Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Excuse me, but you're on the wrong side of history.

At some point, you have to stop being polite.

The rejection rhetoric of our Women’s March on Washington is being led by women. Yep.

Let’s be perfectly clear: When a woman takes power, she isn’t taking it from other women.

My Black Lives Matter sisters and my No Muslim Registry sisters, my Immigrants Get the Job Done sisters and my Pussy Grabs Back sisters are not fighting over the same piece of the pie. 

They’re fighting because our piece isn’t big enough.

There are about 520,000 elected offices in this country. Less than 20% of those are held by women. Despite making up 50.4% of the population, we hold less than 20% of elected offices.

Why aren’t women better represented in government? Because they’re too busy working and caring for their families – including the husbands who are running for office.

Our Single Mother sisters and Job Plus Night School sisters, our Prison Inmate Sisters and Struggling With Addiction sisters, they’re all depending on us to even the odds.

Privilege is thinking something isn’t a problem because that something doesn’t affect you.

But worse than that, is thinking something that does affect you isn’t a problem because you don’t understand it.

Why does it matter that we are disproportionately represented in government? Because every day that government is deciding where to put turn lanes to improve traffic flow around schools, whether or not teachers should be allowed to carry firearms, and whether the clinic in your neighborhood will be allowed to talk to a teenaged girl about contraception.

Every day decisions are being made that affect our lives and there is no one who represents us making them.

Not all women have the same values and beliefs and so not all women who are elected into office will represent other women. Some female elected officials are so ardently patriarchal it’s fucking scary. But the odds are still better that a woman in government will express empathy for mothers and teens. It’s not a biological distinction, it’s a cultural one. Women are not only expected to be more compassionate and empathetic, they’re allowed to be understanding and patient.

When the rhetoric against the Women’s March comes from other women, I’m infuriated. You don’t have to agree with the Planned Parenthood platform, you can be afraid of Black Lives Matter, you can even worry that one of the Islamic organizers wants to establish Shari’a Law (except she doesn’t so stop with that bull shit). You even have the right to tell all of those women who are marching that they’re wrong. Disgusting, is the way one woman in my Facebook feed put it. But you're on the wrong side of history.

History shows us that when we consent to government that limits our freedoms, those limits increase, not decrease.

History shows us that when the oppressed speak out against their oppressors, when they have the courage to fight, when they stand up and say, “Not anymore,” they can enact change.

So change is coming, whether you’re marching for it or not, and when it does, you better hope the revolutionaries forget that you stood with the oppressors. You better hope we forget you helped those who try to shut us up by shaming us.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Sorry, I can't, it's Football Season.

I get that I sound crazy.

Really. When people suggest we go to the Oyster Festival and I say, “Sure, the Redskins play at 8:30 that night and the Panthers are off.”

Or when people ask about a birthday party and I say, “No, that’s NC State weekend. We’ll be at Clemson.”

I know when I say, “Yeah, we got lucky,” when talking about the win, grouping myself with the team that took the field, as if I were one of them, I sound crazy.

Seeing myself as part of something bigger, Redskins Nation, Clemson World, the Panthers faithful, could be noble. 

Or it could just be fucking crazy.

Who plans their schedule around football? (Friends don’t let friends get married during football season.)

Who tells stories with the time marker whichever game had most recently been played, eschewing days, dates, and years for the milestones of football? (We ran that ½ marathon the first time Pittsburgh played at Death Valley. Grandma’s funeral was in 2015 because Clemson played at Syracuse that year.)

I get that it’s crazy. And if I didn’t get it, the people around me during non-football events would let me know.

Last weekend we went to Hollie’s first USS swim meet. USS is the round-year swimming league governed by the United States Swimming Association. It’s the big leagues for rec swimming in contrast with summer league and YMCA lessons. The meet fell on a Clemson bye week. Score.

Navy played at 3:30 and Hollie’s race was over by 2:30 so we left the meet and went to the bar. Of course we did. It’s football season and that’s what we do.

When outlining the plan for the other swim team moms, I said, “Oh, we’re only here for her race and then we’re leaving to watch the Navy game.” I must have said it 100 times. I felt like I was on repeat. No one had any doubt that’s where we were going as soon as Hollie got out of the water.

So, yeah, I sound crazy.

Except, maybe, to other football people. To other people who know football the way I do. The way it connects me to my dad in Philadelphia while we text frantically about Navy’s punts, passes, and throws. How it connects me to Tami, Court, and Jilly on our group text throughout the Clemson game. How it connects me to Kristen in Virginia while we lament how bad the NFC East really is.

Football doesn’t just make me part of something bigger. It makes me part of a family. A broken, dramatic, sometimes hopeful and sometimes irate family, but a family nonetheless.

There’s the onsite Clemson tailgate family, strangers in a parking lot except for those seven times a year. The Death Valley family cheering to 111 decibels of “do something right for fuck’s sake!” (Commonly heard as “Let’s go, Tigers!”) And the actual blood-relatives family who come to use my Papa’s season tickets every game.

There’s the bigger ACC family and the pride we feel in those conference-promoting commercials. The college fandom family that tunes in for every second of Game Day and cheers or boos Corso’s pick.

There’s the even bigger NFL fandom and the 24-hour, 7-day-a-week NFL Network sport-and-athlete worship machine. The jerseys and the terrible towels and the face painters and the fantasy league players.

So, yeah, it’s something bigger. It’s a tribe.

And it makes me sound crazy, I know, but I want to be part of it. I want to prioritize it. I want it to matter to me and my kid. And it does. She doesn’t always like it, but she gets it.

So for those who don’t, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I can’t come to your Sunday afternoon whatever-suchness you’re planning. I’m sorry I won’t be attending the State Fair or church or a girls’ weekend or a movie night. Try me in February. Right now it’s football season.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

How do you teach resilience?

Hollie hates winter swim team and I refuse to let her quit.

There are a dozen reasons why but only two really matter.

First, she smiles when it’s over. Her energy is up, she’s bouncing and chatting, she’s awake. Engaged. Energized. Healthy.

Second, overcoming bad experiences builds resilience and resilience is the best predictor of long term success in life.

Being Energized

Hollie wants to stay home and watch TV. What kid doesn’t? While Hollie’s a good reader and she’s likely to pick up a book when she’s got nothing else to do, her go-to is TV. She would binge watch if I let her and sometimes I do. But not every day. Not instead of activity.

She used to love playing outside, riding her bike, and being with her friends. But lately she’s sunken into herself more and more. It’s like she and her friends aren’t on the same page and they’re rarely outside anyway.

So she needs activity, exercise. And swimming fits the bill.

Get Over It

We’ve been trying to raise a fighter. Someone who will say, “No,” and stick to it when she knows that’s the right position to take. Except Hollie hasn’t faced much adversity. She hasn’t had to. As an only child she doesn’t have to compete for toys, the TV, or attention.

Perhaps in overcoming adversity in the pool, she’ll learn that her own attitude and fortitude are the best weapons she has.

Experts say delayed gratification and resilience are the best predictors of future success. Kids who recognize that a little sacrifice now will earn them bigger rewards later and kids that can overcome setbacks are better equipped to navigate the challenges of high school, college, and life in general.

How do you teach patience and resilience? You have to put the kid through challenges over and over again.

So a little resistance is good for her. Learning she can’t get what she wants when she wants it at swim team is a good lesson. Especially because there’s no malice in it. Her coaches want her to succeed, they’re cheering her on. But achievement in swimming is all about how much effort she puts in. It’s her racing against her own best times and against the other swimmers who may be faster and may work harder.

In swim team she’ll learn how to avoid getting run into (stay on your side of the lane) and run over (swim faster). The first of these lessons has been about kicking. She’s not a strong kicker and the other kids all pass her.

When she finishes last and complains, I tell her, “You’ll never race in a kicking-only event. Just do the laps and stay out of the others’ way until it’s time to move on to the next thing.”

One kid took off in a terrible backstroke start and crashed into her. She got out of the pool, crying. Her coach ran for ice. I held her.

“You’ve got to watch what others are doing,” I said. “Pay attention. Besides, he didn’t do it on purpose.” After she calmed down, I said, “You have just 10 minutes left. Backstroke is your favorite. Get in there and finish up.” And she got back in the pool.

When the coach returned, she was astonished. “She’s back in?”

“Yes,” I said. “Practice isn’t over yet.”

Hollie will race. And she’ll lose. And then she’ll get over it.

Don’t worry. The next blog will be on the Requirements of Being the Meanest Mom in the World for making her stick with swim team.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

We Got Lucky

It’s popular now to say “I married my best friend.”

The sage advice from old married couples, the recommendations of people who have experienced divorce, the ambition of young lovers is always “marry your best friend.”

Follow that advice, and you can make some early assumptions that preclude all the rest:
  1. This person genuinely likes you and wants to be around you.
  2. This person is willing to be vulnerable and trust you with their vulnerability.
  3. You can be vulnerable and they can be trusted with yours.
  4. You can cheat on the golf course and they'll still love you.

Best friendness does not, however, make you lucky.

Last week I had some skin cancer removed from my forehead. It was benign, basal cell carcinoma, the result of a childhood spent on the pool deck. The effect, though, was to completely deflate me. Just holding the mirror up to my face with that open, gaping wound, was enough to terrify me.

Bandaged up and healing, medicated and muddling through, I put on a brave face for days. Admittedly there was some binge watching and frozen vegetable face packs but mostly I took it like a champ.

Then Saturday night we all crawled into Hollie’s bed to snuggle like we do sometimes and she raised her head to nuzzle my chin and caught my bandage with a head butt. The pain was excruciating. I made a quiet escape and staggered down the stairs, tears pouring down my face. When Charlie joined me, the vulnerability between us swelled in the room.

Me for my open expression of pain and him for his stunned helplessness.

In fifteen years, we’ve only rarely been in similar circumstances. Our vulnerability usually looks like this:
Partner 1: Oh shit.
Partner 2: What are we going to do?
Partner 1: We'll figure this out.

We’ve been lucky. Really, really lucky. 

So far we haven’t had the kind of medical issue that makes us worry what life will be like without the other. We haven’t had military service to separate us for long periods of time or financial devastation to require liquidation of assets. Our kid is healthy and happy.

We’ve been lucky. So maybe it’s not so hard to survive 15 years with your best friend in pretty much ideal conditions. But marriage is hard. The people who tell you it’s not are the same assholes that say tattoos don’t hurt. Do not trust those people.

Still, when you marry your best friend the hard is different.

It’s hard to remember that this is, in fact, a marriage. As such it requires certain things to maintain it. It requires all the stuff First Corinthians tells us: patience, kindness, no pride, no boasting, no envying. It requires all the stuff financial advisors tell us: a legal will, financial goals, a vision for retirement, a savings plan.

Hard when you’re married to your best friend is remembering that there’s work to be done. It’s not all a Wednesday on the golf course. Sometimes it’s going to work on a Saturday when the other is heading out for a Clemson game.

Hard when you’re married to your best friend is getting out of the comfortable habits of pajama pants and video games and challenging yourselves and each other to try new things, meet different people, grow your relationship. Maybe go to Five Points.

Marrying your best friend does not guarantee that you can handle crises together, you can weather presidential politics together, you can objectively evaluate Fox News as the Dark Side together, or that you can parent together.

Best friendness does not provide immunity from the shit life throws at you like a monkey in a cage. But it does improve your odds.

Thanks for 15 of the luckiest years on record, Charlie Whitener. Here’s to 15 more.