Off Duty Mom

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

Archive for the tag “life”

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

It’s Toxic?

I blame Britney Spears.

At some point, and I think it is her fault, the word “toxic” entered our lexicon in a way that provided youth culture with a new way of finding things to be offensive.

“Toxic parenting,” “Toxic Masculinity,” “Toxic Social Media,” “Toxic Culture,” everything was “toxic” and, apparently, remains so.

I mean, I’m not saying that these things don’t exist. I’m a pretty staunch feminist. I am certain that toxic masculinity, for example, is very real. But, like anything else, there’s been an extremification or a bastardization of the term. It is worth less than it once was. And its definition lacks legitimacy anymore.

Let me get more to the point of what is really burnin’ my biscuits here…

I’m a teacher of teenagers. I have been for a really, really long time. And, in that time, I have noticed a severe cultural change in the way young people see and understand the world around them.

It is my contention that we are living in an amazing time where young people are activists, and are interested in justice. That’s great. In my humble opinion, though, it can delegitimize serious struggle to assert that slight inconveniences or hardships are, in fact, traumas.

Let me give you an example. A student takes a test after a 10th grade unit on poetry. The teacher’s unit of study was aimed at showing students how to analyze poetry and respond to it, thoughtfully, in writing. So, the test itself required students to demonstrate that they could analyze a poem they’d never seen before, but that was on-grade-level. The student fails the test, then asks the teacher, “what can I do to get my grade up?” That has become SUCH a common question lately. I am not sure I hear it daily, but I definitely hear it at least a few times every week. Now, let’s say that the teacher asks the student what he thinks went wrong on the test. The student says, “I’m just not good at understanding poetry.”

HMMMMMM…

If you’re NOT a teacher, I’d ask you how you’d respond to this. Would you tell him to retake the test a second time? Give him some extra lessons or support to help him understand poetry better then offer a retest? Would you offer an alternative assignment? Would you tell him he should have studied better? Or does something else come to mind?

In this hypothetical situation, let’s say the teacher says the the student, “Okay. I’m willing to hear you out. What can you do to demonstrate you’ve mastered the learning?” The student’s reply is then something along the lines of “I don’t know. I just need to get an ‘A’.”

NOW what do you do?

See, here is the thing — the kid in this scenario is not interested in learning. He could sincerely not care less about that. I mean, that’s not surprising; he’s a kid. But, what I can infer from this situation is that this kid just wants to find away AROUND his problem. He’s not interested in actually solving the problem itself which, in this case is having a weakness in a skill in English class.

15 years ago this wouldn’t have been a question. The teacher would have been like, “sorry. Guess you should have studied, paid attention, taken notes, asked more questions, etc.” and that would have been the end of the discussion. But, today, that attitude is “toxic.”

I’d love to know, for those of you who are not teachers, how you think you’d handle this particular situation. I’d also love to know how you think you’d fare in the education industry if you were to change jobs. I can say that I have DEEP respect for nurses and others in healthcare, for example. I could NOT do what they do. I would be terrible at it and I think they should all get a serious pay raise. And snacks. And, like, just whatever they want. JUST GIVE THEM WHATEVER THEY WANT.

And, if you’re interested in getting ME whatever I want, I would like better working conditions for teachers and a bunch of Andes candies ‘cuz those are the best.

What am I supposed to do now?

Social media is an interesting beast.

On one social media site, I am a part of a “group” of folks who are now trying or have recently tried to leave the teaching profession. There are a TON of such groups all over the interwebs and mostly they are comprised of people who are exhausted, terrified, sad, and traumatized and they’re generally trying to support one another as they transition out of the only job they’ve ever wanted to have. Their stories are eye-opening and important and I’d like to give some more public voice to their plights here.

If you talk to teachers about what their biggest problems are in their schools all across America, very few have the same “talking points” as the media has presently. They don’t lament the lack of public school funding or the “learning loss” of kids post-pandemic. They don’t habitually complain about low pay, though they acknowledge that dealing with what they’re dealing with might be more reasonable if they were paid a fairer wage. They don’t gripe about being low-staffed. In fact, most are happy for their colleagues who “get out” of what they refer to as a toxic system. Their complaints, almost exclusively, revolve around poor leadership and a sense of entitlement from both students and parents within the system.

What follows in red is written ENTIRELY from the words of current and former teachers since COVID changed their lives. These are the words of educators in an online group of nearly 15,000 members from all over the world, but our focus here is on the US education system. These are their words. These are their stories. >insert Law & Order sound DUN-DUN here<

“I am at my breaking point.”
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I am at my breaking point. One of the biggest issues is that we are having kids with more and more issues and we are getting no help with that . We are seeing kids with serious psychiatric issues yet there are NO new classes, professionals, etc. to help with this even though it’s increasing every year. There is very little support from anyone in a position of authority whatsoever. Violence is not merely tolerated, but it is, at times, rewarded. In the name of “PBIS” (an edu-babble term that stands for “Positive Behavioral Intervention System), students actually get rewards like lollipops and stickers after they’ve struck a teacher or a fellow student. In an effort to teach them that those behaviors are wrong, they go to a “safe room” after a violent outburst, acknowledge that violence is “bad” and are thus given a treat for that grand revelation. It happens all the time. This is kindergarten through high school seniors, by the way.

I don’t feel I have support when it comes to inappropriate and disruptive or disrespectful behaviors. The kids are given all the power. Parents are the worst part of the equation. Coupled with administration that have no backbone and are terrified of parental lawsuits – the students are allowed to run the show! There is no support for teachers! None! Administrators refuse to treat teachers as professionals and are demeaning, insulting, and completely lacking in empathy or care for us as human beings; they are bullies who retaliate against us when we try to stand up for what’s right; they play favorites with their buddies on staff. There are so, so many reasons just from the admin angle that make me want to get out. That’s not even touching the surface of parent and student issues, workload issues, fair pay and retirement issues.

If I had a nickel for every time I got one of these from a kid…
Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

[Since the pandemic began], the biggest shift I’ve seen is the developing culture of disrespect and sense of entitlement. I’m tired of being yelled at, ignored, and undervalued [by administrators]. Schools do not discipline kids anymore. Behavior is out of control and we are supposed to teach the willing-to-learn kids while the others misbehave and disrupt learning for all. There was such a huge push for an end to the school-to-prison pipeline that the pendulum swung so far in the other direction that there is not just no more “policing” of student behavior, there is no attempt to address the behavior AT ALL. So, kids who were violent, disrespectful, abusive, or otherwise out of control five years ago did so and were suspended or expelled or dealt with. Kids do the exact same things today but are just sent back to class. Kids have literally physically assaulted teachers and classmates and they just…go back to class like nothing happened…because everyone is afraid we’ll be called out for “over-policing” kids. No matter what I do or say they carry on [because] there is no punishment. They are allowed to behave this way and we just have to take it.

[I want out because] teachers [are] being forced to retest failing students until they pass [which] seems like setting children up for real world failure. As a parent, I do not want my kids given multiple chances. We LEARN from failures. Not allowing someone to fail, in my opinion, is stunting that person’s growth and development as a human being. [There is a real] lack of support from colleagues, bullying from admins, and children passing regardless of their competency and ability to actually complete the work. A woman told me recently that her daughter just graduated from high school and only after that did she realize that her daughter couldn’t read. And, she went the whole way through the system – passing year in and year out.

I’m finishing the school year and never looking back. The combination of abysmally poor leadership and the fact that parents and kids run the schools these days has created a work environment that is inhospitable. This is a change that I’ve watched happen over the past 3-5 years. It started before the pandemic, but that trying time absolutely sped it up and exacerbated it. I can’t take it anymore.

As I compiled the words of the nearly 50 teachers who responded to my request for their thoughts, I was interested in seeing where the trends were in their responses. I found that a few concepts were repeated more than any others. The single most common word I saw was the word “bullying,” though. But, that term was not used in reference to how the kids interact with one another, but was in reference to how their bosses treat teachers.

If you don’t work in education, you might be surprised to hear about how the hierarchy works there and how, historically, teachers are not treated as professionals by their administrators, nearly all of whom were once teachers themselves. It operates in many places like a fraternity where the teachers are the freshman pledges and administrators are the seniors who haze them.

Of course, low pay (in some parts of the country, the starting salary for the 2021-2022 school year was under $20,000 a year), job insecurity (again, in some parts of the country, teachers are on year-to-year contracts where administrators can decide to renew — or not — at any time), standardized testing, and teacher shortages (I spoke to one teacher who had FOUR coworkers all quit last week from a single high school building) are all problems. But, as the saying goes, people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses. So, the epidemic of this teacher exodus is largely related to just not getting what they need from their leaders. Teachers are not well-respected, not treated with compassion, and are not physically or emotionally safe in their workplaces. This is a nationwide epidemic, mind you. Current statistics say that nearly 60% of teachers in this country will leave the profession by the end of this June if they can.

Something has to give.
Photo by SHVETS production on Pexels.com

What’s tragic about this is that every single one of these folks I spoke with is devastated by the idea of leaving. Not a single one of them got into teaching for any other reason than being called to it. The overwhelming concern for them all is: What do I do now? as they all evaluate their options. Most of them feel trapped, unqualified for any job other than teaching, and are terrified about what walking away from a lifetime dream and calling will mean for them. This is traumatic.

It’s an abusive relationship. These folks, mostly women, have loved their students, their subject areas, their coworkers. All they’ve ever wanted to do was share wisdom and guide young people and change the world. And the head of the household (so to speak) keeps berating them, gaslighting them, and generally treating them like absolute shit.

I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how to fix any of this. I don’t know what to say or what to do or where to go. But, this is big, people. We have to start doing better by the people who care for our kids on the daily.

Before there aren’t any left.

Mid-Life: Cry, Sis

At what point is it reasonable to ask yourself whether you have, for certain, lived already longer than you will yet live?

Photo by Kindel Media on Pexels.com

Heavy stuff.

I’m about to be 45. I’m in my last days of 44-ness, actually. So, I’ll have to live beyond 90 in order to be looking right now at having more life ahead of me than I have behind. Statistically, I’m not sure this is possible. So, that’s kind of a bummer.

Psychology Today argues that “midlife” is age 40-65, but I don’t see a whole lot of 130-year olds out there who agree. An economist at the National Bureau of Economic Research claims that the age of 47 is generally the unhappiest year of a person’s life, according to data collected among participants in over 130 countries. So, great…I have that to look forward to.

But, it appears that researchers and doctors and expert-types of all shapes and sizes have looked into this un-happiness “curve,” as they call it, where folks are at their highest lowness before finding happiness again as they take their long march toward death.

Apparently, though, if you’re in “midlife” like I apparently am, and you enjoy emotional self-torture, there is no scarcity of information on the World Wide Web to help you wallow in your despair. Luckily, there are a few people out there trying to help us see the “bright side,” though, so I will share some of that here in case you find that sort of thing interesting.

  1. A publication released in 1999 found that “people at midlife score higher on almost every measure of cognitive functioning than they did when they were 25.” Source
  2. Though Brett Arends at Market Watch wrote, “And here was me, thinking the midlife slump was the result of being Generation X, sandwiched between a bunch of boomers who won’t get off the stage and millennials who can’t wait to run us over,” it turns out that dissatisfaction with one’s life at our age coincides with events that just tend to happen at this age such as loss of a spouse or job. So, I mean, if you DON’T have a spouse die, then I guess you’ll be cool.
  3. A 2011 study conducted through Stanford University busted the myth that one’s youth is the “prime of life.” In fact, The Guardian reported on this a few years ago, asserting that “contrary to the popular view that youth is the best time in life, the present findings suggest that the peak of emotional life may not occur until well into the seventh decade.” Read more feel-good stuff from that article here.
  4. AARP, the authority on old people, published just in January of this year, an article that will let you know that what was always laughed at as the time in one’s life to divorce your wife and date your 25-year old secretary is not really like that at all. In fact, for most people, they claim, this is the point in life at which folks tend to reevaluate their lives and Get. Shit. Done.
  5. And finally if the bro-dom of GQ is your thing, you can check out this article on how midlife is a great time to get tattoos, smoke weed, and become awesome. All joking aside, the article nicely demonstrates how as we age, we become less concerned with pleasing others and more interested in being ourselves which is, indeed, pretty awesome.
Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU on Pexels.com

I’ll continue to surf the web in my attempt to embrace my aging-soul and become my “best self” or whatever Oprah shit I can find out there. But, the truth is that it is hard when you think about what is behind you. If you are one of those 50-year olds who started working out in midlife, what is behind you is maybe a really sweet ass, but for most of us, we just sort of think about how we used to be fun and now go to bed at 9:00.

But, I’ll try, ok? Maybe I should think about all of the cool people who were just STARTING their amazing journeys in “middle age”: Steve Carrell didn’t get his break on The Office until he was 43. Harrison Ford was a carpenter until he was 35 and was cast in Star Wars. Bryan Cranston didn’t hit is breakout role (Malcolm in the Middle) until he was 44. Lucille Ball was 40 when I Love Lucy started. Leslie Jones didn’t get into the SNL cast until she was 47. Ang Lee was a stay-at-home-dad until he was 38 and directed his first big film, Brokeback Mountain. In 1982, Martha Stewart published her breakout-book, Entertaining at age 41, subsequently launching her career in the business. And, finally, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Betty White. She was 51 years old when she first got the role that allowed her career to skyrocket: Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Anything that is good enough for Betty Freakin’ White is good enough for me.

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 Death of Disco…and Public Education

Look: you probably don’t know what is going on behind the scenes at your child’s school. You’d have no reason to. Schools only tell you what they want you to know.

But, things have changed… a LOT.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

They’ve changed since you were in school. Hell, they’ve changed in the past 3 years and those changes are significant.

I miss a version of my job that no longer exists. It’s kind of like really liking disco. At one point, I am sure somebody was like, “man, I really love disco” and then the 80s happened and there was…I don’t know…punk music and yuppies and cocaine? I’m not sure, I was like 3. But, anyway, disco died and that person was probably like, “but I LOVE disco!!! What am I supposed to do now?!?!”

That’s how I feel. In the early 80s there was a lot of other cool music to like. Blondie? I mean, yes, please. But, Blondie is not pure disco and if you really loved disco it just wasn’t the same. So, too, is the state of teaching. Schools still exist and they are kinda the same in that there are still kids and tests and detention and the cafeteria and lockers and stuff. But, it isn’t disco.

I follow all kinds of people and groups on social media. These folks are all also searching for some solace in all of this. They are teachers or soon-to-be-teachers or recently-retired/quit teachers and they share their thoughts online. Let me share with you a few things they’ve been saying lately.

“This is for all of the newer teachers out there: Leave while you still have professional confidence.”

ANONYMOUS

The more you see what your children’s teachers are feeling and experiencing, the more you might understand the sincere crisis in education there is at the moment. These are things you likely would not know at all if you were not in education and I am assuming you are not, but what the hell do I know?

“I sit here on a Sunday night and am deeply saddened. Tomorrow I have to go back to that place.”

ANONYMOUS

If you didn’t know what these folks were going through, I suspect your instinct would be to say, “well, leave then.” If teachers hate it so much and are so miserable and your “glorified babysitting job” of “only 10 months a year” is so shitty, you should just quit, right?

Well, they ARE. In enormous numbers, in fact. I just took a look at a document published by the US Department of Education. They cite the MetLife Survey of American Teachers as they report, “Teacher job satisfaction has dropped 15 points since 2009…the lowest level in over 20 years.”

From the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, report date: February 2013

A publication from the Brookings Institute reported in September 2021 that “In March 2021, 42% of teachers declared they have considered leaving or retiring from their current position during the last year.” That’s a huge number of people. If you’re not a teacher, do you have a 42% turnover rate…ever?

My guess is that, well, no, you do not. According to EdWeek, this past fall saw about 3.2 million teachers actively working in the profession. I just used that calculator that I keep in my pocket that my middle school math teacher said I’d never have and that little machine told me that 42% of 3.2 million is 1.3 million…give or take. That’s huge.

Add to all of this the fact that colleges and universities are seeing enormous decline in enrollment in teaching majors and several are closing their doors. On February 5, 2022, CNN ran a story which noted that Oklahoma City University was suspending its education program. The article goes on to report: “While some say it’s too early to know the specific impacts of the pandemic, Lynn Gangone, president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) told CNN the numbers already show Covid-19 further dissuaded Americans from going into teaching. In fall 2020 and 2021, about 20% of institutions surveyed by AACTE reported the pandemic resulted in a decline of new undergraduate enrollment of at least 11%. Roughly 13% of institutions reported ‘significant’ declines in the number of new graduate students.”

With fewer teachers coming into the field, I realize that the system has got to change. As I look over my social media accounts, what I’m noticing, anecdotally, is that a large number of teachers who are leaving the profession are doing so with absolutely no backup plan whatsoever. That might seem stupid. Most of them know it is kind of bananas, but this is how bad it is for them. Here are a few reasons I’ve seen cited in just the past few days:

  1. Students are chronically absent and expect teachers to “catch them up” – sometimes from a zero percent or having submitted zero work or learning literally 0% of the material AND ADMINISTRATORS ARE ALSO EXPECTING TEACHERS TO FIND A WAY TO “ALLOW THESE STUDENTS TO HAVE SUCCESS.” (i.e.: pass even if it is a lie)
  2. Student behavior is out of control: fights, disrespectful talk, refusal to follow any rules.
  3. Remember school shootings? Those are still a threat. So, everything sucks and we might get shot, so…
  4. Unsupportive bosses who don’t care when teachers are drowning and only care about their nonsensical initiatives and statistics.
  5. The increasing threat of privatization of public schools (more on that in our next post)
  6. Overbearing parents, many of whom were praising teachers just two years ago when they had to deal with their ONE child at home but who now find teachers, yet again, to be useless wastes of space and, delightfully tell teachers: “I pay your salary.”
  7. A salary that qualifies teachers as “working poor.”

“I talked to a gentleman with no college degree today who makes more in two weeks than I made in one month with 20+ plus years experience AND a master’s degree.”

ANONYMOUS
Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

I do not propose any solutions here. If I had any to offer, I’d be at work right now implementing them instead of typing this. But, I do know that something has to give.

The number of teachers we’re hemorrhaging as a system is not sustainable.

I guess the one thing I can suggest is: please be kind to your children’s teachers. There is so much they’re going through that you don’t even know about.

It’s actually really a scary time in education.

Aside from the obvious woes and the ones listed above, teachers are also facing incredible political pressures and shifts. Depending on the area and the district, teachers are also battling mask mandates (either for them or against them, depending on where you are), whether or not to teach about racism, class sizes of 30-35 students, an overall poverty rate for kids in American schools to be at 25%, unreliable technology to do their jobs, poor student attitudes toward learning and no help with that from their parents, budget cuts, an obesity epidemic among American kids, and much, much more.

So, again, if you can consider sending a nice note to one of your children’s teachers today to say that you know things are hard and you support him/her/them, it would really be appreciated. Trust me: there is not a single teacher in the nation right now who would not welcome such a message.

Please. We miss our disco.

Be A Better Arguer: Lesson #3

“I read somewhere…”

“Studies show…”

“I’ve heard from reputable sources…”

“They say that…”

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

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:

Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

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

I Taught During a Pandemic and Then I Ranted About Shit on the Internet

If you’re joining our program already in progress, let me catch you up…

“Off Duty Mom” refers to being a mom who is tired all the time and thus needing to go “off duty” every now and again. It also makes a reference to what I do when I am “on duty” in the sense that I am getting paid to put up with children. I’m a teacher. I taught during the pandemic. I didn’t love it.

When the pandemic forced us out of schools in 2020, I started blowin’ people’s minds on the interwebs via my personal Facebook account. I started handing out free lessons about how to better argue with people since I wasn’t able to teach that content in school, ‘cuz, like, there kinda wasn’t really school at the time.

This is the second lesson in a series I published starting in May of 2020. It is republished here for your viewing and learning pleasure…

Enjoy.

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

Lesson #2

The ad hominem attack

The phrase “ad hominem” translates to “to the man.” When someone attacks you personally, rather than addressing your position, that’s an ad hominem attack. Weak arguers use this logical fallacy mostly because they:

#1 hope to hurt or anger you, or

#2 can’t sufficiently argue against your points.

If you’ve been called “snowflake,” “boomer,” “sheep/sheeple,” etc., your opponent has shown his cards: he’s got nothin’.

These attacks can get even more personal depending on age, race, sexuality, gender, religion, and so on.

Yesterday, in response to a dumb joke I made on a friend’s Facebook page, I was called “sweetheart.” Sometimes terms like these (honey, sweetie, etc) are flung at women perhaps- and I don’t really know for sure- because if we can infantilize a woman, she’ll be put “back in her place.” The issues will be left to the big boys. Silly girls thinking they can say words. Haha.

Photo by dole777 on Unsplash

Another example might be tweeting about a group of people calling them “THUGS.” This word is racially-charged. Culturally, this term has come to mean “Black men who…cause trouble…mostly by wearing hoodies and…looking SUSPICIOUS.” Other racially-charged words (aside from the obvious) might include “homie,” “brother,” and even “boy” which again, historically was/is used to keep someone “in his place.” A “boy” is not a MAN, after all, and “man,” in a weak debate, is the highest life form (according to those who resort to these kinds of tactics).

Slurs, name-calling, and other personal attacks are attempts to suggest that you are weaker, less-than, or too stupid, too uneducated, too uninformed, or too ignorant to be worthy of speaking to the person slinging the insults.

A word doesn’t have to be a slur to be a demeaning ad hominem attack, either. Consider name-calling and “jokes” meant to poke “fun” at stereotypes: Asian drivers, Rural “hillbillies,” etc., as examples. Unless you’re arguing about whether or not Asian people are good drivers (and don’t argue that, come on), bringing a cultural stereotype into the mix is irrelevant and useless.

Look — this guy is smiling. I’m going to call him “Sam.” Sam looks like he’s enjoying being on the internet. Sam is probably being very nice to people online. You should be like Sam.
Photo by Good Faces on Unsplash

What to do about it?

1. Do NOT play their game. If you’ve been attacked personally, rather than your opponent pointing out flaws in your argument, don’t respond in-kind. He’s dragged you down to his level and then you’re fighting instead of arguing if you do. Don’t just make an insult-fest.

2. Know that if someone has gone this direction, they’re either out of things to say that are valid or are more concerned with hurting your feeling than with having a dialogue. It may be best to walk away. This might prompt more name-calling, but remember how Marty McFly’s responses to being called “chicken” didn’t turn out well. Learn from Marty’s mistakes.

3. Realize that bullying and being a general meatball aren’t, you know, GOOD things. So, resist the urge to escalate the situation. Do not threaten to go to the guy’s house and punch him in the throat. This makes you MORE wrong now. Once you become the bad guy, that’s pretty hard to reverse. And, now you’ve lost credibility. Either go back to your point, calmly, or end the interaction.

In the end, pity the man* who has nothing to offer to the world or to your discussion other than insults. And rest comfortably in the knowledge that you’re better than that.

Thanks for your attention to my Masterclass. 😋

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Next topic: when your opponent has no sources, just “opinions”…

*”man” used generically in reference to mankind. Don’t come at me with your “you’re a reverse sexist” bulldoodoo.

The Road About To Be Taken

There is no real way to know the path you ought to take. “Two roads” may “diverge in a yellow wood” and you might notice that they are similarly untrodden, leaving no clear indication of which to take. You may *want* to take the one “less traveled by” but first of all, WHY? And, second of all, how do you know which it is if neither path is “trodden black” with footprints and markings?

I’m an English nerd and do loves me some Robert Frost and stuff. But, seriously, the question really does weigh on my mind: if I am at a crossroads in life and I look to my options, but obviously have no way of knowing where these options may lead, how am I ever supposed to know what the “right” thing to do is? How does ANYONE EVER know what the “right” thing to do is, for, like anything, ever?

I am about to turn 45 and my life is one giant crossroads right now. I’m dissatisfied at work, but feel too old to start over. My kids are school-aged, but don’t need me all of the time anymore. I feel my mortality as I crunch the numbers and realized I’ve likely lived more years than I have yet to live. I know I have neglected my health, both mental and physical, for ages. So, what now? What path do I go down? What paths are even available to me?

Many thanks to Unsplash for really cool photos that are just perfect, like this one.

I hope to explore this in the coming days and weeks in the hopes that first (and really most importantly because I know me and I don’t know you) I figure my damn life out, but also second, so that perhaps my journey might speak to someone else’s out there. I encourage you to reach out with advice, thoughts, experiences, and/or reactions you might have and hope you’ll pass this all along to anyone you know who might be experiencing a similar dilemma.

Let’s trek boldly into the Midlife Crisis now and see where this woody path leads.

The Gym, the Guilt and the Undying Search for Balance

10257789_685963581450789_99859160733615273_nThe guilt is overwhelming sometimes.  Most of the time.

It doesn’t help that the little guys in my life HATE coming with me to the gym.  Or that they ask, “why do you ALWAYS have to go to that gymmmmmm?”

I am insanely fortunate to have found a phenomenal CrossFit gym with a supportive and encouraging coach who allows me to let my children play on their tablets and do their homework while I work out.  But, I still feel incredibly awful dragging them to sit there so I can do something that is solely and completely just for me.

All the self-help people and women’s magazines tell us that we just simply must make the time to do something for ourselves.  It is essential that we take care and have something to call our own.  But I am not sure what the point is at which I am taking too much for myself.

mom-me-time_iwqi70I already work outside of the home as a teacher.  So, that’s “mine.”  I work out somewhat faithfully twice a week.  I get my nails done every two weeks or so.  I see a chiropractor semi-regularly.  I get my hair highlighted and cut every six to eight weeks.  If I wanted to add a third gym day in or see a physical therapist to figure out why I always have to pee when I jump rope, I feel as though that is just going to far.

And, I have to admit that I don’t know who I am more afraid will judge me:  my kids, my husband, society at large or ME.

6e1f525658ca73c44d018f7598768963So, I work out two days a week and while that is wonderful, I am not progressing that quickly.  I’d love to be able to tell you that I can do real pull-ups and bench-press 250 lbs., but those would both be lies.  Since starting at my gym 14 months ago, I have not managed to squeeze out one single actual real pull-up.  Or push-up.  Or unbroken 400-meter run.

The former, couch-potato me would say, “but you’re out there and you’re doing something and you’re sweating and doing something amazing for your body.”

Yep.  I am.

But, can I justify it?

What is a mother supposed to do?  No, really.  What am I supposed to do?  What percentage of “me” time is acceptable?  How many gym days can I have without being a “bad mother”?  If I drag the kids with me tomorrow so I can pick out new frames for my glasses, do I have to counterbalance that which was done solely for my (and not their direct) benefit with ice cream or trips to the park or other bribery/rewards/”quality time with the kids”?

Today, during my front squat, my coach told me I had to take weight off of the bar.  That’s demoralizing.  While I was thankful for the lighter load to bear, I also wondered about whether that made me weak.  But, his cue to me let me know that in that moment I was taking on too much.  I needed to scale back.  I wish I had a better system in place to help cue me as to when I have taken on an improper balance of time dedicated to the different elements of my own life.

Grrrrrrrr…

Today I hate people.

Admittedly, most days I hate people.  I’m an introvert and I like quiet.  And, you know, NOT being around…people.

And, if this is your first time visiting this blog you might be surprised to know, given my general distaste for humanity, that I am a teacher.  Of teenagers.  Pretty much the worst people of all people.

I actually really seriously dislike children.  I mean, mine are cool, but yours suck.  No offense.

I kid only sort of.

On a serious note (for once), I actually tremendously love working with high school students.  I like talking with them.  I like helping them with their ridiculous dramatic bullshit.  I like talking to them about Star Wars.  I like watching them “get it” for the first time.  I seriously fucking love my job.  I am truly an introvert and I prefer quiet to parties, but my favorite thing of all of the things is discussing Hamlet with a group of hungry AP English Literature students.

But, today, I had to cover a 7th grade Math class.  Just let that sink in:  I hate numbers more than I hate people.  And, remember I hate children, but not teenagers.  Seventh graders are CHILDREN.  Don’t talk to me until you’ve made it at least one full day past your 14th birthday.  Even then, I don’t really want to talk to you for very long periods of time until about halfway through your freshman year of high school.

Seniors?  Give me all of the seniors all of the days.  Love ’em.  Lazy sons-a-bitches.  Those kids are my jaaaaam.

Sure, my piss-poor attitude today is colored by the fact that by 8:00 this morning, I had dealt with two students who were ethnically intimidating a Middle-Eastern refugee student and one student who told another to “eat balls.”  This week, I have been trying to stop a small group of boys in their attempt to mercilessly and evilly bully a weaker kid.  I’ve been failing at this miserably since the bullied kid is so bullied that he is too terrified to admit to the bullying so we can proceed with assistance for him.  I’m trying desperately to get a student scheduled into all of her appropriate classes for her junior and senior years because her parents do not speak English and they cannot advocate for her at school here.  So I do.  I’m trying to encourage a kid I’ve been mentoring for four years to finish all of the credit recovery programming he’s been working on so he can have enough credits to graduate in June.  He probably won’t make it.  I’ll be devastated when/if he ultimately drops out of high school.

I’ll go home today to a car with only three working tires.  My kids will need help with their homework.  I will have to cook dinner — from scratch because I am trying desperately not to pour a bunch of food additives, processed garbage and sugar into my family’s bodies.  I’ll care for my aging dog who was diagnosed yesterday with cataracts.  I’ll probably not get to the gym though I consider this a “gym day.” I’m not trying to get into a bikini or impress anyone, but I am trying to get stronger and healthier and today that will have to wait.

It is hard to be a working mom.

That’s it.  This is hard.  And I hate people.  And I’m tired.  And this is hard.  And I love it.  And hate it.  And…this is hard.

 

Conversations with my Post-Baby Body Parts

 

This might help.

This might help.

1.  EYES —

Me:  Hey!  Let’s stay up on Friday night and watch Gravity on Blu-Ray.

Eyes:  Sounds great.  We’ll be done with our job by like 8:30, though, right?

Me:  Well, no.  I will need you until the movie is over.

Eyes:  We can’t promise that.

Me:  Come on.  8:30?

Eyes:  We’re already tired of this conversat—-

 

2.  BACK —

Back:  I hurt.

Me:  I know.  I am not gonna tell anyone, though, because they’ll think we’re old.

Back:  But you groan every time you stand up and you sigh ridiculously loudly every time you sit down.  Who do you think we’re fooling?

 

3.  SKIN —

Me:  Discoloration, zits AND wrinkles?

Skin:  Yeah, and the kids’ college funds have made us too poor for surgical solutions.  If only you could exchange sarcasm for collagen…

 

4.  HAIR —

Me:  I am sure glad I had 9 months of prenatal vitamins that made my hair glossy, thick and luxurious.  That was nice while it lasted.

Hair:  It is so fun when we all jump out of your scalp at once and then the poor schmucks we leave behind all start to turn gray!  Good times!

 

And, it just keeps getting worse.

And, it just keeps getting worse.

5.  BOOBS —

Me:  What the hell?!

Boobs:  Hey, look!  We’re still here!  No.  Down here.  Hello?

 

6.  BRAIN —

Me:  Ugh.

Brain:  Totally.  Hey, let’s worry every minute of every day forever now.  I am totes going to make you cry at greeting card commercials and shout like a lunatic when your kid scores his first soccer goal.  Don’t delay the anti-anxiety meds, lady.  Get me the good stuff, too.  I have a lot going on up here.

 

7.  UTERUS —

Me:  I hate periods.

Uterus:  I hate not having a baby in here.  It’s lonely.

Me:  Hey, um, I put two babies into ya.  That was good, right?

Uterus:  Fuck you.  I want more babies.  Give me more babies!  Every month you don’t give me a baby, I’m going to tear down these walls and make your life a living hell.  I am going to make it feel like there is a giant fist inside your gut grabbing and twisting your vital organs like you’re being juiced.

 

8.  KNEES —

Me:  Hey, what the hell?  You guys never hurt before.  Now all of a sudden I can tell when it is about to rain.  What’s up with that?

Knees:  You’re old.  And chubby.  It’s hard to carry you around.  Less chocolate.  More kale.

 

9.  LEGS —

Me:  Wow.  That’s ugly.

Legs:  So’s your face!  Ha!  Ha!

Me:  No, seriously, veins?  They’re everywhere.  I can’t possibly need that many transport lines for my blood.  Can’t we do some rerouting or something?

Legs:  They got doctors for that, you know.

Me:  I know.  But that shit hurts.  Why can’t you all just straighten up and fly right?

Legs:  Why can’t you embrace our newfound blue beauty?

 

This is what we have to look forward to, then?

This is what we have to look forward to, then?

10.  BUTT–

Me:  Holy shit.  I think I could put a can of soda under my ass cheek and hold it there against my thigh.  When did you get so droopy?

Butt:  I started heading South during Baby #1.  You were too busy designing a nursery motif to notice.  Ever hear of Prenatal Yoga?  Come on, now.

Me:  Sorry.

Butt:  You are sorry.  In about three more years you’re going to have to start getting your drawers at Sears.  SEARS!

Me:  Are you sure?

Butt:  And, they won’t be called “panties,” anymore.  They won’t make “panties” in your size.  They will be “underpants.”

Me:  That sounds awful.

Butt:  And, stop having kids.  With your constant expansion and refusal to do Kegels, you’re going to be a fatty who is also, charmingly, incontinent.  Then, you’ll be on to adult diapers.

Me:  That sucks.

Butt:  Yuppers.

If they fit, we should just get them in every color.

If they fit, we should just get them in every color.

11.  FEET —

Me:  Hey, guys.  My shoes hurt.  I don’t ever remember complaining about that before having a coupla babies.  What gives?

Feet:  Oh, so you thought we’d go back to “normal” size after your babies were born?  That’s cute.  Hey, Cankles, that sparkly boutique downtown called and said they had shoes in our size.  You know the place.  They also cater to guys like Larry who stocks lumber at the Home Depot by day, but who by night hosts a cabaret show under the name of Hillary Clit-Ton.  Sure, Larry’s alter ego’s typical footwear choices make Gaga look more like Amy Farrah Fowler, but whatevs.  They have your SIZE.

 

 

body

 

I’ve Found Him

I was a total nerd as a kid.

I got picked on — big time.

The cool girls used to throw popcorn at me when I ate lunch alone in the cafeteria in 7th grade.  I was usually alone, cafeteria or not.

I didn’t date a whole lot, but I grew into myself as I got a bit older.  However, when I was a younger teen, I would snuggle up on my side in my bed with a pillow and I would lay my head on it and pretend that it was my boyfriend who was letting me nuzzle into his shoulder.

I had daydreams about meeting a boy who would not know that I was such an outcast and he’d like me just because I have intrinsic value.

I had this incredibly silly fantasy that this magical boy would really know the real me and he wouldn’t judge me because I wasn’t wearing the coolest clothes.  He would know all of my idiosyncrasies like how I only ever eat French Fries two-at-a-time.

Eventually, I met an amazing man who became my husband.  We fell in love and made a house a home and are living happily ever after.

But, it was just a few weeks ago when my oldest son, age 5, mentioned that he wanted to eat his fries “just like mommy” and he popped two Five Guys hand-cut French Fries into his mouth.

Somewhere in my torn adolescent soul I felt sure that my time would come and I would meet the man of my dreams and he would fulfill all of my silly musings about love and he would make up for all of the emotional bruising I had muddled through.

I just never expected the man of my dreams to be my 5-year old son.

Babies, boobies, bosses

If you’re expecting, you have probably read What to Expect When You’re Expecting to help you know what you can expect while you’re expecting, except nothing can prepare expectant parents or help them better accept the truth about what happens after the expected baby arrives.

Fo’ real, though.

If you are pregnant right now, you may or may not be joking with others about how “crazy” you are.  You probably have heard of “pregnancy brain” and have lost your car keys a few times.  Your mood swings may either be cute and quirky or fully alarming.  You probably complain about things like swollen feet, missing ankles, blue veins, hemorrhoids, stretch marks, nausea, vomiting, heartburn, heart palpitations, blood sugar, back aches, head aches and an inability to drink alcohol to make you forget all of this nonsense.

If you are pregnant right now, you probably hate skinny people.  You probably lament the fact that no one makes a decent business suit for pregnant women and/or no one makes “maternity shoes” or “maternity bras” for temporary size changes.

Your boobs probably hurt.

You’ve no doubt noticed that maternity clothing is no less expensive than regular clothing (and sometimes is much more expensive) and you HAVE to fucking buy it because you can’t be naked and the Belly Band doesn’t help your pre-pregnancy pants fit over your pregnancy-ass.

If you wore high heels before your pregnancy, you are probably now wondering who the FUCKBALLS invented high heels and what giant ASSHOLE bought so many of them and put them in your closet.  Why doesn’t the Shoe Fairy come bring you some nice, sensible footwear from Lands End?

And, I hate to break it to you…

YOU’RE SCREWED.

With science what it is these days, if you are pregnant, you may not have been screwed, per se, but you are screwed in a more metaphorical and less fun way.

You’re gonna have a BABY.

They make you CRAZY.

You will actually feel like a real lunatic a few weeks after that baby is born.  You may cry for no reason.  You may feel completely incompetent.  You may be completely overwhelmed.  You may be super-duper pissed that your significant other’s life and body were not as completely RUINED by this tiny, beautiful, precious, angelic, life-destroying animal.

You will have nothing that is yours:  not your body, not your clothes, not your space, not your time, not your food, not your one-goddamn-minute-alone-on-the-fucking-toilet-in-silence.  That baby is the boss of you.  He decides when you sleep, what you eat, when you pee, whether you shower, and whether your clothes stay clean or vomit-laden.  He is your warden.  And you love him.  And kinda hate him (or maybe just the situation) soooooooooo much.  And then you feel enormously guilty for the “hate” part and you’ll cry and be certain that you’re the worst parent who ever parented in the whole universe of parents ever.

You will want to say (or even really say out loud and everything) “SHUT THE FUCK UP!” more than one time.

You will meet several “good” moms who have their lives in perfect order and just “love” being a mother and who have no idea what you mean when you say that it is a really hard job.  You will want to murder these women, but please don’t because your boss baby needs you.

Look:  this is going to suck.  Being a parent sucks.  But, people don’t really want you to know that.  And THAT sucks, because when the baby arrives and you realize it all just sucks so much, you will feel like a complete asshole because no one else talks about how much it sucks, so you are left to believe that it only sucks for you which means that you are a bad parent and an even worse person.

But, for all of its suckitude, one day you will realize that you are no longer just treading water.  You’ll be swimming.  And your kids will be able to care for themselves.  And, you’ll not have to change diapers or wipe up sour-milk-vomit or buckle anyone in but yourself when you get in your car.

And, you’ll cry because you will wonder what happened to your beautiful babies and you’ll look back on those days that sucked with such fondness and gratitude and bliss.  And you’ll miss holding a lavender-scented sleeping infant in your arms.

And you’ll have absolutely no desire to do it all over again.

My Clouds

An Open Babbling to Sandra Cisneros and Other People, Too.

 

Before you were a bean, you were angel’s breath and wonderment.  You were the sky above a field of crocuses with dew and soft breezes.  You were a seed the color of rain.  There was soft light and a bird and swaddling clothes.

In the jungle the sounds are purity.  There are droplets of hibiscus.  The air smells of God.  And you were a whisper of a strand of hair drowsing along on the wind made of prayers.  You were the air made of purple.

And, before you were liquid and sunshine and freedom and energy.  Peace that drinks heavily from the chalice of royal diamonds.  The air between fronds on a feather.  The spaces between the light streaming through the cracked corners of the stained glass window.  The sweetness of honeydew.  A necklace made of love.

And, in a day, a peach blossom emerged and was illuminated by years of paper and ice.  Loops connecting forever.  Dancing with the delicacy of pencil erasers tapping on a frosted cake.

Pubic Garanimals Dry Hump Samurai Schematics

I am huge in Uganda today.

And, a few weeks back I frickin’ killed it in Sri Lanka.

 

And, in the past few months, people have found this blog by searching for

  • lime juice vagina
  • pubic chia pet
  • Garanimals for men
  • slut whore
  • I’m a girl with hair on my vagina and I don’t care
  • dry humping mom’s ass cheeks
  • Flowbee schematics
  • being ashamed
  • my kids are alive
  • Samurai swords
  • sticky pube
  • dork snatch
  • messy hair with twigs in it
  • Do people with uncircumcised boys get peed on less?

I don’t know what this says about my blog.

Please put your interpretations in our “Comments” section.

Getting from “I can’t” to “I’ve GOT this”

I have struggled for most of my adult life with borderline depression and probably a little anxiety, too.  These things, however, have not existed in real life like I would have imagined they would.

cryingI had previously figured that depression was reserved for people who had SOMETHING to be sad about.  And those poor saps wouldn’t be able to get out of bed each morning.  They would cry constantly.  They would probably resort to maniacal meth usage, would wear all-black and would get swoopy haircuts, but would ultimately not really wash or style their hair much, anyway.

I figured that people who had anxiety would be nervous wrecks 100% of the time, would talk really fast, drink too much coffee, talk incessantly about governmental conspiracy theories, and would be all twitchy and weird.

Most of that stuff is dead wrong.  For me, at least.  Except, I could get into a pretty decent conversation about conspiracies.  Like, what if the government actually secretly sanctioned the initial illegal drug trafficking in the US in order to infiltrate the Black community through unethical back-door methods in an attempt to decimate the community from the inside out, actually unofficially encouraging the Black community to disintegrate, stay uneducated, and foster violence and brain decay over decades of time?

But, after watching a particular Facebook reposted video of about a kabillion of my “friends” recently, I realized something:  I better get the fuck over myself.

Having come through a long emotional battle after a date rape well over 15 years ago now, I have had my fair share of difficulties in my weird-ass noggin.  I also suffered a miscarriage in 2007, and while I very rarely talk about this at all, I think about it often and it certainly added to my fucked-up headspace.

And, more than I could know, others out there have been through more and have suffered more and have required very serious help working through their mental and emotional issues.  I absolutely do not deny that these things are very real, nor do I believe that we can “snap out of” a depression, anxiety, or other problem any more than we could “snap out of” Congestive Heart Failure.

Nevertheless, I cannot deny that I ought to start taking more responsibility for the repeated phrase in my head to stop being “I can’t” and to start being “I’ve GOT this” a little more often.

Remember when you were a kid and you would swing as high as you could and you would hurl your body upward and outward into the sky above the playground and for those few moments of flight, your body (your soul, for that matter) just felt right, and you KNEW you would land safely?  I think it is important for more of us to have more of that feeling more often.

Somewhere in adulthood, far too many of us get trapped in a sense of fear.  We’ve lived life a whole lot of life.  We’ve, let’s say, played baseball for 14 years.  And for 13.96 of those years, the sport was fun and challenging and gloriously dirty and was an amazing way to be a part of a team–something larger than just ourselves.  But .04 of that time was spent on a bench nursing a really nasty, painful, ugly injury.  And, now, every time we run, whether it is toward home plate and a mean-looking, heavily-padded guy wearing sharp cleats, or if it is to catch a Frisbee in the yard with an 8-year old, we feel hesitant.  The awareness of that hurt is still there, even though it comparatively represents only a small part of our running experiences of the past.

So, as I sat on my couch last night watching that video, I found myself wondering:  “when do I plan to start living?”.  I have been sad and tired and worried and afraid in a dull but very persistent sense for years on end now.  Should I find out today that I have only a few months left on this planet, wouldn’t I be astronomically pissed that THAT would be how the bulk of my life had been spent?

My screwiness is legit.  Mental illness is not a joke.  People’s struggles are never anything to sneeze at.  But, perhaps we might take a moment to think about whether there is anyway we could start living life in a way that would make us proud to have been US at the end of it all.

And, as a teacher, I feel it necessary to leave you with words of wisdom on this topic that are not my own, but that belong to people far wiser than I…

“EMILY: “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?”

STAGE MANAGER: “No. Saints and poets maybe…they do some.”

-Thornton Wilder — Our Town

It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.

-Seneca

If you cannot be grateful for what you have received, then be thankful for what you have been spared.

-Yiddish Proverb.

Hooray for Mother’s Day!

Off Duty Mom is proud to feature a special “Hooray for Mother’s Day” special publication!

************************************

GUEST POST BY:

Meredith Ethington

My hands are literally cracking and bleeding. My husband said to me innocently when I was complaining, “Can you just try washing them less everyday?” I scoffed, “No! I wash them when I wipe a butt, and before eating, or fixing a meal, and after going to the bathroom. Which of those should I skip?”

I was thinking about how my hands look like they belong to a 90 year old woman even though I am just a young, 35 year old mama. And, I thought of all the beautiful mother’s day poems out there about a mother’s hands. They are beautiful aren’t they? But, my hands? Not so much. Do these poems really get down and share the nitty gritty that every mother experiences everyday? Not really.

So, I crafted a short little poem of my own, which is ironic since I pretty much hated every poem I had to read during my high school and college years. But, this one came to me pretty quickly.

Busy, Dirty Hands (A Mother’s Day Tribute)

I’m thankful for my mother’s hands, which keep us kids at bay,

From destroying everything she loves, each and every day.

It seems that when I need some help, she says, “Do it yourself!”

So, then I climb up  very high and reach up on a shelf.

Her hands know how to clean up each and every mess I make,

When the shelf falls down, and I move on, to wreak havoc in another place.

Her hands know how to feed the baby, while making dinner too.

They send a text, and help with homework, while the house feels like a zoo.

Those hands wipe our bums 10 times a day, and rarely she complains,

Except, of course, when poop floats in the tub, and she’s almost gone insane.

Her hands are patient when we draw on the couch with a bright red pen,

She uses them to cover her mouth when she wants to remain quite zen.

Her hands catch every single thing that comes out of my mouth,

chewed food and vomit, are just two that no longer gross her out.

Her hands clean up the crusty things that come out of my nose,

when I wipe them on the wall, she says, “That isn’t where it goes!”

Her hands know how to clean and wipe, and clean and wipe again,

They do the same thing over and over, to clean up our pig pen.

Her hands show me so many things, like how much she must love me.

After all those hands have one dirty job, taking care of little ol’ me.

-Written by crazy toddlers everywhere

Meredith is a native Texan, recovering perfectionist, and mama to 3 kids living in Utah. She has been blogging for over 5 years, but just recently decided to make her blog public and get real about motherhood. Her tag line is “far from perfect, but blogging about it anyway”. Because that is exactly what she wants to do. Her goal is to be honest and not just blog all the happy, pretty moments. You can find her over at Faking Picture Perfect.

Then and Now, Inside and Out

I will admit that when I sat down at my computer I had very little to say.  And, that, frankly, kinda scared the hell out of me.

Who am I if I am not a loudmouthed, sarcastic know-it-all who has something to say about everything?

I just don’t know.

My instinct, for some reason was to comment about Tupac.  I think it is because I saw a teenager wearing a t-shirt today that had Biggie and Tupac on it.  Tupac was flicking off the camera.  It made me think about the whole concept of rebellion and whether it was inherently good or bad — or neither — or both.

When I was a teenager, I remember there was a bit of a resurgence of 1960’s hippie fashion and culture.  I bought cheap babydoll dresses at Contempo Casuals and discovered The Beatles and people started tie-dying everything around them.  Then Hypercolor t-shirts became the post-modern pseudo-tie-dye reinvention.  Ugh.

And, during this time, I thought everyone over 19 was pretty fucking dumb.  They just didn’t understand reality.  This reality, of course, was whatever I believed it to be in my 14 years of wisdom.  No one, you better believe, was dumber than my parents.  They were super, ultra, extra dumb and could never hope to understand my world in all its complicatedness.

I was a rebel in my own mind.  I never got into any trouble whatsoever.  I once drove a car for about 5 whole minutes before I was 16 and had a license.  I never had to serve any penance for this crime, though.

anarchyYet, I empathized with those who struggled.  My soul seemed to identify with those who felt the need to revolt.  Maybe I listened to too many Sex Pistols songs or Sonic Youth feedback.  There was always a sort of fire in my tiny, adolescent belly that yearned to be in London (and be older), with my fist in the air and a snarl on my face.  I scrawled lyrics to Pixies songs on my school notebooks, then went to AP English class in my cheerleader uniform where I discussed philosophy and later filled out college applications to some of the more prestigious universities in my area.

I never felt like a hypocrite.  I just felt (then and now) that the person inside me didn’t always match the person I showed to the public.  Or the person my parents expected me to become.

I never rebelled.  Not in any real way.  And, I do think – now as an adult – that all of the teeny-bopper bullshit whining that I hear constantly about how adults don’t understand and the world is so cruel and the soul is so black and we’re just so misunderstood is played out and pretty fucking annoying.  I have become my parents.  But, I already knew that.

But, still, I kinda like seeing that picture of Tupac with a very adamant middle finger proudly on display on that kid’s shirt.  Part of me still identifies with the fuck-you attitude.

It is what makes me so charming.  And lovable.

I know you are but what am I?

She was the kind of girl who smoked cigarettes in a car with rolled-up windows while fuzzy dice dangled on her rearview mirror.  I am sure she owned plenty of leopard print.  I would be certain that whatever her name would be, it would end with an “i.”

He scrawled on desks in high school with the end of a pen that no longer worked.  And he only owned clothes with band names on them or things that were made out of threadbare denim or cheap, knock-off leather.

Her friends all loved pink and had big hair and wore plastic bracelets and shoes.  One had a button on her purse that said “Save Ferris.”  Another knew the perfect way to scrunch up her socks at the ankle so that they were just awesome enough.

He hung with guys who snarled a lot.  They couldn’t afford muscle cars, so they hung calendars of them in their rooms instead.  They pretended to know about the world.

Everyone believed, firmly, that these kids were going nowhere in life.  Now they’re 40.  They wear shirts with buttons and pants that have to be ironed.  They have kids and a mortgage and a sensible SUV with a top-rated carseat inside.  They have no idea what the coolest music is anymore, but they do know all about Doc McStuffins.

This might sound like people you know.  One of those people might even be you.

The person who wrote this was once cool, I am sure.  Now she uses adult diapers and complains that the rain hurts her knees.

The person who wrote this was once cool, I am sure. Now she uses adult diapers and complains that the rain hurts her knees.

So, you’re old.  That sucks.

I understand.

But, I offer no solace.  There shall be no respite from the weariness of your lamentable aging today.

Instead, I offer you this:

*next summer, Forrest Gump will be 20 years old.  That makes Haley Joel Osment (young Forrest) now 24.  He could be your coworker.  Or worse, your boss.

*it has been 30 years since Michael Jackson first did that Moonwalk on TV while performing Billie Jean and 30 years since Vanessa Williams became the first Black Miss America.

*If you had had a child the night Seinfeld aired its final episode, that child would now be a freshman in high school.

*If Nirvana’s Nevermind were a person, it could now legally drink in the United States.  Actually, it was released 22 years ago.

*It has been 43 years since the first heavy metal album was released.  Original headbangers would now risk serious injury for rockin’ out.

*It has been exactly 40 years now since psychology experts removed homosexuality from its list of disorders.  It took Denmark another 16 years to be the first to legalize same-sex marriages.  It took 26 total years from that date for California to offer some rights for same-sex couples in committed relationships.

Remember these guys?  If so, you are at least 30.  The show ended in 1981.  Muppet Babies ended in 1992.

Remember these guys? If so, you are at least 30. The show ended in 1981. Muppet Babies ended in 1992.

*It has been 34 years since Nickelodeon first launched as a channel.

*It has been nearly a decade since Facebook launched as a social networking site.

*28 years have passed since the launch of the first Super Mario Brothers.

*If you were 13 years old when Pac Man first came out in the US, you are now 45 years old, geezer.

*If you were 18 when Jimi Hendrix died, you are now 61 years old.  Criminey.

*Cyndi Lauper is 59.

*Gene Simmons is 63.

*Pee Wee Herman is 60.

*TuPac would be 42 years old now, had he lived.

*Denise Huxtable from the Cosby Show would turn 46 this year.

*William Shatner is 81.

*Chuck Norris is 72.

*Brad Pitt is 48.  Two and a half years younger than George Clooney.

and, finally,

*Ralph Macchio, the Karate Kid is freaking 50 years old.

Wow.

 

YOU’RE OLD.

Getting old is awesome.  At least that is what I keep telling myself.

Getting old is awesome. At least that is what I keep telling myself.

The clock is ticking, y’all!

If you are still considering guest-posting with Off Duty Mom for the December series on fertility, time is running out.

We are still searching for three more stories about families, couples or individuals who have all types of stories about infertility, miscarriage, premature births, in vitro procedures, and all manner of struggles and triumphs relating to baby-makin’.

Help us to make this series a success! Guest posts can be short or long; funny, touching or heartbreaking. We are open to all of it. You can stay anonymous if you’d like, even.

Too many of us know how difficult it is to start and maintain a family. If we share stories, though, more of us may come to realize that we are not alone.

Join us, won’t you?

Check out the Guest Posting page here or visit us on Facebook to submit your story.

Thanks!

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.

20121007-151952.jpg

Growing up, Getting better

Before I was married, I lived on the second floor of a duplex in a beautiful neighborhood. Having just graduated from college, I couldn’t afford all of the luxuries I might have now, but I did have the most comfortable bed of all time. I slept in it, diagonally, using 5 or 6 pillows at any given time to prop, cover, cradle and comfort my body perfectly. I slept well. Every night.

Before we had children, my husband and I never made plans for anything. Ever. We typically ate dinner at about 8 pm, on the floor or on the couch in front of the television. We had both a dining room table and an eat-in kitchen, but we were just too informal for that. With the exception of having to let the dog outside, we had few responsibilities that dictated that we be home at any specific time of day. It was easy and normal for either one of us to stop for drinks with friends after work or to run errands at odd hours.

I miss parts of my old life. Before becoming a responsible, married, home-owning adult with children, I was a different person entirely. In fact, I suppose I have gone through several incarnations of myself over the course of my lifetime. The person I was in my youth is vastly different than the person I became in high school. That person doesn’t even resemble the person I became in college. And, that person differs, still, from the person I became as a young professional. And, even so, that person differs greatly from the person I became as a newlywed. And, of course, that person is so different from the person I became when I became a mother.

I miss some (but certainly not all) of the pieces of my former selves. I don’t want to go back to being any of them, though. Make no mistake about that.

It is interesting to me how as a mother I have the privilege to watch a child become a full person even while I am certain I, too, am becoming more of myself each day. I suppose growing, changing, developing and evolving never really end in a human life.

Each day I will try to learn more about myself and answer questions like, “Why did I like ‘Magic Mike’ enough to refer to it as a ‘film?'” and, “Why do the Olympics make me sad that I never thought to pursue a career in beach volleyball even though I have never played volleyball of any kind?” And, I will learn more about the little ones I hope to mold into responsible men, hopefully answering questions like, “Why do little boys think kicking each other in the head is hilarious?” and, “What makes automatic flush toilets so terrifying to a 4-year old?”

It is poetic, and aggravating, never to be a completed model– always to be a work in progress. But, if you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you know that the best thing to do upon making this realization is to have a glass of wine and stop worrying. My oldest son always wants a cup of juice if he is hurt or sad. “Juice makes everything better,” he says. Yes, it does, son. Yes it does.

Life in the Middle

I realized recently that I’d been living — for a long time — in the middle.

Perhaps the opposites of both “happy” and “sad” are, in both cases, numb, lifeless, middlehood.

I have had a job that is okay for about 4 years now.  It’s not good.  It’s not bad.  It’s somewhere in the middle.

My days, otherwise, are not active.  They’re not entirely sedentary.  They’re somewhere in the middle.

My clothes, shoes, handbags and other girly things are not extravagant.  They’re not meager.  They’re somewhere in the middle.

I am not too fat.  I am not too skinny.  I am somewhere in the middle

I don’t get to read a whole lot.  Yet, I am not living totally booklessly.  I am somewhere in the middle.

My diet is not healthy.  It is not indulgent.  It is somewhere in the middle.

My weekends aren’t typically spent doing adventurous things.  They’re not spent entirely in front of the TV, either.  It’s somewhere in the middle.

My daily work is not terribly engaging.  It’s also not completely boring all of the time.  It’s somewhere in the middle.

My home is neither large nor small.  It is somewhere in the middle.

I’ve not fully lived up to my intellectual potential.  I am also not exactly sitting around as an aimless high-school dropout.  I am somewhere in the middle.

I don’t get to spend most of my time with my children.  I don’t see them infrequently, either.  It’s somewhere in the middle.

I’m not a bad cook.  I’m not a great cook, either.  I am somewhere in the middle.

I am sure I am not always the best example for my kids.  I am certain that I am far from the worst.  I am somewhere in the middle.

I don’t wake up each day excited for the possibilities it will bring.  I also don’t wake up and find it terrifying or exhausting to think about getting out of bed.  I am somewhere in the middle.

All of this has left me wondering whether I am really living my life well.  And, if I am not, when do I intend to start doing so?

Perhaps too many of us are afraid to take real risks because with the chance of experiencing very high “highs,” we have to risk experiencing very low “lows,” too.  My old job was like that.  There were tons of hills and valleys.  No — mountains and abysses.  Or, meteoric peaks and vortexes of darkness.

Yet here I am now living a life that is… tepid.

So, I am trying to dig in to my “bucket” list.  It is time to cross some things off, face some fears and start living life as a better me.

None of us gets a second chance, right?  There is but one lifetime for each of us.

I’d like to know what each of you has done lately that demonstrates that you’re living the best life you can live.  I know I am not alone it this middle ground.  Let us all gather strength to conquer a better existence together.

I’ll start:  last month, I faced one of my biggest fears.  I have spent my life absolutely embarrassingly terrified of boats.  I can swim.  I am not afraid of water.  But, I am afraid of getting sucked under an enormous body of water Titanic-style.  And, I am scared of being helpless and stranded away from land and civilization with no control over my whereabouts.  But, I got on a fishing boat in the Gulf of Mexico in May and set out 5 miles away from shore to lay my godmother to rest in the beautiful waters off of Clearwater, Florida.  Never in a gazillion years would I have imagined that I could do that without becoming hysterical or needing prescription sedatives.  But, I did it.  I didn’t even cry once.  Or rely on pharmaceuticals for an easier go of it.  Now, I am not jumping up excitedly trying to clamor onto another boat anytime soon.  I am not miraculously cured of my baseless fear.  But, I faced it.

How have you made yourself proud lately?  Let us know.  Your comments are always welcome.

Tell us how you’re getting or staying out of the middle.

Should I Move to Australia?

Work sucks.

We all know it.

It turns out it sucks worst here in the United States, especially for women, and most especially for women with families, it seems.

“Did you know that 138 nations mandate vacation time by law? But, one of them isn’t the ‘Republic of here,'” said Bill Maher on the June 15, 2012 episode of Real Time with Bill Maher.

He went on to note that “in England, you get 28 paid vacation days a year. In Switzerland, you get 20. In Sweden, you get 25.”  Currently, I have “earned” 10 vacation days for the next year (July 1, 2012-June 30, 2013).  I have so few because I have had vacation days deducted from those “earnings” since I opted to take a maternity leave within the past work cycle.

But, it seems as though I was even lucky to have been afforded the privilege of taking unpaid maternity leave and being charged with sick, vacation and personal days in the process.  Many other new mothers don’t even get that.  And, I appear to be enormously fortunate and in the vast minority in the fact that I even get those 10 vacation days at all.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, “The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a law that requires most companies to allow their employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave time after the birth of their child. The FMLA applies to both men and women and is also available for those that adopt a child.  If the parents work for the same company, the 12 weeks is then divided between the two of them and is an accumulation of both of their time (i.e.,. each could take 6 weeks off; one could take 4 weeks while the other takes 8 weeks).  There are exceptions to the FMLA which release a business from the obligation of allowing unpaid time off. These exceptions include the size of the company (less than 50 employees), the time of employment (at least 12 months), and level of wages (top 10%). Employees with incomes that account for the top 10% of wages for the business may not have access to the unpaid benefit if the company can show with evidence that your absence creates significant financial harm to the organization.”

This has me wondering whether this is a convenient way for companies to legally discriminate in their practices.  Certainly, it cannot be a matter of official record, but if a company employs 55 people and feels as though it cannot “afford” to allow women time off to undergo a major medical experience, would it not be better served by hiring only men?

One might argue that times are tough and women can always refuse to accept a position with any company whose policies do not meld well with their personal beliefs, medical needs, or family interests.  In other words, we can just say to women, “If you don’t like it, go work somewhere else.”  Interestingly, men don’t have any equivalent I can see where they might be told something similar.

Here’s where it gets worse.  According to a report on Forbes.com in 2009, “more than half of U.S. companies employ fewer than 50 people.”  So, just going and finding somewhere else that jives better with your family needs doesn’t seem that possible all of the time, then.

How is the United States, a country that takes such pride in its focus on equity, social justice and civil rights, among the few who still treat women as second-class citizens who must choose between their personal and professional lives?  The following may be surprising.  Here are a few countries with longer maternity leave options for their workers:  Belarus, Cambodia, Chad, China, Congo, Egypt, Iran, Thailand and Zimbabwe.

CHINA?!  Don’t they have some of the worst human rights policies on the planet?  And, yet, they mandate more maternity leave for women.

Recently, The New York Times reported:  “Canada and the United States may share a border, a language and much cultural affinity, but if women face broadly similar situations in terms of education and economic opportunity in the two countries, they are far apart in the area of gender equality, the experts said.”

It also reported that “last month a report by Save the Children suggested that America is one of the worst places to be a mother among rich countries, pointing to what it said were one of the highest maternal mortality rates and worst breastfeeding environments among developed countries.”

Craptacular.  So, if we survive (which we are less likely to do here than in a host of other industrialized nations), we are still subject to a lifetime of over-work and low pay.  In fact, the Government Accountability Office concluded that men statistically receive earning boosts after having children while women receive significant losses at the same lifepoints.  They also concluded that still after 20+ years of this pervading statistic, women still earn a mere 80% of men’s average salaries — 80 cents to every man’s dollar.

This all leaves the US as one of the worst places to be a working woman and mother who believes in equity and fairness and who values family time.

In 2011, Marie Claire reported that “a 2005 report by the World Economic Forum found [Sweden] to be the world’s ‘most advanced country’ for women, with greater levels of equality, power, health, and well-being among women than anywhere else. (The survey ranked the U.S. an abysmal 17th place — one above Costa Rica.)”  The article went on to note that “Sweden, which has a population of 9 million — around the same as the state of New Jersey — has a long history of female-friendly policies. The government gave women equal rights to inherit property way back in 1845; in 1901, it introduced the world’s first formalized maternity-leave program. In 1958, the Swedish Lutheran church changed its doctrine to permit women to become priests. And today, female politicians make up around half of the Swedish parliament.”  In the US, women make up just 17% of the Senate and just shy of 17% of the seats in the House of Representatives.

Again, though, it doesn’t all just suck for women, though it sucks for us the worst.  But, it seems as though everyone in this country is getting shafted.  The Denver Post says, “Blue-collar workers get five days of paid leave after one year of service, and 23 percent of Americans get no paid vacation whatsoever, the 2006 statistics showed.”  NO. VACATION. WHATSOEVER.  Wha?

“Experts said the lack of vacation stems in part from an American obsession with work as a form of defining one’s identity,” The Denver Post article continued, “whereas European and Asian cultures enjoy longer vacations and define themselves by familial or national affiliations.”

So, again, I see a trend.  Americans must choose between family and work.  People just about everywhere else do not. Because they out-earn their female counterparts statistically by 20%, men often do not face such decisions in this country where women still do.

And, of the work we all do, Americans are working harder for their money, to boot.  An article on 20somethingfinance.com said in 2010:  “At least 134 countries have laws setting the maximum length of the work week; the U.S. does not.”

So, let me see if I have this straight:  women in the US work longer hours, for less money, less vacation time, less maternity leave time and fewer cultural perks than workers just about everywhere else on the globe?

Is it time to do something about this?  I’d love to hear what you think.

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