Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Indecent Exposure

We had some friends over to watch the Superbowl on Sunday. They had no heat in their house, and we have no oven. They heated their house with our dinner in their oven, and came to enjoy it at our wonderfully warm house. Win-win. Our beloved Patriots weren't playing this year, so we couldn't lose. Please pass the nachos and chicken fingers. Anyone need another beer?

I'd like to stop talking about the halftime show. It was a huge, bright, loud production, as halftime shows are expected to be. The performers were fabulously talented, and put together a memorable show. 

I didn't like all of it. I'm ok with moving on and not talking about the show. 

But what I'm really having a hard time moving on from is the conversation surrounding me not liking the show. And people making assertions about my motives. No, no one has written an article saying, "Joy, you're a horrible person for not liking the show. And you could stand to lose a few pounds."
No, nothing like that. But they have said things like "You white women need to stop policing brown bodies." And, "you hypocrites are fine with everything else on tv, why are you getting upset about this?" And, "If you as a mother are criticizing another woman in front of your daughters, then you are the problem."

This is what I'm having a hard time moving on from. 
Because I have criticized some decisions made in the performance, I am a racist Puritan who wants to wipe out Latinx culture. Also, I'm fine with all sorts of other questionable stuff, so I need to stfu about this performance.

It's really hard to go in depth on my views in a Facebook post, so I'll write it up here, instead.
Michelle, thanks for posing a detailed question to me so I could attempt a detailed answer here. And it helps me get to the heart my discomfort.

"So, my question to folks who responded so strongly to this performance - if it truly is SOLELY about hypersexualization of our culture - where is the proportionate outrage about the cheerleader outfits and dances that are on those fields EVERY week, about men who very obviously grab and handle their junk all the freaking time in public and in performance, about Dancing with the Stars which is billed as "family" entertainment, about the toddler/child pageant industry, about child dance competitions, about the fact that we can only find "booty" shorts in the girls section of stores? I mean, the crotch grab was Michael Jackson's *thing* and no one bats an eye at that. Where was the proportionate outrage of the hypersexualization of our culture from white women about movies like Magic Mike? So is it just women who aren't allowed to be sexy?

Historically, both women's songs and performances have had overtly sexual themes or movements. I don't get why folks are suddenly shocked that their performances were sexy?"

I think all of the things you mentioned are inappropriate. You just haven't heard me talk about it yet. 

I'd like to chalk it up to the gradually boiling frog phenomenon. The hypersexualization of our culture has been steady, but gradual. The cheerleader outfits have been getting tinier in small increments over time. The routines have been getting sultrier over time. We don't watch them. 

The Dancing with the Stars costumes have been getting more scanty over the seasons. We stopped watching. I didn't announce it with a fanfare. We just stopped watching. I loved the artistry of the dancers, and was in awe of how good of teachers they were to get their partners dancing so well. But I thought the outfits were inappropriate and made the focus too much on the dancers' bodies, not their skills. 

We don't participate in the pageant industry. I believe it teaches girls the wrong things about their worth. One of my girls really wants to get into modeling. I've said no. I really don't want them to think about their appearance all the time. Plenty of mothers have guided their daughters successfully through those industries. I just don't want to take on that challenge. 

If my children did dance, and the costumes or dances were too sultry, I'd say no. If the coach of my daughter's gymnastic team included some sultry moves in a floor routine, I'd say no. I don't post fanfare things on Facebook protesting these things, I just don't participate. If the gymnastics or dance issue became a bit deal, sure you'd hear about it on Facebook. But it hasn't presented itself as something I've had a public conflict with yet.

We shop at places that have longer shorts. You can choose the inseam length you prefer. I don't let my girls wear booty shorts. I don't let them wear leggings without a tunic or skirt covering their backside. You don't hear me saying "cover your bum" multiple times a week, but my girls do. Not because I think their bums are shameful. But they're children, and I want them to dress like children. Men will be ogling my oldest's daughter's arse soon enough. And yes, plenty of moms are complaining about the ubiquity of booty shorts in children's sections. Don't get me started on string bikinis for grade schoolers. 

I do bat my eye at male performers and athletes grabbing their crotches. I think it's crude. Adam Levine? Yes, I thought his shirtlessness was unnecessary, too. 

I didn't go see Magic Mike. Not my thing. I saw the previews, knew what the movie was about, and chose not to spend my money there. Again, no fanfare. Just voting with my dollars. I also skipped the whole 50 Shades stuff. No thanks. 

Yes, I know that women with a great deal of talent have a tendency to hypersexualize their performances, and I think it's a shame. That's why I was disappointed about J Lo's performance. She is amazing, and age-defying, and gravity defying, and an icon. She is a successful and ground-breaking businesswoman, and deserves our respect for so many reasons. 

And that's why I thought her crude hypersexualized performance was a let-down. She doesn't need to be so sexual to get our attention. She has our attention. Without the carefully positioned camera catching the crotch shot. 

People keep asking why J Lo's pole dancing was so offensive when Cirque does it, too. Well, despite the attempts to normalize pole dancing by Cirque de Soleil and thousands of pole dancing classes marketed to upper middle class women, pole dancing is at heart a performance attempting to titillate its viewers. Yes, she did a movie about strippers, and got good at pole dancing. Like I said, she's a talented and hard-working performer. I'm sure she's very good at it. People keep insisting that pole dancing is empowering. I don't understand it, but I'll take their word for it. They're keeping their pole-dancing teachers in business, and I applaud the entrepreneurship happening there. If it makes things more fun in the bedroom, then good for them. But let's be honest. Pole dancing was always about sexual arousal. 

So after a lot of frustrated ruminating and a late-night conversation with BestestHusband, I think I've reduced the issue to its element. At least, for me. It all comes down to sex. 

Well, duh.  

But what I'm saying is that this is a small example in the big topic of sex and how I'm raising my girls to view sex and how I'm seeing just HOW MUCH IN CONFLICT I am with the rest of modern American culture. I thought I was pretty mainstream. Oh, now I know I'm not. 

My girls are rapidly approaching puberty. Their bodies are starting to change, and people will soon start to look at them as sexual beings because EVERYTHING about American culture is painting everyone in shades of sultriness. Mostly-naked women in advertisements. Booty shorts on tweens. Scanty dance costumes on little girls. "Come hither" looks in pageants. Sex in every adult tv show and movie. One degree at a time, the waters are being heated around our children, and they are being boiled into sexualized beings before they can physically or emotionally handle sex.

Again, duh. This is no surprise. 
But why aren't we complaining about it more?
Well... that's what I've been doing this week.
Should I go get a trumpet? 

My real conflict with the sex in culture is that everything I want to teach my girls about sex is contradicted in American culture. I think sex is an amazingly enjoyable thing to do in an intimate partnership, and it's a private, bond-building element of a relationship. I don't actually expect anyone outside of my religion to believe that it should stay within a marriage. But it's an idea people might also want to consider...

American culture is instead showing our girls that they should market their sexual selves to everyone, all the time. Sexualized behavior is what gets you attention, and can even make you famous. It's such a commonplace thing to do that it doesn't even really matter that much. It's just fun, and you can do whatever you want. OWN your sexuality! Reveal your true self! If it doesn't have sex, it's not really entertaining. 

I don't want cheap sexualization for my girls. I don't want it for anyone else's girls, either. 

When asked why I required a skirt over her leggings recently, I told my oldest, "Your body is slowly starting to look like a woman's body, and men like to look at women's bodies. Do you want people to notice your body? Or your great ideas?" "Oh, ok." She ran off to find an oversized sweatshirt to wear. The day might come where she'll prefer to be objectified instead. I guess I'll cross that bridge when I get there...

Do we want our daughters to be noticed for their asses? Or for the businesses and charities they start? For the great book plots they're dreaming up? The way they stand up for the quieter kids in their classes?

Yes, I want my daughters to eventually enjoy really great sex. But I want people to think more about their accomplishments and humanity than how great they'd be in bed. And with modern culture painting sensuality on top of everything, I feel like I'm fighting a losing battle. Yes, I know they're still young. But not for much longer. 

So J Lo, you're amazing. I kept pointing out to my girls during your performance how strong and talented you are. You deserve respect for everything you've accomplished in your career. You deserve every penny you earn, because you work really hard for it. It's no surprise that Latinx fans are enraged that "white women" like me aren't worshiping your performance. Because you truly are special. But your daughter is the same age as mine. And unlike me, you actually have the power to change the culture that she's growing up in.

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Secret Society of Christmas Magic Keepers

Today I told Kid #2 that Santa wasn't real.

She took it reasonably well. And she's certainly old enough to know the truth. She's 10. She's a very thoughtful and introspective 10 year old. She questions things and thinks deeply about things.
She's started asking a lot of questions about Jesus, and specific questions in response to things she hears in the Bible. It leads to a lot of interesting and fun conversations. But last week the conversation taught me that she's evaluating the truth of Jesus and the truth of Santa as equally important truths. 


So time to fess up.
I took her to Starbucks for a hot chocolate date. We found a table in the back, with one person working on a laptop nearby. But quiet, away from the hubbub.

"You're getting older, and you're becoming a very thoughtful person. I want you to always know you can ask us questions, and I want you to trust that we're going to tell you the truth. So I have to tell you the truth about something."

I told her that her dad and I were the magical gift givers known as Santa. 
"YOU gave us the boxes of sugary cereal and said we didn't have to share them?!?!"
"Yeah, wasn't that fun? I figured you wouldn't suspect me, because I'd make you share."

She thought through some of her other Santa presents and asked how we did it. I shared my secrets.
I told her that we kept up the Santa act because it was magical and fun. And we all need a little magic in our lives.
"Now that you know the truth, you are part of the Secret Society of Christmas Magic Keepers." (Please don't ruin this for your younger sisters! Or other kids on the bus!) 

We talked about how grownups are responsible for creating magic, and helping other grownups, too. Like the family we sponsored with gifts through a food pantry. The parent didn't have the money to be Santa, so we donated to help her create the Santa magic for her kids.

She expressed some sadness about the magic of Santa not being real. We talked about thinking instead about how great it is that grownups all over the world worked together to keep the magic going. She said she wanted to be a part of it.

Then she started thinking again. 
"What about that old guy who gave money so that the poor girl could get married?" 
"Saint Nicholas? He's absolutely real. He's a historical figure. But flying reindeer? That's made up." That made sense to her.

We talked about not blowing the Santa cover, and about dealing with punks on the bus who try to ruin Santa for younger kids. She has a plan for how she'll handle it. She's excited to keep it going for Kids 3 and 4.

But then I fessed up about the Tooth Fairy. And the Easter Bunny. And the Switch Witch.
That made her sad.

She's struggling right now with what she believes in. She said she's afraid that she'll stop believing in Jesus, too. I told her that I just turned her world upside down, and it's ok to feel unsure about everything. That she should keep asking questions whenever she had them.

The guy working on his laptop nearby? He was the store manager. When Kid #2 went to the bathroom, he leaned over and handed me two gift cards. "I couldn't help but overhear your conversation. It was really sweet. I have to admit that I teared up a little. Here, good luck!"

I thanked him and told him that I would be back tomorrow to use them. 
With Kid #1 who needed the same talk.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Someday Was This Weekend

The impossible happened.
I hoped it would happen Someday, but I didn't realize it would happen this year. It all happened this weekend. 
It was better than I imagined it could be.

I took a trip to Texas to meet my birth mom.

She didn't know I was coming. 
Her husband did. Her 3 daughters did. They planned the whole thing. They even offered to buy my ticket. Two of the daughters picked me up from the airport. With large pink signs and luminous grins, they waited at the bottom of the escalator for me. They showered me with hugs, flowers, and treats. And we took pictures. 

I have sisters.

We sat up way past midnight talking. The next morning was the big reveal. There were video cameras. And a few nerves. They were all at the house, and I knocked on the door. She was surprised when I walked in. We had chatted before on Facebook, sending messages and emails. We had Facetimed, with all of my family barging in past their bedtimes. She knew who I was. There were hugs. And tears. A lot of them. 

The family had another surprise in store, a big birthday party later in the day. So not only did I have the chance to meet her and her family, I had the chance to meet extended family and long-time friends. There were more hugs. And more tears. And more pictures. 

What do you do to get to know your family?
We talked a lot. And ate a lot. And laughed a lot. 
I learned that I share blood with a group of the nicest, most loving people you could ever hope to meet. They're extremely close. And hilarious. 
They're the kind of family you find in the happy ending of sappy movies. 
But this isn't a sappy movie.
This is my life. 
And I'm a bit in awe. And completely overwhelmed. In only the best of ways. 

I'm still floating a bit. A bit disoriented, actually. 
I was prepared for a lot. But I don't think I ever expected it would be so great. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

What They Will Remember?

I spend an odd amount of time thinking about the memories that I might be helping my children form.

We moved to this house in this neighborhood with the anticipation of forming certain memories:  the freedom of being able to walk to places with friends long before the freedom of driving; the open feel of the unfenced yards, with the invitation to cut through to play with friends; the wind in their clothes as they swing on the neighbor's swooping tree swing. Is this what they will remember? 
Will they remember the dazzling multihued sunsets, silhouetting the tower of St. Theresa's down the street? Will they hear a joyful peal of church bells and think, "Yay! A wedding!" Will they hear the strains of a bagpipe and mourn another police officer or fire fighter is being laid to rest? Are they imprinting the gracefully aging victorian homes with their stately trees and hydrangea-blossomed flower beds as image of "home"?

In my work with elders losing their memory, I know that these early memories will be the last ones they'll be allowed to keep. The smell of a word-burning fireplace, of bread out of the oven, of chicken soup on the stove - these could be the smells that comfort and soothe when words can't. 

Will they remember being humbled by the overwhelming size of the redwoods in California? Will they internalize the broad flat expanse of highways in Texas? Will they remember exultantly standing at the tops of mountains in New Hampshire? Or will the more mundane daily events of making beds, pouring cereal, and sitting down to dinner dominate their minds?

Will they remember that the Thanksgiving table can always stretch to accommodate a few more? That homemade food is love, and love is to be shared? Will they remember and ask themselves, "Is there a nicer way to say that?" At work and in community life, will they ask themselves, "What am I doing to make this situation better?"

Will they remember that I tell them, "On good days and on bad days, I always love you."? Will they remember that "There is nothing you can do that will make me stop loving you."? Will they remember and believe "There is no mistake too big for God to forgive."? Will they remember that "Nothing can separate you from the love of God."?

Will they remember that they are precious and loved? 

Many days I fear that they will mostly remember the bad stuff - my short temper, their sisters' tendencies toward squabbles, the boring chores and household demands. I guess I really don't have control over what their brains imprint and bring up 80 years from now. Can you affect the process by trying to make the good outweigh the bad? If you curate an environment of pleasant experience, can you inoculate the brain from storing the bad?

Excuse me while I go worry myself to sleep...

Thursday, June 29, 2017


A while back, my Mum gave me a packet of documents. "Here's your adoption paperwork. They gave us the originals instead of the copies by mistake. I noticed the whiteout is flaking off. You can read your last name."

Mum and Dad were clearing a lot of stuff out of the house. We had a lot of life going on here. Moving, new jobs, another kid on the way... There was a lot going on. But I looked. And yes, there was the name. I put the papers away. There was a lot going on. I wasn't completely ready to do anything about it. It required energy. And emotional space. And I just didn't have any.

I had taken baby steps over the years to find my birth mom. I had a counseling session with an adoption specialist; this is a prerequisite for many match services and registries. I looked online to figure out which registries I might be on. It didn't seem very straightforward. And it wasn't free, either. It seemed like a big undertaking. It was scary. So it didn't go very far.

But the internet goes everywhere. With a name, a city, and some search engines, you can find out a lot. Add social media, and the path becomes much more clear. 

And finally, one day, I had the energy and need to take the leap. I sent out a letter. And the letter found its intended target. 

So what now? I'm not sure where it will go.

But I got to say thanks. My birth mother chose life. I'm grateful. My husband is grateful. My parents are grateful. My children would be, if they knew how common the other choice is. And I daresay my friends are happy with the decision she made. My patients, too... Choices like that have quite a ripple effect. The results are bigger than the decision-maker can ever know.

And the choice to put the original medical record, the one with the whiteout over my birth name, instead of the copy, into the packet of adoption paperwork? That choice has had a ripple effect, too.

Friday, April 28, 2017


I stopped in a little flower shop on the way home from work today to buy a birthday gift for my Dearest Friend. When I asked her to babysit my girls for a few hours earlier in the week, it hadn't occurred to me that it was her birthday today. 


But my short commute through the commercial square of the neighboring town offered an opportunity to visit a new store and shop locally. And, as many times as I've driven through Dedham Square, I haven't actually stopped in any of the businesses. I remedied that today.

I was chatting up the store owner as she wrapped up an adorable mini orchid (honestly, Dearest Friend, if she had two of those plants, we'd have matching plants right now...). The shop decor was quaint, and the plants were displayed on what looked like antique chests, dressers, and other lovely pieces of antique furniture. The small drawered piece immediately behind me caught my eye. 

I've recently been struck with a burning desire to overhaul the entryway of our house. So I've purchased a used trunk that doubles as a bench (to hold the jumble of bags previously dumped on the floor), and a new rug. I'm still in the market for a few rows of coathooks and a doormat, but I have some solid leads. The one thing I'm struggling to find is a small piece of furniture to put in a small space, that can hold mail and other small things that need easily-accessible public storage (spare keys? stamps?). But I saw a perfect candidate for the job, right behind me in that flower shop. I asked her where she found the furniture in her shop, and explained my burning need to decorate, now that Spring has solidly arrived, and I felt like I was awake again. "Yes, Spring. It's when we all come back to life." 

She said this so matter-of-factly. But she was so right. I immediately felt better thinking that other people have felt asleep, mentally comatose. The cognitive fog has weighed heavily on me the last chilly month. But now I do feel like I'm coming back to life. 

I've felt creative bursts of energy that have led me to buy fabric. To make pillows to go on the previously mentioned chest, as well as the used double glider that now sits on my porch. I have decorating vision for the first time in the almost 2 years we've owned our house. 

It feels so good to look past of the daily grind of chaos, grime, and neediness that make up my daily life. I vaguely remember feeling creative. Once upon a time, I made BestestHusband an ENTIRE SET of pajamas. That he still wears today. It seems like so long ago. Ok, it was our first year of marriage. But now I remember what it feels like. And it feels good. 

Is it a shift of hormones after weaning LittleFritter? The lifting of the winter blues? I don't know. But I'm so thankful for it. It gives me hope that my brain will someday contain more ideas not related to diapering, meals, laundry processing, and squabble mediation. Someday.

So the lady in the shop mentioned that the previous owner was an antique collector. She got everything from him. Thankfully, my local Texas expat friends have planned a trip to an antique mall next month. Armed with my measuring tape and their design skills, I'm sure I can find something to fill that spot in our entryway. But in the meantime, it's exciting to think about coming back to life even more. And I'm so overwhelmingly thankful for this feeling of hope. It's nice to be awake.

Monday, April 17, 2017

"It's Only Hard Because You Make It Hard"

My happy charming Gerber-baby 13 month old really despises getting her hair washed. She goes from babbling, splashing, grinning cherub to demon-posessed-creature-with-superhuman-strength as soon as she figures out what I'm about to do. And so she screams, flails, and refuses to sit down in the large Ikea Samla bin that doubles as a bathtub in our desperately-needing-renovation 1880's home. To keep the bathroom from completely getting covered in water, I have to force her to sit and pin her down while I rinse her hair. It is not pretty. It is very noisy. And it is exhausting. 

After going through the ordeal tonight, I wrapped my traumatized cherub/demon in a towel and held her in front of the mirror to wave at the cute baby in it. "You know, it's only hard because you make it hard." I tried to explain to her that calmly sitting and allowing water to be poured down the back of her head would be quick and painless if she didn't fight it so much. It was good for her, it was going to get done either way, and she might even like it a bit if she just relaxed and got it over with. 

I don't think she's convinced.

But I thought of those words. "It's only hard because you make it hard." 
It's so clear to me, the torturer, that she's being ridiculous. 

But I wonder how I do this in my life. I got the nagging suspicion that I am just as guilty as she is. But I'm almost 40 years older. And should probably know better. 
How much easier would my life be if I didn't fight stuff? And what am I fighting that creates trauma and frustration? I'm not sure yet. But it's worth considering.