differentiating ourselves means we are open to attack.  Parents often unwittingly aid in this by purchasing the trendy gear and participating in a “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality; who would want to leave their child vulnerable?

But like an untamable cowlick, our inner selves tend to stick out.  And we get pegged by our peers; nerd, jock, Brainiac, popular…now we are juggling both fitting in with the crowd and playing our assigned role.  We are not “getting along” in the spirit of cooperation; try more in the spirit of SURVIVAL.  Is it any wonder so few of us grow up to be “superheroes”???
But what if your secret identity IS your super power?  What if the very thing you’ve been told to be ashamed of, to hide, to “tamp down” is your greatest strength?   What have you been hiding because you were told it was TOO MUCH?

Superman, as I said before, was driven by his relentless moral imperatives.  We ALL have inner imperatives driving us too…political activists are driven by an imperative for justice, artists are driven by an imperative to create, teachers are driven by an imperative to inform and uplift and so on.  But sometimes…often, in fact…we receive a message that our imperative is an unworthy one.  An activist whose family disagrees with his viewpoint, an artist whose parents’ value material achievement; a teacher whose message falls on deaf ears.  When we push back on this, we are accused of being strident, selfish, unrealistic.  But embracing and fulfilling our inner imperatives is the only game in town; it is the only way we come to know our own true selves.

Watching those rousing opening credits of SUPERMAN I could feel myself slide back in time, back inside the head of a little girl who still believed she could be heroic.   Just like Superman, she could be kind, smart, strong, honest, compassionate, righteous-- but not judgmental.  She could take a stand against divisive elements.  I loved being reminded of her, because some days I am and do all of these things; other days, I succumb to my own personal forms of Kryptonite.  One of which is, and always has been, a fear of being TOO MUCH.  Too honest, too opinionated, too pushy…too much myself.
And isn’t this Kryptonite for all but the most evolved of us?  The fear of being “too much ourselves”?  The fear we dragged along from adolescence that if we stand out, don’t fit in, ask for too much, we will be rejected?  Maybe it’s time we all realize that being ourselves IS OUR SUPER POWER.  Being ourselves is HEROIC.  And allowing others to be themselves is the KEY to our HAPPINESS.  Remember, on Krypton EVERYBODY was a Superman.  Isn’t it possible that this could be true for us as well, if we could just allow it?

Sunday, April 10, 2016


If I hear one more woman act horrified by what Donald Trump has said about women I am going to lose it…Ladies - toughen up - your great grandmothers worked freaking hard to get you where you are today. Let's keep going and focus on real issues...Sorry Donald Trump said things about women being fat or hot or the myriad of dumb. Move on. For the sake of your great grandmother.

This quote has been brought to you by a very smart, very successful, very dear old friend of mine from high school.  In the interest of full disclosure, before I go on:  yes, she is white and from a privileged background, just like I am.  We never had to worry about having roof over our heads, or food to eat, or being exposed to violence in our homes; there was no question about whether or not we could attend college if we achieved in high school. 
Ironically, women who did NOT grow up in the berth of safety we did are much more likely to not give a damn about Donald Trump’s idiotic, blatant sexism.  They have much bigger fish to fry—when you are working overtime to barely meet your basic minimum standards of survival, things that a foolish billionaire may or may not be saying tend to roll off your back.  It’s those of us whose needs are being consistently met that have got to MAN UP about it!

Truthfully, although Donald Trump’s views on women are obviously abhorrent, I prefer his brand of brazen idiocy to the more insidious and institutional forms of sexism that are so naturally a part of our day to day lives that we barely even notice them.  I read an article recently that accurately pointed out that Hillary Clinton is frequently criticized for not having her husband’s “charisma”—the same charisma that apparently makes him so appealing to women who aren’t his wife.  And while he publicly humiliated her by cheating on her and LYING about it, she is the one who gets called “untrustworthy”.  It boggles the mind, truly. “Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame” seems to be the answer to every question, even now.

The manipulation of images of women also remains an incredibly dangerous and mostly unchecked societal danger.  It is no longer enough for models to be beautiful and fit; computer programs now must make them seem as supernatural, god-like, unattainable visions of perfection.  One young woman, as an experiment, posted pictures of herself without makeup on the internet; she is genetically very beautiful but suffers from an unfortunate skin condition.  The cruelty and viciousness of the comments she received were staggering—Trump-worthy.  Then she applied her makeup and posted new images.  These were accepted with a good deal more praise and support…and yet still, some brutal attacks.  For wearing too much makeup, "Respect yourself, you damn slut"; for “false advertising”.  This is the definition of “damned if we do, damned if we don’t”.

Women are sexualized in film, TV and advertising to an alarming degree; the argument that “sex sells” has become so ingrained in our culture that it barely even registers anymore.  However, the backlash against this has been somewhat misguided, in my opinion.  For example, if a woman chooses to dress provocatively—let’s stereotype this as short skirts and cleavage revealing tops—this is NOT an invitation to physically or verbally harass her and is empirically NOT an excuse for rape or assault.  But yes, it is an invitation to notice her sexuality.  Just as a man who highlights a nice form is inviting admiration for it.  There is nothing intrinsically WRONG with human sexuality or the expression of it.

HOWEVER—and I’ve heard all the arguments against what I am about to say ad naseum—if a woman dresses in a way that provokes a sexual response, she is not allowed to be offended that she has in fact provoked an appropriate sexual response.  What is an “appropriate” sexual response?  Admiring looks, compliments, respectful invitations for interaction if she is single (i.e. “dates”).  None of this is harassment, ladies.  It used to be called “courtship” but I guess most of that is done online these days.  Btw, if you post a profile pic that is all-cleavage?  Don’t be mad if the boob men come out from under their rocks to respond to that.  You are perfectly entitled to feel proud of your mammary glands, but if you promote them over your mind, heart and soul, you are going to attract a different sort of fellow than a woman who doesn’t.  And you aren’t allowed to feel sorry for yourself about it, either.

This is what I mean when I say that women need to “man up”…there are so many forces at work against us but IT’S TRUE that our great-grandmothers FOUGHT for the rights and privileges we have today; whether as suffragettes, or immigrants making a life in a new country against the odds; or as an oppressed minority struggling to overcome the blight and stigma of racism…we’ve come a long way.  But there are miles to go before we can rest and we need to focus on the important issues and fight for education, women’s health initiatives, equal pay, etc., and not get distracted by bozos like Trump or asserting our “right” to wear a micro-mini in the workplace and still be treated with respect. 

Yes, the double standards we are up against remain legion…in thinking about what women wear in the workplace, I couldn’t even come up with an example of what it would look like for a man to dress in a sexually provocative manner…would his fly be unzipped?  Would he be wearing robe, perhaps?  And this proves the larger point that men are NOT sexualized in society and have no stigma to push back on.  Again, sexuality is an important part of the human experience but NOT a productive or necessary part of most workplaces; so let’s promote that trend by dressing the part of a worker--men do.  Let’s stop buying magazines and investing in products that encourage the belief that “perfecting” our looks is a worthy goal; most men don’t feel the need to look perfect, quite obviously.  Let’s stop getting hysterical about what morons like Donald Trump are saying about women; I guarantee smart men aren’t listening to him and dumb men are dumb men.  No fix for that.

We are women and we are powerful; let’s stop apologizing for it—men don’t.  We have a right to maintain control over our own bodies, whatever that means to us and we MUST STAND TOGETHER against any movement, party or candidate who doesn’t agree.  We are allowed to express our beauty and sexuality in a way that feels safe and empowering to us; we are NOT allowed to impose our sexuality on people or environments where it is not welcomed or invited any more than a man should be.  We are women…mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, lovers, fighters, workers, soldiers.  We are indispensable vessels, creators, partners, visionaries.  Let’s work together towards the day when men are told to “woman up”—*be yourself unapologetically but with compassion for all.