New Year Blessings

It is that time of the year:  Out with the old and in with the new.  The whole concept has enveloped me this year as I move into next year. 

Recently, I was blessed with the return of two old friends to my life.  Both were people with whom I shared a spiritual path and both were people with whom I lost contact somewhere along the way.  It has been such a joy to have them both back in contact and present in my life. 

Sadly, though, I have also recently come to realize that I have friends and family members that I simply have to let go.  Attempting to have closer relationships with them is a frustrating, futile effort that leaves me feeling empty and emotionally barren.  Fortunately, one family member has been amazingly honest in disclosing that he does not intend to change the behavior that drives a wedge between us.  I thank him for that.  It makes it so much easier for me to establish and maintain my boundaries with him. 

Without that type of honesty, I can easily get trapped in hope and the resulting disappointment when my hopes are not realized.   His honesty made me realize that I need to have that type of honesty with myself and realize that my hopes are just that – hopes – and I create my own disappointment by misplacing that hope.  When I look with greater honesty, I can see who is a blessing in my life and who is not. 

I’ve been struggling with my daughter’s stuffed animal collection.  It is overwhelming our house.  We recently established a one-in-one-out policy to keep the clutter under control.  Perhaps, I need the same policy with people in my life.

Imagine if, every time someone wonderful comes into my life, I were to eliminate some of the clutter of toxic people.  It seems like it would not take very long to surround myself with only positive, loving people.  Hmmmm.  A new year’s resolution perhaps?

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Post Christmas Follow Up

Our new Wii is in the house.  There is a new Wii in a neighbor’s house as well.  The difference is that the neighbor’s Wii came with my favorite – you guessed it – Guitar Hero.  I finally got to see Guitar Hero first hand.  Although I actually did not spend much time checking it out, I did notice some of the song titles and was not surprised to see that even the song titles contained suggestive themes.  Being familiar with those songs, I knew they were not the songs I want stuck in my daughter’s head. 

We all know that sex sells.  Combine those suggestive themes with Rock and Roll and you have a match made in capitalism dreamland.   And the game even looks fun. 

Fortunately, the neighbor’s Wii system also came with an Indianapolis speedway game that was more fun – something about driving backwards through the brickyard and causing crashes really appeals to those kids who are, in my opinion, much too young for the suggestive themes of Guitar Hero.  Ah, the innocence of youth.  I just hope they don’t grow up driving that way in my neighborhood.

Merry Christmas

I am sitting here, looking at Christmas Tree number 2 (number 1 is outside with bird treats hanging from it, safe from catching fire and burning down my house), and waiting for my daughter to call.  This is the first Christmas in my life on which I have awakened in an otherwise empty house – alone.  It is the first Christmas of her life that we have not awakened together.  It is strange. 

Later my daughter will be here, friends will come by and we will visit other friends.  Until then, I have made a pot of coffee, turned on the Christmas lights and am reading a book, writing in my journal and generally having a pleasant morning.  On any other day, I think I would cherish such a morning.  But, this morning it feels lonely. 

Perhaps that is why I have come here to reach out.  I will not know who reads this, if anybody does.  But, I will know that I have expressed myself .  That, for me, is enough right now.  For most of my life, I have allowed the lack of appropriate response from other people to keep me from expressing myself.  My new year’s resolution for 2008 was to express myself anyway.  So, here I am, keeping my resolution and feeling rather good about it.   What a lovely Christmas present to myself.

Walmart’s Values – rated “L” for “Lacking”

Wow, Walmart, bringing families together, way to go.  Oh, excuse me, my tongue got stuck in my cheek there for a minute.  What I meant to say was, “Could Walmart be any less family oriented?” 

 

Several times lately (obviously, I am watching too much television), I have seen a commercial for Walmart and Guitar Hero® that absolutely blows my mind.  (You can see it here:  http://commercial-archive.com/node/146624.)  At first, it all seems so incredibly nice – a whole family, gathered in the living room, playing Guitar Hero® together.  Music, dancing and smiling faces – what could possibly be wrong with this picture. 

 

The baby in the high chair is swinging his/her feet in time to the music, with head bobbing.  The preschool daughter jumps up and down in her purple patent shoes while her blonde ringlet curls bounce along with her.  The son, probably 7-8 years old plays drums, with his head bobbing to the beat.  Dad sets the rhythm at the beginning of the clip and then is seen in the background jamming on a guitar.  Mom is the star, up front playing guitar and thanking Walmart for making the Xbox and Guitar Hero® affordable so, “now this family is always together.”  The whole family. 

 

Are you wondering yet why I think this is not a “family-oriented” commercial and Walmart really blew it?  The answer comes at the very end of the commercial when the voiceover informs us that Guitar Hero® and, indeed, maybe this entire vignette, is “rated T for teens.” 

 

Now, I don’t proclaim to be any kind of an expert on rating systems, but I assume that “T for teens” means there is something about Guitar Hero® that is inappropriate for younger children.  The Guitar Hero® website identifies “mild suggestive themes” as the reason for the rating.  I have no idea and will probably not bother to find out exactly what “mild” or “suggestive” mean in this context.    

 

Walmart, on the other hand, should find out.  Walmart is sending this not-quite-Currier-and-Ives scene into our homes for the holidays.  Why, I wonder, could they not have used a family with teenage children.  Don’t families with teenagers need togetherness?  I suspect they have already saturated the teen market and are looking for a new demographic to target. 

 

Is anybody else offended by Walmart and their “togetherness” family beaming with joy (and greed) while the baby in the highchair participates in an activity rated “T for teen?”   I really can’t blame the mom – I know she is only an actress and those are, likely, not her children.  And, besides that, she is barely out of the teen years herself. 

 

My friends know that I am not against my daughter watching television or playing video games in moderation.  They also know that I try to keep my daughter away from television commercials.  She is way too easily influenced by them in extremely subtle ways that she cannot comprehend and guard against.  She knows that Walmart wants her money, but she does not understand the extent to which Walmart is willing to portray life unrealistically to get it.  She has no idea that Walmart is willing to ignore family values and common sense, sacrificing the greater good of children and families in the process, in their quest for the last Christmas dollar of the season.  Unless prompted, she would not even question the underlying message that we should all just ignore the rating system and let even the baby play the game rated “T for teens.” 

 

My daughter does not know these things.  The adults watching should. 

 

When the teen market has been saturated, Walmart needs to go after a younger market, so Walmart does.  That is capitalism.   Maybe the target of my outrage should be Activision Publishing.  According to its Guitar Hero® website, the game ratings range from “Everyone 10+ to  Teen.”  Is this really necessary?  It seems simple enough to create a version of Guitar Hero® that is appropriate for all ages.  There are plenty of good songs with family-appropriate lyrics and no suggestive themes, mild or otherwise.  I think it could be done.   

 

Even at E-10+, Walmart’s happy family need not apply.

He Lived for Less than an Hour; He Weighed Less than a Pound

Today is my son Matthew’s birthday.  It is also the anniversary of his death.  24 years ago he was born.  He lived less than an hour.  He weighed less than a pound.  These are the harsh details that seem to stick in my mind – he was just less than 1 in every way.  The medical details are unimportant, but he had no lungs.  Other than that, he was perfect in miniature – just 1 important organ short of 1 healthy baby; just slightly less than the 1 son I wanted to love and take home to a beautiful life. 

 

Today, I went to the cemetery where his ashes were scattered among the rose bushes.  I went early and watched the sun rise.  It is a sight he never saw.   The gates were not open yet, so I sat in my car near the locked gates and engaged in my annual ritual of reliving the day of his birth – the day of his death.  The sound of the rain tapping on the roof of the car lulled me into an almost trance-like state.  I could almost see the hospital lights and hear the monitors beeping and chirping. 

 

I objected when the anesthesiologist called me Liz:  “I am not Liz,” I said from where I was floating near the ceiling, just before the darkness invaded my being.  Then I remember waking up and being cold – I had never before been so cold.  The warmed blankets the nurses brought me could not penetrate through that cold.  I simply could not feel the warmth they brought me. 

 

Then, they told me my son had died.  And, suddenly the impossibility of feeling even colder became my reality.  The fires of hell could not have warmed me at that moment, although I thought for sure that is where I had awakened.  I had known the likelihood of his death, the very slim chances of his survival.  I had been living on hope and, now, that had been taken from me. I had nothing left to live on.  I have no fear of hell now because I have been there and survived.

 

I saw him – very briefly, a tiny lifeless body resting gently in the palm of my hand.  He fit in just one hand – just slightly less than a pound – and reminded me of a newborn kitten.  Well-meaning people hovered about, tending to me, trying to be supportive, not realizing that I wanted privacy.  I wanted to spend a private moment with my son.  I wanted to spend a private eternity with my son.  I wanted to rip myself back open and put him safely back inside where he could grow and become whole.

 

I go to the cemetery every year on his birthday.  I sit near the rose garden and grieve.  I grieve because my pain is all I have left of him since the hope was taken away.  I have no fond memories of him, but I have become fond of the ritual and the pain.  I cling to the pain as if letting it go would be to let him go all over again.  I rip myself open and allow the pain to grow until it is my whole being.  Then, when the fires of hell have burned themselves down to glowing embers, I go back home and continue my life until next year. 

 

Today, I took my only picture of Matthew – a Polaroid taken at the hospital – and scanned it.  After 24 years, it had faded.  But this picture I cling to, just as I cling to my pain, and I needed to preserve it.  Pictures fade faster than pain.  I do not know how I will preserve the pain if it ever starts to fade. 

 

Fight for Tradition – Against Prop. 8

I cried this morning as I passed a Proposition 8 protest.  I tried to hide my tears and the quiver in my voice from my daughter as she cheered for the No on Prop. 8 protestors.  I would have cheered if I had not been crying.  I honked the car horn instead, joining a noisy parade of other cars honking as we passed.  I was proud that the fight continues and even gains strength still.

I have listened lately to the Prop. 8 supporters cry foul because the Prop. 8 opponents will not just give up and go home, because the Prop. 8 opponents are protesting loudly and continuously and because there has been retaliation against Prop. 8 supporters.  As I listen, I am tempted to get out my violin and play the sad song that should be the soundtrack of their cries.  I have no sympathy. 

 

Please do not get me wrong, I do not condone any violent retaliation, but I cannot condemn those who boycott, picket and protest. 

 

I know a very strong supporter of Prop. 8, who I will not identify here in any way.  She believes homosexual behavior is a sin and homosexuality itself is an evil to be fought.  She believes it is appropriate to boycott gay-owned businesses and I have known her to refuse to do business with many local merchants for that reason alone.  She has also tried to persuade me to do the same.  She has offered me support in various aspects of my life, but only on the condition that I support her religious, moral and political views.  I have always believed it to be her right to live by her values, boycott people whose lifestyles she abhors, attempt to persuade others to her views, and to provide her support only where she believes it will support her own agenda.  I actually admire her, as one of the very few people I know who lives according to her stated principles.  She has integrity, misguided though I believe it to be. 

 

I disagree completely with her agenda.  I abhor that she writes letters to the editor that I find hateful.  I abhor that she videotapes even the spectators at gay pride parades (never minding that, by doing so, she becomes one as well) so that she can keep track of those whom she must boycott.  I abhor that she has forced her grandchildren to attend protests with her even when they disagree with her position or have so little understanding of the issues to even hold a position.  I abhor that she believes her views are the one true and correct view that all people should live by and attempts to force her views on others.  I abhor her lack of tolerance.  And yet, I admire her integrity and I can agree to disagree with her.  

 

For decades, I have watched the Prop. 8 supporter I know boycott, picket and protest against homosexuality, without a trace of remorse for her actions.  For decades!  And, it has not been only her.  Homophobes have not just given up on the issues; they have boycotted, picketed and protested.  They have retaliated in their own, sometimes even violent, ways.  And, they have condoned a society that allows even young school children to insult each other by calling each other fag or gay or lesbo.  Not an eyebrow is raised when these words are bandied about as pejorative terms as lightly as such innocuous terms as dweeb and dork. 

 

Is it any wonder, after decades of discrimination and abuse, a fleeting success in obtaining equal rights and the stripping away of those rights by the majority, that there is now a powerful backlash?  What amazes me is that the Prop. 8 supporters, who imposed their discrimination for decades, are complaining after only 10 days.  Please forgive my pettiness, but what wimps! 

 

My favorite of the comments I have seen so far is this from Andrew Pugno, the lawyer and spokesperson for the Yes On 8 campaign:  “This activity shows great disrespect for the will of the voters.” “It also shows religious intolerance,” he said, adding that his Catholic church was vandalized.    Forgive my bluntness, but a very slim majority that forces the minority to live according to its religious views by adopting its definition of marriage is hardly showing religious tolerance.  The disrespect here is that the majority really believes they should have the right to impose their will, establish their religious views as the law of the land and then play victim when the oppressed minority complains.
 
My family’s personal tradition and this country’s political tradition is one of fighting for what is right.  The revolution, the civil war and even, to a certain extent, the current war in Iraq (I know I’ll live to regret publishing those words) have been violent backlashes against injustices.  The civil rights movements of the last century were backlashes against injustice.  Had the revolutionaries given up and gone home at the first lost battle, we would not be a country today.  We would not have the freedoms that the Prop. 8 supporters are attempting to take away through the tyranny of their hateful majority. 

 

My ancestors committed treason so that we might have a better society.  That is our tradition.  That is the tradition I will support. 

 

I challenge all Prop. 8 opponents to be traditional – continue to fight for what is right!  Please try to do it in a way that respects the rights of even those who would deny the fundamental truth that we are all equal, but do it.  Take to the streets, the steps of city halls, the steps of the Capitol, and blogospheres.  Boycott, picket, protest and chant.   Be loud.  Drown out the crying of the wimps.  Do not give up and go home.  My daughter deserves the better society our ancestors fought for.  Let’s give it to her.  And, let’s set an example of doing what is right even when it is difficult, because who knows what injustice she will be fighting against in the future and she just might need a tradition of strength to call upon. 

Don’t be shocked: I Vote For Tradition

The Proposition 8 vote in California continues to ripple outward in every-increasing circles.   I knew Prop. 8 was not just a pebble tossed haphazardly in a pond; I thought it was a fairly substantial rock.  As it turns out, it was a boulder of unprecedented proportions.  And the ripples are large and will continue for a long time to come.  

 

Setting aside the retaliatory hatred that some members of the gay community (a phrase I hesitate to use because I do not believe that all gay people are of one community as this context proves) have shown toward supporters of Prop. 8, I think the ripples have been a force for positive change.  For myself, these ripples and the entire debate have brought my thought process down to its most fundamental (another word I hesitate to use for fear of being misconstrued, especially in this context) levels. 

 

While most of my concern during the debate was about what we are teaching our children and the hypocrisies exposed by the campaign, some of the other issues that have been rippling through my mind are of much broader significance.  They are issues of how we, as a country, can remain united in some common principle as we resolve this debate.  They are issues regarding the role of the government in our personal lives and the role of religion in our political lives.  They are issues of what exactly the nature of marriage is. 

 

Then, the details, struck me.  During the debate, Prop. 8 supporters talked about tradition and the sanctity of marriage.  I have always thought I knew what sanctity meant:  something is really, really special.  Well, obviously, that definition was insufficient for this debate and, while I have not yet checked the Oxford English Dictionary, a quick web search pulled up these definitions:

 

1. Holiness of life or disposition; saintliness.

2. The quality or condition of being considered sacred; inviolability.

3. Something considered sacred.

 

These definitions sound very religious to me.  What is sacred, saintly or holy is, clearly, a matter of religion.  Of those definitions, only “inviolability” seems to be a non-religious definition – something that, perhaps, our government might be concerned with.  My quick dictionary lookup defines inviolable as incapable of being transgressed or dishonored.  But, in fact, our government is not concerned with inviolability or it would not permit divorce except where some greater principle takes precedence.  Many have suggested that the logical route to protecting the sanctity (read inviolability) of marriage is to outlaw divorce. 

 

I think there are greater principles that take precedence.  In some cases, the inviolability of marriage is transgressed not by divorce but by the acts that precipitate it: abuse and neglect, adultery, failure to uphold the marriage contract itself.  Marriage is, after all, simply a contract between two people.  Granted, it is a contract that our laws imbue with innumerable rights and obligations automatically, regardless of the actual intent of the parties.  Should our laws limit the rights of two adults to define their contract as they desire?  I think not. 

 

So, when our political process results in an act intended by most of its supporters to protect the sanctity of marriage, are we establishing religion?  Are we simply protecting the free exercise of religion by those who agree regarding what is holy?  Are we hampering the free exercise of religion by those who do not find the same thing holy?  Or, are we simply stating as an electorate that marriage should be inviolable? 

 

If the latter, the logical course, which many have suggested, would changes in the divorce laws.  Perhaps “no fault” divorce is justified by no greater principle.  It is worth a healthy debate – more worthy than a debate about limiting the right of gay people to marry.

 

I propose, instead, as have many others, that the government get out of the marriage business entirely.  Leave “marriage” to religion and the personal contracts entered into between two consenting adults (of whatever persuasion).  If the many rights and obligations are worthy of being incorporated into those contracts, provide a mechanism for registering the union of the two people, so that it is clear who has those rights and who is bound by the obligations. 

 

We should then turn the debate to the more fundamental issue of what principles unite us.

I think we can, and should, unite behind the principle that no religion or religious ideals should govern this country.  To allow even the majority’s religious beliefs to guide our laws is a risky proposition.  Majorities change.  Next year, instead of Judeo-Christian concepts, Buddhist concepts might hold sway; the year after perhaps it will be Muslim concepts.  There are many religions and any could become a majority in the future – we have no crystal ball to know.

 

Do we want to blow with the winds of changing majorities or truly honor tradition by holding fast to the ideals of the Founding Fathers that there should be no tyranny of the majority and that religion and government should remain separate.  The supporters of Prop. 8 will tell you that this all comes down to tradition.  The question, then, is which tradition – the founding principles of this country or a majority’s religious tradition?  I vote for our political tradition. 

Californians Voted: For animals – more kindness; for humans – ??

It warmed my heart to see that emotion trumped economics and Californians overwhelmingly (a 63.2% majority as of the time of this writing) voted last Tuesday to be just a little more kind to animals.  Yes, it will probably increase the cost of eating in this state, but our egg-laying hens, breeding pigs and calves raised for veal are destined for a more humane existence.   We have liberated them to a degree, loosening the constraints on them and enlarging their cages.

But, as if kindness and humanity were finite resources, we sought to balance that kindness by becoming just a little bit more cruel to humans.  Instead of liberating humans, we have tightened the constraints on gay and lesbian couples who wish to make a lifelong commitment to each other and call it “marriage.”  Those gay and lesbian couples are now destined for a slightly less humane existence.  Their cages are a little smaller.  Thank goodness that vote was not so overwhelming (only a 52.5% majority as of the time of this writing) and there is still hope of change in the future. 

Almost a million voters in California voted to deny gay and lesbian couples the right to marry, while at the same time voting to allow breeding pigs, egg-laying hens and veal calves larger cages.  (See, http://vote.sos.ca.gov/Returns/props/59.htm for up-to-date vote counts)  The irony is certainly not lost on me.

The irony of how these issues are presented to school children is also not lost on me. 

Vegetarians have not, to my knowledge, campaigned with scare tactics about the horrors of our school children being taught that breeding pigs exist or that calves are raised for veal.  Certainly, some vegetarians might wish that our children not be taught that eating meat is okay. regardless of how the animals have been treated.  And, vegans may even want the idea of hens laying eggs for food banned from schools.  But they have not attempted to turn their personal values into a mandate for the schools.

Nor, to my knowledge, have the meat eaters.  Meat eaters have not been protesting that the schools are permitted to teach our children about vegetarian and vegan practices.  One might think that exposure to the idea that eating animals is wrong would threaten their way of life.  Being both the majority and more “traditional,” should they not be able to protect their way of life by mandating what schools can teach our children? 

I think both vegetarians and meat eaters understand that the mere exposure to an idea at school is not going to trump the lifestyle and values taught at home.  Or, maybe, most people are simply willing to allow their children to make up their own minds about their eating preferences. 

Preferences are, ultimately, personal.  And, freedom is, ultimately, about making those choices based on a fully-informed awareness of the options.  An uninformed choice is not a free choice.   

And one person’s informed choice should never diminish another’s.   

 

Proposition 8, Educational Reform & Advocating Ignorance

The Proposition 8 proponents win my award this year for the greatest seeming hypocrisy.  And, yet, I commend them for clarifying for me some of the fundamental issues that face me as I raise my daughter.

On the one hand, proponents of Prop. 8 argue that gay and lesbian people do not need to “marry” because they already have equal rights provided by the Domestic Partnership laws in California .  That sounds like a reasonable argument and leaves the entire debate open to being trivialized as merely a matter of political correctness and semantics.  It allows “tradition” to rule. 

Tradition, so easily associated with mom, apple pie and baseball, can be very compelling.  But, tradition can also be equated with the right of only land-owning, white men to vote, the right to beat your wife, slavery, segregation and many other atrocities we have fought to overcome in our society.  For me, “tradition” does not hold sway.  That we have always done it that way has never held up for me as a reason for any choice.

On the other hand, those same proponents have also engaged in a major scare campaign focused on the idea that children will be taught in school about “gay marriage.”  I’m sure we all have our own feelings about what exactly we want our children taught about gay marriage.  The range of options seems to go from never mentioning it at all, to a middle ground of merely stating as a fact that it exists in society, and finally to the extreme of promoting it as “the” correct choice.  Nobody actually believes the schools are going to promote gay marriage as the correct choice for school children, so really we are arguing about whether or not to recognize the existence of gay and lesbian couples who have made a commitment to each other or some other middle position on the issue.  Not recognizing an entire segment of the population and their commitment to each other seems rather like sticking our heads in the sand and refusing to see reality. 

I do not want to teach my daughter to ignore reality, so I would prefer that she know these things exist in our society.  Knowledge of their very existence allows the conversations necessary to identify and pass down the values I want her to learn.   Ignorance, obviously, comes from the root word “ignore.”  Do Prop. 8 proponents really want to advocate for ignorance?  It seems that way to me. 

I, personally, would rather my daughter learn about the existence of gay marriage than have soda pop, candy and other unhealthy nutritional options available to her at every turn.   I would rather she learn about the existence of gay marriage than be exposed daily to hypocrisy. 

I would rather she learn about the existence of gay marriage than be taught that the standards of other people should be her sole guide in life.   It is only when the schools present their ideas as standards to live by (standardized curriculum, tests and grades present the schools this way to children) that mere exposure to an idea becomes dangerous.  To me, the danger is not that my child will learn that gay marriage exists, but that she might believe that the school knows what is best for her because the school system presents itself that way and parents buy into that idea.  The danger is that she will equate exposure to an idea with endorsement of that idea, whether that be the idea of gay marriage or the idea that sugar is an appropriate reward for a good effort.  I want her to learn to question the ideas she is exposed to.  That is where true learning takes place.

And what about the equal rights provided by domestic partnership laws?  Here is the hypocrisy of the Prop. 8 proponents.  How can there be equal rights when there is not an equal right to choose the language used to describe oneself?  How can there be equal rights when an entire segment of the population is denied existence in the very system that purports to expose our children to the knowledge they need to live their lives?  How can there be equal rights when the educational system, which claims to know what is best for children, filters on the basis of individual and even societal biases the range of information available to those children. 

I am frightened that the school system has so much influence on our children that the very threat of information being available to children in school has as much political force as is apparent in the debate on Proposition 8.  It seems to me that the entire debate is misfocused.  We should not be debating who can get married, who can use the word “marriage” to describe their relationship and whether marriages of all kinds can be discussed in school.  Instead, we should be debating whether we have given the schools too much power over the minds and hearts of our children.  We should be examining whether we, as parents, have abdicated our responsibilities to raise our children to such a degree that exposure to an idea at school is an actual threat. 

If exposure to an idea in school is really a threat to the very foundations of our society, it is the schools that are in need of reform, not marriage laws.  Let’s refocus the debate and leave people to work out their own relationships, calling them whatever they choose.

 

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