Feminist Rising

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My husband, Mac tells a story about his late father, a tough guy raised during the post-Depression era on the Lower East Side of Manhattan that ends with his dad referring to women as “broads.”

I unfortunately never had the chance to meet my father-in-law, but from what I gather such terms of endearment about the opposite sex were part of his everyday vocabulary.

Now anytime Mac’s sister or mom were privy to one of these tales, they chuckled but shook their heads. And whenever my husband tried to get away with using broad or even so much as said “girl” when referring to an adult female, they made sure promptly to correct him.

Not one to get my knickers in a knot about the occasional cat call or reference from a stranger as sweetie or hon, I couldn’t understood their issue. Why so sensitive? What’s the harm in benign synonyms or generational slang? Mac’s intention wasn’t to make me or his female relatives feel objectified, demeaned or less than.

My mother-in-law and sister-in-law would argue in favor of selective word choice. Had I pushed back, I’m pretty sure they would remind me words are powerful; slang and synonyms perpetuate the idea that women are subordinate to men. They’d then likely ask, “Aren’t you a feminist?”

My likely response? “Meh.”

A feminist, according to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary is one who supports feminism or “the belief that women and men should have equal rights and opportunities.”

Whenever I hear feminist, my mind is quick to gloss over the definition and hone in on a visceral image of a man-hating, braless lady in bell bottoms with unshaved pits marching in protest. For me, associating with this label feels passé and a wee embarrassing mostly because as a Generation Xer, I’ve spent a lifetime reaping the benefits of rights and opportunities. By 21st century standards, feminist ideals seem like bygone liberal gibberish that only widen any existing divide between women and men.

Then I woke up on November 9, 2016; my progressive, purple haze engulfed by a thick, hazardous fog in a land where those who brag about taking advantage of woman and dismiss sexual assault as boy talk are rewarded, where no doesn’t necessarily mean no, abortions are potential grounds for punishment, the notion of having it all is a men’s only club, equal pay in the workplace is not a priority, skinny women with pretty faces and big tits define feminine worth and where an exceptionally qualified woman got passed over for a job by a man with no related experience.

And I was horrified.

In a blink, the liberties I’d taken for granted were in jeopardy. As I trudged through the holiday season grappling with this alternative reality, I thought about those who poured decades of themselves into advocating for women’s voting, health, reproductive, education and gender equality rights in the workplace.

A sense of responsibility to our history and for future generations began to stoke the embers that lay tucked between ambivalence and pride, labels and perception. By the time New Year’s Eve rolled in, I was done with setting frivolous resolutions. Primed for a revolution, a feminist was rising.

After some reading and much Googling, I’ve learned that how one interprets or brands feminism varies and who feels included in the movement is still scrutinized. My understanding is simple and grounded in intersectionality and humanism. As then First Lady Hillary Clinton said in 1995, “Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.”

My personal goals are also simple; take action in my community and be mindful of words.

In order to stand up for women’s rights, one first needs to believe she has the right to do so. During the final weeks of 2016, I had the privilege of supporting those on the road to empowerment by providing childcare at a local domestic abuse shelter and outreach program. I look forward to doing my small part to help these families as they find their voice.

I will also do my best to pay attention to my own voice as well as those closest to me.

On a New Year’s Day hike with Mac and the boys, Bubbe navigated us over rocks, through mud and moss. When we came to a clearing, he challenged me to a race. “C’mon Mom,” he said with a smirk, “Be a man.”

A few months ago, I would have laughed off his comment. Like his father and grandfather, I know my son’s intent wasn’t to make me feel inferior. But this time, I took a page out of his grandmother and aunt’s book and kindly corrected him. As we journey through the fog, it won’t be enough for the feminist in me to rise; I need to be the woman who raises my sons to be one too.

My Father’s Gift

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When my father called to tell me he was having major surgery to remove a malignant mass from his chest, I didn’t hesitate to buy a plane ticket.

“The doctors have to break open my rib cage to get the whole thing out. Safest way to keep it from spreading,” he explained.

“How long’s the recovery?” I asked.

“Six weeks.”

“I want to come down and see you.”

“Okay.” His voice cracked through the line. Then my father, who under reacts in times of crisis and barely smiles for a camera began to cry.

I did my best to console his fears and hold back tears. I failed. We exchanged I love yous and hung up the phone.

Twelve years ago, had someone told me I would be speaking to my father let alone making time to be by his bedside, I would have thought they were nuts.

Divorced from my mother when I was three, my parents managed feelings about their contentious relationship and bitter divorce by throwing me in the middle even long after each remarried and had new families of their own. On our scheduled visits, which lasted well into high school, I figured my father to be a stubborn workaholic. Time at his house was spent getting to know my step-mother. In between those visits, my mother shared more disgust for and information about her ex-husband than a daughter needed to know. As such, I can’t remember a single birthday or holiday spent with my dad. I assumed he was too busy or lived too far away; but it’s likely he was never extended an invitation.

Whether my parent’s choices were driven by self-interest, youthful inexperience or something more, I’ll never know. At that moment in their lives, healthy co-parenting was not an option. To add to the dysfunction was the abuse I simultaneously experienced at the hands of my step-father.

By age 17, my entire being was a giant, rage infested mess masked by sarcasm, perfectionism and dramatic flair. Needing to simplify the noise to ensure survival, I thrust myself into the middle of my parent’s fight de jour over college selection and payment and cut ties with my father.

But skeletons and wounds weigh on one’s spirit. Fifteen years later, I was knee deep in therapy trying to make sense of our relationship. My therapist recommended I write my dad a letter. I was to consider it a cathartic exercise or an attempt to communicate. Sending was optional.

With the pressure off, I put everything out there; the anger and hurt, grievances and resentment, his emotional distance, my abusive childhood and our lengthy estrangement.

Afterward, I thought about my unborn son and what I might say if he one day asked, “Who’s my grandfather?”

Then I dug up my father’s address and dropped the letter in the mail.

He wasted little time. What followed was a blur of email exchanges followed by a planned call. I barely said hello when the words came out.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “My point of view doesn’t matter. You’re the child. I’m the parent and I take full responsibility for everything that’s happened.”

During a time when I was trying to piece together my self-worth, build a meaningful relationship with my spouse and prepare for motherhood, my father’s words were the light in my darkness and the greatest gift.

Whoever my father was or how I perceived him to be when I was young no longer mattered. His ability to take ownership without caveat or blame and express himself with vulnerability and honesty showed me who he was at present. I knew the least I could do was begin to forgive the man and let him in.

A dozen years travel fast. While I’m grateful for this second chance, it’s not nearly enough. Those tears shed over his operation were not about any cancer, but my fear of losing a father I’ve only recently learned to love.

Thankfully, he’s made a full recovery. The doctors cut out the stage one growth and replaced it with a 12 inch scar. We can only hope health and time are on his side.

During our visit, my dad was feeling energized so we took a walk around the neighborhood; no grandkids, spouses or pets. Just us. We kibitzed about his upcoming retirement, the politics of the day and puppies. Being able to experience such a simple pleasure felt, as he likes to say whenever presented with good eats, “pretty damn good.”

Occasional strolls and weekly phone conversations won’t replace the birthday parties missed, lost Christmas Eves or the father-daughter wedding dance we never had, but it gives me great comfort knowing we will mourn those losses and create new memories – together.

RED’S WRAP SAID WHAT?…It’s More Than a Safety Pin

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Although I like to vary guest posts, Jan Wilberg’s blog, Red’s Wrap hit home for me again. Although my blog avoids politics like the plague, this time I’m making an exception.

I respect the office of the presidency. I respect our democratic process. I know and cherish the story of how the United States came to be. I have re-enacted the Revolutionary War. I have taught children about the 13 colonies, branches of government, our constitution and The Bill of Rights. I have voted in elections for 2 decades. I am a proud American.

I am also a woman. I am a mother raising Jewish children. I am a survivor. And I am a friend to enough who are scared of being hurt in the name of our future president.

Yes, I know. Mr. Trump went on television and told supporters who are discriminating against minorities to “Stop it.” I also heard him say during the interview he “was surprised to hear” about the incidents and believed they were “built up by the press.” Minimizing attacks and blaming journalists only makes me question more and trust less.

As a New Yorker who’s watched her fair share of reality television, I’m used to Mr. Trump’s word dance. So I’m watching the actions. Right now, what I see are ideologues, alt-right white nationalists and alleged anti-Semites being appointed to positions of power.

While I won’t pass judgement on the people in my life who are excited about his presidency, I refuse to shut my mouth or blindly accept that if I give Mr. Trump a chance everything will turn out fine for all Americans.

So I will continue to wear my safety pin. Not to make myself feel better, but like Jan explains in her piece, to remind myself of what I need to do every day to help my children, loved ones and neighbors.

It’s easier for me to snuggle up in my bubble, play it safe and hope for the best. To be honest, I feel uncomfortable even writing these words. But I’ve come to learn discomfort is not only good; sometimes it’s necessary.

Going forward, I will use my voice. I will march for human rights. I will find time to help. I will do my part to preserve our democracy and uphold the values upon which our country was founded. Because as an American, I am free to do so.

Red's Wrap

I’m not an ally. I’m a fellow citizen. It’s not a safety pin. It’s something bigger than that.

The “Dear White People” messages that tell me that my pledge to stand up for American values is flimsy and theatrical are condescending and unkind. Those scoldings are dripping with assumption and disdain about my motivation as an American citizen.

Oh, you’re going to wear a safety pin. Aren’t you precious? 

Don’t you understand how meaningless that is? It’s just something to soothe your white conscience.

As an older feminist, I finally learned not to discount support coming from men. Sometimes, I have been in disbelief that a man actually, genuinely, shared the view that men and women are equal, and more disbelieving when that man actually showed through his actions – small and large – that the belief was real. You don’t find men who are feminists on every street corner…

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Negative Norton And My Family’s Road To A Growth Mindset

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Meet Negative Norton.

Nort was born from a doodle sketched on our CrossFit gym’s white board by Coach Will who happens to be part Physical Education teacher, part aspiring Games Athlete and part Tarzan upon hearing the 9:30am crew kvetch about the workout of the day.

While the teaching coach warmed up the class, Will moseyed over to the board, picked up an Expo marker and outlined a chair frame.

“Looks like a rocking chair,” I said.

“It does? Good.” He addressed the group. “I’m hearing a lot of complaining this morning. Complaining is like a rocking chair; gives you something to do and gets you nowhere. There’s 2 workouts. Time to get ‘em done.”

Schooled by young Tarzan, we shut our middle-aged mouths and carried on. But Will’s rocking chair analogy stuck. I took a picture of his masterpiece and brought it home.

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Negative fumes fueled by complaints, self-doubt, whining, tantrums and profanity pollute my house. And the smog is thickening.

Bubbe often works himself up into a frenzy of I can’t, I’m stupid and There’s nothing I can do I’m just a negative person when challenged by school, home or relationship expectations.

Skootch, who prefers to grin through an existence void of conflict will lash out as a first line of defense when work gets hard or he feels wronged. While a 7 year-old hollering, “Shut the hell off you idiot!” can be comical, it doesn’t benefit anyone.

Mac who prefers to laugh and embrace a positive outlook still beats himself up when he makes a mistake.

I’m far from a stellar role model. Negativity was thrown at me as a child. Mix that with an upbringing tainted by mental illness and trauma and it’s no wonder self-deprecation and snark come easier than silver linings. While committed to breaking the cycle, chasing my children shouting “Rocking Chair” doesn’t encourage self-awareness or offer strategies to promote positive thinking.

Dr. Carol Dweck, author and developmental, social and personality psychologist coined the phrase growth mindset or “the belief you can develop your abilities.” With the understanding that the brain is a muscle we can train and in the spirit of Dr. Dweck’s work, I crafted Negative Norton.

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Each time any one of us exhibits the above behaviors, we must feed Norton a penny. I kept the rate to one cent to avoid going broke and for logistical ease, emptied the pennies from our piggy banks in advance and stored them next to our new house guest.

The reward is two-fold.

Bubbe came up with a tangible one. He suggested if Nort eats less than 20 pennies in the first week, our family would do something fun together. If our negative behavior declined over time, we would challenge ourselves by reducing the penny cap.

Mac loved the idea of Negative Norton but was skeptical. “How do we make it foolproof?”

“We can’t,” I said. But I think the visual and tactile element combined with a consequence and reward will trigger us to stop and think. Self-awareness is the intangible benefit and the first step to teaching the boys their mindset makes the difference.”

Within 90 minutes of Negative Norton’s activation, we fed him 4 times. Our family has been feeding Nort for 5 days now. There are 15 pennies in the jar. On average, he scarfs down 2 coins a day.

Mac and I like having Negative Norton around. The boys want him to move out.

Skootch equates “pennying up” with getting in trouble. “My friends don’t have a Negative Norton. Everybody has tantrums. Bad idea.” He wants Nort to smile and get the money anytime we do something good instead. He’s onto something. Still, our current system is making an impact. “I miss saying bad words,” he recently said.

Negative Norton has been hardest on Bubbe who’s realizing how much he complains. “I need to get them out so I can focus,” he told me. When I suggested positive self-talk, he pretended not to hear me and continued on. “Nope. Useless. Everything I say is negative.” But there’s hope. After making a nice golf putt, Bubbe told Mac, “Dad, I visualized the hole and believed in myself.”

Negative Norton will take up residence on our coffee table for now. There will always be pennies in his jar. The key is to feed him less.

More self-aware, our family is ready for phase two: strategy application. Time to get cracking on Nort’s roommate; smiling, penny loving Positive Pete.

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RED’S WRAP SAID WHAT?…The Lasting Memory of Exclusion

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If you’ve never been the Queen Bee or held court in the hive
If you’ve ever ached alongside a child or grown friend who felt the sting of exclusion
If you’re climbing a social ladder or building one for your children

Then please read this post by Red’s Wrap.

Red's Wrap

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The sting is at once startling and searing.

At first, you think. this isn’t what’s happening. You’re misinterpreting what you see. And then it hits you. You’re being purposely excluded. Those girls  are crossing the street to avoid you. You think you’re imagining something but you know you’re not. It’s real.

It happened to me in high school. When I went to California for a two week visit, I had a best friend, the same best friend I’d had for years. When I came home, she had left me. She said I was ‘different’ but never explained what that meant. I puzzled over this and thought it might be true. The trip was the first time I’d flown anywhere and I went by myself, hunched in the window seat, face up against the glass the entire way. I’d never seen things from that high up. In L.A, my sister handed me the keys to her…

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Picture Perfect Moments

The mother trailed behind her two girls down the lighthouse pier to the end where the bay empties into the Atlantic. Along the way, she watched her young daughters snap picture after picture on their smart phones. It didn’t take long for her to catch up. “You don’t have to take a picture of everything,” she declared. “Try and enjoy the moment.”

Mac, who was helping our boys and me collect rocks from the jetty below, heard the parent’s battle cry. He popped up from his hard labor, flashed a knowing grin and cheered, “Yes! Listen to your mother!”

The mom gave a half turn and returned the smirk. I couldn’t tell if she felt validated or violated. But as they moseyed away, I did hear her repeat the words – a little louder the second time.

I told Mac to mind his business, but couldn’t resist a response. “And here I thought I was the only one.”

Put down the phone flashes through my consciousness anytime I see it being used to record our every waking event. I think it to strangers and say it to our children and myself.

The televised parade of athletes during the Olympics’ opening ceremony, a tradition I’ve enjoyed since I was a girl seemed stained this year when several nations, in an effort to memorialize their experience, marched into the stadium accompanied by a blur of glowing screens held as high as the country’s flag.

This summer, family members designated Bubbe, “Spielberg”. He borrowed a defunct phone with a working camera to document a trip he took out west with his grandparents. It was the first time he had his hands on a device dubbed as his own and boy, did he go to town. Although it was great to see my son tap into the creative spirit, the child had a hard time letting go so much so that my in-laws sent me videos of him shooting videos.

I become engrossed with moment capturing too. Smart phones make the process sexy, easy and instant. Thanks to modern technology, I have a bulging photo folder of every cheeky smile, wave jump and sand marble run of our annual beach vacation since Bubbe and Skootch were small.

But there’s something satisfying about taking it all in. When swiping through the most flattering filter becomes a nuisance, I shut down the phone and keep my fingers crossed I’ll be able to recall the drippy ice cream faces, bike rides and hole-in-ones after the boys are grown.

I consider such restraint a generational skill. Unlike my children and the girls on the pier, their mom and I grew up in a low tech world; cameras had film, movie equipment was bulky, quality was a risk and we had to wait weeks to see the results. Even well into adulthood, camera viewfinders were small. We had no choice but to absorb the sights, sounds and smells; breathe, wonder and have the experience. And decades later, it’s those undocumented memories I return to when it’s quiet.

Had I stored those memories on the cloud, would I still consider them cherished moments?

If Mac had his choice, our family would implement a no picture taking policy. I prefer a balanced approach. We’ll continue to ban Bubbe and Skootch from tablets and phones while on vacation. If Spielberg gets inspired, he can borrow my camera. And I’ll still quick draw the iPhone when I get inspired by a pretty setting, Mac’s Dangerfield-esque antics and our growing sons.

At the same time, I’ll encourage the boys to join the parade, follow the drifting clouds as they take shape in the summer’s breeze and teach them that the picture perfect moments are not the ones they swipe click, caption and share; but the ones only they can see.

No Peaking Allowed

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The text read, Come to room 307.

I adjusted my Spanx, grabbed the overnight bag and made my way up from the lobby. Behind the door stood two of my senior year gal pals, Shazzie and Pumpkin.

Although introduced in seventh grade and kindergarten, respectively my adult relationship with these ladies had fizzled to comments, likes and emojis. No matter. There was an easy joy about being together again.

We moved through pleasantries and tossed out filters. First order of business: pre-25th high school reunion cocktails. After a few sips, we got reunion ready while discussing work, shoes, travel, preferred products for color treated hair and of course, raising kids.

 “When my son turned three,” Shazzie said, “I told a friend, this boy can’t get more cuddly, loveable, or sweet. He’s peaked. Now, every year on his birthday she calls me and asks, is it true he peaked at three?”

“Well?” I said.

Shazzie pulled out her phone and played the recent I love you, Mom message her hoarse voiced tween left when a sleep away camp counselor returned his phone during a field trip.  “Not yet,” she replied.

We sipped some more, snapped selfies sporting party outfits and solo cups, and made our way to the main floor. I slapped on my name tag and entered the windowless, dim, pint-sized banquet hall. Waiting was a small gathering of some 125 classmates from my rural town. It was as if my mom had dropped me off at the 8th grade dinner dance equip with a cash bar.

And I wondered, had I peaked? Had any one of us peaked?

Determined to find out, I shimmied past the DJ and hot buffet, quickly refilled my cup and began to flutter about the room.

I ran into my old locker neighbor, intrigued by the cross-country mountain biking adventures he shares with his wife, concurred with my former art class tablemate who opened a restaurant after rediscovering his creativity through cooking, and was happy for the classmates who came out, found love and live life open and proud.

I chatted with my elementary school bus buddy who embraced her small town roots, adores fur babies and helps to raise her nephews, admired the crew huddled around a table who, despite time and distance sustained their decades long friendship, told Pumpkin, a working mother who nurtured her artistic talents and built an impressive career in advertising, a girl I envied as a child how much I respected her, and nestled up next to my high school crush; a sweet gentleman close to retiring from a career in law enforcement who looks forward to tending his Christmas Tree farm.

Many of my classmates married; most are raising children, some are nurturing sick parents. They have been graced with experience lines and silver hairs but the essence of who they were as children lives on.

And not one of them has peaked; not the jocks, pretty chicks, worker bees, artsy rebels, drama queens or goodie two shoes. Each seemed content with who they became; aware there’s more growth to be had.

And I, who was remembered for big hair, oversized sweaters and an even larger opinion felt inspired by my first friends.

When the clock struck midnight, the lone security guard directed us to the hotel’s neighboring bar, ushering me back to the 21st century. I thought about my own tween who was due back from sleep away camp the following week and a concerned letter he wrote about his lovie. Please sew Baby Lamb when I get home. I don’t like when he loses stuffing.

Middle school is on the horizon for my boy and so begins the battle of growing up. I can already feel his struggle; the image, fitting in, friendships, the wrestle with self and his place in the world.

I’ll continue to offer the mother to son advice he has come to hear ad nauseum: follow your passion, stay kind, always be yourself.

But from now on I’ll be sure to add, Hang tight. You’ll make it through. Just remember, no peaking allowed.

HS Reunion picture