Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What's in a Name?

There is a hole in our culture that has yet to be adequately filled.

How should women handle their last names when they marry?

I kept mine, and while I am happy I did, it is not a totally satisfactory solution. One, you give up that symbol – the same last name – for your family. Two, my last name is not going to keep going since my children have my husband’s last name. In fact, as he points out, of the six names we gave our children (first, middle, last X two kids), I only got one of them, my daughter’s first name. (She’s named after my mother, while my son is named after my husband, who is named after his father, that continuity through the generations is nice – and my daughter’s middle name, well, my husband’s family has a cool one, with a rocking story behind it, that I couldn’t resist using.)

If we gave one child my last name and the other my husband’s, I think my kids would wonder how we decided who got what and what that said about them. Names are powerful, and while I see drawbacks in how they are traditionally handled, I also hesitate to screw around with them on the fly.

Hyphenation is also not a good long-term solution. I once met a young girl who sadly pointed out that her hyphenated name was 26 letters long.

My friend’s sister kept her last name because, she said, whatever she accomplished in life was because of her parents, the people who raised and educated her. Nice.

And whenever I see a situation where the boss (always a man) is Mr. So&So, but the employees (always women) go by just first names, I am reminded of the power in last names.

What did you do?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Walking with Lola the Dog

Did somebody say "walk"?
Lola loves walks, grabbing her leash and running to the gate when it’s time.

They are her walks, I figure, so I let her choose where we go. (OK, if I didn’t, we’d have embarrassing arguments at street corners, arguments I often lose.)

In Inside A Dog, Alexandra Horowitz explains, unlike us, dogs’ primary sense is smell, not sight. Sometimes, Lola will smell something in the ground that makes her normally upright tail fall limp; she will even refuse to walk past the spot. Creepy. Are bodies buried there?

Lola keeps up her end of the doggy smell conversation, carefully placing her pee and poop, the latter sadly an exercise in futility since I pick it up. Lola also loves an audience. That’s why, when we walk past restaurants with outdoor dining, I have to pull her along, hissing, “Don’t you dare, Lola!” ‘Cause she totally would.

Lola always wants to walk on a nearby shopping street, not on quiet residential streets. Her favorite spot is a frozen-yogurt shop because she gets lots of attention from little people covered in yogurt who don’t mind getting licked. And, operating under the theory of “If I act like I know what I’m doing, people will think it’s OK,” she will try to duck into other businesses. One store owner actually asked us if we’d come in and hang out, since the charismatic Lola often attracts a crowd.

We have to deal with cats who come out to play mind games on Lola, whom they absolutely know is on a leash.

And yesterday, we had to get close, but not too close, to one of those arm-wavy inflatable things (called an AirDancer, by the way) and watch it for a long time.

Then Lola went home for a nap.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Through Purple-Colored Glasses

pair of purple ones.

I can only refer to one of my favorite quotations of all time:

-Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

My old glasses were literally falling apart. I would place them gingerly (because the rubber nose pads were gone) and crookedly (because they were crooked) on my nose in the morning (about the only time I had been wearing them) and peer out at the world.

And I realized that they were older than my oldest child – who is 19!

So, I high-tailed it to the eyeglass store. I went alone. Perhaps my first mistake. But I didn’t want to agonize over this.

The sales clerk, who looked to me to be about 10 years old, showed me some glasses made out of wood. “They are biodegradable,” he said, “and the company donates all profits to charity.” Nice idea, but “You can put those away,” I said.

I tried on many pairs, quickly (because I couldn’t stand how any of them looked), but I kept coming back to this purple pair.

“Well, I think these might be the ones,” I said.

“Great!” said the clerk, moving to close the sale.

“But they’re purple,” I said. “I soooo don’t want to buy purple glasses.”

The clerk sighed as he sat back down.

Well, I got them. And I like them, I think. Sometimes, because of the shape of their frames, I do think of them as my “Annie Leibovitz glasses.”

But I do like them ... I think.

Which is good, because the plan is to have them for the next 20 years.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Advice for My Teenaged Boy

I once wrote about the advice I give my teenaged girl. It revolved around boys, because that was what she was so concerned with at the time.

When I think about the advice I give my boy at about the same age, I notice it’s not only about dating. And I wonder about how else my advice to him, as a mom giving advice to a boy, is different from my advice to her.

The dating advice:

Drama queens are not worth it.

Neither are girls who will do anything to have you as a boyfriend. I am constantly surprised by the girls, and frankly, women, I see being doormats to men and boys. It’s a sign something’s wrong with them.

And as I also tell my daughter: By all means, be kind to people who are troubled and struggling, but do not date them. They are not capable of having a healthy relationship and you deserve that.

Still, be kind. I was so pleased when my son, who handed out Hershey’s Kisses yesterday in celebration of Valentine’s Day, told me he gave them to every girl he came across. Too often, boys and men, because they are allowed to do it, appoint themselves judges of women’s worthiness. No.

The non-dating advice?

Girls and women are always told to be careful, to not wander around alone at night. But things like bullets and alcohol, which can leave you vulnerable (if not to rape, then to things like being mugged), work the same on boys as on girls. Even though you are big and strong, you need to be street-smart.

Because you are big and strong– and also have a teenager’s tendency to be loud and bouncy, take care not to intimidate people. Boys sometimes think this is funny; it’s not.

Up in the Air on Risk

For my birthday, my husband borrowed a small plane, hired a pilot and flew us to New Orleans for the weekend.

Very cool.

But we flew the same weekend a family (Dad (the pilot), Mom, three girls) crashed their small plane into the woods in Kentucky.

Only their youngest daughter, aged 7, survived, walking a mile through woods, at night, barefoot in winter temperatures, with a broken wrist, to knock on someone’s door. (In news reports, police officers, getting teary, say that if she had walked in any other direction that night, she might not have survived either.)

On our trip, our pilot told us there were some weather conditions he would be flying around, so the flight would be bumpy.  Regular, old turbulence is not dangerous, though it can feel so, especially in a small plane. You are in a minivan-sized vehicle, surrounded by windows. It feels like you are in a roller-coaster car that could fall off its invisible track at any moment.

Small-plane crashes are most often blamed on pilot error and inexperience. Our pilot, a professional, has thousands of hours of flight time, is certified every which way, including instrument-rated, meaning he can fly in weather conditions when he cannot see, and is a certified flight instructor. But according to news reports, the dad was an instruments-rated certified flight instructor, too.

And then there are all the psychological tricks my mind plays regarding risk. That little girl and her family are seared into my brain. And having our little plane buck like a horse felt dangerous even when I knew it wasn’t.

If we were ever truly aware of all risk, we’d never climb into a car or leave the house, let alone go on a trip for fun.

Eliminating risk is impossible; calculating it scary.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

What to Do?

I’ve always had a thing for to-do lists.

My dad had to-do lists and my parents still laugh at how, when I was small, I wrote my own, starting with “Wake up,” which I then carefully checked off.

More recently, I went through a phase of reading about being more efficient. In Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, David Allen suggests putting everything – and he means everything – into the task list and calendar of Outlook. (Personally, I hate Outlook and don’t use it. Does it still have the charming habit of suddenly sending the email you are still writing?)

He’s right, though. If you put all those niggling things – call the plumber, buy those special lightbulbs – down somewhere, where you know you will see them, you can put your mind at rest.

In The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, Tony Schwartz points out something that is easy to forget: human beings are not machines and need to take breaks, get enough sleep, move their bodies. A schedule that doesn’t factor that in is worthless.

Because I work at home, I have to keep myself on track. When you go to a regular job, at a workplace, with co-workers, there is structure there that I just don’t have.

I use my to-do list, not just to make sure I am doing what I need to do, but also to prioritize, to stay realistic and to balance things (like time with the kids versus work).

Also, I’m a believer in “A little every day gets the job done.” If you want to do something, like keep a blog, say, if you make time for it every day, even 5 minutes, you will get it done.

This all makes my multi-page, weekly, daily to-do list comically complicated.

Works for me, though.


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Lazy Is As Lazy Says

I hate the word “lazy.”

It’s just a pejorative. You see someone not doing something or not doing a good job at it – and you call them lazy. It’s something I overhear parents say to children all the time and it makes me so mad.

Call a child, or anyone, “lazy,” and what have you accomplished? You’ve labeled their behavior, sure, but all that label means is “shithead.” So, you’ve made them feel even worse about themselves than they already do – because doing what you are supposed to do is usually the least painful path – but you have done nothing to help and a lot to hurt.

It boggles my mind that people can look at a child who isn’t doing his schoolwork, is failing, and say, “Oh, he’s just lazy,” as if this kid could do the work but isn’t just cuz. How can you possibly think that a kid fails in a class, looking stupid in front of his peers, his teachers, his family, plus, now, he’s failing and that’s a big problem, because he wants to? Some parents even seem to think that the kid is doing it specifically to make them angry. That’s like saying that someone “chooses” to be gay to make his or her parents mad.

Sure, sometimes a kid who is failing will act the class clown or pretend that failing is cool, sometimes whole groups of them will do that, but that’s just a ruse. It’s a whole lot harder and more terrifying to publicly try your hardest and risk failing than it is to not try at all and pretend that’s cool.

When someone isn’t flying right, it’s because there’s a reason – and frankly, the only one being lazy (not to mention, mean) is the one who calls them lazy.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Do You Know What Human Trafficking Is?

Just wrote an article about human trafficking in Houston. Many of the experts said people are often confused about what "human trafficking" means: