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And Here We Are!

After the race to make our connecting flight in Houston, I’m sure we can do anything.  Three hours to make the connection in Mexico City feels like sheer luxury.

And it actually is!  We glide through Customs {only one form needs to be filled out again}; our big suitcases are waiting for us at the #16  carousel.   A porter and cart are right there to transport the bags to the re-check-iin place and – best of all – when the attendant there says “Push the button,” Dee pushes and we get the green light!   When you get the green light, they don’t search your luggage.  Last time through, we got the red light, and that always makes me super nervous,  but this time, it’s a piece of cake.  Onward.

We don’t have our boarding passes yet, but the electronic ticket on my iphone gives us access to the train.  Unlike The Link, which runs about once a minute, there’s a five minute wait for the train.  It winds its way across the airport, which is larger than some small cities.  It all feels familiar these days.

Terminal 2. Last security check.  In Mexico, you get to keep your shoes on, which is a treat, and Dee’s shoulder doesn’t set off the metal detector as it sometimes does.   And then we’re there – Gate 75.   Getting through all that in under an hour is a personal record, for sure.

So we eat again — Starbucks salad for me — drink more coffee – and wait.  Finally, finally, it’s time.  Ok, it’s only 2:30 in the afternoon, not so late, but I’ve been up almost 12 hours.

On the shuttle bus to the plane, a group with several adults and a bunch of kids gets on too, the youngest child complaining that he wants to “get on the plane, not a bus!!”  Someone assures him the bus is just for a few minutes, and one of the women musters a cheery smile and says, “It’s an adventure, right?  We’re having an adventure!”  which makes me smile to myself.

The plane is so tiny.  It always makes me feel like it might be powered by batteries and remote control.  You can see the type of plane here, if you’re into that kind of thing:   http://www.airliners.net/photo/Aeromar/ATR-ATR-42-500/2542375/&sid=b49d49f2e978504042f8b33d0ffd63ce

Sitting behind us are two of the adults from the large group, and a couple of the younger children are across from them.  The flight attendant makes the usual announcement, but then she has to come over to the man behind me to ask him to turn off his electronic device.  He does, grumbling about it a bit, but  when she askes the three-year-old to turn off his ipod, the child explodes in wails of “WHY??? WHY WHY WHY WHY???”

This goes on way too long with some ineffectual attempts to calm him (without ever explaining why.)  He finally subsides a bit when the flight attendant assures him it’s just for a few minutes, but you can still hear him plaintatively asking “Why?”  I’m trying not to have some judgemental and unkind thoughts about the kid and the parents when Dee turns to the adults behind us and says, “Would he like some gum?”

“Oh, thank you so much, I’m sure he would,” says the woman, and the child is distracted and delighted enough with the unexpected treat that he’s smiling again.  The maybe-six-year-old next to him is even more surprised and delighted when Dee offers him gum too, and says, with exquisite politeness, “Thank you so much.”  And when Dee asks them to offer the gum to the other four kids in the party, the whole atmosphere on the plane changes.  Whew.

And we’re off.  YAY!

In almost no time, maybe an hour, we’re landing again, yes, yes, yes — and waiting for the luggage on the conveyor belt in the tiny Puerto Airport, peering around the corner where Lucia and Conan will appear.  And then – then – then — there they are!

I’m not sure how Lucia will react when she sees me, it’s been months since we saw each other off Facetime.   And we’re separated by an invisible line, security guard there to ensure we don’t cross the line.  But she sees me and — I am not making this up — she starts jumping up and down, screaming, “Nonna!  Nonna!”

What’s a Nonna to do – I scream back – “Lucia!!  Lucia!!”

“Nonna!  Nonna!”  Jumping up and down.

“Lucia!  Lucia!!”

And then at last we are free to cross the lline, and she holds up her arms for a big hug.

Here at last.

On the Way to Puerto – November, 2014

Our bags are packed.  We’re ready to go.

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Weeks of preparation and suddenly it’s too late for “what have I forgotten now?”  Two 50 lbs suitcases, 2 carry-ons weighing at least 25 pounds each, and two backpacks.  175 pounds to schlep through the airport in Mexico City.  But lots of fun things for Julila and Conan and Lucia at the other end of the trip.

This is the first trip that we’re doing in one day.  Our first plane is scheduled to leave at 6:30 a.m., so we leave the house at 3:45, take the car to Crown Plaza Hotel (which will keep the car for half the price of the airport and shuttle you over.)   It’s 20 degrees outside.  20.  We’re wearing hoodies.

But all goes well and we make it to the airport with enough time for coffee and breakfast.   Which is lovely, because we ony have 50 minutes to change planes in Houston.  50 minutes.  And no, our gate isn’t going to be close.  We’re going from domestic to international.  United Air staff assures me, when I buy the tickets, that even half an hour will be enough time.  Ok.  We’ll see.

The plane from Louisville runs late – we land at 8:15.  Our plane leaves at 8:50.  We ask the flight attendant if we can get a cart to the gate — she says, “No, we don’t do that.”  Ok, we can make it on our own.  From Terminal B to almost the other end of the universe – Terminal E.  Tick, tock, tick, tock.  8:21, waiting for our carry-on luggage.

8:28.  Back packs on, pulling carry-ons behind, moving fast, down the hall, up the escalator, to the left, down the hall, up the escalator – heading for The Link.  8:31.  Tick tock.   Here it comes — jump on The Link and we’re whooshing through the air – Terminal C, Terminal D – oh, yes, D and E are together!  Ok.  We might make it.

8:33 – now for the gate.  But omg, it’ll take forever, no way, no way we’re gonna make it.  We can’t possibly get there in time, not in this lifetme, we’re going to be spending the night here and heading out the next morning.

But WAIT – there’s one of those carts!  We flag the guy down — Gate 21, please!  “Come on,” he says.  And off we go.  We’re going so fast, I can feel the wind in my hair.  Seriously.  Down a hall, turn, down another hall, people leaping out of our path and then – THERE IT IS!!  Gate 21  Going to Mexico City!!

I jump off, while Dee tips our rescuer, and the gate attendant says, “Are you on this plane?  Hurry!  They’re ready to go!!”

So we dash onto the plane, and fight our way back toward our seats — we were not actually the last ones on baord, but there is hardly anywhere to stow our carry-ons and people are jostling each other trying to find space —  but at last — somehow miraculously — we are on and buckled in and ready to go!  Woohoo.  I barely have time to email Julia “made it” before they tell us to put our devices on airplane mode — and we’re off.

Good times ahead.

Consent?

I just read a terrific article – 5 Lies that Distort Male Sexuality and Hurt Everybody. You can read it here. It really made me think about how things have changed in my lifetime. The author says that conversations about sex with his father never mentioned consent.

The author says:

This absence reinforced another aspect of sexuality that is “normal” within patriarchal masculinity: “Consent means go until they say stop.”

This statement made me realize how much things really are changing.  “Consent means go until they say stop.”   That absolutely is the way things were in my youth – let’s say 40 to 45 years ago.

“How far did you go?  Did he get to second base?  Did you let him go to third base?”

Yes.  We really talked about it like that.  Rather than seeking consent, we played a frigging baseball game.  His goal was to make a home run.  Starting with kissing – so innocuous it didn’t even count as a base, though maybe not on a first date  – he could move to first base (tits,) second base (between the legs – or “down there”) and on to HOME – going all the way.

Of course it wasn’t really that direct, there were degrees of progress.  There was first base over your clothes and first base under your clothes, and so on.  There was “not all the way, but I touched his you-know,” and countless variations of that.

It was also very clear.  His aim was to go all the way, my job was to stop him at the appropriate point.  Defining “appropriate” was up for grabs.  So if I said “no,” in a soft voice, shook my head or pushed his hand away as it slid up under my shirt, it was ok for him to come back and try again a few minutes later.  Too much of that, and we said he was “like an octopus, all hands,” disparagingly, and there probably wouldn’t be another date. Unless he apologized and promised not to act like that again.

Sigh.

It was complicated.  Even if you wanted to “go further,” it was good form to put up some resistance.  To allow yourself to be persuaded to let him touch you *there*.  Or there.  That resistance showed that you really were “a nice girl.”  If you just wanted to enjoy it, and “let him” do it without the proper amount of resistance, then you were clearly a slut, and nothing good would come of that.

Seriously, that’s what it was like.  A sexual world in which his goal was to convince you to do it and your goal was to resist long enough that he’d still respect you.  Ok, that’s an over-simplification on all kinds of levels, but I promise you there was very little of this “enthusiastic consent” stuff that we’re talking about now.  Unless you were engaged, maybe.  Or a slut.  And it was pretty acceptable for a boy to try to convince you to “put out” more than you’d planned.  Not to force you, but to persuade, cajole, beg, and at some point even demand.

That proved you were attractive, and that he liked you.  If you kept dating him, then you were subtly agreeing to continue on this steady path of moving around the bases, and it was up to him to see how far he could go on each date.

I’m not saying that was good, or even ok.  After all, people used to drink and drive back then too.  I am saying that our understanding of how things work and how they’re supposed to work can change radically in a relatively short time.

I love the “enthusiastic consent” framework, and look forward to seeing the impact on relationships that involve sexual attraction.  But I think it’s helpful to remember that this is a change.   We’re creating a new path, and that’s seldom easy.  Worthwhile, important, and powerful, but seldom easy.

A Happy Nonna Moment

So I called my daughter, Julia, the other day, and Lucia was willing to “talk” to me – unusual enough, because phone conversations are not really that much fun for a two year old. Or for the other party, for that matter. Lately, Lucia’s been saying she’s too busy to talk – “Playing,” she says, or “Eating,” as if anyone would understand that she couldn’t be interrupted.

But this time, she readily takes the phone and, with prompting from her mama, tells me that they are “Buying car,” and yes, she goes for a ride in it and yes she likes it. We run out of conversational material, and I say “Ok, sweet pea, you wanna give the phone to your Mommy?”

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And I hear a little grunt that sounds like, “No,” and I can hear her mama laughing and taking to someone in the background. So I say, “Ok, well, um, you want me to sing you a song?” and I think maybe I get a grunt of assent, so I do a quick verse or two of Old McDonald and then I hear her Mommy say, “Can I have the phone? Are you through?”

And Lucia says firmly, “No. Talking.”

I’m tickled pink – now I’m the important activity!! So I sing her another song, (not that I can really sing, you know) and her Mommy says, “Can I have the phone now?’ and she says ~

“No. Talking!”

So I sing “Little Bunny Foo-Foo”

and she’s excited ~ I hear her say to her Mommy, “Singing!” ~ and she actually kind of almost sings along!! How cool is that?

Then she’s done and I’m done too, but now I’m looking forward to our next phone call!

Exploring Father’s Day Quotes

Father’s Day, like Mother’s Day, taps into a well of intense feelings.  I can imagine families where those feelings are simple love and appreciation, but for those of us who have some ambivalence about our fathers, it can be a more painful celebration.  I imagine that fathers who have difficult relationships with their children also struggle.

So it’s not surprising that I couldn’t find just one quote to use on Facebook in honor of Father’s Day.  No, I found a bunch of quotes that each capture some aspect of the relationship.

“Dads are like chocolate chip cookies; they may have chips or be totally nutty, but they are sweet and make the world a better place, especially for their children.”
― Hillary Lytle

I love that image of Dad – so much warmth.  It makes me think of the old TV show with Patty Duke – the one where she played both cousins, Patty and Cathy.  Her father was, for me, the epitome of a great father.   Martin Lane.  He was always kind and reasonable.  Sometimes stern, but still loving.  He seemed to hit this perfect medium:

“Fathers…it’s vital to exhibit a thoughtful balance between being a tough as nails disciplinarian and compassionate gentle patriarch to our families. Too much of one devastates relationships and too much of the other emasculates our ability to effectively lead. Our wives and children need the security and assurance of knowing that we can be both tough and tender. One side steel…the other side velvet.
― Jason Versey, A Walk with Prudence

That was the Dad I wanted.   But I liked the idea of this one too:

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”
― Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum

I picture some absent-minded professor of a father, intent on his daily work, with his young daughter or son following behind him to catch the pearls of wisdom that he would drop… the occasional story, a proverb here or there…

Yeah, I didn’t quite have that dad either.  My dad was closer to this one:

“Fathers never have exactly the daughters they want because they invent a notion of them that the daughters have to conform to.”
― Simone de Beauvoir, The Woman Destroyed

And of course all of those fathers reflect the archetype of Father more than the reality of most of our Dads. Larger than life – Father as leader and protecter, Father as mediator between the home and the outside world, Father who teaches their sons how to be men, and their daughters how to relate to men.  Not to mention all the shadow sides of those roles.  It’s not surprising that we confuse the archetype of Father with the human reality of Dad, whether’s it’s biological Dad, step-Dad, or an uncle or big brother that takes this role.

“That was when the world wasn’t so big and I could see everywhere. It was when my father was a hero and not a human.”
― Markus Zusak, I Am the Messenger

When I was younger, there was so much angst in my thoughts and feelings about my Dad.  As I’ve gotten older, thank goodness, I am better able to see him as a person who did the best he knew how to do.  But this quote still resonates with me – and for many years, I think it fit me.

“Someone once said that every man is trying to live up to his father’s expectations or make up for their father’s mistakes….”
― Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream

Certainly, my Dad’s expectations formed much of who I am, whether I strived to live up to them or pushed back against and rejected them.

So when I read Facebook threads about Father’s Day, I’m not surprised by the intensity of feeling the day elicits, or the conflicting ideas that arise.  One friend is concerned about people wishing single moms a “Happy father’s day,” concerned that it shortchanges the actual male fathers out there parenting.  A few people still think biological fathers trump the man who raises you, but others are sure “being there” trumps genetics.  Some folks struggle with defining the roles and titles of a transgender parent.  Another is upset because people treat single dads like they’re special miracles while single moms are looked down on and stigmatized.

I don’t really have an opinion about any of those things – well, I do, but I don’t think my opinions matter when it comes to fathers and their children.  Mostly I think that Fathers Day can be difficult for us in all kinds of ways, and whatever we do to manage it is the right thing to do.  I understand people feeling strongly about it, but at least today, I just don’t think it matters.

If it makes people feel better to recognize their mom as being both mother and father to them, why would I object?  And if your uncle took the father role and you still want to send a card to your biological dad, why not?  If we want to encourage single dads by exaggerating their wonderfulness a bit, I’m ok with that too.  {I am, however, passionately against stigmatizing single mothers.  Just for the record.}

As far as I’m concerned, anyone who has filled the “father” role in your life is worthy of whatever love and appreciation you have for them.

I almost posted this quote today, it says so much to me, in such a lovely understated way:

I got my dad a great father’s day present. He called to say: ‘Ach. Zis present is so good I now think it vas almost vorth having children.
― Johann Hari

That made me laugh, but there is some deep truth there.  Because ultimately, isn’t that what we all want?  To believe that the gifts we bring our father makes him see us as worthwhile?  Ok, so we probably want it to be the gift of our love, or some such intangible thing, and maybe some kids grow up just knowing that already.  But for those of us who don’t, that may still be a goal.

This is a powerful scene about fatherhood from the old sitcom, The Fresh Prince of BelAir.   I’m 57 – no, 58 – years old, and the darn thing still makes me cry.  And makes me appreciate Uncle Phil sooooo much.

“We never get over our fathers, and we’re not required to. (Irish Proverb)”
― Martin Sheen, Along the Way: The Journey of a Father and Son

On the other hand, we can, and do, “get over” the pain of a father who wasn’t there – whether he was physically absent or emotionally withdrawn, abusive or neglectful – we can recover.  Part of that process is separating the person from the archetype.  Part of it is learning from the men around us who are there for us.  And part of it is developing the skill to parent ourselves.

So when I read this…

“The monsters are gone.”
“Really?” Doubtful.
“I killed the monsters. That’s what fathers do.”
― Fiona Wallace

…I don’t feel warm and fuzzy about the person promising to kill the monsters, I am doubtful about that too.  But I remind myself that I’m pretty good at managing some monsters myself.

So I was finishing this blog post today, looking for just the right words to wrap it up, when I see my friend’s latest Facebook post.  And there it is – two simple sentences that pretty much says it all:

“Dad’s Day can be awesome and it can be tough. Sending love to those that need it for a variety of reasons.

~~ Christine Bowman

Exactly.  Thanks, Christine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quest for a Quote

Mother’s Day is wonderful for some people and super uncomfortable or downright painful for others.  I have some mixed feelings about it.  I think it’s a Hallmark holiday (even though I know it didn’t start that way.)  But I often struggled to figure out what to do for my Mother on Mother’s Day, and I was dismayed to discover that – even though I think it’s a Hallmark holiday – the ways my kids acknowledged me on Mother’s Day mattered a lot.

For years, there was also my mother-in-law, who needed to be taken into account, and my stepdaughter’s biological mother, and it was a complex and frustrating holiday.  I used to promise myself that once my girls became mothers, I would leave town for the weekend so they could enjoy the day themselves.

So it’s not surprising that I often have trouble finding a quote I really like for my daily Facebook post.  I want to find something that applies to people who have great relationships with their mothers, and those who don’t speak to their mothers. I want it to make sense to the mothers whose kids live with them forever and the mothers of those kids who don’t speak to them.

I want a quote that applies to biological mothers, foster mothers, step-mothers, stay-at-home mothers, career mothers, and the mothers who left.  It has to work for the “you’re like a second mother to me,” mothers, and of course for the men who mothered some of us.  Plus, of course, it has to fit my own socio-political ideas about motherhood.

It is not easy.

Part of the difficulty is that Mother’s Day has become a celebration of the archetype of Mother – the all-loving archetype of warmth, nurturance and creativity, growth and love. Mother Earth – sunshine, gentle rains, crops and harvest. Mother with a baby at her breast – holding, rocking, soothing, nurturing, maybe with a toddler playing contentedly at her feet, an older child doing homework nearby.

This aspect of the archetypes gives us these kinds of quotes:

“I realized when you look at your mother, you are looking at the purest love you will ever know.”
~~ Mitch Albom, For One More Day

Or this one:

“A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.”
~~ Washington Irving

Those are far too cloying sweet for me.  Here’s the archetype described through the lens of patriarchy:

“It is a fundamental truth that the responsibilities of motherhood cannot be successfully delegated. No, not to day-care centers, not to schools, not to nurseries, not to babysitters. We become enamored with men’s theories such as the idea of preschool training outside the home for young children. Not only does this put added pressure on the budget, but it places young children in an environment away from mother’s influence Too often the pressure for popularity, on children and teens, places an economic burden on the income of the father, so mother feels she must go to work to satisfy her children’s needs. That decision can be most shortsighted. It is mother’s influence during the crucial formative years that forms a child’s basic character. Home is the place where a child learns faith, feels love, and thereby learns from mother’s loving example to choose righteousness. How vital are mother’s influence and teaching in the home—and how apparent when neglected!”
― Ezra Taft Benson

That quote could be subtitled “Instilling guilt in women who think they should have a career outside of motherhood.”  Clearly, that quote is not going up on my Facebook page!

In response to that patriarchal and limiting view of mother, we get quotes like this:

“I wasn’t put on this earth to be housekeeper to my own child or to anyone else for that matter.”
― Lynn Freed

Or this one:

“And really, how insulting is it that to suggest that the best thing women can do is raise other people to do incredible things? I’m betting some of those women would like to do great things of their own.”
― Jessica Valenti, Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness

The flip side – the “shadow” side – of the archetype for “mother” is Mother Nature, with her tsunamis and hurricanes, floods and drought.  Mommie Dearest and evil step-mothers are aspects of the archetype.   Some quotes reflect that.

“I’ve spent my whole life trying to get over having had Nikki for a mother, and I have to say that from day one after she died, I liked having a dead mother much more than having an impossible one. ”
~~ Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

Or this one:

“You don’t know what it’s like to grow up with a mother who never said a positive thing in her life, not about her children or the world, who was always suspicious, always tearing you down and splitting your dreams straight down the seams. When my first pen pal, Tomoko, stopped writing me after three letters she was the one who laughed: You think someone’s going to lose life writing to you? Of course I cried; I was eight and I had already planned that Tomoko and her family would adopt me. My mother of course saw clean into the marrow of those dreams, and laughed. I wouldn’t write to you either, she said. She was that kind of mother: who makes you doubt yourself, who would wipe you out if you let her. But I’m not going to pretend either. For a long time I let her say what she wanted about me, and what was worse, for a long time I believed her.”
~~ Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Those reflect the shadow side of “mother” as intensely as the cloying sweet ones reflect the all-good mother.  Way too harsh for Mother’s Day. I would be more likely to use this one, which at least recognizes different aspects of “mother.”

“In a child’s eyes, a mother is a goddess. She can be glorious or terrible, benevolent or filled with wrath, but she commands love either way. I am convinced that this is the greatest power in the universe.”

― N.K. Jemisin, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

 

 In real life, moving away from archetypes and polarized aspects of mothers, I find quotes like these, which reflect real people who mother us, who struggle to come to terms with what it means to be “mother.”

“Mom’s eyes held yours for a moment. ‘I don’t like or dislike the kitchen. I cooked because I had to. I had to stay in the kitchen so you could all eat and go to school. How could you only do what you like? There are things you have to do whether you like it or not.’ Mom’s expression asked, What kind of question is that? And then she murmured, ‘If you only do what you like, who’s going to do what you don’t like?”
― Shin Kyung-sook, Please Look After Mom

Or this one:

“But will you not have a house to care for? Meals to cook? Children whining for this or that? Will you have time for the work?” “I’ll make time,” I promised. “The house will not always be so clean, the cooking may be a little hasty, and the whining children will sit on my lap and I’ll sing to them while I work.”
― Gloria Whelan

In real life, we get quotes like this:

“Maybe a mother wasn’t what she seemed to be on the surface.”
― Jodi Picoult, Handle with Care

Or this one:

Maybe it’s just a daughter’s job to piss off her mother.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Diary

Or – a personal favorite:

“Of course mothers and daughters with strong personalities might see the world from very different points of view.”
― Katherine Howe, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

If we’re lucky, we grow into being able to distinguish our mothers from the archetype of mother.  We learn to recognize our own mother’s strengths and failings, and recognize that she was just a person, not really a goddess at all.

Ok, maybe there is a bit of goddess in all of us, but we are mostly human.  And as we find ourselves cast in the role of “mother” we may feel as conflicted as this quote suggests:

“I want to mother the world, I thought. I have so much love.
Then—I have no business being a mother. I am a selfish woman.
Then—I can do this. Millions of women have been mothers.
Then—I feel very alone. I do not know what I’m capable of.”
― Megan Mayhew Bergman, Birds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories

 

Look Out Mexico…

…here we come.

Found this poem this morning, and it made me smile.

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

E. E. Cummings
Love this part:  may came home with a smooth round stone
                        as small as a world and as large as alone.
Yes.

 

It’s All About the Shoes…

My granddaughter has clearly inherited my shoe “thing” – I won’t call it an obsession, that would be excessive, but I do kind of have a shoe thing.  And so does she.

She’s not exclusive or particular about her interest in shoes – she’s just as fascinated with Dee’s shoes

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as she is by my (much cuter) selection.  She likes to carry his around and try to put them on – today, she discovered she can get both of her feet in one of his shoes.  It makes walking a little tricky, but that’s beside the point.

She is, however, apparently developing her own ideas on fashion.  I was getting ready for work yesterday morning, wearing these shoes:

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when she came running to me, saying, “Oooh, Ooooh,” with great urgency, clutching another shoe in one hand.  By dint of pointing and her favorite monosyllabic word – “uh,” she made it clear that I was to put on the shoe she’d brought me.

Obediently, I did.

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We both admired it for a minute – it was, I have to admit, probably a better selection for my outfit.  Unfortunately, I had to explain to Lucia, I haven’t been able to find the match to that shoe for a while, and I can’t wear just one shoe to work, no matter how cute it is.

She accepted the bad news, with only a reproachful glance or two at me.   I hope my shoe selection today meets with more approval.

She is clearly my granddaughter.

Shopping at Walmart?

I was with some friends the other night, and Dee, my partner, was “confessing” that he’d gone to Walmart on Thanksgiving Day to buy a tool for the yard work he was doing that morning.  He was a bit apologetic.  I looked around the room and realized that this particular group of friends would not have any hesitation about shopping at Walmart, not on Thanksgiving Day, not on Black Friday, not any day of the week.

I, on the other hand, consider Walmart the epitome of what’s wrong with consumerism and only half-jokingly refer to it as “The Evil Empire.”  I’ve shopped there twice in my life, and still feel a twinge of guilt about it.

I’ve been quick to explain that Walmart is worse than other stores like that because their Board of Directors supports racism and sexism in promoting people.   I’m convinced of that because I know the Board recommended that  stockholders vote not to release data on the percentages of women and African-Americans in management.

But mostly I’ve felt like a lone voice in the wilderness, tilting at windmills.  By not shopping at Walmart, I’ve accomplished absolutely nothing.  It felt right to me, but was pretty futile.

Lately, with Walmart workers striking, and a bunch of people stepping up in support of that, I’m feeling like there might be the possible hope that someday, something might actually change.  And ~ it’s making me think about where I stand and how it makes sense in my world view.  It is not simple.

Walmart employs lots of people.  The Board of Directors has the right to run the company any way they choose.  Lots of other employers don’t pay some of their employees a living wage.  Those things are true.

I’ve heard people say that Walmart was designed to hire college students, who would work there for brief stints and then move on, rather than people trying to support families.  (Yes there are a lot of assumptions there about college students and families and  the worth of an employee.)  That may have been true ~ it’s certainly not true anymore.

Here are the facts that shape my thinking.

The average salary for a Walmart associate is $15,600.  NOT the starting salary, the average.  Poverty level for a family of four is $22,000.  Poverty level for one person is $11,170.

Walmart has more employees eligible for Medicaid and Food Stamps than any other employer.

Six members of the Walton family have wealth totaling the wealth of the bottom 30% of Americans.  NOTE:  This doesn’t mean income.  It means net worth.   This is important.

At Forbes, source of the richest 400 list, Tim Worstall wrote a response to the Waltons wealth claim. He did not dispute the accuracy of the statistic but offered some broader perspective.

“Wealth is always more unequally distributed than income,” Worstall wrote. “By the way, it isn’t even true that all of those households with zero or negative wealth are what we would call poor, either. It’s entirely possible to have no net assets while having a good income, even a high income. All you need to have is debts higher than your assets: something that will almost certainly be true of anyone with student debt and fresh out of college, for example.”

He added: “If you’ve no debts and have $10 in your pocket you have more wealth than 25 percent of Americans.”

“Bivens, for good measure, calculated the comparison of the Waltons vs. all Americans after removing households with a negative net worth — those that drag down the overall average and make the Waltons’ advantage look greater. He found that the Walmart heirs’ $89.5 billion “is still equal to the combined net worth of the bottom 33.2 million families (about 28.2 percent of the total).”

There’s nothing wrong with the Waltons being wealthy.  Nothing wrong with them running Walmart any way they want to.

But let’s be clear.  If we believe that, then we must also say:

There’s nothing wrong with people being on food stamps and having Medicaid for their health insurance.   Nothing wrong with it.  We need to recognize that people who work for companies like Walmart DESERVE those benefits, that we choose to provide them.

Not everyone can get a “better job.”  Not everyone can work two jobs.  People have children,  people have elderly parents they’re caring for, people go to school.

People need food, and they need health care.  That’s not optional.  Unless we’re prepared to watch people die in the streets, people need food and health care.

So maybe the taxpayers need to help support the Waltons by subsidizing their employees’ salaries.  Maybe that’s fine.  But then we need to quit acting like people who get food stamps or Medicaid are less hardworking than the rest of us.  We need to just accept that some companies need to make more profit than others, and we need to pay for that.

Or maybe we need to hold the company accountable for paying a living wage.

When Papa John’s CEO said he would close stores, cut jobs and make workers part-time because of the new health insurance laws, we reacted with outrage and promises of a Papa John’s boycott.  Now, the CEO is saying he was misquoted, that he didn’t say that at all.

People need food.  We need healthcare.   Now is the time for us to hold companies accountable.

Yes, they can choose to do anything they want to.  And we can choose whether or not to shop there.

Part III ~ A Fable ~ {just for fun}

{If you’re just now joining the story, Part I is here.  Part II is right here.

God looked around ~ well, in a manner of speaking to humans, that’s what we’d say.  God was, of course, not actually like anything we can imagine.  Neither black nor white, not male or female.  Not like anything we can imagine.

But we’ll say that ~ “God looked around.”   From the God chair, everything was revealed.  The little pockets of humans conferring about where they wanted to go to spend eternity, worrying about making the wrong choice.

God smiled.

Poor humans.  They were so sure there was a right choice and a wrong choice.  It was almost cruel to trick them that way.   Of course both the “entrances” led to the same place.

The “friends” they saw at the “bottom of the stairs” were their own projections, well, with maybe a little bit of help from God.   Kind of like holograms.

Of course, the humans couldn’t remember what it was like up here.  When you’ve wrenched yourself away from the celestial souls to become human, you forget where you’ve been. All the wisdom of the ages fades away so you can be born fresh and innocent.  And if the humans had some vague memory, some sense of oneness with the universe, the world soon taught them not to trust that.

The Buddhists were as close to having it right as anyone.   We are all one with the universe, and the sum of us all is ~ well, God, you could maybe call it that.  It is a joyful presence.  Not like the humans.

Divisions.  That’s what people were all about. Classifying and dividing.  And judging.  Judging themselves and other people, and doing it all in the name of God.

God shook his head, or her head ~ well, figuratively speaking.   Part of the process of coming home was giving up one’s ego.  You could either do it voluntarily, chosing to let go of something you had thought was important, or it would be stripped away as you went down the stairs.

But once they got through the entrance, all of that would disappear.  The outer trappings of personality would fade away, and only the essence of each soul would be left.   Each soul, uniquely wonderful, taking its place in the vast union of souls, becoming one with the universe, at home again.  Feeling the joy of finding that bliss once again.

God smiled.  Yes, they were still down there, trying to figure out what they should do, weighing the pros and cons in human terms.  Poor things.  Fussing about fetuses and protesters and who knew what else. Things that just weren’t important any more.

Once they had rejoined with the other souls, the lessons they learned on earth would be absorbed by them all, taken in and processed.

The returning souls would stay in the oneness of celestial being for as long as they chose to.  Someday, they might decide to return to the earth, or one of the other planets.  Just like “God”  had separated out to play the role of “greeter” to the returning souls.

God watched them struggling with themselves at the “Gates of Heaven”.  What petty, self-righteous creatures they could be.  So hard for them to let go of their own beliefs and come home.  But this was their last chance to learn anything from this trip to heaven.  No point in rushing them, they could take all the time they needed.

And God waited.

THE END

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