Off Duty Mom

Thoughts from an exhausted mom who is NEVER really "off duty"

Archive for the category “Want my advice? Good.”

Education and Innovation

For a long while, we’ve been in a rut where we’ve tried to shove a metaphorical square peg into a round hole. The way most kids learn today doesn’t look tremendously different from how I learned in the 80’s and 90’s which didn’t look all that different from how my parents learned in the 1950’s. That is both good and bad.

By nature, I am a traditionalist. I believe in the importance of canonical literature, for example, but that is a very controversial and (these days) unpopular opinion. I can’t help it, though. I can’t help but see the value in art, history, philosophy, literature, and a whole mess of other stuff that has kind of been pushed aside. I’m an English teacher and these days this means “get your kids to pass a standardized test” and “get kids to have basic literacy skills and that is all they need” (in other words, if kids can read, that’s good enough). There’s long been a push (at least as long as I’ve worked in the industry) to help kids gain “21st Century” skills, but I am not sure everyone is on the same page as everyone else on what that actually means.

Original Artwork by Casey Reynolds

My anecdotal conclusion is that when folks generally think about 21st Century skills, they think about technology. Cool. Yep. Technology is completely important and fundamental these days. No doubt.

But, I’d like to argue that real 21st Century skills are not so black-and-white.

I’m not sure it makes much sense to divide up learning into separate subjects like we’ve always done. I’m not sure that Readin’, Writin’, and ‘Rithmatic are all that different or should be all that separate anymore.

Educational startup, Edalex published a cool infographic that demonstrates the most-often needed skills in modern-day workplaces. They include the following soft skills:

  1. Creativity
  2. Persuasion
  3. Collaboration
  4. Adaptability
  5. Emotional Intelligence

The Edalex website also includes these “hard” skills:

  1. Blockchain
  2. Cloud computing
  3. Analytical reasoning
  4. Artificial intelligence
  5. UX design
  6. Business analysis
  7. Affiliate marketing
  8. Sales
  9. Scientific computing
  10. Video production

You might notice that, indeed, the “hard” skills mentioned are tech-heavy. But, one thing I notice is that NONE of the skills on either list is a class taught to teenagers and only some are taught at colleges and universities. So, my argument is that “English I” and “Algebra” and “American History” and “Chemistry” aren’t necessarily best-suited to exist within their own little corners of education alone. They need to be a part of a larger conceptualization of learning where multi-faceted problems must be solved by considering a variety of lenses, areas of expertise, and “subjects.”

In the biz, we refer to this as “interdisciplinary” or “cross-curricular” education. It isn’t the norm in most places, though there is a cadre of organizations doing this sort of thing online. Most brick-and-mortar schools still have “periods” in a day where student shift from one classroom to another doing work that is largely taught as being completely separate from what they learned in any other classroom that same day.

But, the world doesn’t typically exist within these confines. If I need to plan community infrastructure or evaluate best practices in marketing or build programming for veterans or create solutions to political conflicts, I won’t just use “math” or “English” or even “engineering.” I’d need an interconnected and collaborative team of folks who have more than just niche knowledge in a sub-subject. So, why do we pretend, still in schools today, that music class and geometry class and biology class are so…different?

When I was in school, I was “not good at math.” I was, instead, “good at English.” But, what does that even mean? Now, as an adult, I realize that it meant, at the time, that I struggled to conceptualize theoretical figures and information and that visual forms of data were easier for me to digest. If I had not had English and math separated out and instead had curriculum that intertwined them, imagine how different my understanding would have been not only in those subject areas, but also in my own sense of self-worth.

I encourage you to look more into organizations who are innovating in education. I am not suggesting that you pull your child out of public school right now and send him to a fancy and brand-new cyber academy. But, I mean, you can if you want. But, I actually very much believe in the power and importance of society-building public education. I just wonder if the long-held beliefs about how the public school system as a whole operates might not benefit from taking a look at some alternate ways of doing things.

Some cool folks to check out:

  1. Astra Nova
  2. Prisma
  3. Remake Learning
  4. You Media Learning Labs Network
  5. Quest to Learn
  6. Fuse Studio

On “Saving the Children”

What do we even want from kids?

What is the end goal of parenting and schooling and churning out adult humans…like…at ALL?

“If the answer were simply to push more and more kids into college, the United States would be entering its democratic prime,” writes George Packer for The Atlantic on March 10, 2022. He asserts that the function of school in this country has shifted considerably throughout our history. He writes, “what is school for? This is the kind of foundational question that arises when a crisis shakes the public’s faith in an essential institution. ‘The original thinkers about public education were concerned almost to a point of paranoia about creating self-governing citizens,’ Robert Pondiscio, a former fifth-grade teacher in the South Bronx and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told [him]. ‘Horace Mann went to his grave having never once uttered the phrase college- and career-ready. We’ve become more accustomed to thinking about the private ends of education. We’ve completely lost the habit of thinking about education as citizen-making.’”

Photo by Emily Ranquist on Pexels.com

So, sincerely, what is it that we are doing as parents and teachers and…adults? What’s the point of educating young people?

It’s been reported widely that attitudes about how much community members and other non-educators ought to have a “say” in how and what schools teach. Rather famously, a school board in Tennessee banned the inclusion of the World War II graphic novel, Maus, due to NUDITY, of all things, though the book is about the goddamn Holocaust and depicts the true realities of what millions of human beings experienced. The book doesn’t depict any of this as GOOD, mind you. In fact, it recognizes the atrocities of the historical events, yet that context didn’t seem to matter to a 10-person school board in McMinn County who voted unanimously to remove this “offensive” book from its school’s shelves.

WHY?

A great framing of the incident is that “people with the power to shape the education of kids looked at content without context and made a decision rooted in anti-intellectualism and ignorance. Education isn’t about shielding kids from painful truths,” writer Ryan Britt claimed in an article at Fatherly.com. “It’s about helping contextualize those truths. Maus is one of the best examples of how horrible moments from history can be sublimated into profound, life-changing art. And, decision-makers who feel otherwise are edging toward the horrible book-burnings of the Nazis themselves.”

So, I ask again: WHAT IS THE GOAL HERE?

Photo of Birkenau gate by Frederick Wallace on Unsplash

I guess I can at least accept that “protecting kids from scary or grown-up stuff” is AN answer to the question of “why did you perform an Orwellian action of dictating what young people should and shouldn’t know about actual, real history?” But, in the long run, when these young people become older people, what is the hope of who those people will BE? Do we WANT folks who do not have any context for what happened to close to 10 million human beings, 6 million of whom were tossed in the air as infants and shot or sent to die choking, bleeding deaths in gas chambers because of their positions on how to recognize and worship a deity? Like, are we HOPING to create a populace who is “protected” from history to the point that they are not aware of it? British statesman Winston Churchill wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” And, ya know, he was THERE for World War II, so maybe he knows things or something? Or, like he did know things. He was born in the 1870’s, so he’s not around anymore, but you get the idea.

Packer’s article in The Atlantic continues to assert that “education is a public interest, which explains why parents shouldn’t get to veto any book they think might upset their child, whether it’s To Kill a Mockingbird or Beloved. Public education is meant not to mirror the unexamined values of a particular family or community, but to expose children to ways that other people, some of them long dead, think.” So why in the name of all things big and small would anyone be so arrogant as to contend that THEIR PERSONAL feelings about nudity in a freaking Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the planet’s most horrific war should be taken into account, especially when those arrogant people are not, themselves, educators?

If you have ever been an elementary school teacher, you know that even the youngest of kids can learn to get along with others. Elementary school teachers, in fact, demand that as a fundamental rule in their classrooms. So, it is possible for human beings to coexist peacefully. Just ask your average 5-year old. Peaceful coexistence does not happen without some effort, though, and whether you’re trying to cooperate to complete a morning routine at the kindergarten daily calendar or discuss the merits of a certain political system in a college classroom, such collaboration can only be found through mutual respect, common ground, and a desire to behave like civilized human beings.

The banning of books and the takeover of American schools by ignorant and ill-informed, power-driven non-educators is a cyclical nightmare. The less and less people read, discuss, debate, and think, the more and more they will find literature, discourse, disagreement, and contemplation “dangerous” or undesirable. And, in turn, the less and less people will read, discuss, debate, and think.

Perhaps this is the English teacher in me coming out, but as far as I am concerned, reading is one of the most important activities for the human mind and reading about ideas different from your current ones is paramount to building better citizens of humanity.

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

Reading is different, perhaps, for those skilled in the art of doing in than it is for laypeople. As a long-time English teacher, I get that. I know that I see things in literature that kids don’t see at first. One of my favorite tools is a book called How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster. In it, he actually discusses what the purpose of both sex and violence are in books. One of my favorite quotes of his from that book is: “When they’re writing about other things, they really mean sex, and when they write about sex, they really mean something else.  If they write about sex and mean strictly sex, we have a word for that.  Pornography.” This is where the breakdown happens, I think. Maus is NOT pornography. If it were, it would deserve to be banned. But, a NAKED CARTOON MOUSE is NOT pornography and now here we are: a book banned in a backwards school district for what is, really, no good reason whatsoever.

In fact, the delineation between what is LITERATURE and what is a BOOK lies in this differentiation between sex (or violence or nudity or journeys or wars or relationships or meals or rain or marriages or…well…you get the idea) and that which sex (or violence or nudity or journeys or wars or relationships or meals or rain or marriages or…well…you get the idea) represents. I created a lesson on this very idea some time ago and I phrased it well then, so I am not going to reinvent the wheel here, but rather quote myself, I guess: “Thomas C. Foster explains, ‘Violence is one of the most personal and even intimate acts between human beings, but it can also be cultural and societal in its implications.’  Think of Macbeth ‘unseaming’ the traitor in Act I of Macbeth.  He must get very close to him.  He can undoubtedly smell the blood.  He’ll get plenty of blood and bone on his own body.  Organs will burst.  He’ll watch life drain from his eyes.  This is personal.  It says something about the kind of man Macbeth is and the kind of patriotism he had — the loyalty he had to his king — before meeting those witches.” So, while some non-educators might attempt to protect teenagers’ virginal eyes and pure minds from the scaries one might find in Shakespeare or Spiegelman or Lee or Huxley or Rowling or Steinbeck or Walker or Morrison or Fitzgerald or Angelou, what they’re protecting those kids from is LEARNING.

Whether it is fiction or nonfiction, literary works — even the “mature” ones — have a deeply important place in schools that hope to build better thinkers, better debaters, better collaborators, better citizens, and better humans. It is only if you are NOT trying to build those things that it makes sense to keep kids from reading To Kill a Mockingbird or Of Mice and Men or The Color Purple. A 2019 survey by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation demonstrated “why a greater emphasis on American history learning is essential to the nation. The Foundation found that in the highest-performing state, only 53 percent of the people were able to earn a passing grade for U.S. history. People in every other state failed; in the lowest-performing state, only 27 percent were able to pass” (Source: Woodrow Wilson Foundation Finds Only One State Can Pass U.S. Citizenship Exam) In Tennessee, where that ban on Maus was, the study found that 62% of people earned a 59% or lower (a failing grade) on that citizenship exam. Only 3% of testers in that state earned an “A.”

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

“Amid the GOP’s national campaign to purge ‘leftist ideology’ from public schools, local officials across the nation are now banning certain books that deal with race, sex, and gender, from school shelves, writes Jon Skolnik for The Salon in a January 2022 article. In addition to the well-publicized ban on Maus in Tennessee, Missouri and Mississippi have ramped up their book-banning of late. That citizenship test I mentioned before? Nearly 70% of Mississippians failed that. The folks of Missouri fared better but still 61% of them failed. Do we need kids in these places to be learning LESS?

The Humanities (literature, history, art) have a place in society-building. Packer’s The Atlantic article goes on to assert that “the best way to interest young people in literature is to have them read good literature, and not just books that focus with grim piety on the contemporary social and psychological problems of teenagers. We sell them insultingly short in thinking that they won’t read unless the subject is themselves. Mirrors are ultimately isolating; young readers also need windows, even if the view is unfamiliar, even if it’s disturbing. The ability to enter a world that’s far away in time or place; to grapple with characters whose stories might initially seem to have nothing to do with your life; to gradually sense that their emotions, troubles, revelations are also yours—this connection through language to universal human experience and thought is the reward of great literature, a source of empathy and wisdom.”

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are, of course, incredibly important for young people to have access to in education. These areas are where we, as a society, build DOERS. These STEM subjects create problem-solvers, and critical thinkers. But, the Humanities are where empathy, understanding, communication, diplomacy, maturity, and wisdom are built. And, BOTH areas — those appealing to the left-brained AND the right — are responsible for helping folks test ideas, support claims, evaluate thoughts, and draw meaningful conclusions.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

So, again, at the risk of being a bit of a broken record here, I ask: WHAT DO WE WANT FOR OUR KIDS? What is the goal of education? Despite my rant in my tiny corner of the internet, “well-meaning” (mostly white, cisgendered, straight, “Christian” adults) will continue to rail against naked mice, schools of witchcraft and wizardry, and learning that American history is –whether you want to talk about it or not–built on a fundamental foundation of white supremacy. I don’t imagine that Arkansas, Louisiana, and Kentucky (the three worst-performing states on that US Citizenship Exam which, by the way, demonstrated that a huge number of Americans don’t know what a Constitutional Amendment is) are going to start to suddenly embrace Walk Two Moons and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, but they should.

It can start with you, though. Consider buying or borrowing one of these books. Read them with your child. Talk. Think. Share ideas.

Most frequently banned books for elementary-aged kids:

  1. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  2. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  3. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  4. I am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
  5. The Captain Underpants Series by Dav Pilkey
  6. New Kid by Jerry Craft

Most frequently banned books for middle-school kids:

  1. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
  2. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  3. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
  4. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  5. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  6. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  7. Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Most frequently banned books for high school kids:

  1. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  2. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  3. Native Son by Richard Wright (one of my personal favorite books ever!)
  4. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  5. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  6. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  7. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  8. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Or, if you’re interested, check out these book-ban lists and information about what some states are currently working on:

  1. TEXAS
  2. MISSISSIPPI
  3. OHIO
  4. ALABAMA
  5. GEORGIA
  6. OKLAHOMA
  7. ARKANSAS
  8. SOUTH CAROLINA
  9. FLORIDA
  10. NORTH CAROLINA
  11. UTAH
  12. ARIZONA

Parenting During the Death of Public Education

I am going to put my ‘mom” hat back on today, but I still have my “teacher” glasses on for now.

My kids are in 5th and 8th grades. They’re pretty awesome kids. But, that’s not why you’re here.

I firmly and whole-heartedly have always supported public education. It is the way in which we build a society. It is the method by which we grow our citizens into thinking, problem-solving, collaborative adults.

That’s not to say that private schools don’t do this. But, public schools do it — for free — in your own neighborhood — while also providing a myriad of learning and support services — with fully certified teachers. As a mom, this is important to me.

Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi on Pexels.com

But, there is a shift happening in public education and it will impact our children. You may not be aware of it because you are not as far down in this rabbit hole of information as I am, so let me get you up to speed on a few things going on right now in America that are changing the way our children get their learning.

First, let’s talk about some of the absolutely bonkers stuff that is going on at the government-level. The Indiana House of Representatives passed a bill that would require teachers to submit and publish a year’s worth of lesson plans on June 30 of the year prior. This is a nicely-written article about this issue if you’d like to learn more. But, here’s the thing: if you didn’t know anything about how the work of teaching happens, this might seem ok to you. What’s the big deal? Don’t you KNOW what you’re doing? Why don’t you want to make it public? What are you hiding, you peasant public servant?

But, it is pretty impossible to do this without a pre-packaged curriculum at your disposal. I mean, I don’t know next year’s kids on June 30. I haven’t met them yet. I don’t know what their needs will be. And, honestly, there are a bazillion other reasons why this is nuts. Do you know what project you’ll be working on and exactly what your day will look like…say November 14 of this year? Most people don’t. You can give an estimate, likely, but for you to fill out a detailed agenda for every day of the next year of your life might be kinda hard.

The simple answer to this is for a school to purchase a curriculum from a company like Pearson or Cengage Learning. This is a bit of a “hmmmm…” moment for me. If legislation makes it nearly impossible NOT to purchase a product, then I am forced to buy that product, thus I make some company more money. Whose best interest is being served here? As neither a mother nor a teacher do I believe the best interest being served is my kids’.

I might add that lesson plans are not fast or easy to write. I can spend hours on one lesson for one class period of one day. There is research involved, connection to standards, inclusion of multimedia, design of projects or assignments or quizzes associated, plans for enrichment for the high-achieving kids, plans for remediation for struggling kids, the material I’ll present, how I’ll present it, what my objectives are, what ultimate goal I’m aligning this all with…seriously — I don’t just sit down and go “ummm…Hamlet. I’ll just, like, talk about Hamlet things” and that’s all there is to it. And, when you think about Hamlet as an example, you might realize that I’d have to be an expert on it before I can even start writing that single day’s lesson which, ya know, might take a minute or two. Now, multiply all of this by the number of different classes I have in one day. That can be upward of 4 or 5 for some teachers. So, they’ll do all of that for 4 or 5 different classes, for every day, for 180 days. AND have it done before they leave for the summer on top of all of the stuff that needs to be done to close out a school year: paperwork, grades, reports, etc.

Similar bills are also in places like Arizona and North Carolina where the primary concern is that teachers might talk about issues relating to race, gender, and LGBTQIA+ folks. More on that in another post. So, the quick fix, again, is to BUY a curriculum from a company whose politics you like and just deliver the content as it is packaged. I ask again whose interest we’re serving here. Watch where your money is going, folks.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Now, there are some great curricula out there and just because it comes from a major corporation doesn’t necessarily make it bad. Similarly, just because a teacher wrote it doesn’t make a lesson good. But, it does take away the need for an actual professional in the classroom. If all you need is a warm body to read from a text book, assign questions to answer, and just facilitate stuff that is in a script, you don’t really need ME. My 23 years in education, my Master’s Degree, my experience and knowledge, and understanding of students– well, none of that matters really. It’s always nice to have a seasoned veteran deliver packaged content, but it certainly isn’t necessary. It is just another brick in the wall. Your kids are just ground beef churned out by the system then.

Hey, Teacher, leave those kids alone.
Photo by Arno Senoner on Unsplash

The Washington Post reports that public school changes are alive and well across the nation and these changes are with the express purpose of privatizing education, something I thought was only a problem while that jackass lady who used to run the Department of Ed was in power. Remember her? She who shall not be named. As of this writing, there are sixteen states that are in the process of increasing their voucher programs or are fighting to otherwise shift allocation of public funding to private educational facilities. If you’re not up on all of this and aren’t sure why charters and “school choice” is actually not what you should want, you can check out this article to learn about the deliberate dismantling of public schools.

All-in-all, when we privatize education, we are putting it in the hands of FOR-PROFIT companies. Maybe this is capitalism at its finest and will increase competition which will increase results. But, here’s the reality: a private school does not HAVE to take your kid. It doesn’t have to teach your kid. It doesn’t have to keep your kid when he screws up. It doesn’t have to provide services for your kids’ special needs. It doesn’t have to DO much of anything except generally keep their numbers where they want them in order to keep the money where they want it. In some places, it doesn’t even have to hire certified teachers.

Maybe I’m crazy but I think that diversity is a good thing. I think that certified teachers are a good thing. I think that teaching critical thinking and challenging kids’ minds beyond what’s “in the book” is a good thing. I used to talk with my students about existentialism and literary critical theory. Now, we read mini-articles written two grade-levels lower than expected and regurgitate information on standardized tests. My current packaged curriculum (which is a basis for my teaching, basically informing the sequencing of units, but is not the majority of my teaching) includes ZERO novels. I’m a high school English teacher. Did you know that your child could go through four years of high school and never read a book? I won’t name the company whose curriculum includes no books at all for high school kids, but they’re one of the highest-earning, well-known educational companies on the planet and their stuff is in thousands of schools.

This is not what I want for my children. I want them to disagree with me. I want them to think. I want them to criticize and evaluate and read a damn book. Hell, THEY want to read books.

For what it’s worth, you might want to check out this article that is titled, “Are You Learning at School or Just Bullshitting Everything?” And, for fun, try Googling “why >insert curriculum company here< sucks.” It works for any of the companies. The results are terrifying and maddening and hilarious and depressing.

So, my fellow parents, if you have chosen private education for your children, cool. Whatever. That’s fine. But, please be aware that the public school system is still an important element of our nation’s functional growth. And, remember: if public school dies, all the riff-raff you’ve been trying to keep your kids away from will have to go somewhere and it might be your private school.

The False Equivalence

In 2020, I missed being in my classroom as an On Duty Teacher and decided to create a series of lessons for anyone who felt like learning them.

Our series on How To Be a Better Arguer continues…

Lesson #10

The False Equivalence: what are we to do when someone suggests that two things, people, or ideas are the same while ignoring their differences?

I hate this one. People use it ALL THE TIME. And those people suck.

Consider this:

Person “A”: “I think it’s morally wrong to unleash a secret police force on peaceful protestors and it’s a classic indicator of Fascism in the making.”

Person “B”: “what? We should allow a bunch of thugs and rioters to lock people in public buildings and set them on fire? Lock ‘em all up. They deserve what they get.”

Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

Insert eye roll here.

The logical fallacy here (and, remember, a logical fallacy is an ERROR. It’s a sign of weak arguments. It’s invalid.) is in the suggestion that the actions of armed military forces deployed by the US government are EQUIVALENT to citizen protestors.

Frankly, there’s an Ad Hominem attack in there, too. Did you catch it in Person B’s statement?

Anywho…

To have a valid argument, Person B, you’ll have to either use two equivalent entities in your message or prove (remember your data and warrant) that the two entities you use in your statement are actually already equivalent.

Now, for two entities to be equivalent, they have to have more characteristics in common than not. And the similarities you suggest have to bear equivalent weight, severity, or importance. For example, people call both Joe Biden and Donald Trump “sexual assaulters.” But, are the allegations, instances, and types of assault truly comparable? For you to make the argument that they’re both terrible choices for President because they’re both rapey, you’ll have to show that they are. (Please note: this article was originally written in the summer of 2020)

So, in our previous example, armed secret military police physically injuring unarmed protestors MUST be equally wrong, frequent, severe, deplorable, harmful, and “bad for America” as are the actions of people exercising First Amendment rights and speaking out (ironically) against police brutality.

Frankly, in the initial example, Person B focuses on one PART of a revolutionary movement: rioting and destruction. In fact, Person B referenced one specific day within one specific part of that revolutionary movement: the fires set at a police headquarters following George Floyd’s death. So, the qualifications for equivalency aren’t met: Person B’s example is not similar in duration, in number, in degree, or in value. So, this doesn’t work.

When an internet troll comes at you with “men get sexually assaulted, too!,” or “Auschwitz’s existence is proof that Confederate statues must remain intact,” you’ve got a False Equivalencer (probably not a word) on your hands.

To combat it, you point out how their argument does not apply an appropriate analogy, or how their statements do not represent equivalent subsets of information.

Good lord. “Subsets?” “Equivalent?” “Degree?” “Data?” My 11th grade Trig teacher was right: math concepts are used in other fields.

Damn.

At any rate, if you’re interested in learning more about this from people smarter than I am, check this out: https://effectiviology.com/false-equivalence/. They do a super nice job of explaining this in much more academic and think-y words.

Until next time, friends, I’m Off Duty Mom and this is my Masterclass.

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

“But, I don’t really have a point.”

Lesson #9 in our series on How To Be a Better Arguer

Today’s lesson: Prove it.

Photo by Lina Kivaka on Pexels.com

I was reading a thread in the comments section of a local newspaper today. There are many interesting things you can learn about your fellow locals when you check out these comments sections. You may lose your faith in humanity, though.

In a thread about whether a Christopher Columbus statue in my city should or should not be removed and put into a museum, one delightful lady was enraged by how, in her opinion, this would be destroying history.

Oh. Lordy.

Two things stuck out for me in her comments: she had no backing for her thoughts, and she said at one point that everyone she’s talked to (not sure why she felt it necessary to note that she’s gone off on this topic with other people, too) all know that she’s “not going to budge” on this. No one can convince her to change her mind.

See… that’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.

Let’s take each of these issues separately. First, let’s consider her comments. She stated, repeatedly, but in slightly different terms each time, that her position was that removing statues like this one was a futile and irresponsible attempt to ignore history and was even creating a societal problem where people would no longer learn about important moments and figures of the past.

But, ya know, just some lady saying so doesn’t make that true.

For any real intellectual debate on a topic, you, minimally, have to have what we in the biz call a CLAIM, DATA, and a WARRANT.

Photo by Marcelo Barboza on Pexels.com

A claim is a statement of assertion. In this case, I suppose it would be something like, “The local Christopher Columbus statue should not be removed to a museum because doing so would lead to fewer people learning about historical moments and people, even if those moments or people do not represent history about which we are proud.”

Then, you have to have some data to back that up. Statistics, examples, expert opinions, quotes from reliable news sources…these are the kinds of things that you need to have. Karen comes close when she says that Auschwitz was left standing as a reminder of history we’d rather not repeat, so this should, too, and for the same reason.

But, that’s a pretty weak example. I’ll dig into this more next time when I discuss the “False Equivalency Fallacy.”

But, third, you need to have a “warrant.” That’s where you connect your data and your claim, explaining HOW your data supports your claim.

She’s missing this entirely. She’d have to explain how Auschwitz and the local Christopher Columbus statue relate and thus how the Auschwitz example proves she’s correct about the local Christopher Columbus statue. But, see, she can’t logically do that, because as one of my teaching colleagues pointed out to her, these two things do NOT connect. This, she does not dispute, saying then only that nobody will ever change her mind.

So that leads to my second problem. If no one can change your mind, why are you in a conversation at all? Here are the only options I can think of. Feel free to help me add to this list if you’d like:

1. You came to the comments section of a local newspaper to “school” everyone on the “right” way to look at an issue. You’ve decided to bless the readers with your glorious, unfounded and unsupported gobbledegook.

2. You thought everyone was going to agree with you and this was going to be a celebration of how awesome we all agree you are because you share our inexpert opinions.

3. You don’t understand the issue but aren’t smart or educated enough (or are too stubborn to) recognize that.

4. You aren’t willing to admit that issues do have two (or more) perspectives.

5. You think people should listen to and agree with you, but you’re not interested in extending them the same courtesy.

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6. You like fights.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that the point of debate was to hear each other out and (hopefully) persuade the opposition to consider (not AGREE with necessarily) your perspective. A statement of “La La La La! I’m not listening!” doesn’t exactly say, “let me explain where you’re wrong so I may persuade you to see things my way,” ya know? It also outrightly refuses to be open to considering the opposition’s ideas or where you both may agree, even if only in part.

So, what do you do in this situation? I feel like there’s not much you can do.

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If somebody says, “there’s nothing that will get me to change my mind,” there’s no real point, right? You’re arguing with the wind.

You can, however, try to present your side rationally. Perhaps others witnessing your discussion might still be persuaded by your words and that’s not nothin’.

Or, you can just duke it out, call her names, and let it be juvenile and ugly. I mean, you won’t get anywhere, but if you needed an anonymous victim for your verbal assaults because you just feel like getting belligerent, then, ok, I guess. I mean, I don’t officially and professionally RECOMMEND this, but, like, you CAN do it.

So, next time I’ll get into that issue if the false equivalency. I think you’ll agree that it’s all too common of a tactic used in disagreements.

Stay tuned.

As usual, I’m Off Duty Mom and this is my Masterclass.

#thankyouforcomingtomytedtalk

Try not to suck, ok?

In our ongoing series of How to Be a Better Arguer, I bring you Lesson #8

If you’re new to these lessons, scroll down. Start with the first one and then work your way back here. These lessons were originally posted on social media in 2020, but they were beloved — BELOVED, I TELL YOU! — and so they’re being reprinted here for your viewing pleasure…

Ok. Here we go…

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Don’t be the bad guy.

This is probably the best advice I have when it comes to arguments. It works in a myriad of scenarios and is applicable to numerous parts of your life.

I’m a teacher. I’ve worked exclusively in large high schools for over 20 years and thus have seen my fair share (or more) of hallway fights.

One stands out for me when I think about “bad guys,” though.

It was the time between classes. The bell had just rung and I was standing at my desk chatting with a student. He or she (I don’t remember) was an Advanced Placement student and thus known around town more for brains than for brawn, as were the AP students who’d be coming to my room for the next class period.

Suddenly, two students burst into my classroom, entangled in one another. They hit the floor.

My desk was in the corner farthest from the door and it took me a few moments to hurdle myself over to it. By that point, the fight had slid its way from just inside my classroom doorway to just outside of it. A crowd formed, surrounding the fight and trapping me inside the room. This high school was huge so there were tons of kids to create this barrier so no other adults could easily get in. I was the only adult there, as a result.

I remember throwing a few kids aside to get them out of the way. Later my students would joke with me about hurling people like some sort of monster. I took it as a compliment. But, I was pretty powerless against the two boys I didn’t know who were on the ground trying to injure each other as much as possible.

A student of mine stepped into the crowd, grabbed the kid who was on top of the other kid and catapulted him in the opposite direction ending the bout, then, more or less, walked into my room like, “there ya go, lady, now let’s go learn some shit.”

Not all the AP kids were ALL brains and NO brawn.

But, to get to my point I actually need to tell you about the parent meeting that followed this incident.

I don’t remember everything, but I do remember sitting in a conference room with an administrator and the boy (and the father of the boy) who appeared to be the aggressor. I had never seen this kid before that day; not until he busted into my classroom, so my answer was clearly “no” when the father asked me if I had heard what the other boy had said to his son right BEFORE he stared wailing on him as the other kid curled into the fetal position, trying to protect his face (it didn’t work).

So, some boy said something mean. Alrighty. THAT boy would have been in trouble, then, particularly if it was so evil it might induce a brawl. But, the second kid became the bad guy when he knocked the snot out of Mr. Mouthy. He HAD THE UPPER HAND and just gave it away. What I witnessed that day was not a fight, but was a beating.

And, there IS a difference. If you’ve ever worked in an American high school, you might know what I mean.

If you do things the right way: ask questions, laugh in the face of the bully, use your words, stay true to yourself, take the high road, keep it classy, take pride in yourself—you win. And, you win because you showed BETTER.

If you try to argue with me about geopolitics and I retort with an ad hominem attack, I suck. I may be funny and I may feel good about sucker-punching you with words, but I’ve also shown that I’m an idiot.

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Have you, like, EVER seen an 80’s movie? We root for Daniel-san, Duckie, Veronica Sawyer (sort of?), and Marty McFly. We loathe Cobra Kai, Steff (and pretty much every James Spader character ever—not just Pretty in Pink’s villain), all of The Heathers, and Biff.

Do you trust Draco Malfoy? Want to listen to advice from the kids in Carrie’s class (or her mom, jeez…)? Feel like going to see Aerosmith in ‘76 with O’Bannion? Want to have tea and crumpets and discuss closet options with Joan Crawford?

If you allow yourself to slip into attacking language, condescension, snark and sarcasm (oooh, but I do love sarcasm and admit I too often don’t take my own advice here), Red Herrings, straw man arguments, and fighting language rather than the language of discourse, you become the bully. You’re the one delivering a beating; you’re Bloody Mary, you’re Genghis Khan, you’re DOLORES UMBRIDGE.

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Beating someone into argumentative submission might, on the surface, feel like winning. But, the “winners” of arguments have persuaded others to change their minds. They’re solving problems. They’re championing causes. They’re breaking down the walls that divide man. When you do this, you’re Atticus Finch! You’re Hermione Granger! Padme Amidala! Belle (oooh! A princess…)! Elle Woods! You’re (man, I want to write “Jesus,” but that feels like stepping into complicated territory…).

This really makes me want a Hermione Lego Minifigure…
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When you see injustice, bullying, misunderstanding, confusion, questions, disagreement, division, hurt, pain, arrogance, and differing perspectives, think about what will get someone on your side rather than push him away. Think about who can see or hear your discussion and consider whether those folks would be turned off by your words or behavior, heading to the opposite side just because of YOU, or if you might encourage people to come TO your side, even if they’re unsure if it, just because you’re someone with whom they’d like to be associated.

This is ETHOS. An appeal to ethos is an appeal to the audience because of your CHARACTER. If you can convince people that you’re worth listening to, your message might carry.

Feel free to let me know what you think. And maybe reread “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

I’m Off Duty Mom and this is my Masterclass.

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Lesson #7: A Non-Sequi-whaaaa???

NOTE: Post first written for publication in 2020

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“BUT…HER E-MAILS!”

Let’s take a look at the NON-SEQUITUR.

I’ve seen this a whole lot lately: someone makes a statement in a post. These days, it’s probably about a political or social issue (or both). Someone responds with a completely different topic, typically something not at all in question.

Here’s an example: I saw on Facebook where a friend of mine posted something about the current US President having a pattern of lying (Note: at time of original publication, this referred to President Donald Trump). One response to this statement was, “Oh, so I guess Biden never lies?!”

That’s a non-sequitur. It’s a statement that does not logically follow the argument in question. Logicians would have a field day with the respondent to that post. Yikes.

See, here’s the thing: a post about one person’s lies is not necessarily an argument that another person does or does not not lie. Its not about another person at all. I might add, too, that pointing out one candidate’s flaws does not necessarily equate to an endorsement of his opponent. AND, stating that Joe Biden lies neither refutes nor proves anything about whether Donald Trump does. They’re two different arguments.

Boil it down to its simplest terms:

Person A: “Trump lies”

Person B: “Biden lies”

Person A: “Sooo…is this a statement of agreement or disagreement to what I said?”

Person B: “Neither.”

You might remember a similar fallacy from an earlier lesson: the Red Herring. The non-sequitur is similar, but the difference is in the motive.

Like the stinky fish for which it is supposedly named, the Red Herring is something a person “throws out there,” purposefully, with the intent of distracting you or putting you off of your track. It’s a diversion; a ploy.

The non-sequitur is flawed thinking. It’s a show of ignorance on a topic, inability to process intellectual discussion, fear, single-mindedness, or an honest mistake. But, it’s not malicious or conniving. Get pissed at the guy who hurls Red Herrings, but feel bad for the bloke who offers a non-sequitur.

Often, you’ll see non-sequiturs used, but it will be clear that those who use them don’t really understand what the conversation is about in the first place. Responding, “Oh, Biden doesn’t lie?” to the statement, “Trump is a liar,” assumes that the original speaker’s argument is: “Trump is a liar and is therefore the man less qualified to be president in a race between Joe Biden and him.” But, “Trump is a liar” does NOT, in and of itself, assert that at all.

So, here’s what you need to do.

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This is your response: “What do you mean by that?”

If I say, “Trump lies,” and you say, “Biden lies,” we’re just two people listing names of people who lie. The problem is that you (in this case) think we’re having a political debate whereas I just made a statement. So we need to establish:

1. Is this an argument or debate we are in? Person A didn’t appear to be making one, necessarily, but Person B surely wanted to duke it out.

2. What is your argument? Does Person B even know? What does he think we’re talking about, even?

3. What is my argument? Person B definitely messes this up.

4. Do you understand that your statement is not a logical response to mine? No. No. No, he doesn’t.

It would have been best if Mr. “Bbbbbbut Biden!!!! Aghhh the Dems!!!!!” had asked Mr. “Trump lies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” What he meant by that. There’s lots he could have meant by that…

-Trump’s ability to fabricate people, events, and cures for global pandemics with household products is impressive.

-All politicians are immoral and the record of Trump’s lies is but one example.

-The rate at which our current president lies indicates that he is an inappropriate choice to lead the Free World.

Etc., etc.

Had Mr. “Bbbbbbut Biden!!!! Aghhh the Dems!!!!!” asked, if he’s Right-leaning, he can respond with something that makes sense.

If Mr. “Trump lies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Follows up with “what do you mean by that?” to the creator of the non-sequitur, he could let him know that Mr. Biden’s record of truth and lies is a different argument altogether. And, “hey, if you want, we can talk about that — in another thread…” might be the follow-up to that.

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“What do you mean by that?” (Patent pending) is also useful as a response to

-racist/sexist/demeaning/offensive/classless “jokes”

-Ad Hominem attacks

-condescending comments

-a Red Herring (if you can catch it)

-someone clearly uninformed or misinformed on a topic

I wish I remembered to use “What do you mean by that?” more often. I’ll smile if I see you use it in the future. 💛

I’m Off Duty Mom and this is my Masterclass.

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Argue Better: Lesson #6

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So, like, what does it mean to be “right” about something?

We’ve been taking a look at formal arguments, how to avoid flawed reasoning, and how to respond to illogical remarks. But, LOGIC isn’t the only means by which something can be right or wrong. People can argue about morality, religion, politics, ethics, and other concepts where “right” and “wrong” might depend on how you look at things, where you’re from, or any one of a bazillion factors.

It is possible for both opposing parties in an argument, or even multiple parties in an argument, to be “right,” if we’re willing to accept that the word “right” doesn’t always have a clear and singular definition.

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Think about this question: If Jesus went to the US polls in November of 2016, which candidate would He have voted for in the Presidential race?

Trick question. There isn’t a right answer to this. At least there isn’t in the technical sense. So, here is where we get back to that idea that nobody cares about your opinion. You can like or dislike a candidate, you can have personal feelings about politics in general. You can call the Bible the ultimate guide to life, or refer to it all as Christian Mythology. But, that hypothetical question about who gets Jesus’ vote? All you can do there is assess WHY your answer might be what it is.

Part of the problem with healthy debate comes from two opposing sides who try to prove that the other is wrong. But, “wrong” is subjective and neither side is willing to dig into WHY it takes the stance it does. And this is where discourse devolves into a fight.

Instead, you really have to take your personal beliefs out of the equation. When you don’t, you end up with an even worse relationship with your discussion partner than when you started. If I used my belief that cats are all demonic furmonsters, but you loooove cats with all of their fuzzy snuggliness, for example, we might as well just not talk. My “opinion” is irrelevant. And we’ll get nowhere.

And, I might add, that my personal experiences are also irrelevant. I might have had nothing but bad experiences with scratchy, hissy, allergy-inducing cat devils, but my experience is proof of nothing. I can talk about it, but what would it prove? Could I get you to care or change your mind? Would any amount of my sneezing convince you to kick out Mr. Flooferton and go get a goldfish?

This is one reason why climate change, racism, the #MeToo movement, healthcare, college tuition, and so many hot-button social and political issues are so disputed. People have vastly different personal experiences and far too many of those people are using those experiences as proof or justification for their arguments. But, climate change can be a thing whether or not you’re personally hot or cold right now. Racism can exist even if you have “a Black friend” or you have not personally witnessed, experienced or perpetrated it.

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So, our arguments with one another have to stop being about trying to convince someone of what is RIGHT. That will never mean the same thing to everyone. You can’t convince someone that your version of right-ness is best. Instead, these conversations should be centered around how to solve problems, how to work together instead of against one another, and how to leave this planet better than how we found it. Often, arguments, unlike fights, are about listening as much as they are about contributing.

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—-“It isn’t right for people to loot and destroy businesses in their own community.”

—-“But, it isn’t right for the community to stay silent as it’s citizens needlessly die.”

—-“But it isn’t right to violently riot and fight with police because they risk their lives on the job to protect us.”

—-“But it isn’t right for someone to be killed by a police officer due to direct force, especially when he’s been subdued and the potential threat against that officer is no longer existent.”

->None of those above people will ever persuade any of the others if they stick with this “right” line of debate.

Instead the conversation should shift to (and YOU can be the one to shift it!!!):

“What would it look like to have a truly safe community where everyone would live without fear of dying OR being looted?”

“What steps should be taken so that police officers can be more prepared for high-pressure situations without bringing harm to other human beings?”

“How can we utilize the system as it is to leverage better results for crimes both real and alleged?”

“How can we make our neighborhood one where law enforcement has positive interactions with the citizens and the citizens are respectful of the officers’ service to them?”

“Without pointing fingers or assigning blame for past problems, how can all have more peace?”

That’s just a start…

Thanks, y’all. Hope you’ve enjoyed my Masterclass. 😉

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Lesson #5

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We want the same things.

Fundamentally, there are some basic things we all agree on (ya know, for the most part). Like, I think we all agree that breathing is nice. And the world can be a better place. No matter your disagreement, there’s always common ground you can find.

In this lesson, I’m going to assume you’re in an argument in its academic sense.

Generally, that’s the perspective for all of the lessons: showing you how to use the power of persuasion. If you’re just shootin’ the breeze about who the best 80s hair metal band is or why cats are better than dogs (they are not, I beg your pardon and thank you very much), seek advice elsewhere.

I’m talking about how to discuss reproductive rights with THAT aunt of yours at Thanksgiving, or how to be taken seriously in a conference room where you’re trying to convince your coworkers that your idea for that new account is the best idea, or how to help someone who has an “opinion” on Black Lives Matter see the error of their ways.

You start with common ground. What is accepted by both sides?

Aristotle is considered the the granddaddy of Rhetoric. His favorite type of spoken rhetoric was called “Deliberative” rhetoric (sometimes called “Deliberative Oratory” when used in speeches).

Deliberative rhetoric focuses on the future. So, you use future-tense verbs as much as you can.

If you dwelled on the past or focused mostly on what has been, the focus is usually to find blame. When we look at an issue, let’s say…institutional racism, we might be inclined to argue about the past. But, statements or claims like “MY family never owned slaves” or “What about all of that black-on-black crime that keeps happening?!?!?!” don’t do anything but antagonize.

When you speak in the present tense, you’re complaining or praising. Examples of this might include that “Many Secret Service Agents [are] just waiting for action” when daring protestors to get nearer to you. Or, another example might be saying, “Laziness is a trait in Blacks” (yep. You read that right. But to be fair, if you did, indeed, say that and a disgruntled and only semi-credible former employee published it in a tell-all book, it would be an example of Demonstrative rhetoric).

Present tense speaking is great for a commencement address or a commendation. But, the biggest problem with it, Aristotle found, was that Demonstrative rhetoric was divisive. It puts people in categories. Consider the difference between the statements “You are an American” versus “You were an American.” Present tense debate is values based: who are you, what do you stand for, how do you identify right here and now?

Future tense verbs used in a discussion make the conversation about problem-solving.

PAST TENSE: Judicial rhetoric (sometimes also called Forensic rhetoric: it’s the language of lawyers and detectives)

—What happened?

—Who did this?

—Who is to blame or praise for what’s been done?

PRESENT TENSE: Demonstrative rhetoric (sometimes also called Epideictic rhetoric: it’s the language of award presenters, pastors, motivational speakers, and supremacists)

—Who are we?

—What makes you one of us?

—What are our ideals?

—What good or bad qualities to you/we have?

FUTURE TENSE: Deliberative rhetoric: it’s the language of peacemakers, policy writers, problem solvers, leaders, and decision makers

—What can we do about this?

—How should we solve our problems?

—Where are we heading?

You can control the direction of your argument by shifting the verb tense. Consider this:

Person A: “Life starts at conception (present tense). Women who’ve had abortions are evil.” (there’s a little past and a little present tense there)

Person B: “I have rights guaranteed as a result of Roe v. Wade. (a little past and present tense)

Person C: We all can agree, though, that we like personal liberties and we’d like to see better healthcare and fewer lives lost in general in the future, right?”

***FUTURE TENSE

Person C shifted the argument to be about something other than when life begins or whether women’s bodies are appropriate to legislate. Person C is finding a platform where BOTH sides can look at how to work toward a shared vision. Maybe both sides can agree to advocate for better sex education, more access to contraceptives, better support systems for young and poor and scared pregnant girls, extensions to Head Start programs, stricter laws on men who abandon their families, or longer and harsher sentences for rapists who attack women behind dumpsters and serve only a few months’ sentence because they’re good swimmers who are blond white boys.

So, there’s my advice. When you go to visit Grandma Helga this summer and you just know she’s going to be all “destroying property and rioting is for hoodlums and thugs,” you can retort with something like, “well, Grandma, sure. Neither of us wants people to lose their livelihoods, so what should be done to make sure what triggered these riots, Black men too often dying in police custody, doesn’t keep happening? If we can think of solutions to end police brutality, we’d also stop those riots and demonstrations.”

I’m honored you’ve attended my Masterclass. 😄

#thanksforcimingtomytedtalk

Be a Better Arguer, Lesson #4

If you’re new here, welcome. And, also, where have you been? Took ya long enough…

But, if, indeed, you are new here, let me catch you up:

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I’m a teacher by trade and a mom by choice. Both of these jobs are hard and I write on this here little corner of the internet about navigating the world of adulthood. Mostly, my niche is in motherhood, feminism, pop culture, and being irritable. But, I also help make the world a much better place by bringing my job skills to you, free of charge.

In 2020, I was forced from my beloved classroom due to the pandemic and I became VERY lonely with nobody to teach stuff to. My kids are getting older and think I’m sooo embarrassing and don’t want to talk with me –let alone LEARN from me– if they can help it. And, my students who are expected to sit and learn stuff from me were all different kinds of missing, disengaged, lost, and asleep on Zoom with their cameras off just pretending to attend virtual class.

So, I started sharing some insight about how to use rhetoric and argumentative skills to be a better speaker, arguer, and internet citizen. What follows here is the fourth in a series of lessons on how to be good at arguing with other people. If you’ve missed the first three, please hit the rewind button and go check them out.

How do you know when you can trust a source? If you’re looking to draw your own conclusion on a debatable topic, where can you go for reliable information?

If this were really a class, it would take waaaaay longer than just this post to give this topic it’s fair due. But, we ain’t got that kind of time, so here’s the quick and dirty version:

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First of all, let me be clear: as someone who is in a constant state of her own learning and who is a veteran in the study and teaching of argumentative writing, I have to tell you that

1. The media is NOT the enemy of the people, and

2. “Alternative facts” aren’t a thing. Those are called “lies.”

Let’s start with the media. This is where most of us are going to get our day-to-day fuel for our argument fires. More specifically, most of us are going to get our information from online media sources. And, you likely already know this, but, they’re not all created equal.

As far as news sources go, most American sources will lean at least a little either left or right. But, your goal is to determine which of those sources, despite loyalties to any ideologies, presents information in a means that is as unbiased as possible. If you’re really looking to confirm your position, may I suggest looking BOTH at a slightly left and a slightly right news organization to compare their presentations of the same stories? Attached to this post is a link to what news sources have been determined to be more or less impartial. If you’re looking for a go-to organization who gets about as close the reporting facts without spin, I recommend Reuters and the Associated Press.

There are some other sources that do a pretty consistent job of providing centered news, too. Generally, PBS has a history of balanced published information, and, believe it or not, one of the most even-handed handlers of information is The Christian Science Monitor. Don’t let the name fool you. They’re named as such purposely to be transparent about who pays their bills, but both left-leaning and right-leaning media experts agree that they do a damn good job of being fair.

Let’s now think about some more general advice I can give you. Here’s a short list:

1. Stay in the “news” section of a site, even if you’re looking at media sources that are traditionally a little less-than-center. If the information is from Features, Opinions, Lifestyle, etc., back away.

2. Check to see that your source cited sources. You know how any good argument has data and commentary? (See Lesson #3, if not) Well, news outlets are at their most credible when they, too have data, interviews from industry experts, references to polls, studies, and so on and so forth. If the writer’s “voice” is the only one presented in the article, that’s no bueno.

3. Check to see if the information is recent. What “recent” is depends on the subject matter. Science, medicine and politics, for example, can change fairly quickly.

4. Consider PRIMARY SOURCES first and trust them most. Primary sources are from “the horse’s mouth.” They are the words of the people closest to the story. The information, in other words, comes from the people, place, and time that is the same as the story/event/issue itself. So, Anne Frank’s diary in an article about hiding from Nazis would be a primary source, for example.

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Okay. That’s enough for this quick crash course on media trustworthiness. Let’s quickly tackle “Alternative Facts.”

Coined by Kellyanne Conway when she explained on-camera why Sean Spicer’s claims about the number of people at President Trump’s inauguration were different than anyone else’s account of that event, “Alternative Facts” as a concept was borne out of desperation. But, here’s the deal: there’s only one set of facts. But, there can be different reads of those facts. And one perspective of or interpretation of the facts is not necessarily more “right” than another, so long as an arguer is using good sources for those facts and the conclusions he or she draws are fully LOGICAL. Y’all, “logic” is, like, an entire upper-level college course and you have to talk about Aristotle and Cicero and stuff and I’m not qualified to go beyond what I’ve got here for ya. But, mostly, just ask yourself: does my opponent’s line or reasoning make sense? If not, ask for clarification, support, or a rephrasing. Ask yourself, too: does MY line of reasoning make sense? Can I prove it? If so, cool beans.

Man, I need to come back to this topic and give it an upgrade with more detail later. But, don’t complain. I’m just some lady on the internet. I’m not a machine, people!!!

And, as always, this has been my Masterclass, you know, sort of.

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Next time? I don’t know. Maybe how to nicely tell someone off online? Maybe how to respond to gaslighting? How to debate with someone who is on a different plane of reality? (Hint: you don’t)

I’ll surprise you.

Be A Better Arguer: Lesson #3

“I read somewhere…”

“Studies show…”

“I’ve heard from reputable sources…”

“They say that…”

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Ahhh… the “Appeal to Anonymous Authority.”

This is a logical fallacy (definition: a flaw in the structure or line of reasoning in an argument that renders it invalid). It’s probably the one I see most commonly on social media…where all the “experts” (wink*wink) are.

People on the internet always have opinions, don’t they? But, see, most people are using that word wrong. An opinion, in its truest sense, is an idea based on an appraisal of available circumstances or data. I mean, anyone can have an opinion in the sense that they can have likes, dislikes, faith, beliefs, or interests. But if you want to be in an ARGUMENT, an “opinion” is different and you just gotta have some sources, proof, evidence…ya know…stuff that isn’t just randomness from your own head.

Here’s what to do when faced with someone whose argument is invalid because of the use of the “Appeal to Anonymous Authority” fallacy:

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1. You fight facts with facts. You fight “opinions” with…facts.

To have a quality, reasonable, logical argument, you need to have evidence or data to support your claim(s). Data/evidence can exist in several forms including, but not limited to:

—numbers,charts, graphs, and figures from recognized experts in the field most relevant to the issue at hand

—conclusions, studies, and opinions (in the true sense of the word) from experts in the field (even better is when you can find the same conclusions drawn by multiple experts).

—quotes from reputable news organizations and written by reputable writers (click on the name of a journalist on any article – you’ll be taken to their credentials. If there’s no writer listed, run away. If there are no credentials listed, run away.)

—scientific studies that are peer-reviewed

2. Comment reasonably and intelligently on your data.

Don’t merely provide a list of facts. Explain simply and clearly HOW those facts support your claim. This is actually tougher than it sounds. I consider myself lucky if I can get 75% of my students (who avidly study and practice this) to write good commentary. But, really, if you don’t connect the dots, clarifying what you suggest the data you’ve presented shows about the claim you’ve made, you’re just listing facts. Lists don’t persuade. They bore.

3. Evaluate the potential holes in or objections to your argument. How would a good arguer respond to my words?

If you can think objectively about defense, you can build a stronger offense. This, in turn, can shorten the duration of the argument as a whole and can make it clear that you just may be the only one who came truly ready to play. However, upon presenting a well-researched, supported point of view that’s pretty failsafe, you might be met with an attack on your intelligence, looks, age, etc. That’s another logical fallacy: the ad hominem attack that I covered in an earlier post. Sometimes people just feel the need to have the last word and, “bite me, donkey face” can feel better to them than letting your claims rest without retort.

So, come to an argument armed with facts, science, expert opinions, news sources, and support. And, most importantly, stay calm, stay on-topic, and keep it classy.

You’ve become so much smarter already from my Masterclass, haven’t you? 🤪

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Next time: “No, Becky, ‘The Onion’ is not a Reputable News Source,” or, “How to Bring Good Data to the Argument”

Photo by Polina Zimmerman on Pexels.com

Reflections From a Pandemic Teacher: Let’s Learn How To Argue

Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

Lesson #1: The Red Herring

In any debate of ideas, it’s necessary to stay on-topic, otherwise you’ll never get to any understanding whatsoever. A tactic sometimes used by individuals in an argument is to shift the subject matter in an attempt to make the argument easier on them. The Red Herring logical fallacy happens when one debater mentions an idea, then the opponent pivots in an attempt to make that argument about something else.

It’s flawed logic (well, really it isn’t logic at all) and it’s a sign of a weak position.

For example, leading up to the 2016 election, Donald Trump, in a televised debate with Hillary Clinton, was asked about the statements he’d made that were caught on tape. When moderator, Anderson Cooper, asked if Mr. Trump understood that his comments about grabbing women’s genitals were comments about sexual assault, Mr. Trump first said that it was “locker room talk,” but then said that he was going to defeat ISIS. “Defeating ISIS” was off-topic. It’s a pivot away from one idea to an idea the speaker would rather discuss.

When this happens, if you’d like to respond, you need to insist that the conversation pivot back to the issue at hand. Do NOT begin discussing ISIS in this case.

OMG. I searched the word “idiot” on Unsplash for an image to use in this article, and this came up. I am NOT making this up.
Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash

Here are a few things you could try:

1. Play the “I’m just innocently trying to learn” game. —- “I’m confused, but interested in your thoughts. So, does this all mean you do or you do not understand that you were bragging about sexual assault?”

2. Find common ground and let your opponent win just a little—- “I agree that ISIS is a very big concern, but I would still like to know if you understand that your comments were about sexual assault.”

3. Play dumb (this one works particularly well if you’re already being spoken to as though you are actually an idiot)—- “Hmm… I don’t understand. When asked about sexual assault, how does defeating ISIS figure in to that? I’m so silly. I don’t get it. Haha.”

4. This is dangerous territory and I don’t necessarily recommend it because it may lead to a fight rather than and argument, but call the speaker out—- “Excuse me, sir, but I think we’ve gotten off-topic here. Let’s get back to the question of whether you understood your words to be about sexual assault or not.” *note the use of “we” since there are two people in the debate. Sure YOU didn’t go off-topic, but “we” is gentler when we’re trying to have a rational and civil discussion.

This is my Masterclass (my version of it, anyway, but mine’s FREE, y’all!). 🤣

This “Masterclass” I built was the product of my weariness from missing my “on duty” job as an English teacher in the spring of 2020 as the pandemic ripped our profession from us. Check back soon for more!

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Next up: when someone makes an argument personal…

Reflections From a Pandemic Teacher

In March of 2020, you may or may not have heard, a global pandemic made its way to the US and pretty much upended, well, everything.

Within a few months, my life as a teacher was completely unrecognizable from anything it had been in the years prior. In this time, I missed the world as it had been. I think a whole lot of us felt the same way.

Photo by Seema Miah on Unsplash

When I am “off duty” as a mom, I’ve mentioned that my “on duty” work is as an English teacher. When I found myself missing that work in May of 2020, I wrote some thoughts on social media. I’ll share them with you in the coming days.

What follows is the first in a series of posts I did then where I attempted to soothe my teacher pain by droppin’ knowledge to my friends. It occurred to me, though, that this information might be useful and welcome for other folks, too, so…here you go…

FROM May 29, 2020:

I’m a teacher. I teach a few different courses, two of which are Debate and a course in argumentation and rhetoric. We’re doing this distance-learning thing and I miss being with my students. So, I thought I’d offer you all some lessons to help me feel as though I’m doing more good in the world than I’ve been able to in these trying times.

On social media, you might see someone write about a crazy idea and then claim something like, “well, that’s just my opinion,” or, “this is a free country and I can say what I want.”

I teach my students that you are NOT entitled to your own opinion. Nobody cares what you think. Like, at all. Maybe, if you were an expert in the field about which you speak, we’d love to hear from you. But even then, you have a burden to bear. Your responsibility in any dialogue is not to have an unwarranted opinion, but to have CONCLUSIONS you’ve drawn after careful consideration of sources, relevant experiences, study, and fact-checking. So, welcome to my MASTERCLASS. 😋

I’ll be showing you, in some upcoming posts, how to argue with others effectively.

Lesson #1 “argument” and “fight” are not synonyms. You fight to win. You argue to come to an understanding. Next lesson: what to do when someone isn’t responding to your views with relevant counterpoints. Stay tuned.

#thankyouforcomingtomytedtalk

Well, This is Awkward…

When a minimally-relevant blogger goes M.I.A. for, like two years, and then is all, “Oh right, I have a blog” and suddenly shows back up again…

awkward 1Right.

So, I once loved to write.  Still do, really.  But, life has gotten in the way.  It’s funny, too, because the whole point of this blog was (and is) to talk about the absurdity of growing older and the drama/trauma of being exhausted by work and life.

And, this is all pretty much the least awkward thing about me.  I’m super-awkward.  In fact, the first time I typed that prior sentence, I spelled it “awkard” because I’m so awkward that I can’t even keep all my letters right.

awkward 2People are not really my cup of tea.  Small talk is excruciating.  I’m always saying something stupid.

But, really, that’s in my head, I know.

From the outside looking in, I don’t think anyone things I’m as awkward as I think I am.  Words that have been used to describe me are “poised,” “articulate,” “organized.”  Holy shit that last one is funny.  My desk at work always looks like a bunch of Huns just got done pillaging it. But, I do use color-coded folders in Google Drive, so I’ve got that going for me.

But, what I am realizing is that there is no reason to listen to that dumb-ass in your head who talks to you and tells you how much you suck.  That voice isn’t even REAL.  It’s not a person.  It’s the manifestation of your fears.  It’s the coward of your psyche that lives in a world made exclusively of “what ifs,” and tears you forgot to cry, and memories of mistakes you never actually made and if you did everyone forgot about them anyway.

I wish I had known this at 13.  Or at 19.  Or at 30.  Or yesterday.

But, I suppose I can know them today.  I can start reveling in my badassery.  I can look at my body and be proud that it produced two beautiful children (one delivered naturally with NO drugs — though that hadn’t been the plan).  When I had my first son, an hour afterward, I thought I could do fucking ANYTHING.  I could probably leap buildings in a single bound.  I invented a human being and survived primal torture — torture, I say! — to get him from inside my body to the outside world that June day ten years ago.  I can look at the 85 pounds I cleaned-and-jerked at my CrossFit class not as an embarrassment because I hit that personal best of mine while standing next to a 24-year old who was lifting 120 lbs, but as a goddamn achievement to be celebrated because, not long ago, I could barely lift a fraction of that.  I can look at my desk and be like, “look what a creative MIND I must have!”

So, people, my snark and grumpiness is still inside me because it is frickin’ fabulous and delightful.  But, maybe, if you check back again soon, there will be more positivity here at Off Duty Mom.

Have a great day.

No.  Really…

Be better

FUCKING MILLENNIALS.

I swear to all that is good an holy that if I have to listen to one more twenty-something complain about bills and college and, you know, LIFE, I am going to lose my damn mind.

I’m an ageist.  I admit to totally being completely and unabashedly discriminatory against the under 30 set.  And, I admit to hating this generalized demographic even while having many friends, colleagues and other people I generally respect, fall into this category.

It is absolutely not that I am out of touch.  I get it.  I’ve taught for long enough that the first few graduating classes of seniors I worked with are now squarely in their 30’s.  So, while this makes me super old, it also means that I have watched teenagers grapple with the educational system since the 90’s.  I understand that everyone tells you that you HAVE to go to college, then you go broke once you do the thing that everyone insisted you do, but weren’t sure you really wanted to do in the first place.  But, you marched along with the other lemmings and filled out your FAFSA and got your degree in French Literature and now you fold sweatshop clothes at the strip mall.  I know.  We all know because you have told us about a million times on Twitter, but perhaps you may have forgotten to take responsibility for your own actions, decisions and life.

My 9th graders are working on a research project right now in class.  I would estimate that only about 30% of them have accepted this challenge by digging in and really pouring through resources.  That 30% is going to the library, using databases to find periodicals, and utilizing scholarly websites and journals to find high-quality information for their writing.

The other 70% says something like, “can you help me?”.  Now, it is totally my job to help kids.  But, when I would come over to the desk of one of these 70%’ers, I would usually say, “What can I help you do?”.  This is usually met with blank stares.  Or, with a generic, “I don’t know how to start?”  or just “I don’t understand.”  If pressed  with, “what don’t you understand?”, I either get “all of it” or a shoulder shrug and more blank staring.

See, the thing is that for years and years, we’ve tried to protect our children from failure, doubt, mistakes and disappointment.  And, as a teacher who has seen a generation of kids who cannot struggle in a healthy way terrifies me.  There are millions of young people who are incapable of dealing with heartache, with rejection and with broken promises.

Is college too expensive?  Yes.  But so is just about everything that we actually want.  When we told all the kids that they needed college, they listened.  The demand went up.  It got more expensive.  This is how things work.

Are there too few jobs out there and is the majority being suffocated by the so-called “1%”?  I dunno.  Maybe?  But, so the fuck what?  Do something about it.  Change your world.  Change yourself.  Change your perspective.  Just don’t write a letter to your CEO about how you can’t afford your rent.  It’s not his problem.  It’s yours.  Figure something out.  Struggle.  Sweat.  Overcome.

I want my children at home to be independent.  I don’t want them just to make awesome independent decisions about getting mermaid hair or listening to 21 Pilots be Just. So. Avant-Garde.  (Look at us and how avant-garde we are!)  I want them to tell me, “It’s okay mom.  I can do it myself” when I offer to button a shirt or cut a banana.  I’ll cry that my babies are all grown up, but I do not want to raise boys who cannot or will not try something that is hard, maybe even do it wrong or just shitty or even get a little bumped and bruised in the process, but the come out on the other side with a product that they can own entirely themselves.

In the words of one of my favorite fashion gurus, “Make it work,” people.

I Don’t Believe in Special Ed.

I have seen (and heard — and smelled) some weird stuff in my day.

Recently, in fact, I saw two people get married on the floor at a Nine Inch Nails concert.  They wore…um…interesting outfits and took their vows just outside of the moshpit.  Or, rather, they took their vows just outside of the area the moshpit would have been had the average age of the current-day NIN fan not been about 40.

Once the nuptials concluded, Trent could proceed with his signature sound that pulses with noise reminiscent of flak jackets, gunmetal and binary code.

216707-anchorman-2-sequel-image-will-ferrellI go places.  I see things.  I have many leather-bound books.

I consider myself fairly worldly.  I mean, I have been to Europe, people.  And, I have two whole gay friends.

Okay, I have one gay friend.

And, I consider myself somewhat educated.  I have a couple of degrees and a bunch of papers that say that this-state-or-that-commonwealth hereby decrees that I am worthy to, like, work and stuff.

Yet, with my vast set of personal experience and wealth of knowledge and worldly understanding, there are still a few things I don’t understand.

My inability to wrap my giant brain around some of these concepts is very possibly going to piss you off.

I am okay with that.

So, here is the deal:

I do not believe in Special Education.

I know.

But, let me explain.

1.  SPECIAL ED MEANS “WE DON’T KNOW WHAT ELSE TO DO WITH YOU.”  —  Students all too often acquire Special Education designations not necessarily because they have medical or developmental stumbling blocks over which they must jump in order to compete with their peers.  Often, students, and overwhelmingly young male students, are identified as qualifying for Special Ed. due to factors that come not necessarily from their cognitive abilities (or lacking of abilities), but rather from the educational body’s inability to figure out “what to do” about the “problem” of these children.

According to the AASA (The School Superintendent’s Association), a 2005 article noted that “black students nationwide are 2.9 times as likely as whites to be designated as mentally retarded.”  This same article asserts that young black males faces a plethora of other assorted disadvantages in schools.  They claim that members of this demographic “have been found to be 1.9 times as likely to be designated as having an emotional problem and 1.3 times as likely to have a learning disability. Since twice as many black boys are in special education programs as black girls, it is difficult to blame heredity or home environments as the root causes for these figures. In some metropolitan districts, 30 percent of black males are in special education classes, and of the remaining 70 percent, only half or fewer receive diplomas.”  If home environments and family lineage are not accurate indicators, the conclusion seems to be that a portion of the Special Education population is labeled as such not necessarily due to factors that traditionally seem to impact learning, but instead for the “disability” of being young, male and black.

And, as far as SpecialEducationAdvisor.com is concerned, boys of all ethnic and racial background outnumber girls in Special Ed by more than 2 to 1.  Logic and a basic understanding of statistics suggests that any sub-group should reflect the larger populace.  That is, the ratio of boys-to-girls in Special Education should resemble the ratio of boys-to-girls in, you know, the world.  Yet it does not.

Furthermore, the US Department of Education notes that when the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was enacted in the 1970’s, students receiving Special Education services grew by about 81%.  Now, some may suggest that this vast growth rate is attributable to the fact that states were finally forced to provide needed services to deserving youngsters.  Or, some may interpret this to mean that the number of students who are not functioning intellectually along with their peers in America has octupled in the past 30+ years.  If the latter is the case, then, one might be able to argue that Special Education identification is fairly inaccurate.

Being black or being male aren’t the only indicators of higher probability of Special Education labeling.  Poverty is a major contributing statistical factor as well.  The Georgetown Law Journal says that “advances in neuroscience research will eventually end special education as we know it. In short, neuroscience research is challenging a number of important assumptions that undergird special education law, including, for example, the assumption that there is a real difference between students with a specific learning disability, who are covered by the law, and those who are simply “slow,” who are not covered.”  And furthermore, they cite research conducted which overwhelmingly suggests that while poverty (and more specifically orphandom or homelessness) may lead a student through a variety of reasons to test at a lower IQ than his same-age peers, the underlying causes of that lowered score are not simply a factor associated with raw intellectual capability.  Therefore, impoverished youngsters may end up in Special Education programs even though their potential levels of achievement may be quite high, but yet untested.

The Washington Monthly reported, too, that “anyone who’s spent time in an inner-city classroom can tell you that the challenges the average poor kid faces are often hard to distinguish from those you’ll find in special ed. This may be the greatest absurdity of the special ed law: It fails to acknowledge ‘environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage’ as disabling conditions. Why should a child with a broken back be guaranteed round-the clock, state-of-the-art medical care, no matter what the cost, while the millions of kids whose difficulties stem from poverty and neglect are left to hope that their teachers will break the rules so they can get some extra help? Should we really be spending $10 billion (at least) a year on ‘learning disabilites’ when we still don’t adequately fund Head Start and Title I, the federal programs that were designed to help poor children catch up with their wealthier peers?”

2.  SPECIAL ED. DOESN’T WORK.  —  Overwhelming data supports the idea that the current American system of assistance for Special Needs children does not increase their achievement, but instead inflates their statistics to give the appearance of achievement.

In an article posted on public station WNYC’s website, teacher Laura Klein notes, “The problem that exists here is related to the way that we lower standards for special education students — a trend that perpetuates the academic inferiority that these students feel.”  If Special Education programs were truly working, then the precious standardized test scores states use to determine both the worth of public school teachers and the achievement of the student body would indicate an even scoring pattern between Special Ed. and non-Special Ed. students.  In other words, if Special Education were truly honoring its promise to families to improve the education experiences of their children, then the proof would be in the puddin’.  But, Special Education students are NOT even coming close to competing with their peers on mandated tests.  But, if grades were an indicator, these numbers would suggest that Special Education students are functioning at a fully acceptable level that is on-par with their Regular Education peers.

In 2012, the New York Times published an article written by a frustrated teacher of Special Education students where he “confesses” to be a “bad teacher.”  He writes, “My students have learning disabilities ranging from autism and attention-deficit disorder to cerebral palsy and emotional disturbances. I love these kids, but they can be a handful. Almost without exception, they struggle on standardized tests, frustrate their teachers and find it hard to connect with their peers.”  But, if the system were working, these things would not be true.  These beloved students would be well-adjusted, academically leveled, and behaviorally normed.

3.  SPECIAL ED. COSTS TOO MUCH TO BE THIS UNSTEADY.  —  The costs of Special Education are well-documented.  It’s really expensive.  Mind you, it is really expensive for a broken product.

And, Special Education programming just keeps morphing itself into new iterations without actually accomplishing much at all.

For example, an acquaintance of mine remembers a conversation with the Special Education teacher in her high school building.  She recalls that the Special Ed. teacher informed the staff that the SDIs (or, Specially-Designed Instruction programming) must be followed to the letter.  In other words, it was mandated that all teachers fulfill the elements of student IEPs.  This can mean anything from teachers being required to provide deadline extensions for designated students, to teachers being forced to offer unlimited attempts at tests, or “modified” grading which can put the minimum grade a teacher may provide for a student’s work at any number determined in the IEP meeting.  When a question was raised to the Special Education teacher that went something like this:  “Ma’am, I am following everything in the student’s IEP and he is still failing my class.  What am I supposed to do?,” the response from the Special Education teacher went something like this:  “If you really have done everything you were supposed to and he is still failing, then we need to rewrite the IEP.”

Now, what this suggests is that when 1 and 1 are added and we get 3, we don’t try to figure out how to get 2, we just change the equation so that 3 is acceptable.

And, what is more interesting is that Special Education students make up just a bit more than 10% of the total student population nationwide.  While hard data relating to Special Education spending is awfully hard to come by, many organizations, including Students First, a group founded by former DC-area Chancellor and sometime controversial public figure, Michelle Rhee, published a statement in 2011 suggesting that about 21% of school budgets tend to be allocated for Special Education spending at the local level.   According to New England Cable News, “One noteworthy aspect of special education is that while Congress enacted the education policy for children with disabilities, states and districts shoulder most of the costs.”  So, indeed, it is expensive, accounting for seemingly far more of school funds than seems statistically logical, and those who pay for it are not those who demanded it exist in the first place.

k-> And, so, I find myself wondering why this educated, worldly (and beautiful!) Off Duty Mom can find more meaning and use in a Keanu Reeves movie than I can find in Special Education.

What say you?  Care to explain why I am a stupid jerk?  Hit up the comments section, yo.

I’m Raising Your Boyfriend

When I first had begun my journey of motherhood, I was insanely frustrated by the fact that nobody was brutally honest about how hard parenting is.

1Now, I am pretty flabbergasted by how many people are coming out of the woodwork to talk about how hard parenting is.

I am actually a little pissed that I am not unique in a way.  But, I am also quite comforted to be reminded that I am not completely alone in my troubles.

I have two children:  two amazing, beautiful, kindhearted boys who are, without question, the most important and the  most phenomenal things in my life.  These two are very different and that always amazes me.  They came from the same gene pool.  They live in the same home.  They follow the same routines.  But, they have their own distinct personalities.

My firstborn is a pistol.  He is fiercely, triumphantly, vehemently independent.  He is also brave, gentle, giving, creative, smart and energetic.  But, for the sake of this post, I am just going to focus on the independence for now.

I am very proud that he is a free thinker.  No, seriously:  VERY PROUD.  As an academic myself, I have very high regard for individuals who pave their own ways.  He is an inventor, not a consumer.  He is a leader, not a follower.  That fucking rocks.

This quality made it difficult for me, though, to learn how to effectively parent.  I was really thrown into the deep end of the motherhood pool and left to sink or swim with this little guy.  As a tiny bean, he rarely wanted to do anything I told him to do:  ever.  This was very trying.  And, it was potentially dangerous as many of things I told him to do were merely for his own personal safety.

He is a little older now, though, and he and I have really gotten to know each other well.  I have always loved him with every bit of my being.  But, we are becoming friends now, too.  And, I can’t explain how awesome that is.  If you have a great relationship with your kid, though, you know just what I mean.

My baby is as happy as they come.  He smiles nearly incessantly.  And, he is so freakin’ laid back.  All. The.  Time.  He can’t be shaken (well, unless he has a new tooth coming in or desperately needs a nap).  He pleasantly goes along with just about any request I make of him.  He isn’t a mindless drone, mind you.  He is just so pleased to learn and discover and be shown the ways of the world.  He is excited to see and wonder and experience.

Toddlerhood is really rough.  If you are a parent, I am not really breaking any big news here.

For one child, the toddler period was filled with “No!” and “I don’t WANT to!” and “Aaaaaaagggggggghhhhhhhh!”

For the other the toddler period seems to be filled with “Okay, Mommy!” and “Hee Hee” and lots and lots of snuggling.

I love both of these children.  One is not better than the other.  I don’t wish one is, was, or would be more like the other.

But, wow.  This should be added to the list of Things They Don’t Tell You About Being a Parent: raising a young child is basically starting a brand-new relationship.  You may not be in love at first.  You each may do things that the other doesn’t understand or pisses the other party off to no end.  You may each say some things you don’t mean.  You may feel like walking out.  You may sway from love to frustration and back again many times in a single day.  You may disappoint one another.  And, it may take you both a very long time to really get to know one another deeply.

When you bring a child into a family, you are meeting a new person and starting a new relationship with him or her.  All relationships have rocky spots.  All relationships have peaks and valleys.  This is no different.

messy handsYou may be blessed with the world’s most wonderful child.  He or she may be so “easy,” as parents say.  This often translates to a child who is generally quiet and obedient; a child who sleeps well and loves to try new foods; someone who never embarrasses you in public or has poop squish up her back while you are in line at the grocery store.  You may also be blessed with a “difficult” child.  He is often boisterous, physical, and messy; he has a mind of his own; he doesn’t care what other people think; he may be a pretty big personality.  Either way, you’re still blessed.

The first relationship our children have is with their parents.  Then, hopefully, they will go on to have hundreds of other successful relationships:  with friends, romantic partners, classmates, teachers, coworkers, neighbors, spouses, families and so on.  What we build with our kids follows the same pattern we’ve forged as we might have built any other relationship of our own in the past.  And, how we build our relationships with our kids helps show them the foundation for how they should create interpersonal relationships with others in the future.

This is yet another way in which we might inevitably to something to send them into therapy one day.

Nevertheless, with our best intentions, we move forward, getting to know these little personalities better and better with each passing moment.

How to Land a Nanny Job

My family is now on its fourth nanny in just over two years.  They all parted with us on good terms.  And, one of those we hired knowing that she’d only be able to work for a few months.

The-nannyHowever, with such turnover in this time, I now fancy myself a nanny-hiring guru.

I have interviewed, background-checked, e-chatted and met with…um...lots of potential nannies in my day.

In the time I have been scrambling through dozens and dozens and dozens of applications, letters of interest and e-mails, I have come up with some pointers for people who are currently seeking employment in personal in-home childcare.

1.  BE HONEST.  Now, this seems like a no-brainer.  But, here’s the deal:  If you can only work 3 days a week, you need to be honest about that.  If you do not have experience with potty-training a toddler, you need to be honest about that.  In other lines of work, an employer will train you to do most things.  So, like, if you apply for a job at a grocery store but have never run a cash register before, it isn’t all that big of a deal.  They will show you how whether you have experience or not.  This is not the case with childcare.  Don’t know how to change a diaper and you’re applying for a job working for twin 1-year olds?  You’re screwed.

2.  LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT.  If you do not feel passionate about being a part of a child’s growth; if you do not truly love teaching and playing; if you do not have a deep interest in helping a young person to form his earliest and most basic understanding of the universe around him, just don’t friggin’ apply.  I am talking to you, Girl-Who-Only-Wants-A-Nanny-Job-Because-She-Majored-In-Philosophy-At-The-Local-Community-College-And-No-One-Else-Will-Hire-Her.  You better be clear about your intentions.  There is no busy working parent out there who wants to start this process of nanny-finding all over again in six weeks when you land a better gig at the Shoe Mall.  Get on the bus or get away from the stop.  Apply for nanny jobs because you want to be a nanny.  Period.

3.  BE LITERATE.  When you apply for a job you have found online or through any other advertising avenue, make sure to present yourself as a learned person.  Even if you are merely responding to a posting on a childcare website, make sure to write a full response to the posting.  Use capital letters and full words and sentences.  Use proper punctuation.  Do not use slang.  Address the job poster by name if you know it.  Even consider writing a formally-formatted letter and including an updated resume that highlights your childcare experience.  Do not include a resume you have left over from four years ago when you were looking for a job at accounting firms.  And, when you speak with your potential employer on the phone, you must sound professional and well-spoken, too.  I don’t want you helping my kid with his spelling words if you can’t string a coherent sentence together.  My five-year old should not have better grammar than you do.

4.  BE ON TIME.  EXACTLY.  In the real world, you should always be 15 minutes early for an interview.  This is not the case for a nanny interview, particularly if it is at someone’s private residence.  You should be EXACTLY on time.  ON THE DOT.  If you are even one minute late, your potential employer will notice.  If you are early, you are inconveniencing the homeowner.  Most parents have a to-the-minute schedule that is followed.  And, even if they don’t, if a baby needs a diaper change right before your arrival, mom may look at the clock, see that it is 7:23 and believe that she still has seven minutes to get the baby changed and cleaned up before you arrive.  If you come-a-knockin’ at 7:25, she is now elbow-deep in poop, the dog is barking (and this makes the baby cry), and she can neither get to the door nor open it with her crap-hands.  Now she’s flustered.  And, this is the emotion she is going to start your interview with.  Not good.

5.  IT IS AS IT IS.  If you are using a service that connects job-seekers with job-posters, most nanny positions, you will notice, have details listed clearly about the job expectations.  You should be prepared to live with everything the job poster posts before you contact him or her to move forward.  If I posted that my job pays $11/hour, do not come to an interview and waste my time when you know you will refuse to accept anything lower than $15/hour.  If you cannot be at work until 9AM, do not send me an e-mail telling me that you would be perfect for my job, but only you can’t start at 6:30 AM.  If you can’t start at 6:30 AM, then you are NOT perfect for my job.  Look, there are plenty of candidates who can and will meet every one of my needs.  There are more potential nannies out there than there are nanny jobs.  I cannot be coaxed into hiring a less-than-ideal candidate when it is a fact that a truly ideal candidate is absolutely out there.

6.  JUMP IN.  If you are fortunate enough to be granted an interview at someone’s home, recognize that this is not for the purpose of talking with you about salary requirements and discussing your educational background.  This is a parent or guardian’s way of seeing how you interact with the kids.  If the kids don’t like you, you’re done.  So, jump in.  Hug and play.  High-fives are always good.  Even bring your favorite age-appropriate children’s book and ask the kids if they’d like to read with you.  If you see a dropped toy, pick it up.  If the kids are on the floor, but mom is on the couch, get on the floor.  Your real interview is with the little ones.  Smile.  Be fun.  Be energetic.  Ask the kids questions about their favorite games, toys, books and pets.  If you see a runny nose, go get a tissue.  This gives your potential employer a sample of the nanny you will be when he or she is not there.

7.  BE DEPENDABLE.  If you live in a state where cars must be inspected, make sure that you are up-to-date.  Have your car tuned-up and checked out before driving to a potential employer’s house.  Make sure it is clean.  If this is the vehicle in which you will be transporting children, you need to make sure it is dependable and clean to set parents’ minds at ease about allowing their babies to get into a potentially lethal weapon with you at the helm.  And, along with this idea, you should, again, be on time, dress conservatively (no baby tees, no minis, no shorty-short shorts, no stilettos, no overflowing boobage, etc.).  Look like a respectable person.  Drive a respectable (or at least well-cared-for) car.  Keep your driving record clean.  Get a background check through your police department and be ready to hand over the results to potential employers.

8.  TAKE CARE OF YOU.  Don’t smoke.  Don’t post hussy pictures of yourself on Instagram.  Don’t talk about keg stands on Facebook.  Don’t do anything that can get you arrested.  Eat well and let employers know that nutrition and fitness are important to you (as you will be in charge of their children’s well-being quite a bit).   Get in shape if you aren’t already.  I hate to think about discrimination, but if you don’t seem like you could run after my 2-year old and catch him, you’re no good to me.

9.  SEND A THANK-YOU NOTE AFTER YOUR INTERVIEW.  In any line of work, if you interview with someone face-to-face, you should send a handwritten thank-you immediately after your meeting.  It is classy.  E-mail is not the same thing, either.

10.  BE WILLING TO GO THE EXTRA MILE.  Every parent who is in a position to hire a nanny is doing so to alleviate some of the pressures that exist in trying to juggle things like career, family, volunteering, community engagement, school, etc.  The nanny who lands the job will ultimately be willing to do more than just sit and stare at kids all day.  Consider offering to do children’s laundry, prepare meals, do grocery shopping, vacuum, dust, walk the dog, etc.  Consider offering to help keep family mail, papers, records, schedules, etc. organized.  Referring to yourself as a “Nanny and House Manager” is helpful, too.  It might even land you some more money.

Of course, these ten rules don’t guarantee you a damn thing.  There are no guarantees in this world, of course.  But, I have found that candidates who are able to offer the “total package” really are in the minority overall.  While I mentioned that there are a gazillion nannies looking for jobs, you will absolutely stand out if you are professional, passionate, educated, driven, energetic, punctual, caring, classy, organized, clean, and healthy.

Happy job hunting!

Surviving Teendom

Teen angst.

Ugh.

We all went through it and yet somehow no adults seem to have figured out yet how to get the 12-19 year-old crowd to know for certain that

  1. You are not alone
  2. You are not ugly.  People who call others “ugly” are being ugly.
  3. Not EVERYONE hates you.
  4. There’ll be sad songs that make you cry.  They don’t freaking help anything.  Stop listening to them.
  5. Do not call, text or drive past your ex’s house or person.  It’s not helpful.
  6. School isn’t about algebra and sentence diagramming.  It’s about life.
  7. Your haircut is stupid.
  8. Reading books gets you farther in life than the “right” shoes, purse, belt or phone ever will.
  9. Punctuality matters.  Really.
  10. If you learn how to shake hands and look someone in the eye you will do well in both your private and your work lives.
  11. You should be the girl/guy who can be introduced to Mom or else you will never be good for anything other than a fling.
  12. It is not true that no one understands you.  We totally understand you.  We WERE you.  And we know you’re acting dumb so get over yourself.
  13. Swearing has its place.  Grown-ups do it, too.  But it isn’t for street cred.  It is only as a legitimate expression of emotion, amplitude or art.
  14. Yes, family is more important that friendship.  We’ve all had friends who were practically family, but that entire 8th grade clique of yours isn’t going to be with you when you’re 59 and your mother dies or when you lose your job with no explanation after 32 years of service.
  15. 99% of what matters to you today you will not even be able to remember in 10 years.
  16. Skinny jeans are not for everyone.  Find your own style that makes you look your best.
  17. You won’t die if you put down the electronics for a day.  Interact with humans, for crying out loud.
  18. Your mom will eventually prove to have been right about, well, everything, ever.
  19. It’s called a “waistband” because it goes around your thighs.  Just kidding.  You look absurd.
  20. Your poetry is probably not that good.

If, one day, we can find a way to convince the young buckaroos of these facts, peace will reign.  Doves will soar above the mountaintops.  Rainbows and angels’ songs will permeate all the lands.  All will be right with the world.

 

Advice for Moms

Want my advice?

If you knew me in person, you probably wouldn’t, but here we go…

Whaaaaaat?

Whaaaaaat?

It occured to me that we really ought to be able to offer better advice to mothers of little ones than “sleep when the baby is sleeping.” ‘Cuz that advice sucks, anyway. I don’t know about you, but when I was going through an 8-month stretch with a newborn who not once in that time slept for more than 2 hours at a clip, the whole sleep-when-the-baby-is-sleeping idea was unrealistic, unhelpful, and not at all restful for an adult.

Now, I am a total nutjob, so I am absolutely in no real position to be offering advice to anyone, really. Seriously, I am NOT keeping my shit together. Like, at all. But, I have learned a thing or two about feeling less likely to jump off of a clock tower. So, if you are exhausted, depressed, anxious, and lonely with a child or children at home under the age of 6, or if you know too well that weird feeling that comes when you know your eyes are open and stuff, but your head feels like you just swigged a bottle of Benadryl and chased it with a few shots of Tequila and a handful of quaaludes, then, maybe I can offer some thoughts.

1. Take a shower. ‘Cuz you stink. That was a joke. Sort of. You might stink, I actually don’t know. But, in reality, there isn’t a whole lot that a good, steamy shower can’t wash away — even if it is only temporary. Sometimes the shower is the only quiet place in your house, right? And, it smells like lavender and honeysuckle. And, there are no feces, crayon-stained walls or those tiny legos that make your foot feel like it is being murdered by itty-bitty Samurais when you step on them. Besides, taking a shower makes you feel human again when you are sleep-deprived, frustrated and hallucinating. Get some of the aromatherapy stuff that is energizing. You’ll feel a little better. Then someone will vomit on you. But, you felt better for a bit.

2. Wear real pants. Now, look: no one (and I do mean NO ONE) loves yoga pants more than I do. I rock some flannel pj pants about 35 seconds after coming home from work every day. But, when I was on a very long maternity leave, I started to feel as dumpy as I looked as I sat around everyday in fleece, elastic-waist pants and an old sorority sweatshirt. You don’t have to try to squeeze your ass into an old prom dress. You don’t need that kind of bullshit making you feel bad. But, put on a pair of jeans for crying out loud. Go outside. Get some air. Even if it is warmer in your fridge than it is outside. You own boots and a heavy coat, right? Your kid has a parka. Come on. A body at rest in stretchy pants tends to stay at rest in stretchy pants.

3. Listen to your kid. Hard. My older son has prepared a dissertation on the merits of Buzz Lightyear’s heroism versus the entertainment value of Super Mario Brothers. I have no fucking clue what he is talking about most of the time. And, I always feel way too busy with important things like laundry, drinking wine and blogging to really pay all that much attention. He mostly gets thoughtless replies of “Yeah,” and “That’s nice.” But, I have tried to make it a point lately to listen to some of his stories as though they are the most fascinating things I have ever heard. I look at his eyes (something I try to tell him is important to do when he talks to adults). I ask questions. I try to make him feel as though someone really hears him. Because no one listens to a goddamn word I say all day and I know how shitty that feels.

4. Adopt a mantra. In a previous post, I talked about how lifesaving it was for me to hear someone talk about training the mind to repeat a positive statement. She was a yoga instructor and mom and she told us we could steal her mantra: “It won’t always be this way.” I think about it all the damn time. Yours doesn’t have to be that one, but when you are on the brink of tears (always, right?), adopt a better voice to hear in your head other than “I can’t.” You might try “Just breathe,” or “Right now, I am grateful for______.” Someone I know uses “At least.” For her, when her toddler threw a Tonka Truck at the living room window and cracked it, she said to herself, “At least it’s warm outside. And the window can be repaired.” Find what works for you. And, don’t let 2-year olds play with Tonka Trucks near antique glass windows.

5. Do something mindless (but awake) each day. I am a television junky. I love when I have the opportunity to watch some of my favorite shows. But, I can only take so much Sprout. Speaking of which, when any other co-host in the Sunshine Barn with Chica sings the birthday song, the camera cuts to Chica dancing her little birthday puppet dance. But, Kelly gets the camera on her the whole time. Who is she fucking at PBS? That really burns my ass.

So, I should tell you that I am absolutely certain that these things all work to help you feel more alive, more alert and more like being a better mom. I know that these things all work because I don’t do them. And, I am certifiable, so clearly, doing the opposite of what I do will make you well-adjusted and happy.

Regardless, though, of whether you follow this advice, we should all just hang in there, right? I mean, there are a whole lot of cruddy parents out there and if you are reading blogs trying to get advice on how to keep your cool and be better for your kids, you are not a cruddy parent. You are tired. And sick of hearing people scream things like “No!” and “But, wait!” and “I don’t wanna!” at you. It’s okay. Really. It is.

And, of course, if you are concerned about how much you are not keeping yourself together, please talk with your doctor. You are not alone. I promise. And, it is okay to ask for help. Call your doctor, call a babysitter, call for takeout and call the Winebulance. Did you know there was such a thing? Criminey. None of us need suffer any longer.

What the Holy Frick is Wrong with People?

I was preparing to write a piece that was going to be freaking hilarious about women and styling salons.  I wanted to open with a funny one liner that would be a take on “Women:  can’t live with them; can’t live without them.”  So, I turned to my old friend, Google, to help me find something adorable.

What I found was this.

I didn’t investigate much.  This was the second hit when I started my Google search.  But, I did see that it came from something called the “Military Times.”  I do not know if this site is associated formally with the US military, whether it is a legitimate publication, or if it is just garbage, but I was totally disgusted.  And, I don’t get disgusted easily.

There is what appears to be a legitimate site called “Military Times” which seems to offer news, information and opinions for, by and about military personnel, defense issues, politics and policy.  I would love to believe that these two factions are not, indeed, connected, though.

I was first horrified to see that, at the time, the top response to “Women:  Can’t Live With Them, Can’t…” was related to vicious commentary about rape.  Not sure anyone associated with the military should be giggling about illegally shoving your penis where it doesn’t motherfucking belong.  Isn’t there enough bad press about how women are treated in the armed forces already?  Jesus.

The rest of the responses I read were about murdering, defiling and otherwise performing (or forcing the performance of) sex acts with women.

Seriously?

I don’t talk about it.  Ever.  But, I survived a rape 16 years ago.  It changed everything about everything in my life.  And, to see sexual violence used as a punchline makes me feel a kind of anger for which there is no real word in my language.  I, very literally, feel sick right now.

I don’t even really recommend you go and read those posts on that forum.  I really hesitated before even linking to it as I was afraid to give it more of a voice.

But the mother in me came out.  If you are the parent of a daughter (or if you love any woman in your life at all), you need to see what kind of people she will encounter in her lifetime.  Think about how you might teach her to respond to these animals.  If you are the parent of a son, perhaps you can think about what you can do to make him turn out NOT to be like the (presumable) men on the aforementioned forum.

Rape and molestation are not about sex.  They are not about “urges” or “attraction.”  They are about violence, power, anger, aggression and the deep and insecure desire to cause pain, shame and a feeling of weakness.

If you have or if someone you know has been the victim of a sexual assault, or if you were involved in a situation where you were forced, coerced or taken advantage of while you were in a state that made you unable to consent to a sexual encounter clear-headedly, please contact your city’s Rape Crisis Hotline or visit http://www.rainn.org/.

Things don’t have to be the way they’ve always been.

 

**UPDATE:

I received this message recently from reader, Christine Moore:

The Military Times is indeed a Military publication. My husband gets the Navy Times all the time. I’m not really surprised that thread is on there, rape and sexual assault is a HUGE problem in the military. Most victims of sexual assault in the Military are “written off” as crazy and discharged from the military. There is always stories in the Military Times that talks about it, and how the Military is working to fix the problem, but the honest truth is nothing is really being done about it. I think what needs to be done here is that thread needs to be reported to the military, to DOD, to the Pentagon. AND it should also be reported to the media, if the media gets a hold of something like that the military will have to do something about those people, they will have to investigate, and hopefully that will lead to some arrests.

I will be reporting it, I hope you do also, and encourage others to do so.

 

Thank you, Christine!  And, indeed, please, everyone, feel free to take action against this heinous attitude about victimizing women.

Making Promises Matter

I saw a friend’s Facebook post today, advocating for the following movement. I was intrigued by the title of it as I hoped it would give me information about better comebacks for when my spawn cries, “But WHYYYYYY did you put me in time-out?”

This movement is so much awesomer (More awesomerific? Awesomelescient? Uber awesomeified?) than that, though.

If you check out http://becauseisaidiwould.com/, you will see what I mean. It’s such a great idea. I think we should help this to go super-viral.

If you have people you love in your life, consider getting involved with this, either officially (by ordering free cards) or just by thinking about the concepts and maybe spreading the word.

I am inspired. Let me know if you are, too. And, if you know of other amazing or inspiring things on the interwebs, let me know. I love hearing from you.

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Things That Don’t Suck

I love countdowns, top 10 lists, music charts, awards shows and all manner of things that intend to compare things to other things and figure out which among them is “best.”

In its heyday, I had never missed an episode of “I Love the 70’s,” “I Love the 80’s,” “I Love the 90’s,” “I Love the New Millennium,” or any of the spinoffs that resulted.  I also would likely stop channel surfing immediately if I were ever to find one of VH1’s other nuggets of fabulousness such as “Best Week Ever,” “50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs…Ever,” or “100 Greatest One-hit Wonders.”

I loves me a good list.

And, at Off Duty Mom, we’ve compiled our own lists that were pretty awesomesauce.  Sometimes I admitted to having lists of popular culture moments I’ve enjoyed even though I know they’re all pretty lame.  And, I have had a list of things I realized I was too damn old to properly comprehend.  I now would like to share with you…

DRUM ROLL, PLEASE…

1.  Skee-Lo’s “I Wish” — Arguably one of the most fun songs written, um, ever.  I say “arguably” as some may argue this point.  They’d be wrong.  I might listen to discussions that would consider Paperboy’s “Ditty,” House of Pain’s “Jump Around,” or Digital Underground’s “Humpty Dance” as being on-par.  I enjoy all of these songs, but have really given this a whole lot of thought, people.  Don’t question my all-knowing pop-culture awesomeness.

2.  The Diaper Genie — There has been so much debate regarding whether or not this item is necessary for parents.  I just want to say that this product has made my life far more convenient than it might otherwise be.  For the true environmentalist (which I am not, though I do recycle and stuff — I am not a Neanderthal, after all), I can see why there might be some concern about how necessary it is to use so much more plastic than is absolutely necessary.  But, I have to admit that I don’t really give a crap about that too much.  Or, rather, the crap that I do give to the world is preferably wrapped in stink-reducing magic bags that form blue poop sausages I can create with the use of just one hand.  Sexy.

…and it shall be called “The Diaper Genie” and ye all shall rejoice…

3.  Diet Coke — Full of chemicals and stuffed with too much sodium to actually reduce my thirst and replenish my body’s needs, Diet Coke is still one of my first loves.  It has no redeeming qualities.  But, neither did that guy from New York that one time and a lack of redeeming qualities didn’t stop me then and (as I am a woman of principles, after all), it won’t stop me now.

That heart on the can is probably how they tricked me…

4.  My Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo — The company claims that I ought to be getting 17 MPG in the city, but I think my husband would throw a damn party if that ever happened.  It’s usually more in the ballpark of 12, he claims.  But, that 8-cylinder engine makes it really easy to get you quickly out of my way.  Since, in an earlier post, I established that I hate people, a powerful vehicle is just what I need to get away from you all.  And, enjoy your Prius, sucker, when you’re stuck in a mud puddle.

Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t NEED roads…

5.  President Obama — Yup.  I was sucked in by the flowery, inspiring speeches and charisma.  And, I still love this guy.  I have nothing else I can say.  I still love President Clinton, too.  I’d buy just about anything those two guys were selling.  Charm, magnetism, pizzazz.  Yes, please.  I will never vote for anyone who says “misunderestimate,” spells “potato” with an “e,” cannot name a single major US newspaper, or blows off a life-long proclivity for hate-mongering by claiming to having been a mere prep-school prankster.

I am not sure what all of this says about me.  But, I decided long ago that I was really good with “me” as-is, so I am thinking that I probably don’t actually care what this all says about me.

Instead, allow me to open up the polls here and welcome you to join in the discussion of other things that don’t suck.  Comment here, if you’d like, about other things you enjoy regardless of whether others share your enjoyment.  I’ll be interested to hear differing viewpoints.  Join in.

 

 

Justifiable Alcoholism

It occurred to me recently that I talk about drinking wine pretty often.  I admitted to crying when I ran out of the stuff once.

I started to wonder whether admitting openly to loving wine (and actually also loving beer, margaritas, cosmopolitans, whisky sours and anything with Chambord just as much), was…inappropriate for a mom.  I guess I had flashbacks of that scene from “Desperate Houswives” when Bree is “caught” tossing out a bag full of empty wine bottles and her friends chatter about whether this was indicative of a problem.

I have officially decided that no, it is NOT a problem.

Yup-Yup.

I decided that a little imbibement (imbibing? imbibitude? imbibishousness?) is good for the soul.  Or at least the sanity.

And, I realized that I wasn’t alone in this thinking.

Where have you been all my life?

It seems as though I am not actually the first mother to be overwhelmed by life.  While I understand that alcohol isn’t “the answer” — I mean all of those afterschool specials of the 80’s weren’t wasted on me, people — I do think that it is nice to revel in the things still left in my life that aren’t directly connected to diapers, Diego, dirty fingernails and Disney Channel.  For me (and for moms, everywhere, I imagine), a glass of wine symbolizes something acutely adult.  And, it is something typically only to be enjoyed when children are not around.  So for that reason alone, it is an escape from the exhausting duties of the day.

I was sad for a long time because I figured that I was the only one out there who felt like she was failing at motherhood.  I never seemed to have my crap together.  Every time I saw a mom with her baby in the grocery store and noticed that both she and the baby looked lovely and well-rested, the baby never screamed and the mom had impeccable make-up, I died a little inside as my kid had a tantrum and I realized I’d not showered in two days.

Blogging about stuff like this, I hope to let others out there know that you’re not failing at motherhood unless you are neglecting, abandoning or harming your children.  If they are getting love, support, attention and all of Maslow’s cacophony of “needs,” I think we’re all square.  Nobody gives a shit if your hair has been brushed recently.  In fact, you’d probably make all the other moms out there feel a little less awful about themselves if you just went ahead and went out with your hair looking like that.

Look — my go-to hairstyle of 2010 actually made it to the runway, y’all.

But, back to that wine.  Let us not forget what has brought me to my blog today in the first place.

Wine is awesome.  Really, as I mentioned before, grown-up drinks are all good in my book as they help us remember the parts of our lives that belong to US, not the vast majority of our days that belong to someone else (children, work, etc.).

I have learned that there are plenty of moms out there who believe in the benefits of having adult beverages.  Facebook even has groups like “OMG! I so need a glass of wine or I’m gonna sell my kids” that has been trademarked.  There is also a site called Moms Who Need Wine  that offers humor, recipes, support and nuggets of happiness for like-minded women.

Of course, there are always a bunch of jerks who want to ruin my buzz by insisting that marketing wines to mothers is irresponsible or that buying into the “culture” of drinking among mothers is dangerous.  To those of you who are against the idea of a legal adult enjoying a cocktail every now and again, I say:  “don’t do it, then.”  In all things I am generally against telling others what to do, think, say or drink, so I will happily agree to stay the hell out of your business if you stay the hell out of mine.  Of course, all things must be done in moderation, but suggesting that a responsible adult ought not to have a bottle of wine with dinner with her (or his — wine does not discriminate) partner after a long day and the kids are in bed is ludicrous.

I suggest you all take a look at Moms Who Wine when you have a moment.   Here is a blogger who really gets it.  And, by “it,” I mean “drunk.”  But, in a good way.  Really.

Being Better

Women.

Can’t live with ’em; can’t shoot ’em.  Am I right?  Yeah?

Anyone?  Anyone?  Bueller?  Anyone?

I kid.

I was listening to a popular morning show on the radio yesterday.  A young employee of the station (but not a regular on-air talent) was being “featured” in a segment they were doing about dating.  This girl (a very recent college grad) sounded kind of like Dahlia from “Suburgatory.”  She came off as arrogant, infantile, self-centered and, like, totally annoying, you, like, know?

I judged her from that short segment and decided that I hated her.  Then, I decided that if I told anyone that I hated her, men would call me “jealous” and would suggest that it was the fact that she was young and (presumably) attractive that I decided that I felt this way.  Having this imaginary fight with unidentified men in my head made me pretty pissed.

I thought about why I had had such a strong reaction to this young lady.  I decided that I didn’t want her speaking for or representing me.  When people turn on a source of media and they hear someone talking arrogantly and obnoxiously about her experiences with men, I didn’t want that to be connected to me in any way.  I didn’t want anyone to make the mistake in thinking that the opinions expressed by one naive 22-year old were in any way the views held by the larger consituency.

Then I felt petty and stupid.

You see, since I became a mom nearly 4 years ago, I have slowly but surely become more interested in women’s issues.  Why is there no national standard for long-term PAID childcare leave for new mothers (and new adoptive parents and fathers, too, for that matter)?  Why am I still earning 70 cents to my male counterparts’ dollar?   Why do some politicians want to discuss the contents of my uterus?  Years after the inception of Title IX, why are girls’ athletics still underappreciated, under-funded and under-attended?  Why do boys still outperform girls in mathematics and science?  Why is the US one of the only  industrialized, 1st-world countries who has never had a female head of State?  On television and in movies, why are all of the female characters either sex objects or wounded little kittens?   Oh, wait, they aren’t.  Sometimes they are lost souls who are unlucky in love and are just waiting for some handsome, wonderful men to come make their lives complete.

What the fuck?

And, here I am contributing to the bullshit.  I am a woman.  Every day the world will judge me by the way I look, the way I talk, the way I dress and the way I act.  After that, the world might give a shit about how smart or strong I am.  I just better not be too smart.  I also better not be too strong.  I better not be “too” anything, really.  Too tough?  She must be a lesbian.  Too pretty?  She must have had work done.  Too thin?  She must be anorexic.  Too hardworking?  She must be shirking her duties in her personal life like parenting and housekeeping.  Too high-earning?  She must be a ball-busting bitch.  Too maternal?  She must not have any skils or drive.

And, yet, here I am.  I am sitting in my car, judging a person’s worth and character based on 3 minutes of hearing her voice.  I am part of the problem.

Since becoming a mom, I have also realized that the point of the sexual revolution fought so hard by our mothers is to provide us with options and to allow us to select any option we wish and throw up a big middle finger to the world while doing it.  WANT to be a ball-busting bitch?  Do it.  WANT to be a stay-at-home-mom?  Do it.  WANT to be a snob?  Do it?  WANT to be all full of silicone and collagen?  Do it.

You.  Have.  Choices.

My hope now, for myself, is that I will learn to respect that more.  It is tough enough out there with my 70 cents at the societal dollar store.  I think I ought to start being a whole lot more accepting and respectful of a woman’s right to choose to be whomever she wishes to be.

I have an important role as the mother of boys.  I can be a part of molding a generation to be better than my own has been.  I can teach my boys to judge others not by the length of their skirts or the size of their waistlines, but by the content of their character.  I can teach my boys not to say (or think) stupid shit like that ass-clown on “The Amazing Race” did last week when he lamented “I lost to a freaking GIRL.”

It is an important role we play as moms.  I wish the country in which I live recognized that more readily.   I wish western culture were more interested in equity, honor and responsibility and less concerned with breast size, hair type and fragility.

I am thrilled to have been given the opportunity to raise two men. I hope I do right by them, help them find their ways in this world, help them find self-worth, help them become well-rounded and courageous, and help them grow up to be men who will make this a better planet for all of its inhabitants.

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