Can’t We All Just…Keep Bugging the Crap Out of Each Other?

Most of y’all know me well enough to know that I strongly believe that we, as a society have an obligation towards equality: gender equality, racial equality, marriage equality. Everyone deserves the same rights and opportunities, and the government has the responsibility to make sure no one is materially harmed by their policies. State sanctioned hatred, bigotry, and discrimination is wrong, and hurtful. And there is no place for it in our government. I’ve also made the choice that there is no room for it in my life.

I also believe, just as strongly, that there is no obligation by the government, or any other major entity to “protect us” from being offended. And I certainly don’t want anyone like Apple, Amazon, or Walmart to decide which offensive things are okay and which ones are not. 

Because here’s the deal: in spite of the fact that I may share one or several common opinions with each of you, every single one of you will find a point of disagreement with me, or someone else, on what is offensive somewhere. As a society,  we seem to have lost sight of the difference between materially damaging someone’s ability to get a good job, rent or buy a house, or marry the person they love (because tax breaks and and health insurance, y’all),  and getting our feelings hurt or getting offended. 

Bad manners in general kill me, but oh, my goodness, watching or listening to someone work their food, like a cow chews cud, drives me up a wall. And I get truly offended that people can’t think enough of common decency to let those around them enjoy their meal. And don’t get me started on bad grammar. Does this mean I get to demand that there be a law against it? As much as I joke that there should be one, no. Because no one is being materially harmed, and there is no legal responsibility to protect my delicate sensibilities. And you know what? Stores like Walmart are covered with t-shirts and posters with half naked women, in suggestive poses, and idiotic sayings. And yeah, they’re offensive. But as long as the women posing are of age, and were legally paid for their time in the photo shoot, then I get to be offended, wonder aloud why anyone would want to even own such a thing, and move on.

He same holds true for the Confederate flag. Or the Nazi flag. Or any other slimy, offensive thing out there. Others are free to buy all they want, and I’m glad of it. Makes moving through the world easier…it’s like a big name tag that people can wear, “Hi! I’m George, and I’m an intolerant jerk!” Those folks are identified at a distance, and I never have to even acknowledge their existence. And, in this case, we each had a choice. Greorge could choose to be a jerk, and I could choose to be offended, then walk away. And as long as neither of us were materially harmed by our opinions, we move on. I really think, though, that if everyone would move through the world actively being kind to one another, there’d be a lot less to get really offended about. 
Okay…left field conspiracy theory here, but it bears thinking about: when we are fed stories, and get all wound up about being protected from being offended, guess where we aren’t spending our energy? Yep, protecting each other from the injustices that cause real harm. And not only is that sad…it’s scary as hell. It’s the modern day equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as it’s sinking. And we have to stop. 

So put on your big girl and big boy panties, get out there, and quit worrying about being offended, and try to affect some real change.

What Winning Really Looks Like

A pair of 12 year old boys schooled me in sportsmanship today, and one of them happened to be mine.  I honestly can’t remember being so inspired by a kid I knew, doing the right thing…and the fact that it was my kid has humbled me beyond belief.

Both of my boys competed in a martial arts tournament today, and found themselves in the advanced division for the first time.  This was also the first competition for the oldest since breaking his arm at his testing in January.  He did extremely well, earning a spot in the finals before any of us could even breathe.  In fact, it ended up being the closest match I’ve ever seen him in.  It was also one of the cleanest matches I’ve ever seen – both boys bumping hand pads, patting each others shoulders, and compliment each other for every point. One would think they were best friends, rather than having never met before.

The last point of the match was amazing…they were tied at 4, the next point decide the winner.  Both boys struck with a head shot.  At. The. Exact. Same. Moment. The closest tie I’ve ever seen.  Only…there was a problem.  The other kid had made contact with B in the face – a move the whole group was warned about before they got started.  And were warned that any facial contact would result in a point for the other team.  Which means, regardless of how it was scored, B would win.  But wait…did the judges see it?  A few of us thought B was in first anyways, but it was truly too close to call.  But B wasnt moving, giving any indication of the infraction. I knew it had to hurt, since it was right below is eye; all he had to do was move his hand to his face, and the trophy was his.  Nothing…just him standing still, waiting for the judges’ call…1 judge for B, and 2 for the other kid.  My kid got second place.  

Don’t get me wrong, the boy B was sparring was one test away from his black belt, and B is just about half way there.  I was incredibly proud of how he fought.  And the judges did a fantastic job…it really could have gone either way.  But B didn’t give any indication of the facial contact until after the other kid was declared a winner.

Realizing what had happened, the other kid made his way straight to B, and I could see him apologizing profusely.  B, waved him off, then graciously accepted his tag for his second place trophy. 

Later, while waiting for his little brother to take his turn in ring, I took a moment to tell B again how proud I was of his performance.  That’s when he told me, “I didn’t want anyone to know he had hit me in the face, because I knew that would mean he would lose.  I didn’t want to win like that – he beat me.” My kid, in a match too close to call, fighting someone 3 months from his black belt, walked away from a win because he didn’t think he earned it.

In an era of pro athletes fighting PED suspensions based on the schedule of the Fed Ex guy, others fighting for every advantage they can get, legitimate or not, my TWELVE YEAR OLD CHILD walked away from what would have been a legitimate win because he didn’t think he earned it,.  He vastly preferred second place that he felt he earned to a first place win on a technicality.  Never mind the fact that both shots were basically a tie, and he could have been declared the winner on that alone.  My child walked away, because he thought it was the right thing to do.

I don’t care that his trophy was a tad shorter, or read second instead of first.  And I really think he was prouder of that 2nd place trophy than he would have been had he been awarded first.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what a winner really looks like.  Yet again, I am inspired and humbled by the little human in my house, and those that have helped me to create the amazing creature he continues to grow in to.  I’m not sure what I did to be blessed with him, but I’m awfully glad he’s mine.

 

Umm…Karma, You Might Want to Correct That Aim

I’ve been struggling with how to get this off my chest without sounding like a total whack job; but then I realized, the majority of you that might actually read this already know. And this crazy person has been listening to the rhetoric of all 535 members of Congress, and the dozen or so mouthpieces from the Oval Office, and I’ve come to a rather obvious realization: That while our legislators may not see the government’s money as real money (and seriously, could you even count to a trillion? I’d lose all frame of reference too), they don’t see our money as real money either. I honestly believe that they think that it’s all going to come out of thin air, (or out of some other place usually reserved as an exit only kind of anatomical region.)

Much of what I heard, admittedly, with the attitude that I would really rather they stop talking all together, were promises that only the rich would see any real increases. However, like the guy that eats ALL the shrimp cocktail at the Christmas party every year, they have helped themselves to over FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS A YEAR of this definitely not rich family’s finances. Congress may have avoided the fiscal cliff, but they did so by pushing me, and my decidedly middle class bretheren off of it instead.

Given the Government’s ability to print more money when the need arises, or just ignore the fact that they don’t have it, us little folk don’t have the same luxury. We have to come up with that $5000 somewhere; because that’s what people with a finite amount of resources do. So, here’s the raggedy little bungee cord we are using to hang on during our freefall off the cliff:

Both my husband and I work full time, and we each often eat out for lunch. Rather than a drive through bucket o’calories at a mega-chain fast food restaurant, we try to eat local where possible. Well, trimming that kind of change out of your budget makes sit down, tip your server, eating at the local restaurant a treat, instead of a 3-4 times a week thing. Our new lunch plans will likely include lunch at home, or hitting the said drive thru for whatever they have for 99 cents that won’t give me a heart attack by my 2:30 meeting. But wait…bye bye, local sales and restaurant taxes…us not eating out as much, means you miss out on the 11% of my bill that you already tax my visit. Quick math, $15 a visit, 3 times a week,= $45. Multiply that times 2 for my husband, and you’re at 90. 11% of % that is roughly $10. Stay with me…52 weeks, and that’s $520 lost in local tax revenue from our basic lunch habits

And I’m sorry, regular server…I know I’m a chronic over-tipper because I used to wait tables. You’ll have to do more with less too, I’m sure you can find the average $15 a week in tips from me elsewhere, even though you still have to pay taxes on a percentage of your sales, regardless of whether or not you actually made that much in tips.

The next to go : local entertainment – Nextflix instead of heading to the movies, or local mini-golf or laser tag, other local goods and services: coffee shops, clothing stores, vintage stores. Even the big stores suffer here…Target, Lowe’s, and even Wal-Mart will see a lot less of the Stukenborg cash stash. Store revenue will obviously drop, but again, tax revenue goes with it. I will more and more often turn to places like Amazon: great deals, free shipping, and no tax, so I can recoup at least a little bit. Geez, when you list it out, I’m basically a one woman economic stimulus package. But those don’t work, so you won’t miss our family’s dollars. I hope the local emergency services, animal shelter, library, and schools don’t miss them either.

For those of you still with me, I can hear you thinking, $5000 out of the local economy, “yeah, stinks for you, but you can keep a roof over your head and your family fed.” That, and , “your local government really won’t miss your tax revenue.”

Before I rant any farther, hear me: I am incredibly grateful for the fact that my husband and I are blessed with great jobs, and the ability to make sure that our kids are taken care of, with maybe a little extra sometimes. But this is not just about me. The fact that I ,and others that are similarly blessed have that ability is what helps keep many others employed. In fact, everyone’s ability to spend money keeps everyone employed. That’s society in a nutshell…you pay me to work, and I buy stuff from someone else…at their job. Then they buy stuff, and so on and so one. But if people can no longer buy stuff, then there’s less money for everyone else.

Pretend for a minute, that there are 200 families like mine, in my city alone, that are facing the same issues. 200 families times $5000 a year is ONE MILLION DOLLARS out of my local economy that is no longer there. Less money for my city to provide services, less money for my schools, and less money in the pockets of my neighbors to spend. Oooh, look! Less money in my pocket means less in the economy. An economy that is hanging on like a half empty goldfish bowl, and just got attacked by a very thirsty kitty cat.

Living Karma Through Your Clone

Every so often, when one or both of my boys are trying to show the world that they are not being raised by me, but by wolves, I hear a soft, ghostly laugh, over my shoulder into my left ear. To this day, I remain convinced that it’s my mother, laughing from heaven at the fact that I am indeed, paying for my raising. You see, at 13, during one of those fights with my mom, she hit me with the curse of all curses: “I hope, one day, you have a kid. Just. Like. You.”. Being the overachiever that she was however, my mom went a step further: “I hope you have TWINS, just like you”. At the time, it seemed like the lamest comeback of all time. In fact, I think my response was something to the effect of “Oooh…good one, Mom. Is that the best you can do?” In my twenties, I started to get a hint of just what she unleashed on me, and promptly vowed to move in next door, should her deepest desires prove to be true. Instead, I had one at a time, both boys, and for a time, believed that I had dodged the dreaded mommy-curse.

After tempting fate with the first one, I thought I was safe enough to go back into the water. He was quite a bit like me, but our similarities were more amusing than an instrument of karmic terror: absentminded, hopelessly messy, dreamer. I bore a child who was, indeed, just like me, and it seemed to be ok – the worst I faced from him when he was little, was his inability to sleep, and a violent aversion to new foods. How bad could an insomniac that lived on peanut butter be? The answer was simple – not bad enough to keep me from going back for seconds. Even after my youngest was born, I still thought I was safe. After all, I had two boys. And boys, last I looked, were nothing like me at the most fundamental level. Girl, here, remember? Not a boy. And not twins…they were 3 years apart. I had escaped! Woo hoo! I even named the youngest after my mother, both because I loved her and missed her terribly, and on some level, declaring myself safe from the mommy curse.

Fast forward 8 years, and we’re staring at an 8 year old boy, who is indeed, Just. Like. Me. The only way we can tell our baby pictures apart is that my photos are on cardboard and I am in some form of brown or orange 70’s plaid. His baby pictures, being the second child, are non-existant. I was too busy chasing his brother (those of you with more than one, reasonably close together, knows exactly what I mean) to actually use the camera in my hand. But looking at him is like looking in a mirror. Or a time machine…giant brown eyes, same fair skin, same coloring… People actually ask me, “did you ever notice how much you two look alike?”. Nope. Never. Ummm, really? What they should be marveling at is how much we ACT alike.

In fact, he was the inspiration for the name of my blog, because his nickname is Karma. And he will tell you that I always say that God’s got a sense of humor, making your Karma look just like you, so there’s no doubt about who’s paying for the raising. Smart (too smart for his own good), funny (class clown extraordinaire), persistent (no is not in his vocabulary), and operates with a great sense of urgency (the whole world must bow to his whims, NOW).

These two can’t POSSIBLY be related

Earlier this week, one of my favorite people in the whole world suffered the unimaginable terror of having her son go missing for 3 hours. Think about that for a minute. 3 hours. As long as it takes to play an NFL football game, or drive 180 miles. For those of you that are parents, think of the very small handful of times you have lost your child at the department store for 30 seconds. Hold on to that mind numbing dread for a minute. Now, think about holding onto that for 3 hours. I cannot imagine how she survived, or how she will ever want to even let him go to the bathroom alone for the next 6 months.

That same evening, knowing he was safe in his bed and that he was never in any danger, I looked down at my own kids, sleeping in my bed. They were asleep in my bed because that night, I was reluctant to let them out of my reach. But before they went to sleep that night, they were inexplicably perfect. Sweet, loving (even to each other), and took direction better than a trained bird dog. There they were – my perfect children. I then realized that I really did want them to have children just like them, and I like to think that my mom saw something in me to want my kids to mirror even a small part of it. Oh, trust me, I will be there as a grandparent to laugh hysterically at every wrestling match in the living room, every note home stating “please teach your child to refrain from lapping milk from the chair, and teaching the younger kids to follow suit” (true story), and any other adventure they cook up.

But I also wish on them the joy of children with the ability to inspire the same love, joy, laughter, and all out silliness that they themselves do.

And I hope that said offspring look just like them. Just so they know who’s payin for the raisin’. And of course because they are so stinking cute.

Lessons From an Emperor Penguin

As the 4 of you that are loyal readers know, I started writing this blog secure in the belief that Karma was real, and that it might be at least mildly entertaining to sit back, and watch both myself, as well as the world at large get what was coming to them, both good and bad. I had actually planned on something witty and hilarious about what on Earth we, in Central Oklahoma and Northwest Arkansas, did to deserve the multitude of earthquakes that have plagued us for the last week or so, and I may still. But right now, all I can see is that the Earth is responding to the awful, horrific events that have come to light from Happy Valley this week.

Our kids think that as they grow, parents have more and more confidence in their abilities to operate independently. Sending them off into the wide world, no matter how short a distance, alone, says to them, “You’re ready. You’ve got this”. As they jump out of the car, disappearing into the doorway of whatever building we have sent them, they have learned to say (in the words of my 11 year old), “I’m good”. What they don’t realize is that when we drop them off, sending them out into the world of scouts, basketball practice, sleepovers with the neighbor kid, they’re not heading off into the world alone. Oh, no. In fact, the “handoff” is a delicate dance, as finely tuned and precise as two Emperor penguins moving a baby chick from one set of feet to another. One misstep, one mistake, and the baby hits the ice and freezes to death within minutes.

The only thing that allows us to function as parents as we start to teach our children to develop independence, is the ability to look in the eyes of adults we hand our children to, and know that above all else, “you will not drop my child”. That whatever “penguin” we have trusted our children to, will keep them safe, warm, and away from the leopard seals of the world. This is what makes the whole Penn State situation so disturbing, and so terrifying. Make no mistake about it, the leopard seal here is Jerry Sandusky. I know he has yet to be convicted by a jury; however, he has admitted to enough heinous activity already that there is no doubt about what kind of predator he is. If you’ve watched documentaries on Emperor penguins, you know that leopard seals will typically hide under the ice, and pick off the penguins that are either slow, lost, or venture into the water first. Once the other penguins figure out what is going on, they sound the alarm. Occasionally, the seal will make its way onto the surface of the ice, and chaos ensues. Some penguins will make as much noise as they can, both as a warning and an attempt to scare the seal away. And finally, a few brave penguins will put their own lives on the line to try and drive the seal away, back into the dark corner of the water it came from, hopefully bleeding.

No one in authority at Penn State did either of these things. The very ones that should have been at the front lines, doing everything they could to protect those that were not able to protect themselves, did something even worse than running away. They looked the leopard seal in the eye, and all but handed him a napkin with a “bon appétit”. And Joe Paterno, everyone’s beloved JoePa, bears a giant portion of this burden. For years, he did worse than nothing. While this was going on in his locker room, at HIS university (for we all know that he is PSU), under his nose, he was sitting in hundreds of living rooms around the country, looking parents in the eye and saying, “trust us with your young men”.

Yes, JoePa, you did everything you were legally bound to do. But when those babies needed a hero to take on the leopard seal, where were you? How could you not do everything in your power to live up to the image you so carefully crafted, and that the entire nation had of you? And if we, as parents can’t trust that Joe Paterno, the poster child for ethics and morality in college football, would step up, who can we expect to? The first reaction is, “how can I ever let my babies of my sight again?”, but I know I will. I also know that those involved will get exactly what they deserve. I may not ever see it, but trust me, it will happen.

And once again, out of nowhere, here comes the big ol’ karmic blessing. Because deep down inside, under the fear, the revulsion, and the disappointment I’m still feeling, I really do know that there are those that will not drop my child. And that my boys and I have friends and adults in their life that have more guts, integrity, and all around character than Joe Paterno himself. And it’s a pretty amazing feeling. And if there is a leopard seal hiding in our waters, it will be found, and NO ONE will suffer in silence. Not on my watch.

A Pirate Looks at 40…One More Time

As I sit here on the anniversary of my 40th birthday, it seemed like a good time to revisit the trauma of turning 40, share my coming to terms again, and let everyone know that the red stilettos are still rockin. Enjoy!

A Pirate Looks at 40…Sort Of…

I made peace with the number 40 tonight, on my way home from work. It seemed odd, after completely freaking out for months, that a traffic-fraught ride home and some good 80s music on the iPod could take care of the whole thing. All of my friends that are already past 40, or are so far from it that they think I’m crazy can stop laughing now. Louis and Erin, this means you. =)

I think the thing that had me the most upset about the prospect was that I looked out on the horizon, and there was me. At 40. With a station wagon and a pair of sensible shoes. For some reason, it seemed like 40 was the year that it was all over, and I would have to put away the silly, and tell my inner child that it was time to hang it up; it was a good run, but it’s over. To top it off, Don Henley was there in my ear (ok, so shouting at a decible that was sure to cause long term hearing damage) telling me, “Don’t look back. You can never look back”. But why? I wanted to look back. Back was the other way from that number. 40. Back was the land of broken down buses in Kettleman City (you know who you are) and pirate ship rides in Santa Cruz with entire soccer teams. Back was all the silly kid stuff I could ever want.

But then…I realized that the visions of back were through the glasses of 20 years of experience, and pain, and growing up, and learning what it all meant. The real “back” was fun, yes. But also full of all that icky teen angst and college drama that I would never really live again if I was paid to. It was like taking a test without not only not studying, but having never even known you were taking the class. The difference is that now I was looking back at the test, and I knew the answers.

But then I realized, I think I know how to be 40.

When I am 40, I will:

Still drive down the road with the “good” music blaring, knowing I look slightly ridiculous. But we do have the best music.

Do my darndest to continue to get carded for as long as I possibly can, and giggle appropriately when I do

Still refuse to acknowledge grey hair, and put nearly anything on my face to banish those pesky “fine lines”

Play

Look back, but not reach back. Those good times were completely amazing, but nothing will compare to the 4 am snuggle of a 6 year old that is totally and completely yours

Be patient with the “young ones”. They don’t even know they’re taking the test, let alone know the answers. I will however, bust out that knowing look on occasion.

40? Bring it.

And the sensible shoes? 4 inch red patent stilletos.

Making Sense Out of the Senseless

Soon after the tornado hit Joplin last week, I figured that at some point, I’d write about making sense of how karma could have played into such an awful act of Mother Nature. Really, how on earth could something so awful be anything close to balancing the universe? The pictures, and the stories were horrific. Nearly an entire nation waited with bated breath to discover the fate of Will Norton, senselessly pulled from the passenger seat of his car by 200 mile an hour winds. His crime? Leaving his high school graduation with his dad. For every well publicized story like this, there were hundreds that most will never hear about, and all of them would break your heart. The description of a missing 12 year old painted on the side of a truck; a woman waiting for 4 hours besides the body of her grandfather, knowing that no one was coming until the living had been attended to; the discovery of the clothing of a missing infant wrapped around a telephone pole, but the baby was nowhere to be found.

Like every good Southern woman, my first reaction in a time of great need is to feed someone. When the opportunity presented itself to join a crew doing just that for first responders, relief workers, and victims, I jumped. Besides the overwhelming need to
do something, anything, to help, I was hoping to try to make sense of what happened. Instead, I found my own life changed forever, and blessed beyond all expectation.

Not for a minute do I really believe that God sent a tornado down to the city of Joplin with the express purpose of destroying a good chunk of the city, and taking well over 100 lives. What I learned, however, is that His real work began once the winds stopped. By 9:00 the next morning, the company I work for was onsite, ready to feed folks from 2 different locations. One, at the edge of the devastation so victims could find them easier, and the other, at the police station to try and take care of first responders in a small, but very important way. I spent an evening at the police station, and when I arrived, I was prepared to provide, love, gratitude and comfort to those serving. Instead, I was the recipient of all of it.

Every police office, fire fighter, National Guardsman that came through the line acted like we were doing them a favor for feeding them a hot meal. They were combing the wreckage, finding God only knows what unspeakable horror, and they were thanking me. Volunteers asked me when the last time I had a hug was, and proceeded to give them to me; Joplin police officers smiled at me, the enormity of what they were dealing with lurking just below the surface, and thanked us for providing them with a hamburger; Missouri State Troopers asked us if they could provide us with a donation for the work we were doing. My answer each time was the same: We are the ones trying to thank you.

I can’t imagine what it took for these people, many of them Joplin residents, to spend days away from their families, getting little to no sleep, and keep working, keep searching, and finding things that only visit my nightmares. We fed dinner to families, so kids could spend 30 minutes with their parents for the first time in days. We fed victims that somehow found their way out of the destruction to the relative normalcy of downtown. The young ones seemed to be in the best shape, the terror seemingly beyond them. One small boy greeted me with a giant smile, and answered every question with an enthusiastic, “I’m Hayden!”. Mom, however, was a different story. Obviously shell-shocked, she gazed past all of us with the 1000 yard stare, struggling to answer even the simplest of questions. “Hamburger or hot dog for Hayden?” took 10 seconds to make its way from her ears, past heaven knows what horror, to her brain. We kept her close for dinner, and were thankful that the small number of victims in our location gave us that ability. We saw her again a few hours later, drifting down the street, holding Hayden’s hand as if she were trying to tether him to the earth yet again.

Maybe it was the proximity to Memorial Day, but the person that had the greatest impact on me was one that I never exchanged a word with, never had a change to give him a hot burger and maybe a smile. As the sun was going down, a kid in the National Guard (I can say kid because at that distance, he might have been all of 24), striding across the street, in uniform, deep in conversation with his partner. From the look of them, even at that distance, they were engrossed in work conversation. It looked just like the dozens of conversations I witnessed from a distance that day with one exception: This guy was missing his left arm below the elbow. Having already given so much, and seen what was likely a hundred times worse than what is beyond words for the rest of us, he was back out there, still giving. I only wish I would have had the opportunity to thank him, and let him know what kind of blessing he’d given me, just by his presence.

Ancient wisdom says that acts of Karma will be visited on you ten fold. I only wish I knew what wonderful thing I had done in my life to have deserved what was returned to me last Thursday.

The road to recovery will be long, and Joplin is not the only community suffering. Please visit the Red Cross to find out how you can help.

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