January 12

More Guns

Ugh, this topic makes me tired and slightly nauseous. In fact, after the nightmare of Newtown, I had to bail out of Facebook for several weeks. The posts, from both the anti-gun lobby and the pro-gun lobby, were pushing me toward a nervous breakdown. Every day I had to drop my baby girl off at her elementary school. I would wave to her principal (a wonderful man who had coached my son’s Little League team) and see Dawn Hochsprung. I would smile at her music teacher (a young lady I’ve known since she was my daughter’s age) and see Maryrose Kristopik. I would watch my second-grader walk through those doors and see all those precious children gunned down by a mentally messed-up young man whose mama loved guns and taught him how to shoot really well. To come home and read all these posts on my Facebook wall was too much.

So I left Facebook, quit watching the news, stopped reading my Reuters and NPR feeds on my phone. I prayed that everyone would calm down. At least they might stop bombarding me with posts about a subject that, even in the best of times, makes my heart race.

I hate guns.

If you have read my blog before, that’s old news. I won’t re-hash.

Recently, thanks to Alex Jones’ total meltdown with Piers Morgan, the pro-gun/NRA folks’ chief argument has become “We need to be armed against the possibility that our government is taken over by tyrants.”

Because that happens a lot.

But even if it did, we’d be screwed.

See, the irony here is that the same people who scream that we have to have guns in case of a dictatorial government takeover tend to be the same people who want a really well-funded military. So in the remote case that our government WERE taken over by tyrants, we are, pardon my French, totally f—ed. Those tyrants will have access to weapons of mass destruction, so happily funded by neo-cons, that Saddam Hussein could only have dreamed of. And nobody’s little arsenal is going to stand a chance.

Meanwhile, we have millions of people with ridiculous, unnecessary weapons. Yes, by and large, they are law-abiding citizens. I know several responsible gun-owners who would never bust into a school, a movie, theater, a mall, and start using innocent people for target practice. But let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there was a woman. She was smart, well-educated, compassionate. She loved her husband and her child, and she would never let anyone hurt her family.

When she was pregnant with her second child, however, she got sick with a very rare condition. None of her doctors could figure out what was wrong. But something terrible was happening to the woman’s brain. She stopped sleeping. She started seeing “ghosts.” She started hearing voices. And those voices told her terrible things. They told her she could not possibly carry her baby to term. They told her she had to die. They told her that her husband and son would be sad, though, so she should take them with her. She argued with the voices. She couldn’t watch her beloved little family die. Poison. Fire. Kitchen knife. They were too slow. Too painful. Too dreadful. She couldn’t kill them like that. If only she had a gun…

Luckily, I didn’t.

And my husband found me in the kitchen with a knife and sent me to the E.R. where I was, by the grace of God, treated by a doctor who realized what was wrong with me. One pill a day, and I was right as rain.

Eight years later, I think about those nightmarish weeks when my brain didn’t feel right in my skull, when I didn’t sleep for weeks, when I saw things that weren’t there, when I heard scary little voice that told me to kill people. It doesn’t seem real. I hate guns, and I adore my family. I would never dream of hurting anyone. Could that have been me?

And then I see “monsters” like James Holmes and Adam Lanza. “Bad guys” with guns who could’ve been stopped by “good guys” with guns. What a quaint notion. Obviously, these “bad” people weren’t ALWAYS bad. They went many years without killing anyone with their precious guns. At one point, they would likely have been considered the kind of people pro-gun folks WANT to own weapons. To protect people from the bad guys. Until they snapped. Then they become the bad guys. They wear black hats. Easy to recognize. Especially when they’re reloading their huge clips designed to kill lots of people fast.

Obviously, the kind of mental breakdown I experienced is far more common than a tyrannical government takeover. Most rational people don’t want to make all guns illegal, but this argument against ANY legislation is naive, paranoid and short-sighted. If the US government wants to take you out, your gun won’t save you. But if your mom, your brother, your husband snaps and suddenly becomes one of the “bad guys,” your gun will absolutely kill you.

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June 14

The Myth of Summer

“Summertime, and the living is eee-saaaay.” From George Gershwin to Will Smith, songwriters have extolled the delights of the summer season along with countless poets, playwrights, and artists. But I prefer Bananarama. It’s a cruel, cruel summer.

Summer’s charms are lost on me. Even as a kid, I was never under summer’s spell for very long. Sure, I’d get swept up in my classmates’ excitement that school was almost over, but after a couple weeks, I was over it. I was sick of being hot and sweaty. Sick of allergies and asthma attacks. Sick of my bike and the neighborhood pool and every toy in my house.

As I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten worse. Especially now that I have my own children, I dread summer. Count the days until it’s over. I just can’t help it.

Summer is not easy. It’s not relaxing or even enjoyable. Summer sucks.

SIBLING RIVALRY

I’m lucky that my two children like each other. Despite their gender difference and 4-year age gap, they usually get along. And when I say “get along,” I mean that they don’t fight. But they also don’t agree on anything either.

My daughter wakes up every day and asks, “Where are we going today? What are we going to do today?” She’s a little dynamo, ready to go on the next big adventure. She’s up for pretty much anything. Which would be fine except that her brother is happiest sitting in front of a computer or video game or reading a comic book. No matter what I choose for us to do – swimming, visiting the zoo, going to the park – he’ll be miserable. But if I decide we’ll humor him and stay home for the day, I condemn my daughter to boredom and myself to dealing with her constant need for attention and stimulation.

Today, my son lost the daily toss, and I took them to the water park. Nice, right? Hey, what are you complaining about? You get to spend time at the pool, in the beautiful summer sunshine.

Oh, yes, that’s me. See me? Lounging by the pool, working on my tan, sipping a mai tai? No? That’s right, that’s some childless 21-year-old.

Turn around.

I’m over there – the frazzled, frumpy fortysomething frantically trying to keep on an eye on one kid at the snack bar, one kid in the pool and a canvas bag containing my entire life – credit card, keys and cell phone: “No, Sally, I can’t get in the water right now; I have to keep an eye on your brother. Besides that water’s freezing. Your teeth are chattering. In fact, you’d better get out so I can put some more sunscreen on you. Oh wait, your brother’s coming, and he bought too much stuff at the snack bar. I have to go help him before he spills his soda. C’mon, Sally! Oh, never mind. There it goes. Good-bye, soda. No, Sam, you can’t have another soda; you spent all our cash, and they don’t take cards at the snack bar. No, I can’t get any more cash because there’s no ATM here. No, I’m not going to the bank. Because I don’t want to pack all this stuff up and trek us all the way out to the car, drive across the street, get cash and then pay again to get back into the pool. Stop crying, Sally, or I’ll give you a reason to cry! I paid $20 to get us into this place, so you’d just better enjoy it!”

Fun, fun, fun.

I don’t know how people with more kids do it. Trying to get just two to agree on any activity is like trying to catch lightning in a bottle.

EXTRAS AND STRAYS

I have two children because that’s all I wanted and really all we could deal with financially, mentally or emotionally. What I didn’t count on was that my house would somehow become a magnet for LOTS of other kids.

On any given summer day, I have between 3 and 10 children in my house.

Now they are good kids for the most part. And if they aren’t, I send ‘em away for a few days until they come back contrite and apologetic. I genuinely like them all.

Individually.

But even if you have 10 great children in your house, they’re still TEN CHILDREN! They’re loud and needy. “Can we have a drink?” “Can we have a snack?” “Can we play in the sprinkler?” “Can we play on the Xbox?” “Can So-and-So have dinner with us?” “Can So-and-So have a sleepover?”

Sigh.

DRAMA AND DELINQUENTS

In the summer, everyone’s outside. Our neighborhood has a LOT of kids, so they’re all in each others’ faces all summer long. My kids come home with stories that make my anxiety level go through the roof: “Jimmy told Billy if he didn’t give him back his Nerf gun, he’s gonna punch him the nose!” “Leslie won’t talk to Katie any more, and Leslie told me if I talk to Katie, then she won’t be my friend anymore either!”

The neighborhood teenagers are out in full force too. Ringing-and-running becomes an Olympic sport. Cars get broken into or vandalized. They’re out walking around at 1am, laughing loud enough to wake everyone or shooting fireworks just to be jerks.

SWEAT, CELLULITE AND BODY HAIR

It’s hot. Oppressively so. In Indiana at least, we are just as much prisoners of the heat in July and August as we are prisoners of the cold in January and February. And if we do go outside, we are treated to eye-popping fashion statements.

The obese guy with more hair on his back than on his head – he’s decided to beat the heat by going shirtless while he mows his lawn.

The skeletal teenager in the wife-beater t-shirt and ridiculously huge shorts that hang somewhere around his knees – he has to hold them up to walk, but we have a great view of his boxers.

The plus-size young woman in the hot pants and halter top – both garments straining to keep her rolls of fat covered.

Even good-looking people make bad fashion decisions in an effort to beat the heat.  It’s not pretty.

THE END OF MY KVETCHING

Mosquitos. Bees. Wasps. Astronomical air-conditioning and water bills. Allergies. Constant cooking. Constant cleaning. Playing taxi driver to play dates, summer camps and sports practices. Summer is just NOT the relaxing season everyone pretends it to be.

I know there are moms who claim to love it. I see their joyful posts on Facebook: “YAY! Last day of school! The kids are out for the summer!” I think they’re being disingenuous.  Or maybe I’m just weird. But I can’t wait for September 21st.

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August 14

A Day in the Life

Today is August 14th, and it’s raining in Central Indiana. That in itself is a rather momentous occasion. We’ve had more rain in the past 24 hours than we’ve had in the past 8 weeks. So we’re grateful, but along with the rain, we received incredible winds last night which resulted in a tragic day for the state of Indiana.

Last night, at a concert at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, the winds blew down the stage rigging and sent the whole structure into the audience which was waiting for a performance by Sugarland. Evidently, the public address announcer had just warned of an approaching storm, given directions for potential evacuation and explained that the concert might be postponed. The storm was still about fifteen minutes away, and it was not yet raining. Unfortunately the winds preceded the storm.

Out west in Hendricks County, the winds interrupted a dinner party I was hosting, temporarily knocking out the power and sending everyone scrambling for their cell phones to check on kids who were at various babysitters’ homes. That’s how we learned of the State Fair tragedy. People checking Facebook and Twitter got the news first.

I had several friends at the concert, including my sister’s best friend, who was there with her children and husband, an off-duty Indianapolis police officer. When the stage collapsed, he rushed to the stage along with hundreds of other concert-goers, to try to help. I saw him in a picture that was posted on CNN’s website this morning.

My dinner guests and I kept tabs on the news over the rest of the evening. It didn’t get any better. Four deaths, according to the official news, but my police officer friend made it clear that he expected more. He’d been up on the collapsed rigging and seen more than he would detail. By this morning, it was five dead, but it will likely increase. Indiana doesn’t receive much national news attention; today we’re all over the media for all the wrong reasons.

It’s against this backdrop that we are starting our week. I was driving my son to a friend’s house this afternoon, thinking about things and trying to make sense of it all, when it struck me what a quintessentially American week this is going to be. Much of what is going on in my life, my community and my state reflects what is happening in our country right now, what it is like to be an American right now, struggling and re-building and waiting every day for the other shoe to drop, but simultaneously enjoying some amazing 21st-century developments

For example, today is my father’s 71st birthday. That blows my mind. It’s ridiculous to think of such a number pertaining to him, rather as if I were to catch him wearing clothes that were four or five sizes too big. He does not look 71. He does not act 71. He is active and engaged and busy and healthy. My kids and I called him this morning on his cell phone to sing “Happy Birthday” to him. He’s in Yellowstone National Park, hiking around Yellowstone Falls. Everything about that phone conversation is miraculous if you think about it. It would not have happened fifty years ago. Not many 71-year-old Hoosiers would have been hiking around a canyon, and none of them would have had a cell phone so their grandchildren could sing to them from 2000 miles away.

Those grandchildren start school this week. My daughter will be in first grade, her first year of full-day school. Right now, she’s out riding bikes with one of her neighborhood friends. The friend is black, by the way. That also would have been a rare occurrence fifty years ago, when segregation was still the rule. I think my daughter knows her three good friends are black, but she wouldn’t phrase it that way. One day at the store, she saw a Princess Tiana doll. (That’s the heroine from Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog.) My daughter said, “She looks like Ashlee!” And I asked her how. She replied, “She has the brown skin.” I know that racism is still alive and thriving in some parts of our country, but coming from a little girl whose great-great-grandfather was a murderous racist, this her-skin’s-just-a-different-hue thinking encourages me.

My son, on the other hand, is starting fifth grade. He’ll be at a new school, and they anticipate class sizes between thirty and forty. See, our public school district, like so many others across the country, is bearing the brunt of the limping economy and a Republican governor who slashed its budget by $13 million while giving charter and private schools lovely windfalls. We had to lay off more than 30 teachers. I am desperately trying to hide my anxiety from my son, who is already nervous about moving up to the Intermediate School.

My anxiety is compounded by the fact that I’m starting a new full-time position. After ten years of being underemployed as a part-time instructor at IUPUI, I was finally offered a temporary, full-time instructor contract. Ten months. I’m thrilled, of course, despite the temporary nature of it. And I’m honored to have received not just one job offer this summer, but three. When you consider how scarce jobs have been for the last five years, to get three offers in one month is fantastic. I’m even happier to say I’m not the only one. Several friends who have been unemployed or underemployed for months or even years have recently reported getting jobs all of a sudden. It seems things are looking up.

Not that the stock market would notice. The traders are too busy being drama queens, randomly sending the Down Jones spiraling or skyrocketing every other day.  The media seems to expect average Americans to panic or rejoice, but I was on vacation when the Dow took its biggest nosedive in three years. And on the crowded streets of Gatlinburg, a Midwest tourist mecca, no one was talking about Wall Street. People were shopping. People were eating at restaurants. The Aquarium was packed. Ripley’s Believe It or Not was doing brisk business. Average Americans didn’t seem to notice. Whether that’s because we are ignorant or because we’ve all given up on Wall Street, I cannot say. Maybe we’ve all just become inoculated to its ridiculous antics. It’s a crap shoot, dominated by the high rollers.

Overall, my community seems to be recovering from the Great Recession, despite Wall Street and Governor Mitch Daniels. There are currently only a couple of foreclosures in my subdivision, down from dozens three years ago. And houses are selling. Not at the $150,000 mark we bought them for, but at $125,000. It’s not great, but let’s face it; the $150,000 was likely inflated in 2000.

Long-vacant strip malls all along the highway are starting to fill up. And the north-south corridor project that was halted, incomplete, about three years ago re-started construction and is nearing completion, thanks to federal stimulus money.

Are we outta the woods? Is the U.S.A. headed for another great boom? Probably not. Right now, my husband is working in our bedroom. He does not get paid any extra for working on Sunday. He’s salaried, and he’s making well less than he did two years ago when United Health Group outsourced his job to his current company, that not only expects him to work more for less money, but also expects him to do that work on his own computer that he paid for with his smaller paycheck. His employer, like so many others, is taking advantage of him because they can. So, no. The economy is not healthy. But it’s limping along in the right direction.

And here we are: my average-sized family, living the American Dream in the suburban Midwest with a 3-bedroom house in a diverse neighborhood. We’ve got the minivan and the Xbox. We’ve got a cat, two frogs and three goldfish. The school year will start in about 72 hours, and the football season will start shortly thereafter. Summer’s getting old, and we’ll be putting on sweaters, picking apples and prepping for Halloween before you know it.

And Americans like us will be bravely and stubbornly re-building. From tragedy and disaster like the State Fair and the Missouri tornadoes and the Southern floods. From Wall Street-induced financial recessions. From nasty political fights like the debt crisis in Washington.

Normal Americans are decent people. We are out here, doing “the working and paying and living and dying in this [country].” Maybe someday the media, Wall Street and Washington will notice not just the tragedies, the wild market swings and big elections. Maybe they’ll notice what’s happening right now in places like this to Americans like us.

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July 1

The Stay-Cation

My husband was informed last month that he had to use his week of vacation time by September 1 or he would lose it.

Thus, we embarked on our family’s first-ever “stay-cation.”

Yep, first ever. We’re spoiled, I guess. My family had always traveled a lot, and when Sean and I met, I infected him with the travel bug. He had traveled far less than I had, so he felt compelled to catch up to me. Since we met, he’s been to over 20 new states and Mexico. He may love traveling even more than I do at this point. So a stay-cation was anathema to him.

It didn’t start right away. I think. It’s hard to tell when a stay-cation starts. I suppose it began the moment my husband arrived home from work on Friday. In which case, I need to apologize to him. We had a house-full of children (our own+neighbor kids), and I was knee-deep in cake batter. It was a frantic beginning to his week away from work.

My parents’ 40th wedding anniversary was Sunday, and I was making the cakes: 3 big sheet cakes. Only one of them was decorated, but I was still a nervous wreck. I had spent all week making sure I had everything ready for the big bake-off. The result was that my house looked like a bomb went off, and the kids were running amok, enjoying the unusual lack of mommy oversight.

Okay, so that was the weekend. And Sunday was great. My parents’ 40th was a big party at a winery here in Indiana. We saw so many beloved friends and family, and though we didn’t get to spend as much time as we’d have liked with any of them, it was a wonderful party just the same. And my crazy parents, after playing host all day to 120 guests, insisted on taking the grandkids for the evening. My hubby and I had a relaxing dinner and movie, kid-free.

Monday, hubby had an optometrist appointment, and the kids had swimming lessons. Very exciting.

Tuesday, we all had dental cleanings, then we went to the zoo. If you’ve never been, the Indianapolis Zoo is lovely. It’s got an amazing Oceans pavilion where you can “pet” sharks, a cool snakes pavilion, bats, cheetahs, lions, tigers and bears. Very nice. It’s so nice, in fact, that our family has had an annual pass for a couple years now. The kids, therefore, were not all that fussed. Familiarity breeds contempt, and all that. The hubby was pretty excited to see the new exhibits, but the kids and I have been so many times, it wasn’t a big deal. So it was fine, but not great.

Wednesday, after the kids’ swimming lessons, we did something new. We headed to the north side of Indy to a hotel/indoor water park. Caribbean Cove was once owned by Holiday Inn, but it’s in the process of being purchased. Still, it’s very nice. They had a good deal: two nights for the price of one, plus unlimited admission to the waterpark and free breakfast bar. The kids loved it. I don’t think my fingers will ever un-wrinkle. But Thursday afternoon, I saw a change come over the hubs.

He was depressed.

Seriously.

I kept asking him what was wrong, and he kept saying “nothing.”

But we’ve been married almost 13 years now. I knew he was lying. What’s more, I knew what was wrong. When he finally spilled the beans today, I was not at all surprised.

His vacation had been wasted.

He doesn’t make enough money.

He spent a bunch of money to go nowhere.

He was disappointed, and I understood. I wasn’t as upset about our “stay-cation” as he is, though. I knew this year was coming. We’d been successfully avoiding the recession for several years. When my husband’s company was purchased by United Health Group (hereafter known as “the Evil Empire”), he was saved from unemployment by being hired by the company that took over the IT department. With a pay cut, of course. But we cashed in his retirement plan, paid off ALL our debt (except the house), and kept the remainder in savings to defer the cut in income. Eventually, though, the recession caught up with us. I’ve been under-employed for five years; he makes less than he did five years ago. The retirement savings is all dried up.

The stay-cation was inevitable.

This weekend is Independence Day weekend, and we have plans with family and friends to keep our minds off the fact that we’re stuck in boring, hot, humid, flat-as-a-pancake Indiana. And we do get to go to Tennessee next month, courtesy of hubby’s mom, who has a time-share in the Smoky Mountains. It’s not all bad. I even read an article today that stay-cations or scaling back on vacations is good for the American economy. We’re planning to return to Disney World next year by saving and scraping and maybe getting a new job or two.

In the meantime, I’ll have to work on getting the hubby to perk up a bit. Fireworks might help. And whiskey.

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June 7

Why I Hate Summer

I get a lot of flak from my friends and family because I hate summer. “How can you hate summer?” they demand. “You’re a teacher! You get three months off!”

Yeah. Right.

Generally, I just shrug and walk away. Trying to explain it orally takes too long. Plus, I end up on the defensive, sounding like a bitter old lady. So let me try to explain in writing, where I won’t be interrupted.

First, I don’t get three months off. I have to teach summer school to help make ends meet, so my summer break doesn’t start until the end of this month. I get about 7 weeks, and I can’t complain about the time off. It is nice to have a few weeks off to catch up on all the stuff I didn’t have time for during the school year, like dusting and cleaning windows.

But as most asthmatics will tell you, summer is like one big marathon. My daughter and I spend three months trying to catch our breath, feeling like we have huge pillows over our faces. Especially in Indiana, where our 90+ degree heat is usually accompanied by 90-100% humidity.

Now, I have to tread lightly when it comes to criticizing my home state because my husband desperately wants to get out of here. He hates the weather as much as I do, and I can’t blame him. Winters are bad enough; it’s either dangerously cold with minus-double-digit windchills or just vaguely cold and wet. Either way, you don’t go outside much from November to March. So everyone’s very excited for spring which lasts approximately 15 minutes.

Then it’s summer.

Summer in Indiana is much like living in a terrarium. It’s paralyzingly hot, and the Hoosier state has woefully few bodies of water, none of them with free public access. If you know someone with a pool or lakeside home, you give them gifts and kiss their butts because they are the only thing standing between you and a summer hiding in the AC. We have public pools, but they cost a pretty penny and are always overcrowded. The few lakes and rivers we have are surrounded by lavish private homes. They might have a small public beach, but you’ll have to pay to get on it, and they will have about 150 rules to ensure you do not enjoy your time there: no umbrellas, no flotation devices, no glass bottles, no alcohol, no food…

Okay, so I still sound like a bitter old lady.

How about the things I do like about summer then? I like flip-flops! I have about 25 pairs of them. They’re nature’s perfect shoe – cheap, easy to put on, comfortable. I love them. Other than that, though, summerwear is rather awful. Shorts are not flattering unless you’re a size 2. (I am not.) And some folks wear stuff that doesn’t cover nearly enough of them. Tank tops and denim cutoffs and halter tops on women three times my size? And large, sweaty, hairy men mowing the lawn with their shirts off? Yuck. My husband always complains that winter makes the world look ugly. That’s true, but summer makes people look ugly!

Okay, so that whole things-I-like-about-summer outlook didn’t work too well. Let’s try again – I do love sleeping in! There’s something I can appreciate about summer. As a devout night owl, I can get quite excited about the prospect of sleeping until 10 or 11. Unfortunately, the morning people in my life do not understand and feel the need to correct my circadian clock for me. They have learned that the fastest way to tick me off is to wake me with a phone call or knock on my door on a day I have no early-morning obligations. I’ve finally learned to put a note on the front door to curtail all the neighborhood kids. I’ve got most of them trained now anyway; they don’t come knocking until noon.

So sleeping in is good. Bored kids is bad. And they are bored already. We’re less than 24 hours into summer vacation, and I’ve already heard the “I’m bored” chant from both of them. I’ve got them signed up for summer camps, baseball and swimming lessons. We’re going to Tennessee for a week next month. But I’ll have to spend much of the next 10 weeks trying to keep them occupied without breaking the bank. I have a trusty list of activities on my computer. Maybe we’ll go to the library. It’s free and cool. Yes, indeed. Free and cool. It’s what summer’s all about.

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