Saturday, September 28, 2013

Why Do It?

Do you ever sit down and analyze yourself?

I do.

Maybe not as frequently or as deeply as I should, but I do.

Usually it takes a 'life event' to make me look more closely at my motives for doing things. But lately, I'm asking myself if the thing I like to do in my spare time - my hobby, my pasttime, my passion - is worth the time I spend. And I wonder if there is value in hiding away, typing like my life depends on it. Some days I struggle to get words on the page, mostly on the days when I feel less than positive or feel a great deal of stress from the other aspects of my life. I mean, let's be realistic here, I'm married, I have four kids - three of whom still live at home, I have a fairly demanding full-time job, kids' activities, a home to take care of, and on and on and on.

And I end up asking myself, is it worth it? Am I any good at this? Am I neglecting other things in order to do it?

Why am I doing this?

So here's where I'm at right now.

My life is 'safe'. I have a good job. I'm still head-over-heals for my husband of 25 years. My kids are becoming young adults, and are doing pretty well so far. There are daily struggles, sure, but overall, things are good. In fact, if you ask my mother, I'm 'the stable one' of her five children (a topic for which many blog posts could be written).

My life is all earthtones. Like my living room.

Don't get me wrong. I love earth tones. I'm comfortable in earth tones. In some ways, I AM earth tones. (Terms like solid, dependable, detail-oriented come to mind - but I call myself OCD).

I like to be safe. I like to feel secure. And I want my kids to feel safe and secure, something I lacked at times growing up.

But there is a streak of bright crimson that runs through me, and I NEED to allow myself to let it out of my carefully protected self. I CRAVE the catharsis of writing words on a page, of telling a story, expressing my inner being in a way that I usually don't. I WANT other people to feel deep emotions when they read something I've written. I DESIRE a way to move others' souls.

Truth is, I want to create an impact like those I experience when I watch a deeply meaningful dance routine, listen to a beautifully phrased song, or look at a painting that touches a chord in my heart.

Singing is out of the question, and I gave up dancing a while back (other than for my own, or my family's amusement). John is the more artistic of the two of us, though he doesn't draw often.

Words are my creative outlet.

Writing is my release, my deep breath, if you will.

And I'm at the point where I realize that I will continue to write, whether I'm writing for myself, for my family, or for a broader audience some day.

I can't promise that I'll spend as much time each day as I have been. I've realized that in a few years my kids will be grown, they'll leave my carefully constructed nest. John and I will have much more time to ourselves, and I'm sure that I'll be able to write while he watches his favorite sports (which means I'll have a lot of time).

I'll never stop putting pen to paper - or more accurately, fingers to keyboard.

My season to pursue writing more furiously will come. In the meantime, I'll continue doing what I do - all of it, shifting focus to the adult  market, rather than YA. It's more fitting for my voice, I know. (Teens aren't earth tones.)

Because it's impossible for me to give up the feeling of visualizing something and striving to translate it into words.

It would be folly to think I wouldn't burst if I never put another thought down on paper.

Writing is a part of me. A part I'm unwilling to give up.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Is It Okay To Be Pretty When I Grow Up?

I read a blog a couple of weeks ago that was linked to my friend's Facebook account, and I've been stewing ever since.

See, in this blog a woman talked about how she helped her sons cull their Facebook friends - a process that was based on the 'seductive bra-less pajama pictures' young women posted (the harlots! - gasp).

I won't even start to talk about the fact that her rather judgmental post was littered with pictures of her teenage sons, shirtless. I doubt she saw the hypocrisy of adding those 'family fun' pictures to this particular post.

What I really want to address is the fact that she is extremely biased against young women, something that she learned from the culture around her.

Let me back up for a minute here and tell you what I mean.

My 17-year-old daughter dances on her high school drill team. They dress in costumes that, well, aren't always extremely modest. There are people who judge her for that - but that isn't where I'm going with this. Thankfully, she knows who she is, and their judgment, though unwarranted, will not harm her self-esteem (I hope).

So last week the Excaliburs (her drill team) had a Mini-Excalibur Camp. They taught nearly 70 younger girls a dance over three days, which was performed at the halftime of the high school football game. And it was so much fun to watch.

Baelee is a senior, and in the previous two years, she has worked with the youngest group of girls, three to six. This year, however, Baelee worked with the oldest group, those who were twelve to sixteen.

She complained to me that it wasn't as much fun as the last two years.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because the little girls are just there to have fun. They dance. They laugh. They don't care if they make a mistake. Every minute is joyful for them. The older girls are so worried about how they look, how other people will judge them, that they aren't enjoying themselves as much."

And then she added, "Why can't we just be happy and enjoy what we do? Why does society take that away from us as we grow up?"

What followed was a wonderful conversation with my daughter about how the way people treat us can lead to insecurities and fears, and the fact that self-esteem is too linked to what other people think. I'm glad she talked to me about this. And I truly wish every girl could talk to a parent about things like this.

See moms and dads, our daughters are growing up in a culture that sends mixed messages at them. Constantly.

You're lazy if you weigh too much.
You're a diva if you're proud of your body.

It's a bad thing to have acne or a uni-brow.
You'll look easy if you wear too much make-up to cover up flaws or pluck too much.

You're likely to 'get in trouble' if you date just one boy.
You'll be considered a 'slut' if you date too many boys.

You're an outcast if you wear the wrong type of clothing.
You'll be raped (and deserve it) if you wear popular clothing that's more revealing.

You're smart, you should be in college.
You're supposed to be a mom, not a productive worker in society, so don't expect to make as much as your male counterparts.
And if you're a mom and a worker outside the home, you can't do it well enough. Your kids will suffer.

You're too fat. You're too thin. You're too young. You're too old. You're too smart. You aren't smart enough. You don't wear the right clothes. You don't hang with the right crowd. That color looks bad on you. Your hair isn't cut right. Your hair would look better straight/curly/short/long - whatever it isn't. How horrible that you're pierced or tattooed, or both. Get a life, you're a goody-two shoes.

And I'll promise you that our girls HEAR these things. They REMEMBER these things.

 Negative, packed on negative, packed on negative. You just can't win.

The compliments they get won't undo the sharp jabs that come at them from every side. (And we've trained them to shrug off compliments, anyway.)

And then maybe, just maybe, your daughter goes to school one day and a friend approaches her.

"Hey, didn't that Hall boy unfriend you on Facebook?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"Well, his mom wrote a blog about how she makes her boys unfollow trampy girls."


Some girls might spill an expletive. Some girls might cry. Some girls might not say anything, but will internalize the insult. Some might even ask themselves if they've ever acted in an inappropriate way around the Hall boy.

Way to go Hall mom.

You've just knocked a teenage girl's self-esteem down. You win.

Or how about the girl who hits the 'like' button on a Facebook post. Something simple like 'hey, can't you respect your friend's house?', only to be attacked by a group of other girls on Twitter.

"Who do you think you are?"
 "Why do you think you're better than us?"
"You're just a (fill in the blank with the meanest word you can think of)."

It's really easy to say hurtful things when you don't have to see the reaction. And we wonder why bullying is such a problem.

Or worse, how about a young girl who makes a bad decision to drink at a party and is raped by the boys in attendance, only to be told by many people that she 'deserved it'? And to add insult to injury, people post pictures of the assault on social media?

She ends up moving because the people in town are upset the football players got in trouble. After all, she's the 'sleazy' girl who got drunk and was wearing seductive clothing. The boys had absolutely no control over their own behavior, right?

And if you don't think all the previous negatives and a post by a kinda well-meaning mom contribute to the problem of rape culture that we're facing, well, you need to think again.

We are constantly telling girls that their bodies are sexual things, that boys will be boys - and if they aren't careful, boys will assault them. Then we tell them that sex is bad. That good girls wait. Good girls don't have feelings of sexual attraction. And all the while they are hitting puberty, hormones raging.

And their self-esteem takes another hit.

'I must be a bad person because I feel sexually attracted to someone.'
'I'm bad because I'm curious about sex.'
'I'm not a good girl because I like to see boys without their shirts on.'

Is there some unwritten rule that says we can't teach our girls that attraction is normal and natural? Can't we teach them (and their male counterparts) that they have the ability to choose a course that is right and healthy for themselves? That no boy has the right to choose for them? That waiting is healthy? That choosing not to wait is a decision best made when taking responsibility for safety? (Yes, I know that parents want their children to choose based on their moral guidelines, but shouldn't they be prepared for any situation?)

Why do we do this to our girls? Our children?

Why do grown women set an example of gossip and judgment for their kids?

Why do we tell our daughters that whatever it is they are is not right?

What do we have against being happy with ourselves?

To my daughters and sons, I say, "You are amazing people. I love who you are becoming. Keep your chins up. You have great worth, no matter what you hear from the world."

To the world I say,  "To hell with 'dancing like noone can see you. Dance like the world is watching, and you're proud to be yourself."

Thursday, September 12, 2013

What Are You Afraid Of?

What scares you?

I mean really, really takes you down, makes your cheeks flush as an icy cold tremor runs down the length of your spine and your hands get sweaty, makes your muscles freeze up and your stomach clench with a sick feeling that immobilizes you, makes you have nightmares for a week. That kind of fear.

When I was young, it was spiders. After a particularly high fever and hallucinations of spiders crawling up my favorite spotted blanket, I couldn't stand to look at them. I can remember a day when I screamed for my mom to come and save me from a black widow. It was on the driveway, and there was no way on Earth I was going to walk past it with bare feet. My mother rescued me, rolling her eyes. "It's just a spider. You should have killed it."

I get that now. Moms can't afford to be afraid of spiders -- we're too busy saving our children from them. (Bring on my shining armor already.) I may shudder in revulsion after squashing one, but I do it anyway.

Heights still paralyze me.

Not that I've let it stop me from enjoying life (mostly - I'll never have the thrill of jumping from an airplane or throwing myself off a bridge at the mercy of a bungee cord). I've hiked through Arches National Park - and yes, I did crawl back from Delicate Arch to the trailhead, but I stood at the edge of the cliff and looked down from under the Arch, and it was glorious. Until I started to feel dizzy.

I went to the top of the Stratosphere in Las Vegas and rode the Big Shot. Three times! And roller coasters, well just try and stop me from going on every one I can.

But I still can't look when my husband climbs on the roof of our house.

Most people say speaking in public is one of their greatest fears. I used to agree with them. That was before I had to speak in front of about a thousand people (yes, literally a thousand). And I survived. Intact, even.

If you ever sit behind me when I speak to a large group, you'll see my feet shuffling, my ankles rolling from side to side, and possibly my knees knocking a little. At first. Once I get going, you'll be lucky to shut me up (I like to talk, I mean really, really like to talk).

I will never be accused of being agoraphobic. Bring on the crowds.

The greatest fear I have these days is for my children.

I was in the waiting room of the dentist's office when the first reports of Oklahoma City broke, and I sat with the receptionist, gaping at the television, in disbelief that anyone would choose to cause such destruction.

I watched as children were rushed out of Columbine High School, and I cried with a young man who was our neighbor. Neither of us could understand what would cause teens to do something like that.

And I'll never forget watching planes fly into the World Trade Center, and wondering what the world would be like as my children grew. The sick feeling from that event lasted for days as I watched people looking for their loved ones, posting picture after picture on the wall. I hugged my kids a lot during that time, grateful they were close to me.

The news is full of the worst possible scenarios. Horrified, I watched reports of kidnapped young women and prayed for their safe return. And I was stunned to hear there was a man who held three young ladies captive in his home for a decade. Aghast that a teenager was shot by an adult while walking home from getting junk food. Car accidents caused by texting while driving. Alcohol poisoning on college campuses.  Mothers and fathers who would never see their children grow up. The list of possible dangers is endless and could leave a parent unable to breathe.

And those are the things I have no control over.

I also fear that my kids aren't prepared for life. That I haven't done enough to teach them.

Parenthood, right? sigh

Sometimes I think my kids are fearless (except for spiders, which we've already established). But there are quiet evenings when they'll lie down next to me and tell me their worries, share their fears with me. I hurt for them, with them. And I do everything in my power to help them. I tell them they have no boundaries - they can be who they want to be, do what they want to do. And I encourage them, as every mother would.

But all I can really say is to never let fear stop them from accomplishing the things they want to accomplish.

It's great advice my mother gave me.

I'm still working on getting it right.