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Sexual Harassment Isn’t Funny, and it’s Time We Shut it Down

Recently, I was sitting in a local coffee shop grading papers, trying to mind my own business. Two young women were working behind the counter of this intimate little shop, and I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. It began with casual talk of guys—cute guys, flirting with guys, which guys had hit on them recently, and what Halloween costumes they wanted to wear when they went out partying with guys (Sexy Baseball Player was mentioned). It was innocent enough, just two young women sharing their thoughts about the attention they were getting, or wanted to get, from men.  But then the conversation, while remaining light hearted and full of giggles, took a turn I never expected.

They started telling tales of sexual harassment they had experienced at work.

I grew furious-not at them, but at the realization that for all the advancements women have made, some things still haven’t changed.

Like women being sexually harassed at work and standing for it.

This was a public establishment, and these women had to know their words would reach the patrons’ ears. But they didn’t seem to mind. In fact, their tone did not change—the exchange did not become conspiratorial, their voices didn’t become hushed. They spoke about it as if it were completely normal, completely acceptable, and maybe even welcomed. They joked about it as if their shared experience was nothing but harmless workplace antics. I was confused, and my heart was breaking.

It started with the recounting of something the manager had said to one of them: “You know, you shouldn’t come to work so clean, it makes me want to taste you.”

“Oh my God, he said that?” responded the other woman, with a hearty laugh.

They laughed together. My stomach dropped.

And then: “Remember that time he had me pinned up against the register? It was all I could do not to gag and push him off of me.” The laughter continued, no trace of them being indignant.  I kept waiting for them to begin a discussion about what they were going to do to address the unwelcome and inappropriate behavior.

They didn’t.

I was completely distracted, torn between angry disbelief at their acceptance of this behavior, and the protective instinct to tell them it wasn’t their fault. I wanted to say, “You know, you don’t have to put up with that kind of treatment. You don’t deserve that.”

No woman does.

But I kept quiet. What if they enjoy it, I wondered. Maybe I am taking this too seriously. Maybe they encourage these advances and I should just keep my nose out of their business.

But here’s the thing: convincing ourselves that it is no big deal allows men to think they can behave this way. It is what leads to pussy grabbing and forced kisses and uninvited groping and comments about our bodies.

It’s what leads to sexual assault.

I don’t think there is a woman alive who hasn’t experienced this in some form. In 1989, I worked with a man who was flirtatious. He was more than twice my age. He fed me tidbits about his sex life, and sometimes asked me questions about mine. I was fifteen, I had no sex life, and I didn’t know that I was being harassed. I enjoyed this attention from an older man. It made me feel grown up. He never touched me and I never spoke up. But looking back, I know that it was harassment, and he should have known better.

Has nothing changed in twenty-seven years?

Women, young or old, should never have to accept harassment. So why did the young baristas laugh it off? Maybe their laughter was a way for them to cope with an infuriating situation without the risk of losing their jobs. Maybe their shared laughter was a way of saying, “I hear you.” Maybe it is because it is still so pervasive and so acceptable to treat women this way that we don’t even see it when it is happening to us. Maybe it’s simply easier to convince ourselves that it isn’t a big deal.

It is a big deal.

As women, we have a responsibility to say no to this nonsense.  It devalues us as equal human beings. We cannot make light of it anymore. As a mother of boys, I will work tirelessly to teach my sons to respect women, but it’s not enough. We all need to empower our daughters to reject harassment. In a time when our country is on the brink of a women’s revolution we, as women, have a critical role to play. We have to demonstrate to our daughters what we will and won’t stand for. We have to say enough is enough.

Sexual harassment isn’t funny.  It isn’t cute.  It isn’t something we can afford to be quiet about any longer.  If we want to be valued as equal creatures to men, and we want to be paid equally for equal work, we cannot simply laugh it off when we are treated as objects to be toyed with.

We have to take control of our own worth, and set the bar for how we expect to be treated.

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Science: The Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me

It’s new-semester’s eve—the night before classes begin at the university where I teach. As I stand on the precipice of academic year 2016-2017, looking with hopeful eyes toward an always-uncertain semester, my mind wanders back to the beginning of my foray into the world of science. Tonight, my message is tailor made for the young women out there who might find themselves in a science class that they don’t want to be in. I know, it kind of sucks.

My guess (and it is an educated one) is that most of you are taking my class because 1) you have to take a science class, and 2) either your advisor told you this class fits your schedule, or you heard from someone that the class is not too hard.

There might be a handful of you who are somewhat intrigued by geology—earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, landslides, and other natural disasters may have caught your attention via a show on the Discovery Channel, or some personal experience growing up in a hazard-prone location (AKA, California)

Mt. St. Helens ash explosion May, 1980.

Mt. St. Helens ash explosion – May, 1980. Isn’t it sexy?

For others, you may have no idea what geology is, but you figure it is easier than chemistry, physics, or biology and so why not give it a shot?

To all of you in any of these categories, I say proudly that I WAS YOU! My scientific career began the day I wandered into Geology 101 at Syracuse University, a cranky freshman English major determined to hate the class and just get through it with a decent grade. I sat in the back row in my Doc Marten combat boots, sulked, and tried not to fall asleep. (We didn’t have smart phones then so I didn’t have many options)

I wanted to be a dancer. Science was never part of the discussion when I was a kid.

I wanted to be a dancer or a writer. Science was never part of the discussion when I was a kid.

Much to my surprise, I found myself intrigued. Images of mountains and valleys and rivers and volcanic eruptions all invaded my non-science-y brain and refused to let go. It scared me a little. I thought to myself, “I might like this stuff but there is no way I can be a science major. I am not good at math or science. Science is too hard for me.”

And there it was—the phrase that creeps into the minds of bright little girls everywhere and begins to unfairly degrade their confidence:

Science is too hard.

Look, I am a scientist and I can confirm that science is hard. It is really freaking hard. But it is not TOO hard. What does that even mean, really? If it were too hard, nobody would be able to do it.

But people do it. Even people like me do it, and I was not the ideal candidate for a science program. I had always been a writer. I was interested in literature and poetry. My parents weren’t professors or engineers or even teachers. My dad was a musician and my mom was a housewife. Neither of them went to college. I always liked school, but I struggled with math and science. In high school I took advanced placement English and opted out of pre-calculus. Instead, I took “modern” math, which was a mixture of probability and statistics and other stuff that didn’t hurt my brain too much. So when I went to college I knew exactly where I was headed: I would be a writer, and to hell with math and science.

They were too hard.

Here’s the tragedy of all of this: my story is not unique. It is a well established fact that young girls are just as interested in math and science as boys are in elementary school, but somewhere around middle school girls are far more likely to utter that dreaded phrase, “science is too hard,” or its equally crappy counterpart, “math is too hard,” than boys are.

What the actual fuck.

It is just one more example of why we, as women, have to work that much harder to put this kind of nonsense to rest. We, as strong, smart, capable, unique, thinking women have to do even more to prove that we can do everything men can do, and better.

So here is my plea to all of the young women who will set foot in my sacred hall of learning this semester—

Come to crush it. Come ready to rock the hell out of some science. Come ready to show the boys what you are made of.

Me after crushing a five-day excursion in a snowy Tibet valley, doing geology for my PhD research.

Me after crushing a five-day excursion in a snowy Tibet valley, doing geology for my PhD research.

Now I know most of you will not end up pursuing science as a career. That is irrelevant. Having basic knowledge of the scientific process is absolutely invaluable to the overall impact you can have on the world around you. Understanding how data is gathered and analyzed, being able to read and decipher a graph, and engaging in critical thinking, are all skills that will make you a better, deeper, more intelligent person. Period.

And ladies, in this critical time in our nation’s evolution toward being a more equal and just place, you cannot underestimate the importance of using your voice, your brain, and your free will. This is the time to push yourselves to the boundaries of your comfort zones and beyond.

Ladies, this is the time.

I wasn’t born destined to be a scientist, but science was the best thing that ever happened to me. It took me well beyond my comfort zone and forced me to work harder than I ever had, think more deeply that I ever had, and fight harder than I ever had to gain recognition and respect in a field dominated by men. And you know what?

Doing science was hard. Becoming a scientist was the most difficult thing I ever did. But it was also the most rewarding.

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An Open Letter To My Students, On The Eve Of A New Semester.

It’s the night before we will begin our short adventure together. Like some of you, I have first day jitters. Not because I am nervous about teaching in front of a group of more than 200 strangers (I have done this many times), but because each new semester carries such promise – the potential to inspire, excite, and engage so many bright young minds. As a teacher, nothing feels better than connecting with the people who will move us forward into a bright future, filled with new ideas, innovations, and ground breaking discoveries. Yes, you are the people of whom I speak. You are the ones who will take us into the next wave of exploration.

For some of you, science has always been on your radar. Maybe you started collecting rocks as a kid, or love the discovery channel, or went to space camp. Maybe you grew up near the beach and dreamed of being a marine biologist. For others, science is boring. Geeky. Nerdy. Uninteresting. Maybe it is even scary. And some of you believe that science is “too hard.” Well, check this out – I WAS YOU! I never wanted to pursue science. I was quite happy to be a writer and leave the science to the uber-nerds. I didn’t believe I could do it.

But here’s the thing: I was wrong about science. Science is so freaking cool! It isn’t just cool, it is the way we ask and answer all of the important questions of our world. Science is how we will solve the grandest challenges we will face in the next 10-20 years, and believe me, they are grand. Lack of clean drinking water, the need for clean energy, climate change, disaster relief, overpopulation, hunger, and disease – ALL of these issues are real, and have already begun. Guess what will help us with these problems? Prayer? Nope. War? Don’t think so. Smart, hard-working people coming together to do science and figure this all out? YOU GOT IT!

For me, being a scientist wasn’t always easy. In fact, some of it downright sucked (General Chemistry, anyone?). But I have never once regretted becoming a scientist.

Now, I know not all of you will become scientists. I respect that we all have different interests, strengths, and talents. In fact, I am envious that you have your entire lives ahead of you to choose your path and follow your dreams! It is such an exciting time. Regardless of your plans today, I ask you for this small favor: come to class with an open mind, a courteous heart, and the willingness to learn something new. For only in this way do we become better people. Every bit of new knowledge you gain, every new skill you master, makes you a deeper individual. It makes you stronger. Knowledge is power! I promise as your instructor to do my very best to keep it interesting, and answer your questions to the best of my ability. Will you, as my students, promise to simply give it a chance, respect our time together, and maybe even try to learn a little something? Oh, and promise to ask questions when you want to know more. I love that.

Now ladies, this is a special part just for you. You have no idea how important this time in history is for us women. Well, maybe you do, but I want to reiterate. The time for women to rise up is now. The time for us to be, do, and say EVERYTHING we can is now. The time for equality is now. Science is not just for old, white men. Science is for everyone. It is for you.

Women are bringing it big time, in all sorts of ways. And not just in science – whatever you choose to pursue, bring it! Bring your A game. Push yourself to the very brink of your ability. Then push farther. You are strong. You are smart. You are valuable. You have what it takes.

Oh and by the way, you can be a scientist AND be a girly girl if you want. You can wear high heels, do your hair, wear make up, and still be an archaeologist digging in the dirt, or a physicist doing thought experiments. How about a professional athlete, or a doctor, or a stay at home mother, or an astronaut on the first mission to Mars. Don’t let anyone tell you your clothes, your hair, your sense of style, or anything else makes you less of a valuable resource, a serious contributor, or an independent person.

So ladies, my special request to you is to bring your very best to class. Show everyone what you are made of. Because in this time of change, this time when women are rising up, speaking up, and taking charge, you are an important part of the process. Don’t just be the pretty girl in the back row with 1,000 Facebook friends and perfect hair – be the kick ass woman who will run the next groundbreaking company, find the cure for cancer, or write the next great American novel. Or maybe even answer one of our biggest scientific questions.

Welcome to my class. Let’s rock the hell out of some science.

Sincerely,

Dr. Jessica Kapp – scientist, teacher, mother, wife, runner, guitar player, girly girl.

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Saved By The Blues Special Sneak Peek

After reading this book, you’re going to want to dance.”

blues-dance-photos-evrim(Photo by Evrim Icoz)

I don’t know about you, but just looking at this picture makes me want to dance.

Blues music is known as the soundtrack of heartaches and hardships, but the practice of singing, playing, or listening to the blues has always been used as a mechanism to transform tragedy into beauty. So it’s no wonder that the powerful emotional response blues music evokes evolved into a dance form—and a thriving subculture.”

So begins the back cover description of the lovely Rebecca Pilsbury’s latest book, Saved By The Blues.

RebeccaPillsbury-739x1024

If you have never listened to blues music, really listened to it, you are missing out on a visceral experience that is sure to move your soul. Rebecca writes about people whose self expression is unleashed by the deep power of blues music, and the connection between two people giving themselves over to such a raw, partnered dance.

At its core, the stories are about the healing power of blues dancing.

Here’s the rest of the back cover synopsis:

Blues dancing is an intimate—and oftentimes healing—partner dance with a largely uncharted, yet widespread, global movement of dedicated followers. Partner dancing can be powerfully transformative by providing an outlet for self-expression, physical exercise, and community building. But the blues emphasizes vulnerability—its close embrace position combined with the soulful music of the blues offers an even deeper curative quality.

This book shares personal stories of nearly forty blues dancers from around the world—from North and South America, to Europe, to India and even the Middle East. Learn how blues dancing has helped people:

  • Overcome social anxiety and fear
  • Ease symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome/fibromyalgia
  • Experience relief from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Regain mobility after severe back and knee pain
  • Recover from divorce or relationship dissolution

Dancing doesn’t just heal on an individual level. When two partners share just three minutes of intimacy and connection, there can be a mutual exchange of the purest form of love and acceptance—an expression that carries into our lives off the dance floor. Read Saved by the Blues and be compelled to see where the blues can take you.

Rebecca is a candid and emotional writer, whose words lay bare her innermost struggles and revelations. She doesn’t hold back, in her writing or her dancing, and this book will inspire you to free yourself from self-doubt and express yourself with abandon!

There is one week left to donate to the Kickstarter to get this book published and into the world. If you would like to participate, go here:

Kickstarter for Saved By the Blues

If you are simply interested in reading the book, check back here, or on Rebecca’s Saved By The Blues facebook page, for a release date and details on how to order one.

This book will inspire you, entertain you, and cause you to think deeply about your own self expression. I, for one, can’t wait to read it!

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Five Things to be Thankful For on Mother’s Day

Recently while showering in my new home I noticed the words “Happy Mother’s Day” written in steam on my bathroom mirror. I started to think about who had put it there for the woman who occupied this home before me. Was it her husband? Her children? And what were they thinking about when they wrote that lovely message?

It is likely they were thinking about all of the traits we think of when we hear the words “Good Mom.” Caregiving, keeping house, kissing boo boos, and nursing the sick. Driving to practices, games, recitals, and music lessons. Having the neighborhood kids over for pizza and sleepovers. Helping with homework. Putting the needs of the children above her own.

All of these things are wonderful reasons to celebrate moms.

But why not celebrate more than mothering skills? How about celebrating the smart, independent, hard working, passionate, sassy, silly, tough women moms are. I hope that someday my sons will have a deeper understanding of who I am as a woman, and recognize the things I did that modeled independence, individuality, and strength. I hope they will be thankful for this, and respect and applaud women who have their own lives, passions, hobbies, and jobs.

Don’t get me wrong – motherhood is the bomb. By all means let’s celebrate it! But it’s the non-motherly things that are silently shaping our kids. They benefit from seeing us dancing, playing instruments, working outside the home, creating art, volunteering, having friends of our own, traveling on our own, exercising, coaching, going on dates with our partners, writing books, mentoring…these teach our children invaluable lessons about being an individual, and working to succeed.

Here are five things I hope my sons will someday realize made me more than just the lady who made lunches, read books at bedtime, and nursed them when they were sick.

  1. My mom had a job that she loved, and she was good at it.

This one is especially important. I am NOT at all downplaying the importance of staying home with your kids, if that is your jam. But working mothers bring something to the table that cannot be undervalued – we teach our kids that it is ok to have a career outside the home, and to love it. Excelling in a career is something to be proud of. Contributing to society and using your education are good things. Follow your dreams, work hard, and you can have a career you love. What a message! Not to mention it helps our children understand that they are not the center of the universe, and sometimes we have to go to work even when we don’t want to. Yeah…that’s life. Get used to it.

  1. My mom had hobbies she enjoyed and it made her a happier person.

Sometimes the kids have to entertain themselves and let mommy get her rock and roll on! Just as I support their desires to play sports and video games, they should support my desire to play guitar. Why should our kids be the only ones that get to “play?” I would argue that finding time for a hobby teaches our kids about balance. It teaches them that finding things you enjoy is a healthy part of adult life too. I am not suggesting we ignore our children when they are in need so we can rock our favorite pastime, but it won’t kill them to have to wait for your attention while you enjoy 30 minutes of you time. After all, it makes us more pleasant moms if we take time to do something that doesn’t involve macaroni art or watching animated television.

  1. My mom took care of herself and felt good.

You can interpret this however you choose. It could mean exercise, eating well, doing yoga, or meditating. It could mean regular massages, gardening, or therapy. It could mean dancing with abandon or walking in the rain. It is different for each of us, but whatever it is you need to do to feel healthy in body and mind, do it. Show your kids you feel good about yourself. The healthier we are as women, the better we can care for our children. And feeling good about our bodies and our minds teaches our kids about healthy body image and self esteem. The better we feel, the less likely we are to put ourselves down. Exercising in front of our kids doesn’t have to translate into looking better, but simply feeling strong. Eating well doesn’t have to mean dieting for weight loss, but simply choosing to put nutritious foods into our bodies because it makes us feel strong. Who wouldn’t want to pass these values down to their kids?

  1. My mom loved her partner and it showed.

What better way to teach our kids about healthy relationships than to show affection to our partner. Hugging, kissing, saying kind words, and being helpful are all great ways to model what it means to respect yourself enough to be in a loving relationship. Sure, we all have days when we are frustrated and just want to be left alone. But the relationship with our partner is the template that our children will refer to when entering their own intimate relationships. If they never saw us smooch, and only heard us complain, how will they sustain a healthy, loving partnership? I am not condoning subservience, or accepting a bad situation just to save face. But when two people are in a happy, loving relationship they should show it in the many little ways that keep a relationship strong. I want my boys to be excellent boyfriends/partners/husbands some day, and how will they know how to do that if my husband and I didn’t show them?

  1. My mom was a unique individual.

If someone were to ask my sons to talk about their mom, I hope they would say more than just, “She was a great mom. She took great care of us.” While I would gladly take that compliment, it would mean so much more to me if they could express what makes me unique. I hope they have seen my personality shine through, and will appreciate that I was more than just “mom.” In my wildest dreams, it would go something like this: “My mom was a strong, independent woman. She was a teacher and scientist, loved to write, loved to run, and loved guitar. She was opinionated and not afraid to speak her mind. She was always willing to have a dance party, and loved the ocean. She sang.  She joked.  She taught us how to be adventurous, and always encouraged us to try new things and find our passions. She overcame her fears. She was a great woman.”

Is that too much to ask?

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers, for being great moms AND for being great women.

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Baby Shoes Flash Fiction Anthology – Sneak Peak!

I am lucky enough to be contributing a short story to Baby Shoes Flash Fiction Anthology. The book name was inspired by a six word (yes, that’s six) short story attributed to Earnest Hemmingway, “For Sale, baby shoes, never used.” It isn’t one hundred percent clear if he actually wrote these words, but they are credited to him nevertheless. At first, I thought the editor, Jason Brick, was looking for stories relating to the title in some way, so I wrote a short story inspired by those six words. I bet those six words bring something to your mind that is quite different than what developed in mine, and that is the beauty of reading and writing. Turns out, the stories do not have to relate to the title in any way, which is exciting in that the book will have such a rich variety of styles, genres, and topics. But I was inspired by these six simple but vibrant words, and the result is a story created from what those words inspired in my mind.

By the way, if you don’t know what flash fiction is, it is really SHORT short stories. One hundred authors, one hundred stories, one thousand words or less per story. How cool is that? In one book you will get love stories, scary stories, abstract stories, funny stories, dark stories, and pretty much anything else you can think of.

Here are the first few lines from my story, Ballerina, which will be one of the 100 stories.

Her dream was to be a ballerina.

 It was cliché, but ever since she was little, twirling in a yellow sateen recital costume, gold sequins flashing, feathers fluttering, she imagined a life on the stage in New York City. She started dancing at age three, when the uniform was pink tights, tutus, and tiny leather ballet slippers with the elastic band across the top. They were always a perfect baby pink, unlike the faux leather version, which came in black or white. She always begged her mother for pink, the most expensive of the colors, but had to settle for white, the color that dirtied easily and showed all the flaws. Even at age three she registered the difference between her scuffed up white knock offs and the other girls’ pale pink leather slippers.

Okay, shameless plug for my own work is now over. Here are some sneak peeks at other writers’ stories in case my ballerina doesn’t pique your interest.

Want something darker? Check out this blurb from Scott Crowder’s Valley of the Black Pig:

He breathes in deeply, lets the breath out gently and squeezes the trigger. The Iraqi crumples almost serenely to the ground as the .338 Lapua Magnum round splits his head in two. The little girl is sent flying in a horrible cartwheel, blood spraying in the arc of her tumble. The sniper lost his ear plugs to the concussion of the first bomb, but his ears are still ringing from the gunshot, and he doesn’t hear her scream.

How about this tantalizing tidbit from Danika Dinsmore’s Consummation:

 Fire is contagious. She knows this from the way her hands burn when he approaches. Fire is what happens when we collect oxygen, fuel, and heat. Anyone can oxidize over time. Anyone can burn slowly.

Want something mysterious? Check this out from Jenny Cloyd Cokeley’s Anika’s Fall:

Before sliding the iron key across the counter, she felt the weight of it in her hand and traced the amaranthine design with her fingertips again and again, as if rubbing it would reveal how it came to be in her pocket that night on the train.

Like something with a historical flavor? Here’s a peek at Carrie Uffindell’s Beneath London’s Streets:

It was hot and musty, the air stagnant and rank from hundreds of men, women and children seeking shelter from Hitler’s bombs. The platforms, corridors and stairwells stank of urine, sweat, blood and sticky flies.

Harry squinted, reading a novel under the faint yellow lights. With his one uninjured hand, he carefully flipped to another page but stopped reading when he heard a low moan. A filthy woolen blanket undulated in an unmistakable rhythm nearby.

Oh, bloody hell. Not again.

 Perhaps you like something about love, romance, or relationships? Try this tease from April Joitel Moore’s An Affair to Forget:

He walks in and sees her sitting with his imaginary girlfriend.

Damn it! These two were never supposed to meet. How did this happen? Doug slinks into the busy coffee shop and grabs a small table in the corner and watches as his love life disintegrates over lattes and almond biscottis.

 And Shelley Widhalm’s Wanted Man:

I crafted my personal ad as if some fairy godmother could wave her magic wand and usher in a tall, handsome man with blue eyes. This, I wrote trying not to think about Derek.

He managed the front of the Sushi restaurant and I, the back. Sans ring, he rode the rollercoaster of those going through a divorce. His smile blew heat to my toes, causing my eggrolls to crisp.

 How about Derek Knutsen’s Ready to Face Home:

Pottersman drops the blowgun and pulls a pan pipe from one of his pockets. He starts a haunting melody that carries through the bleak landscape.

 Or M.D. Pitman’s Willie:

“Why can’t we just handle this? Just take him to Willie’s grave and tell him he’s dead. Then just hold him tight.”

“You know why, Dan. The doctor said it may scar him even deeper.”

“It’s been a year and nothing has helped. I’m just …”

“Frustrated,” Nancy said finishing his thought.
Dan massaged his temples. “Yeah.”
“I’m frustrated, too,” Nancy said softly. She stood up and wrapped her arms around him.

 I, for one, cannot WAIT to read the rest of these beautiful writers’ words in Baby Shoes Flash Fiction Anthology. It is pretty amazing what just a few words can do to get our minds going, inspire an image, a thought, or a memory.

I hope you enjoyed all of these sneak peeks! I feel so honored to be part of this project. If you are inclined, you can pre-order the book at the kickstarter site (link below), which will help us fund the production of the book. Then when it comes out you will get one delivered right to your door. If you aren’t a big reader, maybe as a gift? Something to put by the potty for when you just need a quick read? This book has it all, something for everyone who enjoys the written word.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1727584460/baby-shoes-celebrating-flash-fiction

Thanks to all who have been so supportive of my work!

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Play Dates Gone Bad: What do you do when your kid’s friend is a thief?

What the hell do you do when one of your kid’s buddies is a teeny tiny thief?  A play date that ends with juvenile delinquency is definitely a play date gone bad.

I am torn, because, normally, (and especially, recently, with the holiday madness), my husband and I try to encourage generosity and minimal materialism with our kids. While we DO buy them gifts and they do have a LOT of stuff, we also try to instill in them an appreciation of what they have, and the understanding that we cannot and will not just buy them whatever they want, whenever they want. We say no to their requests for stuff quite often, and we require them to sift through their old stuff fairly regularly and choose items to donate, before they can get new stuff. While we are not poor we are by no means rich, and even if we were I would like to think we would control ourselves enough to not spoil the children into horrible, greedy little humans. I guess I would say, in terms of material stuff, they are pretty average for American children growing up in a middle class home. But even though we don’t want our boys to be driven by unbridled materialism, it drives me absolutely bonkers that one of my son’s friends comes over to play and always leaves my house with something that isn’t his tucked into a pocket, his backpack, or right there in his hot little hand as he’s walking out the door. Is it just me? Maybe it shouldn’t bother me but…WTF is that?

The ironic thing is that it all began with my son giving this kid a toy to take home. It was one of those hand held electronic LeapFrog Leapster game thingies, and I am telling you when I saw him hand it over to his pal and say, “Here, you can have this,” I was both beaming with pride and absolutely horrified. I mean, on the one hand, my six-year-old son was willingly and without being prompted handing over a material possession to another child. Score one for raising a cool kid! On the other hand, I had paid $75 for that thing, not to mention the many game cartridges I was also compelled to purchase, and my child was just handing it over as if it were a piece of gum. Granted, my son had not played with the thing in months, having moved on to a tablet (NOT an ipad, but a cheap version of a tablet), and chances are he was not going to ever really play with the Leapster again. Still…it wasn’t cheap, and I wondered if a day would come when the tablet was lost or broken and he would ask me, “Mom, where’s my Leapster?” Would he feel regret when I reminded him that he handed it over to his friend on a whim, or would he simply say, “Oh yeah,” and move on? And does it even matter? Maybe it would be good for him to miss it, and I could remind him of how generous it was to give something to a friend. Teachable moment, anyone?

After his friend left, I commended my son for being so generous and sweet, and said I was impressed at how easily he had given away a toy that he liked so much. Then I asked him to think carefully when he wants to give something away, and just be sure he is ok with not having it anymore because once you give something away you cannot ask for it back. Jeez…did I do the right thing? I don’t know.

But here’s the tricky part. Ever since then, every time this particular friend of his comes over for a play date, he leaves our house with his pockets stuffed. I mean, literally, the kid heads out our door with shit in his pockets, on his wrists, around his neck, and stuffed into his backpack. The first time he came over after the Leapster incident, he held up some toy and asked my son, “Can I have this?” I could tell my son was torn – his face was telling me he wanted to say no, but he struggled with saying no to his friend. I stepped in (maybe I shouldn’t have) and simply said, “You are welcome to play with all of the toys while you are here, but the toys stay here.” I could tell my son was grateful. That day, after his friend left, I reinforced with my son that he could say no when his friend asked to take his stuff. I told him that just because he had given him the Leapster did not mean that he always had to give him something. Since then I have tried to stay out of it, in the hopes that my son will find his voice and speak up when his friend tries to take things. But so far, all I have seen is his buddy rushing out the door laden down with stuff that doesn’t belong to him. And here’s the kicker: I volunteered in my son’s classroom recently and there was his buddy, wearing a wristband I had given to my older son as a birthday gift a couple of years ago. Somehow, he found his way to my other son’s stuff too! At the dinner table just last night my older son lamented this kid being invited to my younger son’s birthday party, asking, “Why would you want to invite him to your party? All he does is steal our stuff.”  Oh boy.

Am I crazy, or is this out of hand? I mean, the kid is a sweet kid.  Maybe his parents don’t know what he is doing. I hope they don’t, because if they do and are choosing to ignore it, well…I guess that explains a lot. If it were my kid and I knew about it, I would make him return every single item and tell him that pillaging his friend’s stuff is NOT the purpose of a play date. You know, that whole thou shall not steal business…it’s a pretty good rule after all.

I hope this pint-sized kleptomaniac is not causing my son too much distress. If I find out he is, I will have to decide whether to step in. Will I speak with the kid directly, again? Will I contact his parents? Or will I let it go and hope that my son will step up when it gets to the point that he cannot live with it anymore? I am not sure. Freaking kids, man.

But I am sure that I am proud of my son, either way. He is generous and kind and super kick ass…most of the time.  I hope to God he is not pilfering goods at any of his friends’ houses without my knowledge. Wouldn’t that be a kick in the pants?

 

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Five Reasons to Refuse Resolutions in 2015.

Resolution. The dictionary defines it as a determining, a deciding, a solving of a puzzle, or the answering of a question. To me, in making resolutions, we buy into the idea that there is a problem, puzzle, or question to be solved in our lives. In making new year’s resolutions we aren’t simply going to try and do something better, we are making a formal statement to change or transform something about our lives. To resolve something. Wow. Talk about pressure!

So this year, I am refusing instead of resolving. Refusing to make any grand statements, promises, or resolutions. Instead, I will recognize all of the stuff that is right in my life. And if along the way I choose to try something new, set a goal, eat better, exercise more, blah blah blah, well…that’s okay too. But I have a lot to be proud of, and I suspect you do too. Here are some of the reasons I don’t need resolutions this year.

The Top Five Reasons to Refuse Resolutions in 2015:

  1. I HAVE GOALS, HOPES, AND DREAMS.

Isn’t it enough to think about what we would like to do in the future, without putting an expiration date on our goals? “In 2015 I will…,” makes it seem like if it doesn’t happen this year, it never will. How about being proud of the fact that you are a person with aspirations, whether it is as simple as a home improvement project, or as grand as a career change. The fact that you dream about something means you will move forward…eventually. It might take longer than a year, but hey, nothing worth doing is easy! Keep on dreaming, hoping, and setting goals without all the time constraints that come with a new year’s resolution.

  1. THERE ARE PEOPLE IN MY LIFE WHO LOVE ME AS IS

It is easy to be hard on ourselves. We are our own toughest critics. But chances are there are people in your life who love you just the way you are, which means you are at least not a horrible person. No matter your job, your income, your body size, your hair length, your clothing choices, or your education – you have parents, children, friends, siblings, and family who love and adore you for you. And if you have kids, you have people who cannot imagine their lives without you, and depend on you for their very existence. Your daughters look to you as a role model of what it is to be a woman. Your sons see you as the woman to measure all other women against. Talk about being a V.I.P.!

  1. I AM NOT IN PRISON

This is fairly self-explanatory. With all the infuriating things you deal with every day, be glad you haven’t screwed up so royally that you are incarcerated. We all make mistakes, but yours are no worse than anyone else’s if you are still allowed to roam free among the masses. You make good choices and have self-control. Nice.

  1. THERE IS SOMETHING IN MY LIFE THAT BRINGS ME JOY

 OK, you may not be doing your dream job, have as much money as you would like, or be at your ideal weight, but there is something in your life that brings you joy. Your kids when they smile at you and say, “I love you Mommy.” When your husband does the grocery shopping, or cooks dinner, or puts the kids to bed so you can sit on your ass watching another backlogged episode of The Mindy Project on Hulu. Cocktails with your girlfriends. A glass of wine before bed. A good workout. A good book. A good orgasm. A new pair of shoes. A hobby (even if you only get to it once in a while). The view out your back window. A plan for a vacation. The smell of the rain. Even in the worst of times, there is something in your life that brings you joy. Embrace it!

  1. MY KIDS AREN’T TOTAL ASS HOLES

 This is big. Parenting is hard. It is continuously hard, and from what people who have kids older than mine tell me, it really doesn’t ever get easy. If it isn’t physically challenging (e.g., lugging a screaming toddler through Target, lifting a roly poly baby up off the floor a hundred times a day, chasing your very active sons around the park), it is emotionally draining (e.g., your kid’s first experience with a nightmare, a bully, self-doubt, a break up).   Ask yourself this: despite all of the demands of parenting, are your kids pretty cool? Chances are the answer is yes. Look, all kids can be a pain in the ass sometimes. They have attitude. They throw tantrums. They talk back, leave their stuff all over the house, call their siblings names, and just generally get on your nerves. But if they aren’t juvenile delinquents, then you have pretty much exceeded any goal you could ever set for yourself. Nothing is more profound than producing and raising good kids. They don’t have to be perfect, but if they are not total ass holes, you have done the seemingly impossible task of being a good parent.

So there you have it. Five reasons we should all stop resolving to do something different, or be someone different, and pat ourselves on the back for being us. How about making 2015 the year we keep doing all the great stuff we are doing!  And if all else fails, a cocktail and a good book couldn’t hurt.

 

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Home for the Holidays

Do you remember that feeling of getting up Christmas morning and rushing out to the living room to find cookie crumbs on the plate of cookies you left out for Santa, a stocking full of tiny goodies, and a colorful clutch of presents under the tree? Do you remember how great it felt as a kid to sit amidst a pile of crumpled wrapping paper, cozy in your footie pajamas, and try and decide which new toy to play with first? Now, do you remember that feeling of utter despair when your parents said it was time to get dressed, pile in the car, and drive the hour and a half to grandma’s house? The agony of walking away from your new, shiny toys heaped in a pile of destruction around the tree, victims of a Christmas tsunami, was impossible to describe to the adults around you, who probably already thought you were an ungrateful, spoiled brat as you whined about not wanting to go anywhere on Christmas day. While I can fully understand how this scene could elicit thoughts of spoiled rotten children who should really just be thankful that they have any presents to begin with, I remember this feeling and sympathize with it wholeheartedly. That is why I am not berating my kids this Christmas season when they tell me they are not happy that my husband and I are dragging them off to Hawaii for the holiday when they just want to be in their own house. I get it. They just want to be home for the holidays.

A perfect Christmas morning in Tucson, 2010.  PJs, a tree, and presents.

A perfect Christmas morning in Tucson, 2010. PJs, a tree, and presents.

Some of you are probably thinking, wait, what about the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of Jesus, and the religious significance of this day. I can admit that for me, Christmas is not a religious thing. While I did grow up in a Catholic family, and did attend church fairly regularly (along with religious education classes and retreats with our church youth group), religion did not take hold as one of my core adult values. I am more a disciple of the Treat Others as You Would Have Them Treat You philosophy. I think what purged the churchgoer out of me was the day I was sitting in the back pew at Christ the King church in Rochester, NY, (the church where my parents married, where I was baptized, where I had my first communion, penance, and confirmation, and where my father and both paternal grandparents were memorialized in lovely funeral services by the same priest who confirmed me), and a TV was wheeled onto the altar to show the parishioners a video about the importance of tithing. The message that in order to be a good Christian you should be pledging at least 10% of your salary to the church did not sit well with me. That day I found I was losing my religion. But Christmas, a supremely religious day, has always held its appeal for me, not because of the baby Jesus, or even the gift giving and cookie baking, but because of this feeling I so vividly remember from childhood. The feeling of togetherness, my parents beaming as I tore through my presents. The feeling of falling snow, warm fires, hot cocoa, and Christmas music playing on the stereo. The pure joy of no school for two weeks, and spending long, chilly days safe and toasty in pajamas, under warm blankets, discovering the new dolls, coloring books, and other treasures found under the tree. It was, and still is, a time of year that elicits a warm fuzzy feeling in me.

It was this feeling that was so rudely interrupted when the time came to get dressed up in our Christmas finest and make the long drive to grandma and grandpa’s. I always knew we would have to stop somewhere along the way, either to pick up something for the celebration or put gas in the car or buy beer, and I hated that too. I would sigh in the back seat thinking, for God’s sake, if I have to go out in the cold in my dress, tights, and patent leather Mary Janes, the least you could do is be ready to go! There was always a church outing at some point, and to a kid with a house full of new stuff just beyond their reach, well, that was a torture beyond words. (The one exception was the year my cousin Dani, a toddler at the time, yelled out Hallelujah at the top of her lungs during a silent moment in church. Come to think of it, I think she was wearing footie pajamas. It was awesome. A true Christmas miracle.) Don’t get me wrong, I loved the mischief my cousins and I would get up to. But being torn away from my little green house full of comfort and joy was a real bummer.

Now I live in Tucson, AZ where there is no hope of a white Christmas, snow falling outside the window while sipping cocoa by the fire, and the warm, fuzzy feeling is harder to grasp. As such, it made perfect sense for us to take advantage of the kids’ vacation time and hop a flight to Hawaii, where Christmas is green and bright, the sun to shine by day and all the stars at night. I mean, if it is going to be 75 degrees F and sunny on Christmas we might as well be on the beach, right? But I had forgotten how much it means to a kid to be in their own home on Christmas day, with nowhere to go and nothing to do but sit in the wreckage of unwrapped gifts clad in comfy PJs. Because I am not experiencing Christmas as I did in my youth, complete with reindeer footprints on the snowy rooftops and icicles glittering in the sun, I somehow lost, for a moment, the memory of that warm, fuzzy feeling and how important it is to a kid. I forgot that a desert Christmas is the Christmas my boys are growing up with, and to them, being in our desert home on a warm, sunny day is a perfect Christmas. They still want to wake up in their own beds, run to the stockings by our fireplace (even if there is no fire crackling inside), slide on socked feet across the tile to the vivid packages beneath the tree, and spend the day immersed in the joy of that happy holiday feeling. Nowhere to go, nothing to do but sit surrounded by family and new goodies, and discover the presents they waited all year to get. And this year I am doing to them the exact same thing I couldn’t stand when I was a kid. Our decision about Christmas plans was based on what we wanted, not what they wanted.

I realize this all sounds superficial. No discussion of the birth of Jesus. No church. Just a day of unapologetic materialism. But my kids do know the story of Jesus’s birth and why Christmas is even a holiday to begin with. They have asked me the question, “What does Santa have to do with Jesus?” A very valid question that is difficult to answer. Every year we make them sift through their old toys and choose stuff to donate to kids who are less fortunate than them. We give money to charities and we drop new, unwrapped toys in the collection bins around town. We try to do at least a little bit to heighten their awareness of how lucky they are. And this year we thought they were the luckiest kids on Earth going to Hawaii for Christmas. But you know what? Their disappointment is valid. Yes, it might seem spoiled and bratty, but to them, just like it was to me, Christmas is about that feeling. Not church, not Jesus, not even presents. That feeling of being home. And so, I promised my boys that next year, and for as many years as they would like, we will stay home on Christmas. No planes, trains, or automobiles on Christmas day. No beaches. Not even the short drive to a grandparent’s house. Just our pink and tan desert abode, surrounded by mountain views, blue skies, and cactus warmed by the sun.

It won’t be like the Christmases of my youth, but it will be perfect, because they will have that warm, fuzzy feeling that only comes from Christmas at home.

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Follow You, Follow Me.

Today, I watched helplessly as my number of followers on Twitter began to slowly dwindle. I watched the number tick down over the course of the day, and couldn’t help but wonder why it was bothering me.

Okay, here’s the situation. In the past few months I have gone from invisible geology instructor living in relative obscurity in Tucson, Arizona, to aspiring author putting her private thoughts on display while trying to gain followers that might actually like her work. It is fucking weird. Less than half a year ago I believed that nobody would ever be even remotely interested in anything I had to say. This feeling was not unfounded – try teaching a science class to a theater full of non-science majors with mobile device addictions. It is a strange feeling to care about how many people want to hear your stories, read what you write, and generally engage with your thoughts and experiences. While I am opinionated and love a good debate, even with a PhD in geology I defer to other geologists, believing that I cannot possibly have knowledge that they (or anyone else) want to hear. I mean, who the fuck am I?

But after my first meeting with a publisher, to discuss how to approach publication of my first book, a memoir, his suggestion was to build a platform. What the fuck is that, you might ask? FOLLOWERS! People who get to know you and your work and want to read more. A great way to do this is to blog, he said. My reaction was typical – why would I do that? Anyone and everyone has a fucking blog these days. Some of them are great, witty, fun, and well written. Others are utter garbage. Blogging seemed like the trendy thing for sassy women to do. It seemed predictable. Why would I want to be lumped in with every other woman putting her thoughts out into the world just because she can? I am a nobody, and I certainly don’t think I am a somebody (like many of these people must). Followers? Seriously. FOLLOWERS? This sounded like a cult. Like people in long, flowing capes swaying and chanting while drinking something dangerous (Kool-Aid?) out of paper cups. It all sounded hokey to me.

I am discovering that the truth is, when you have an unusual and amazing story to tell, if the story is interesting and well written, people might actually want to hear it. Chances are it will speak to someone. When I had that initial reaction, my inner skeptic had not yet realized the beauty of the blog – spreading ideas of all sorts to people far and wide to start a discussion, a movement, a support group, or simply a network of like-minded people to learn and share with. Not to mention being able to write, really WRITE, anytime, anywhere, and publish it for anyone to see and critique.  So here I am, several months later, with a blog and a twitter handle (what the hell does handle mean, anyway), and a separate Facebook page for me the author (not me the person), and a glossy preview card about my memoir that I can hand out to total strangers, and a link to a fictional short story I wrote that lays bare all of the fears and emotions of a 40 year old woman, and a stomach that flutters when I gain a new follower and drops when I lose one. Not because I think I should be followed, but because another potential connection was lost. As this semester comes to an end, a bunch of my students who followed me just for the exam hints I would post to my twitter account are unfollowing me. I totally get it, and it is fine, but I can’t help but feel a twinge of disappointment each time my number goes down. I seem to have become a fan of the Kool-Aid.

Look – all of us, at some point or another, have something interesting to say. We all have stories to tell. Some of us choose to write about them in gory detail, accepting that we are sharing some of our most private thoughts and experiences with complete strangers. Others choose not to share at all, preferring to keep their experiences to themselves. The beauty of human diversity is that we all have such varied experiences, and we all interpret those experiences differently. The way I felt during months living in a tent on the Tibetan plateau is completely different than someone else (say, my mother) might have felt in that situation.  I can imagine, for example, pooping on a mountainside while listening to the wind blow and staring at the stars, while liberating to me, likely would have terrified her into a coronary thrombosis situation.  Either way, great story.

And so, what I have to say about motherhood, career, science, being a woman in science, mid-life, marriage, adventure, and stepping out of your comfort zone IS worth saying. It may not appeal to everyone. Nothing ever will. But I know a thing or two about this shit. For all of us struggling writers, hoping to find an audience who will eat up our words, all we can do is put it out there, and have faith that someone, somewhere, will relate to our stories, and drink the Kool-Aid with us. It’s not narcissism. It’s not delusions of grandeur. It’s sharing the human experience, in whatever way works for you, and hoping your words will have an impact on someone. Maybe those words will spread some knowledge, joy, or just the feeling that we are not alone in this crazy little thing called life. I will share with you, if you will share with me. I will support you if you will support me. (Kumbaya…and all that shit).

I will follow you…will you follow me?