As we are getting ready to leave Asia and move back to the US, the question I am most frequently asked is, “Are you excited?”. My answer always depends on the person asking the question, but my feelings about it are complicated. Of course I’m excited for some things, many things, but honestly the reality of returning stateside and raising my children in the US gives me a great deal of pause. I can go on and on and list point by point the things that have me worried but much of what I am concerned about can be summed up in one word: Football.
I have no issue with the game itself. I grew up playing football in the backyard with my brothers, I’ve watched plenty of it on TV and in person, and I understand the game and it’s rules well. (So please no accusations of just being a girl who doesn’t get it. I get it. ) What I do take issue with is America’s obsession with the sport, especially as there is now very clear evidence that, as it is played now, it is directly responsible for a brain disease that kills. And CTE is not a quick, merciful death. It is a slow slide into memory loss, depression, dementia, and aggression, that often ends in suicide.
What could the NFL do to make professional football a safer sport for it’s athletes? Most experts agree that it would require various rule changes both on and off the field for injuries to be minimized. One of the most obvious ones is that players who sustain a concussion should not be allowed back on the field, as they are now. The reaction to these suggestions to make football safer? Fans, players, and NFL execs complain that it would make the sport “too soft”. Too soft? Protecting these men from a life-threatening and life-altering injury is not worth it? Are we not happy as fans and consumers unless we see these men literally risking their lives every time they play (and also while they train?). Who are we as a nation if what we love about football is not the sportsmanship and the teamwork but the aggression? When did professional sports become a means to entertain the masses no matter the cost to the individual players?
Some will say that players are paid a lot of money and that they know the risks going in. It is true that they are paid stupid amounts of money, another thing that I really can’t stand about professional sports. But in terms of knowing the risk going in, CTE is only now beginning to be fully understood. For many years, many of the legendary players that I grew up watching did not know what they were risking. But do you know what doctors and therefore sports doctors have known for years and years? That concussions are serious and require medical attention. It’s never been a good idea to let a guy who sustains an injury like that back on the field even within a few days, let alone within the same game. And yet, that has been happening. For years.
Could fans make a difference? Well, the NFL is a huge corporation that relies on consumers to make money. And it makes a lot of it. Pro football is the most popular sport in America and the most lucrative, raking in an estimated $9 BILLION annually. Also? They don’t pay a dime in taxes! Yes, that’s right – the NFL is a tax-exempt organization! Are you disgusted yet? Because, we should all be outraged. How can we, as a nation, continue to consume their products, including games, while they make money hand over fist on the backs of the players they knowingly and willingly put in harm’s way week after week? Just like any other money-making enterprise, if enough fans refused to participate in the immorality of this and demanded change, it would happen. I believe that.
And yet, what happens when you bring up any of this to the average American? Well, I’ll tell you, because I bring it up a lot. I am usually laughed at and accused of being self-righteous, a party-pooper, uptight, no fun, and my personal favorite, anti-American. Because apparently speaking up about the hypocrisy of the middle-class drowning in unemployment and stagnant wages while one of the most lucrative enterprises on the planet pays ZERO in taxes, while it also puts on these spectacles that are becoming more and more like the gruesome displays of the coliseums of ancient Rome makes one a real Debbie Downer.
And I haven’t even mentioned college football, which is no less disturbing. These young men are put under immense pressure to perform, generating in some cases millions of dollars for their universities, and aren’t paid a dime. (Some players are trying to unionize now and are getting immense pushback from the NCAA.) Sure they are given a scholarship, but one that is, for all intents and purposes, an empty gesture. These scholarships are revoked if a player can no longer play due to injury or illness and it is no secret that those who play all 4 years and do graduate, in many cases, do very little of the academic work required to do so. Many of them hope and expect to be drafted into the NFL, but the vast majority will not be. Those that do graduate may do so with a sub-par education and years of injuries that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. How is that fair or moral?
And one last thing: the hysteria. The crazy fandom surrounding teams both collegiate and pro. It is completely mind-boggling to any person who is not participating in it. Sane, intelligent Americans will fight – really truly fight, not just joke fight – over team allegiances. College towns will go berserk with both wins and losses by their team. (dumpster burning, anyone? how about some car-flipping?) Grown men and women will show more loyalty and fervor for their team of choice than they will show human decency to their neighbor. Seriously, what is going on, America?
So, while football the game is not my problem, it is what the realities surrounding it say about America and Americans that gives me pause about returning. You can tell a nation’s values by what they invest time, energy, and money into. Given how much time, energy and money is put into football, while we now know the terrible human cost, one cannot help but question the morality of our nation. When we care more about the outcome of a Super Bowl than our faltering education system, to name just one thing that desperately needs the attention of all Americans, where are we headed as a nation? What future can we possibly have if our priorities are so completely out of line with the common good?
So, am I excited about returning to the US? I’m excited about some things, but mostly I’m worried because, football.
Each time I hear that question I am flooding with disdain, both for myself and for the person asking the question-that-is-really-a-statement; one that is implicitly understood to be one with which you must agree.
Perhaps where I should see a woman blissfully fulfilled by motherhood, I instead see this self-identified “mommy” as self-satisfied, possibly delusional, and worst of all, simple. Then I hear myself thinking these horrible judgmental things and the self-recrimination begins. God, I’m an asshole. Surely there are some women for whom this is the absolute and most sincere truth.
When this question-that-is-really-a-statement is posed directly to me I usually do a combination of nodding and smiling while mumbling something that sounds indicative of agreement. I am too afraid to say what I really think. What would people think of me as a person and a mother if they knew how I really felt?
Being a mommy is not just the best thing ever. Not for me anyway. It’s hard and endlessly heartbreaking, backbreaking work. It is difficult, if not impossible, to ever feel like you know what you are doing, and while the rewards are great, so too are the sacrifices. (I should add that as a white middle-class married woman, I have it easier than many) I love my child and I love being his mother, but my identity as “mommy” is not one I cling to or hold any dearer than any other parts of myself.
When news of my first pregnancy spread, I was told over and over again about how my heart would burst open and grow in ways I couldn’t even imagine upon the birth of this child. The secret to life would be revealed to me as I stared into the eyes of the fruit of my loins. I can’t say that didn’t happen. My capacity for love has indeed grown. I do have a deeper sense of the purpose of my life, or perhaps, more accurately, a confirmation of what I already believed. I am enthralled with my son in every possible way.
And yet, I cannot get on board with believing that me being a mother is the best thing ever. There are too many other things in my life that are deeply meaningful to me – my work, my relationships, my spiritual life. I object to the use of the word “best”. It seems juvenile; the way middle-school girls feel the need to classify friends as best or other. It seems an inherent need of the young to rank things. Best to worst. Most to least.
As we age into our childbearing years, I have to believe that we have outgrown this need to organize and define experiences and realities in this way. Having children, a career, personal relationships, finding meaning – all of it is amazing and hard and wonderful and miserable. Each thing at times the best thing in our life and at times the worst.
Still, maybe I am just an asshole. I talk a big game about supporting women and other mothers and then one says something to which I cannot relate and I start doubting both their sanity and their sincerity. I just can’t help but wonder how much of what they are expressing is coming from within and how much of it is a subconscious effort to fulfill society’s expectations for women and mothers. Because we are supposed to be completely fulfilled by motherhood, aren’t we? A good mother is supposed to happily and willingly sacrifice anything and everything for her children, including her own fulfillment and happiness, if it is asked of her. In my experience most mothers will do this, but do they have to be thrilled about it? Can we express disappointment and pain along the way? Are we allowed to say when what is asked of us feels like too much, without fearing being labeled as selfish or bad mothers?
Is it possible to be a good mother without allowing motherhood to consume us whole, to become our most favorite thing, the best thing ever? I sure hope so. Otherwise, my poor kids are screwed.
Ah, the holidays. So quickly upon us and just as quickly gone. I spent a lot of time this holiday season reading. I hadn’t read a whole book that didn’t have anything to do with parenting for a long while and in these last few weeks I’ve finished four and am well into my fifth. For the parent of a toddler, this is nothing short of miraculous. Part of the reason I had so much time to read was because, for the first time since we’ve been together, my husband and I didn’t have any guests and we weren’t visiting with any family for the holidays. It was just our little family, eating and drinking and being merry. And napping. The napping was when I got most of my reading in.
Not seeing any family during the holidays is both a blessing and a sadness. A nice quiet holiday with no small talk or catching up or traipsing from one relative’s house to the next is quite relaxing. Of course, family is family and no matter how exhausting it can be to be part of a family, we are still drawn to these people; these people who share our history and our DNA. But, as someone who has invested countless hours and thousands of dollars in therapy trying to better understand my family of origin, my relationship to it, and my place within it, I fully understand those who find no joy in making great pains to be with family during the holidays.
I recently wrote an email to a friend in which I expressed that creating and maintaining healthy boundaries with family feels like it must be my life’s intended work, if the amount of effort I put into it is any indication. It’s something I really struggle with and have for a very long time. (see the aforementioned hours upon hours and thousands of dollars of therapy) I would like to start this next sentence off by saying that I just happened to be thinking about this when I stumbled upon something which has moved me closer to the ever-elusive place of acceptance, but the fact is I never just happen to be thinking of this stuff. At times it feels like it is all I think about. And I was doing just that when I came upon a sentence in the novel I’m reading that has… I don’t know… opened something up for me. The narrator is writing a letter to his son and in the context of explaining his own relationship with his father he says: “A man can know his father, or his son, and there might still be nothing between them but loyalty and love and mutual incomprehension”.
When I try to articulate what most frustrates me about my relationship with the family I was born into (and the one I married into) it is this yearning to be known and understood that goes unfulfilled. Mutual incomprehension perfectly describes what is going on. They don’t get me at all and, no matter how much I’d like to think otherwise, I don’t really get them either. If I did, I wouldn’t be so frustrated by their lack of understanding.
When we meet people in our daily lives and experience this mutual incomprehension, a relationship usually does not form. But with family, our relationship is based on something entirely different. It is what we share – history, blood, memories – that keeps us linked to family. It is due to these that no matter our relationship with them, we feel loyalty to them. And there is always love, no matter how insufficient or conditional or painful it may be to feel it. And the fact is, love and loyalty are nothing to sniff at. Those are very real, very valuable things. They don’t make up for what may be missing, but in and of themselves they are meaningful.
I learned long ago the secret to finding peace with family, but that doesn’t mean I’m any closer to successfully implementing it. Letting go of expectations, accepting people and circumstances as they are, and maintaining healthy boundaries, like everything else, is much easier said than done. Perhaps I love this sentence in this book so much because it very tidily explains, not only what I do not have, which I’ve perhaps spent too much time focusing on, but also what I do have, which I have decidedly not spent enough time appreciating.
I may not understand these people, but god I love them something awful.
Watching the heartbreaking drama in Syria unfold and President Obama’s reaction to the crossing of the “red line”, I can’t help but wonder what happened to the man I worked so hard to get elected. Seriously, Barry, what happened?
I know it would be too much to ask to agree with every single decision he makes in office, and I haven’t, but I do wish that on the big issues we could still see eye-to-eye. Although military strikes are looking less likely now that Syria has agreed to Russia’s plan to have them hand over their chemical weapons, the strikes have not been taken off the table. They are still being threatened if Syria does not act as quickly as the US would like or give assurances that the US would like to hear.
War and aggression only make for more war and more aggression, either immediately or down the road. Barack Obama knows this, I believe, but he is operating within a system that also knows but doesn’t care. Was I naive enough to believe that Barack Obama could change Washington and not the other way around? I think I wanted to be. If nothing else, his presidency has been a very clear reminder of how little a well-intentioned and completely reasonable person can get done within our current political system. And I’m not sure that Washington has changed him so much as broken him.
There is no shortage of good ideas out there in the world. Brilliant people with good hearts and a deep desire to change what needs to be changed are easy to find. The problem? They get funneled into and through these systems that simply cannot handle them. Old broken systems, when they are no longer serving the needs of those they are meant to serve, must be dismantled and rebuilt. After a certain point, they cannot be fixed. As a really smart guy is rumored to have said, “you don’t pour new wine into old skins”. (Mark 2:22) The system can’t handle new wine so we need to build one that can.
Next week it will have been two years since protestors first occupied Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan as part of the worldwide Occupy movement. This movement has been a cry for new wine skins from a generation that has seen that our current systems do not serve the majority of the people. Their methods and message has been criticized but one does not need to look very far to see evidence of how right they are. Our financial, political, societal, and religious systems are not creating a fair, just, and peaceful world.
A book was just published last week, Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generation, written by Dr. Rev. Matthew Fox and Adam Bucko. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It addresses not only the yearning of the current generation for systems that serve the people rather than people serving the system, but also highlights all the new wine that is out there, just waiting for new wine skins. The world is full of people using their creative energy and intellects in the pursuit of equity and compassion and justice, which if nothing else, is a great reminder for those of us who can feel so sad and overwhelmed by what we see happening in the world. It also talks about the importance of calling on our elders, the wisdom of the older generation, to guide us forward.
Building new systems, starting over; that too can feel overwhelming. Dr. Rev. Matthew Fox wrote something that I find very comforting in another of his books, Original Blessing. He writes: “… compassion – interdependence – already is the universe. We do not have to make it anew. Compassion, one might say, is a grace and not a work. This is very good news indeed. Our work comes in entering into this truth and then struggling to rebuild or start anew in building human institutions that themselves relate interdependently and encourage interdependent relationships. “
Our country is not the only thing to which we owe our allegiance. It is also owed to justice and to humanity. Patriotism consists not in waving the flag, but in striving that our country shall be righteous as well as strong. - James Bryce
Alas, I am a day or two or five late (depending on which time zone you hold me to) in getting this post up. I think since the 4th fell on a Thursday this year, and Thursday is almost Friday, and Friday is basically the weekend, this extends the festivities and turns the 4th of July into a weekend-long celebration + a few days of the next week. You with me?
I’ve spent about half a dozen 4ths of July abroad, but the last three have been the only ones where I’ve lived near a military base while abroad and have benefited from the adjacent fireworks show. The monsoon season has officially started here and there were a few hours of downpour followed by some very thick (fog? pollution? steam?) that somewhat muted the splendor of the colored explosions.
On this 4th of July I did something very American, which was sit on my ass and watch a lot of TV. The Hatfields & McCoys miniseries, to be exact. It seemed highly fitting to be watching two American families feud in the setting of our nascent nation that was just recovering from the Civil War.
Feuding, over things both important and trivial, is as American as apple pie. Thankfully, in general, feuds are not longer settled with guns and knives and fire the way they were between the Hatfields and the McCoys. These days we fight with our words. The words we tweet, the words we post on Facebook, the words printed on our bumper stickers. Sometimes, occasionally, we still even talk face-to-face, but that is becoming rarer and rarer. Most Americans count themselves very fortunate indeed to be citizens of a country that protects the freedom of speech, and values both expression and respectful debate.
Of course, it gets ugly sometimes. One only need turn on Fox “News” or MSNBC to see both sides of the political spectrum hurling insults and putting spin on anything and everything said by the opposite side. Respectful debate is actually a bit scarce these days.
I love a good old fashioned debate myself, hard to come by as they may be. I don’t argue just for the sake of arguing, though, because, god, I hate that shit. Besides, a distinction must be made between arguing, fighting, and debating. For a fight or an argument, both people generally come to the table positive that they are right. (Which is why all televised political “debates” should instead be called “fights”) I think that to debate well you have to listen and try to understand the viewpoint of the other person. If you don’t know where they’re coming from, how will you ever sway them anyway? (or be swayed yourself?)
A few months ago, while discussing the war in Iraq, among other things, I was accused of being unpatriotic. The phrase “America-hater” was thrown around. This because I questioned the willingness of my government to engage in an illegal war under false pretenses; a war in which my then-future-husband fought. My views on the Iraq war are not radical. I am among the millions of Americans who feel that it was wrong to sidestep the UN and invade a country that had not attacked us. And yet, here I was, in my own home, expressing myself in a way that was articulate and in no way unkind or cruel, and being called names. (I was also likened to the people who threw garbage and yelled “baby-killer” at veterans returning from Vietnam)
The experience was incredibly unpleasant and a bit shocking, really. Though I was aware that there are people who feel that expressing any dissent at all is unpatriotic, I wasn’t aware that I knew any of them personally. The shock subsided and I started feeling angry, which I soon realized was just masking the hurt I felt at being so misunderstood. Me, unpatriotic?
A few years ago I don’t think it would have bothered me at all to have been called unpatriotic, but I was really bothered by it now. What’s changed? Well, I’m an aging human, so lots. But specifically, I’ve had a child. My child was not born in the US and has never lived there but will someday soon. America has now gone from the country of my birth to the country where my child will be raised. And guess what? It’s not good enough. Don’t get me wrong – I know it’s better than a lot of other places – but it’s simply not good enough for my child or for anybody else’s. And the reason it’s not good enough is not because of it’s failing education system or it’s consumerist society or it’s devil-may-care attitude towards global warming. It’s not good enough because it’s not living up to it’s full potential.
I object greatly to the “greatest country in the world” bullshit. That is nationalism, not patriotism, and I do not support nationalism at all. America is better than lot of places, but calling any country the best is a bit ridiculous. America does have a lot going for it and it should be using every advantage it has to live up to the vision of its founders and to the ideals that it so loudly preaches. Right now, it’s just not.
I’m grateful to have been born in a country that protects the freedom of speech, among others. I’m proud to come from a country that ranks in the top 5 of charitable giving in the world. And I want my country to constantly improve and be the absolute best country it can be. I want less bullshit and more transparency. I want a better education system and better healthcare. I want to know that our country’s leaders will not be willing to sacrifice the lives of our men and women in uniform for reasons that will not stand the test of time.
One of the undeniably great things about the United States is our well-established democracy. It’s not perfect, but it gives us a voice. It provides us opportunity to express our dissent, to stand up for what we believe in, and to effect change. But we have to use that voice! Blind devotion does not improve anything! Insisting that your country be “righteous as well as strong” is, to me, what being a patriot is all about.
So, ‘merica, let’s get our shit together, okay? If we devote ourselves as a nation to serving humanity we will be great.
Happy belated 4th!
Before I get started I want to say the following: Paula Deen is a racist and her use of the N word is completely inexcusable. If you use that word, you are a racist. Period, end of story. To be sure, there are varying degrees of racism, but none of them are acceptable.
I’ve never been a fan of Paula’s, for no reason other than the fact that I am a vegan and a northeast liberal and find her recipes and her southern “charm” completely useless and uncharming. I am a huge fan of Anthony Bourdain (who refers to my ilk [vegans] as “hezbollah-like”) and because of his ongoing and vocal dislike of her, much of what I know of Paula Deen has come from his Twitter feed.
So, I’m not a fan of the woman and I really have no interest in the success or failure of her career. What I am fascinated by is the reactions of her sponsors, her network, her fans, and her detractors to she herself admitting to having used the N word in the past. In her very awkward and tearful apologies she has basically claimed that this was an error on her part and in no way indicative of simmering racism. I don’t buy the “I made a mistake” argument when it involves racism; either you are and do and say racist things or you are not and do not say or do racist things.
The fact that, in interviews, she is being asked if she is a racist is absurd to me. She is, but perhaps not by the standards by which many Americans judge racism. I know plenty of people who would also not claim to be racist but who make insipid remarks that prove otherwise. Casual racism in America is everywhere and wholly accepted, while blatant racism is overwhelmingly punished and condemned. Trouble is, the casual insidious racism that exists in all of our institutions is far more harmful than the minority of people who are still openly racist. Being openly racist is troubling. Being a closet racist – and even worse a denier of it – is troubling, confusing, and difficult to deal with.
The truly sad thing is that when Paula Deen claims to not be racist despite her deplorable use of the N word, she undoubtedly believes she is telling the truth. She thinks that as long as she is hiring black people, not lynching them, and is fine with them owning land and voting, that she is not racist. Of course, being in compliance with the basic laws of the land and doing the absolute required minimum does not a non-racist make, and yet many Americans who claim to have nothing against black people or other minorities believe that they have a leg to stand on because they don’t engage in the types of behaviors that were acceptable before the Civil Rights movement.
The other question in all of this is whether or not Paula should have lost her show and her endorsement deals. If I believed for even a second that the Food Network dropped her because they were horrified by her behavior and did not want to provide her a platform to make herself even more wealthy and perhaps to espouse her racist views, I would fully support their decision. Sadly, I do not believe that. I think they dropped her because they feared the backlash of advertisers and viewers if they didn’t. And could it truly and honestly be news to them that she is a racist? I have a hard time believing that after 13 years of working with this woman, they had never seen any other indications of her moral character. Also, she’s a woman from the South of a certain age. Let’s face it: loads of southerners her age are racists. Many are not, but many are.
Maybe, since she did apologize and claimed it was a mistake, the best thing to do would have been to treat her like a person with an illness. What if she was an alcoholic who fell off the wagon? They would have likely insisted that she go to rehab and then fully supported her recovery. What if Paula, instead of being exiled and allowed to now carry on her racism in private, would have had to get educated? How about some therapy? And maybe being on TV through all of this, knowing that people were scrutinizing her every word, would give her the impetus she needs to really look deep within and confront the racism that is so deeply embedded in her being that she can’t even see it.
The fact is, racism is a sickness. It is an illness that is passed on generation through generation and it needs to be stopped. It will never be stopped if it is allowed to continue to lurk in the shadows of people’s minds and hearts, only revealing itself in unguarded moments. If you believe that people are “less than” because of the color of their skin or the country of their origin, or if you think that using the N word doesn’t make you a racist, you are sick and you do need help. And if you are a wealthy white woman with a sudden influx of time, I suggest you go get it.