I’m With Her

 

im-with-grandma

If my grandmother were alive, today would have been her 97th birthday.

She’s been on my mind a lot the last few weeks, and not just because I always think of her in October. Whenever we draw close to election day, I remember her.

In 2004, when John Kerry was the D on the top of the ticket, I had election day Grandma duty. She was essentially wheelchair bound, and she had never been able to drive. So I had the job (and, I realize now, the privilege) of taking her to vote.

I remember pushing her awkwardly through the doors of the school where she voted. She had something to say about everyone and everything, because she always did, and she was making me laugh, like she always did.

As we waited, she reminded me repeatedly how she would be voting. I swear I can still hear her voice, with her Jersey City accent and her Baltimore hon –

“Make sure to put me down for the Ds! I always vote D. Those other guys – sheesh! To hell with them, hon.”

She was a low-rider in her wheelchair and disabled enough that she couldn’t stand at the voting machine. When we reached the booth, I had to actually cast her vote for her.

It’s a tremendous responsibility to place another person’s vote, and I knew it. In fact, I think I was more aware of it than she was. As I went through the ballot, I kept asking her, name by name, to tell me who she wanted me to select. She gave me a few specifics, but after a while she got cantankerous – “Does it have a D? Just vote for the D.” She yelled and waved a fist at me when we got to the school board section and I said she’d have to pick a name. (We left that one blank.)

After the final D was checked and her vote was cast, she and I headed back to her assisted living home. Her “I voted” sticker took pride of place on her chest – because she was proud. Really proud. I was with her partly because she refused to vote by absentee ballot. She wanted to be there, even if it meant she was directing someone else to push the buttons for her. And she wanted to spend the rest of the afternoon bragging about it to her friends.

My grandmother wasn’t well-educated. She didn’t approach elections as an intellectual. Her loyalty to the Democratic party wasn’t based in an extensive understanding of economic or social policy. Instead, it was based in her own experiences – of who came through for working class families like hers during the depression (FDR was her gold standard) and who, as far as she was concerned, continued to come through for the little guy over the decades. Grandma was solidly middle class for most of her life, but I don’t think she ever stopped seeing herself as a poor Italian girl with eight siblings from a run-down part of Jersey City.

When I took my her to vote all those years ago, Hillary was barely four years out of the White House – and grandma and I both wanted to see “those other guys” move out too. As luck had it, we lost, and they got a second term. Grandma didn’t live to vote for another president.

Hillary is back, fighting for the White House, and I wish more than almost anything that my grandmother could be here to vote for her. She’d have done it with pride, her “I’m With Her” sticker only slightly less important than her “I voted” sticker.

I also wish I could hear what she’d have to say about Hillary’s opponent – though I have a pretty good idea what it would be.

“This Trump character? Christ. What a shot in the ass.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

15 Things I’d Rather Be Doing This Election Season

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but this election and the way it’s playing out in the media is turning into a shitshow.

So far in this election cycle, we have covered these issues: the size of Donald Trump’s “hands”, the way Carly Fiorina looks, Ben Carson’s pride in almost killing a friend. We’ve seen Ted Cruz cook bacon on a machine gun and audition for the Simpsons. A 15-year-old punked America by showing up as candidate “Deez Nuts” on a national poll.

And that was just during the primaries.

Now that we are in the general election campaign season, the bias in how each candidate is portrayed and the dearth of substantive dialogue on the issues that matter is astounding.

The candidate whose statements Politifact – an independent, Pulizter-prize-winning fact-checker – rated as half-true or better 72% of the time is being hounded by the narrative that she is a liar. The candidate whose statements are rated half-true or better only 30% of the time is seen as the truth teller.

This morning I did a Google news search and these were the top five results: an article with a lead line suggesting that Hillary is a liar for not disclosing her pneumonia diagnosis, followed by four more related to her health, how it affects her candidacy, and the boost it’s giving Trump in the polls.

Noticeably missing were any articles covering immigration, foreign policy, domestic policy, social policy, or any duty or function relevant to the job of being the president of the most powerful country in the world.

I lost my will to soldier on in following this election when I reached the fourth article of today’s search, which led with this: “Donald Trump is on course to become US President as voters’ fears over Hillary Clinton’s health grow, new opinion poll show.”

Maybe things will change as we get closer to election day.

In the meantime, here are 15 things I’d rather be doing than following the election:

  1. Watch a Caillou marathon
  2. Hang out in the bathroom with my child who requires an audience to poop
  3. Stick my hands in room-temperature standing dishwater
  4. Help my 8-year-old with her homework
  5. Initiate small talk with a stranger in an elevator
  6. Comb lice out of hair
  7. Negotiate a fight over which daughter had the privilege of being hit more times during a pillow fight.
  8. Did I mention third grade homework? That needs to be here twice.
  9. Take a road trip with whiny children in the backseat and my traffic-weaving, exit-speeding husband at the steering wheel
  10. Listen to my daughters assault me with reasons why the other one started it
  11. Listen to my husband chew
  12. Endure a full sales pitch from a telemarketer
  13. Talk to a door-to-door Mormon missionary
  14. Drive through a WalMart parking lot at 2 pm on a Saturday
  15. Watch a Caillou marathon, while combing lice out the hair of a pooping child and listening to the other one whine about homework

The sad thing is – I know I won’t be able to resist that primal urge to know what is going on, even if it’s coverage of an election starring a xenophobic, misogynistic, lying, bullying reality TV host with a significant chance of becoming our next president.

 

 

In Search of Los Pingüinos

penguins argentina 2

Photo by Craig Lovell/Corbis

My husband and I have a thing for penguins.  We freaking love them. We love everything about them, from their goofy walk, to their fluffy chicks, to the fact that their poop is pink.

So, when we moved to Argentina in 2002 as part of my grad school program, our biggest travel goal was to visit one of the nesting colonies of Magellanic penguins along its eastern and southern coasts.

baby penguins

I mean, come on. Look at these guys.

We researched all our travel options until we found one that seemed perfect – a three-week bus tour that would take us from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world.

The itinerary was incredible – we would see the Patagonian Desert, the lakes and mountains of Bariloche, Perito Moreno and the surrounding glaciers, and a forest of petrified wood. We would hop in and out of Chile along the way, and cross the Straits of Magellan before reaching Ushuaia. As we traveled back north, we’d stop in Puerto Madryn, to visit Punta Tumbo, one of the world’s largest Magellanic penguin rookeries. It was a dream come true.

But the best laid plans of mice and men do often go awry, and so it was with us and the penguins.

The first sign that our trip might not be the dream we’d hoped it would be came before it even started.

We were at the bus station, waiting at the terminal clearly indicated on our tickets, bags packed and ready to go. The bus never came. Worse, no one working at the bus station knew anything about it ever having been scheduled to come.

But we were 23 and hopeful, so we waited. We waited just long enough to catch the driver from our travel agency frantically searching for us. We had, apparently, gone to the wrong place. He rushed us into his car and drove wildly along a freeway until he pulled up behind a tour bus idling in the shoulder of the road. With traffic speeding past us, he hauled us and our luggage out of the car and onto the bus…

Where we were greeted by 28 pairs of angry, elderly eyes.

Our travel agent had failed to tell us in her rapturous descriptions of our trip that we would be making up the 15th couple of a tour booked by a grandparents’ club from the Buenos Aires provinces – and that the tour was embarking from their town, well outside of the city.

If you ever want to have the full “awkward American” experience, go to any foreign country and walk onto a bus full of elderly people who have been stopped on the side of a road waiting for you. It’s something you’ll never forget.

I would say that the second sign that fate was working against us was the first time our bus broke down, adding an extended visit to a gas station on the edges of the Patagonian Desert to our tour.

But that break down was nothing in comparison what happened some six hours later when the engine caught fire. It was the middle of the night, and we were evacuated to fields of scrub where my husband and I laid bets on who would be the first person to be eaten, Fargo-style.

The third sign we were doomed was when, after being rescued by a replacement bus, we learned that it was haunted. My husband and I called our ghost the Phantom Pooper because it enjoyed regularly clogging the bus toilet – which is something of an inconvenience when you’re traveling for 20-hour stretches in an almost unpopulated desert.

But we were young, and we laughed it all off.

Until the day we learned about the fish restaurant that had been featured on Channel 13.

It came up in a halting conversation with one of the grandmothers. There was this famous fish restaurant in Rawson, just south of Puerto Madryn, she told us, and we would be skipping our stop in Puerto Madryn so we could have lunch there.

Assuming we’d encountered a language barrier, we consulted our tour guide Oswaldo. The penguin trip had been advertised on the brochure – there was no way it could have been canceled and replaced by lunch at a seafood restaurant.

But it had been. The president of the grandparent’s club had seen a news story about this restaurant and as a group they decided that eating there would be more enjoyable than a visit to a major national attraction where you could see penguins and baby seals and maybe even whales.

punta tumbo

This, or lunch at a seafood restaurant. You pick.

My husband and I were crushed. Oswaldo tried to explain it away – there would hardly be any penguins there that time of year, anyway, he said, and this restaurant really was supposed to be very good. Besides, we could take a trip to see another rookery in Ushuaia.

So we bided our time, enjoying and appreciating the stunning, diverse beauty of southern Argentina.

laolao

It is pretty incredible. You should go there. But not with a tour guide named Oswaldo.

glaciar-perito-moreno-barco

Note: These are not my pictures. I can’t find ours. Just like we couldn’t find the penguins.

But when we finally reached Ushuaia, it was all about the penguins.

We arranged the excursion ourselves – a guided boat tour that would sail us around an island inhabited only by penguins.

When we arrived at the dock, we were told that the boat needed repairs. Twenty minutes, they said, and we would be on our way. We waited. And we waited. At four o’clock, the worst was confirmed – the boat was kaput; there would be no tour.

argentina_ushuaia_harbour_penguins_17

Gentoo Penguins of Ushuaia. The ones we didn’t see.

But, Oswaldo assured us after we returned to our hotel, all was not lost. There was one more stop along the way where we could take an excursion to the natural reserve at Cabo Dos Bahias, where we could see all the penguins a person could ever hope to see. He would take care of everything, this time, so there was nothing to worry about.

I think you can see where this is going.

When we reached the town where our last penguin hopes resided, we nagged the hell out of poor Oswaldo. We wanted to see some damn penguins, but it was more than that. It was us against Argentina and we were determined to prevail.

He purchased our tickets for us and said he would order us a cab from a company we could trust.  He promised to meet us in the lobby the next morning, to personally see us off. Everything would be taken care of. There was no way this trip would fall through.

It did. Oswaldo forgot to call the taxi company. He had also forgotten to wake up – until it was just late enough for us to miss the only tour on the only day we would be in a town close enough to visit the Cabo dos Bahia reserve.

It was over. It had been us against Argentina, and Argentina won.

cabo2bahias-1

Cabo Dos Bahias. I should be in this picture.

Later, toward the end of our trip, we visited a small museum of natural history. In this museum, there was an exhibit of penguins. Dead, taxidermied penguins. And as we observed it, one of the grandmothers grasped my arm and exclaimed,

“Look! You finally get to see your penguins after all!”

 

 

 

 

Five Things this 37-Year-Old Mom Is Accepting About Herself

 

My car will always be a disaster

It’s embarrassing but true – my car is a trash can. Or maybe a recycling bin. It’s full of paper – school work dumped out of backpacks, crafts left abandoned under the seats, paper towels from every hurried meal I’ve eaten in the car.

Within my mobile paper mill, you can find hidden every imaginable item associated with little girls. Broken Barbies. Melted crayons. Socks. Stickers, stamps, books, goggles, half-full snack bags, escaped fruit snacks, pipe cleaners, hairbrushes, crowns, doll shoes, roller skates. The last time I emptied the dump that is my car I found a plastic baggie with a pair of underpants in it.

It’s not that I don’t clean my car. I do. Whenever I accidentally take a sip of the days-old tea left in the travel mug I forgot to bring inside, I attack that car like Don Quixote wielding a vacuum hose.

When I’m done, the car looks beautiful and I decide that this time it will stay this way. I will be a clean car person.  I will install bags for trash and bags for toys and crafts and everything else the kids bring into the car. I won’t eat in it anymore. I’ll check it every night to make sure there are no science projects festering in cups and mugs.

I never do. I never will. I am a messy car person. And at least I always know were my travel mugs are.

messycar

This is not actually my car. I swear.

 

I will always be the person who buys her clothes at Target and only enters Nordstrom’s to use the fancy bathroom

As every change of season approaches I decide that this time I will replace all my cheap, stained and tattered clothes with quality items I actually try on before buying. I will have a wardrobe and it will be full of coordinating, timeless pieces. I will select signature colors that enhance my youth and beauty and I will tailor my well-cut jeans so the hems don’t drag on the ground.

I will, in short, outfit myself like the accomplished, confident woman that I am.

And then I go to Target, where the siren call of the clearance racks draws me inexorably into their depths. Twenty minutes later, I will emerge with a cart full of cheap tee shirts and jeans that are three inches too long but were $7.88.

It’s better this way, really. I can’t do anything with food without getting something on myself. Those cheap tee shirts and jeans spend most of their time heaped in a laundry basket, stuck in the no man’s land between the dryer and our dresser drawers. Yoga pants and jeans that don’t keep their shape feel like old friends, and no tailored top could ever replace my Hogwarts tees.

My pooch is my pooch is my pouch

My first daughter gave me a pooch – that little flap of stretched out skin hiding just under the belly button. It shows itself most prominently when my jeans start to slip down or when I’m wearing a seatbelt — just hanging out there like it was invited. A guest that became a permanent resident.

In the time since I had kids, there have been stretches when I was in really good shape – when I thought I might have some chance of reclaiming my flat(ish) stomach. I ran a half marathon. I took classes at the gym with the words turbo and insanity in them. I was fit. And I still had my belly pooch.

This little gut of mine isn’t going anywhere. And I don’t really want it to. My younger daughter revels in its stretchy softness — she says it’s her favorite pillow and rubs it when she’s tired. It’s like a trophy, proof that my body has made people.

Plus, there’s always Spanx.

I will always be the mom who is there, but just barely

I am capable of functioning successfully in the mom world — I manage to get at least one (non-powdered cheese coated) starch, one protein, one fruit/vegetable, and a measure of dairy into my kids’ picky little bellies almost every day. I don’t allow them to watch Sponge Bob every minute of their free time. I am occasionally successful at negotiating moments of temporary peace in their endless hours of bickering.

I get my kids to school on time, I make it to all their events, and I never miss a deadline to register them for the activities they love.  Hell, I’m a vice president of our PTA.

But I’m never the mom who has band-aids in her purse when they fall down, or wipes when they get ice-cream all over themselves at the playground. Any tissues I have are leftover Chick-Fil-A napkins.

I always leave at least one towel behind at the pool and I never remember to bring snacks. I have been known to blow past exists when driving my kids places because I was daydreaming or listening to the news. I almost walked out of a building the other day without one of my kids, and I only have two.

I’m absentminded, and I always will be. My flakiness has been something I’ve lamented about myself for as long as I can remember — and no matter how hard I’ve tried, I’ve never been able to change it.

But I have noticed that my absentmindedness is where my creativity lives. It’s what gives my mind space for the ideas and reflections that bring meaning to my life.  It’s me.

Acceptance is not the same as defeat

I used to see acceptance as another word for defeat. Admitting that there were things about myself I couldn’t change felt like giving up, like admitting I was a failure.

But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized not every flaw we see in ourselves is actually a flaw — that many of the standards or ideals we hold ourselves up to aren’t important, or even valid.

I understand now that letting go of empty standards for what we should be, and accepting what we are, doesn’t mean we stop striving to be a better person. It means we are no longer wasting our energy in a futile attempt to be something we aren’t. It means we are free to be the best version of who we are.

 

On Sacrifice and Donald Trump

trump

“You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”

When I heard Khizr Khan, father of an Army captain killed in combat in Iraq, address Donald Trump with those words, I was struck by how close they come to the heart of the problem Trump presents.

I’ve spent the last few months becoming continually more baffled by the words erupting from Trump’s mouth – and even more by the support they have stirred up among his followers.

My initial impressions of him were that he was a know-nothing narcissist driven entirely by his insatiable ego – and that his black hole of selfishness would be so obvious to Americans that it would cause his political demise.

Instead, he has become a true demagogue, with a terrifying horde of supporters ready not only to mimic and defend his rhetoric but to act on his dangerous demands.

Among the most ardent of his supporters, his selfishness is a badge of courage, a sign that he will be relentless in pursing his agenda. And they are right – he has been and will be single-mindedly devoted to getting what he wants.

But they also believe his agenda includes their well-being and the well-being of those they love.

And this is where they are deceived.

There’s no question that some degree of self-importance and personal ambition are motivating factors in the rise of any leader. An when it comes to the American presidency, it takes a pretty high opinion of yourself to believe you are capable of running the world’s most powerful country.

But what most of our leaders – Democrat and Republican – understand is that their success depends on their ability to sacrifice. They have to be able to give their time without immediate reward. They have to be able to suppress their ego when their character or intelligence or patriotism or citizenship are denigrated or denied. They have to be willing to serve, to actively promote what they perceive is a common good bigger than themselves.

Donald Trump has never sacrificed anything or anyone. He has no ability to sacrifice anything or anyone. He doesn’t hide this. He is proud of it.

His agenda is to serve Donald Trump.  He will be relentless in pursuing it. As long as the needs of his supporters and those they love align with the promotion of his own interests, his agenda will include them. But it will go no further than that.

Donald Trump is dangerous in so many ways. He’s thin-skinned and reckless. He has no control over what he says or does. He may be the least diplomatic person ever to run for office in America. He’s cruel and petty. He’s racist and bigoted. He’s unquestionably dictatorial.

But I think his inability to sacrifice is among the most dangerous of his faults. In fact, I think it is the cause of many of them.

His selfishness is patent. He makes no effort to disguise it. It has brought him this far and could bring him even further. What I ardently hope is that the people who recognize the power of his selfishness come to understand that it will never serve them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The World Is Too Much

angel of greif

I began writing this post with this sentence: “whenever our society experiences an incident of extreme violence or injustice or an epic failure of leadership, I find myself feeling overwhelmed; my thoughts scramble and collide; eventually they collapse.”

I deleted it, then I rewrote it, and then I decided to reframe it. What I wrote about myself is true, but the context is  inaccurate– it implies that the violence and injustice and incompetence I’m describing are aberrations, that they come in short-lived bursts, bookended by a beginning and an end.

What we are experiencing now – the near-constant gun massacres, the violent mob mentality rooted in hate and fueled by rhetoric, the rapes that go unpunished, the racism that goes unchecked, the total failure of our leaders to lead, the feeling of impending crisis – these are not “incidents.” They are our norm.

And the fact that this turmoil is a defining characteristic of the age in which we live only serves to intensify the chaos of my thoughts and feelings. My anger and frustration and grief and despair and fear struggle for pride of place until my mind becomes exhausted and defeated; stymied by its own excess of activity.

So as much as I wish I could come up with something balanced and meaningful, or at least coherent, to say about Orlando, or gun access reform, or racism, or Republicans, or the fact that Donald Trump’s face keeps popping up in my nightmares, I can’t.

I just can’t. The world is too much.

All I can do is grasp onto the tiny moments, and listen to the whispers of what is good in our lives.

Like a conversation with my five-year-old, in which she told me that she was BORN to make people laugh, and the pride I feel in knowing that she believes her mission in life is to bring others joy.

Or the “I love you more” argument I have every night with my 8-year-old, and the powerful gratitude —  the sense of awe — I feel that despite my mistakes and imperfections as a parent my daughter loves me as fiercely as I love her.

These moments aren’t much. They come in short-lived bursts, bookended by a beginning and an end. But they are everything. They have to be.

 

Another Day, Another Shooting


I didn’t hear about the shooting in Orlando until late Sunday evening. I’d spent the day celebrating my daughter’s birthday with our friends and family. It was a special day; a good day. 

So the news, when I finally saw it, hit me like ice down the back of my shirt. It was a rapid return to reality. 

I was shocked, but not surprised. Mass shootings in America aren’t surprising anymore. The shock we feel is evidence of our humanity: of our compassion and of our fear. We are struck, forcibly, by the pain of the loss of so many lives, and by the reminder of our own vulnerability. We are both heartbroken and afraid. 

But we aren’t surprised — or at least, we shouldn’t be. Massacres by men with guns are nothing new. Anyone who can still view a mass shooting as something extraordinary, as an isolated tragedy, is deluding themselves. We have become a society in which we can expect to have to conjure up “our thoughts and prayers for the victims and their families” again and again and again. 

Mass shootings are not surprising, and we should be mad as hell about that. We should be mad as hell that nothing is changing. We should be mad as hell that political posturing and pissing contests have taken over the national stage,  shoving any real efforts to make common sense changes into a corner sideshow. 

We should be mad as hell that every time a shooting occurs we shout “enough!” at the top of our voices and it still doesn’t make a difference. That we still don’t know when enough really will be enough — it wasn’t enough when a group of schoolchildren were killed, and it wasn’t enough when a group of men and women praying in church were killed.

I’m mad about all these things, but mostly I’m mad — furious, really– at how impotent I feel. I’m mad that I can’t protect my children, that I can’t expect them to be safe at school, or at the mall, or at church, or in a movie theater. And I’m mad that I can’t conjure up hope of anything changing for the better along with my thoughts and prayers. 

Those thoughts and prayers feel pitiful in comparison with the magnitude of what happened in Orlando and is happening everywhere in our country. But right now they, along with my grief and my anger, are with those whose lives were taken, their families, and the LGBTQ community who, even in this so-called liberal society, continue to be marginalized and victimized.