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Wednesday, July 18, 2012


The other day, for the first time in a long, long while, I decided to sit outside. There wasn't anything I particularly needed to do, the baby was asleep, and for once I wasn't feeling that ever-present anxiety, the need to do something, a feeling that plagued me all throughout college.

It was a nice day, probably around 85 degrees, which is too hot for my furnace of a husband, but perfect for me. There was a nice breeze, the trees were whispering, and for once I didn't care what they thought of me. I sat on the swing sitting out on the patio, stared up at the clouds, and out at the freshly-watered grass of the yard. And I took my shoes off.

It's a simple thing, but it got me thinking about how, when I was a kid, I never wore shoes outside. I used to play in the mud, making 'soup' in rain puddles with wild onions, pebbles and flower petals. I captured worms, and frogs, and bugs, and none of it was 'gross,' none of it was 'dirty.' It just was. I used to feel so comfortable outside, just exploring the yard and woods out back for hours, pretending I was an Indian. Back then I actually knew what the plants were called. I knew the names of the constellations.

All kids start off that way. To them, nothing is 'dirty,' nothing is 'wrong.' They don't understand those concepts until older, more 'mature' adults instruct them in these things. We slather them in soap and sanitizer, because we know how disgusting it is out there, in the real world.

I know that it's been proven that excessive use of sanitizer actually makes kids more sick, because they don't get exposed to all the germs and such that are out there. They aren't able to build strong immune systems, and when something big hits, it's that much worse. Because of that, I know many parents are attempting to move away from that over-protective instinct to keep the kids 'clean.' But I think there are a few more areas in which we try to sanitize the world, which have similar repercussions.

It's come to my attention that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been rewritten to take out all uses of 'the n-word,' as well as the word 'injun.' This may be old news--I know I heard about it for the first time quite a while ago--but it wasn't until now that I was able to really understand and communicate why it bothers me so much.

Though I'm sure that those responsible and involved with the project had 'good intentions,' (and we all know what they say about good intentions), I don't think they could have possibly understood the book, Twain's intentions, or the repercussions for rewriting the work.

Ever heard the word 'satire?' That's what Twain's book was supposed to be. A satire, which condemns racism. Huck Finn is a book many schools at least used to require kids to read in English class, along with anti-racism classics like To Kill A Mockingbird, and The Heart of Darkness. It's a good book for teaching colloquialism and other literary devices, but taking out 'the n-word' effectively destroys Twain's entire intent for the work, it obscures the entire message he was trying to make, the theme--another, very important literary device--he was trying to convey.

I'm not trying to say that we should allow kids, or anyone for that matter, to use 'the n-word.' But taking it out of the book eliminates a learning opportunity. They can't learn about it, they can't ask 'what is this word, and why is it wrong?' , which opens the door for broader discussion about racism in general.

It seems like all over the world, there is this fear of asking questions when it comes to racial issues. It's the boogeyman in the closet, the devil himself, and if you speak his name he'll come to bite you in the ass. But what people don't realize is that this fear actually helps propagate racism.

I read an article a couple months ago about a boy in Britain whose mother was asked by the school sign a slip declaring him a racist for asking another boy if his skin was brown because he was from Africa. The boy was seven.

Why does this happen? Because we are afraid to address the issue of race. We're afraid to even mention it. Maybe people think that eliminating the 'n-word,' and taking other such steps, will help eliminate racism. It's a nice sentiment, but it won't work. It's too small of a goal, and it doesn't address the root of the problem. If you go to the doctor and he diagnoses you with cancer, you want him do eliminate the cancer--not prescribe you some painkillers and send you on your way. Vicodin might address one of the symptoms, but if the cause goes untreated, after a while the Vicodin won't be enough, and you'll die.

I think most people would agree that the root of racism lies in fear and ignorance. We are afraid of the 'other,' afraid of anything different. That's why we're so obsessed with zombies, and vampires, and werewolves. they're easy to fear, and it's guilt-free; they're obviously monsters, so it's okay to fear and hate them. But this innate fear of anything 'different' is why kids are made fun of so much in school, it's why people try so hard to 'fit in' in school, at work, or wherever. And it's why people exhibit racist behavior. They see something different, something they don't understand--and because they are unable or unwilling to ask questions, they either resort to hate and violence, or they try to change the 'other' to be more like them.

This is what happened in the British colonies in India and Africa. This is what is happening today, with the U.S. trying to force other countries to adapt the same political system. It's easier to look at something 'different' and say 'well, my way is better' than to say 'huh, I wonder if there's something I could learn from this.' People never want to learn about anything that they fear. Look at the people who ban Harry Potter. I've personally spoken to many people who 'hate' Harry Potter and think it's 'evil,' including my own parents. But many of them have never even read the books. They make assumptions without ever even trying to learn about the subject. If they did, they would know that Harry Potter is much like Superman. He as born with amazing abilities, and he uses them to fight evil. Just because we call if magic rather than alien technology doesn't make it any different. 

The only way to combat this fear, this ignorance, is by learning--learning about other cultures, other people, other customs, religions and beliefs. That is the only way to fight racism. But if we keep trying to 'sanitize' our world, if we keep trying to keep our children 'clean,' when they are eventually exposed to something different, they won't know how to deal with it. If we keep trying to alleviate the 'symptoms' of racism, like changing the language in a book, we will be ignoring the cause of the problem. If kids can't ask questions, they can't learn. And they won't even know to ask unless they're presented with a reason to do so.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


So, has anyone else noticed that people treat you completely different when you're lugging around a baby? I don't know if it's because they feel sorry for me, or they're trying to set a good example, or if Olivia's charm attack is super-effective vs. every person-type--but EVERY time I go to the store, or wherever, and she's with me, everyone smiles, holds doors for me, offers to help me carry things. Like, complete strangers.

And when Olivia isn't around? Blank stares, if they notice my existence at all. Maybe my college-wear and hastily applied mascara mark me out as a 'punk kid,' or something, but the transformation when she's around is amazing. It's like a bad commercial. "Need someone to be nice to you? Just add baby, for instantaneous results!"

I'm not complaining, of course. I could really care less how the People of Wal-Mart look at me--it's just an observation. The only alternative to the blank stares and angry scowls, if she's not with me, is that I always get asked where stuff is. It's like no matter where I go, I'm automatically an employee. I'm pretty sure I deserve some kind of compensation for all the work I do when I go shopping. It doesn't matter what I'm wearing--once, I was in Sears, and I was wearing an old pair of ill-fitting shorts (as I was pregnant at the time), a ratty t-shirt, some flip flops, and no make-up. I looked like white trash, not an employee for a major retail chain. But I kid you not, people still gave me confused looks when I assured them that I did not work there. Like they thought I was lying, or something. "Maybe if we look at her funny, she'll show us where the spatulas are."

Anyway, if it weren't so inconvenient to carry her around everywhere, I'd definitely do it. Not for the smiles--screw that. I just like it when people offer to do everything for me like I'm an invalid or something. I mean, don't we all?

Monday, April 30, 2012


In case it's unclear from the title, this post will probably be gross. Actually, it's definitely gross. Funny, too, but if you don't like zits, this is probably not the post for you. It's also fairly long. Don't say I didn't warn you ;)

I have an obsession; an obsession with zits.

                I don’t know what it is, but ever since I popped my very first zit, I’ve been hooked. As soon as I’d see one of those little red bumps, I’d poke it, prod it, rub it in anticipation for the time it was ready to pop. Waiting for that little white head was like waiting for water to boil; it was never done fast enough.

                It’s not that I like zits; quite the opposite. I’ve done everything imaginable save limiting my chocolate intake to combat zits. My acne was never nearly as bad as most hormone-saturated teens’, whose faces sometimes looked like warzones, deep red craters from old, popped zits filling the space between the new ones, sprouting from the skin like bubbles in a cauldron ready to burst at the slightest touch. But my vanity, or perhaps my perfectionist tendencies, would not tolerate a single blemish.

                So in seventh grade, when the zits’ invasion of my face and shoulders threatened to end in the obliteration of what little self-esteem I had, I begged my step-mother to take me to the dermatologist, who proscribed a special facial wipe and some type of cream.

                The results were catastrophic.

                 We picked up the prescription on the way home, and I used both immediately. I absolutely loved the burning sensation as I purged the impurities from my skin; I imagined little germs fleeing in panic, screaming “Noooooo!!!” in tiny little voices, cartoonish little microbes with scruffy little beards shouting “The End has come! Head for the hills!!” as I cackled like a mad god.

                The next day, however, my skin paid me back for the abuse. I woke to find that my face had found something in common with cooked lobster. A deep red stain spread across my entire left cheek and up toward my forehead. The right side was only slightly better, blotches in the same dark crimson like blood spatter crawling down my cheek and neck.

                I put it to my parents that there was no way in hell I was going to school like that; they disagreed, with the straightest, most serious faces I’d ever seen them use, and gave me a tube of moisturizer to soothe my skin, which at this point felt like a nuclear test site.

                Though I have always been at war with my hair, forcing it into a tight ponytail every morning, that day we formed a truce. I left it down to at least partially cover my face, and the kids at school were either polite enough or horrified enough not to mention it.

                Throughout the day I kept the tube of lotion on me at all times, re-applying almost every five minutes, as the burning sensation got worse and worse. The lotion was not enough to save the top few layers of my skin, which sloughed off in little pieces, preventing anymore lotion from sinking in. So when I got home my step-mom gave me a new bottle of some really expensive uber-hyper-super lotion from Mary Kay, which she usually sold to really old women whose skin had all died years ago and still hadn’t gotten the hint. But by this point, my vanity would be a long time recovering, and I didn’t care who it was intended for—my skin was as dry and cracked as the surface of Mars, and this new lotion felt like water.

                It started working almost immediately, and I came to a wonderful and terrible realization: if this lotion could keep my skin from dying and turning that awful red, I could keep using the acne wipes and cream as much as I wanted.
                Though I did eventually stop using them, my skin was probably irreversibly damaged; I still have to use the same lotion twice a day to keep my face from drying out. But I still pop my zits. I know they say not to, that messing with them only makes it worse, and perhaps that’s true. I just can’t help it. Not popping a zit is literally about as possible for me as not breathing.

                I do have a small amount of self-control. If I didn’t I would probably have multiple restraining orders out on me. I can keep from attempting to pop other people’s zits, but only at the expense of my attention. Anyone with a zit or two on their face can count on the fact that I am giving them only about two percent of my attention. The rest will be split between pretending I am not looking at their zits and self-restraint.

                The biggest zit I’ve ever seen belonged to a boy I knew in the seventh grade. It had taken up residence at the tip of his nose, and proceeded to grow to epic proportions. He refused to pop it, and I’m not sure I blame him—by the end of the year, we might have had a second Pompeii on our hands. I don’t know whether he ever popped it or not, because we moved on to high school, which was a much bigger place, and I never saw him again. But, though I knew him for years before it appeared, when I look back all I can see is his zit.

                Then there was the man I sat beside at my husband’s graduation from basic training. He didn’t have any particularly large zits, but he had a lot of them—every pore of his nose, in fact, was a zit. But they weren’t blackheads, which is what you usually see on the nose. They weren’t even whiteheads, because they didn’t have heads—there was so much pus it oozed out of his skin like icing from a tube. Thanks to him, I have almost no memory of the graduation ceremony whatsoever; it was the first time I’d ever seen something so disgustingly fascinating.

                Though most people think all zits look the same, the possibilities go beyond just ‘blackhead’ and ‘whitehead;’ it all comes down to how they pop. Blackheads usually all come out the same, but with whiteheads, the possibilities are almost endless. Sometimes the pus comes out in thin little streamers, like snakes. Sometimes it all comes out in one big explosion, leaving a deep red hole in the skin like a crater. Sometimes there’s a hardened chunk blocking the rest, which may even have to be pulled out with tweezers, and then the rest pours out like water. Then there’s the color; sometimes it’s white, sometimes yellow, green, or even black. Sometimes they bleed after they pop, or expel some kind of clear liquid. 

                There are even different techniques required to pop different zits. Only about fifty percent will pop with the most common method, pinching it between two fingers. Some zits have too large a surface area to ever form a head—the pus never gets close enough to the surface to be squeezed out. For these, I’ve found a pin usually works.

                But the best tool for popping zits is what my husband and I have creatively called the “zit-getter.” The zit-getter is probably one of the best inventions in history, right under air-conditioning and Eggo waffles. It’s a fairly simple design; a metal rod about three inches long with metal loops at both ends, one flattened and slightly larger than the other. The loop goes around the circumference of the zit, and all you have to do is press down. It hurts much less than pinching with the fingers, and works much better on deep blackheads.

                My husband was the one to introduce me to the zit-getter. When I first met him, l liked him well enough, but when I first met his back, I knew we were meant to be. The entirety of his posterior was a minefield of hate-filled pustules no one with any desire for self-preservation would want to look at funny. Yet my worst fantasy involves him, enough chloroform for a few hours, and the zit-getter. 

                I guess I take the whole marry-a-guy-with-problems-in-the-hope-that-you-can-fix-them thing to a whole new level. Obviously, I have issues. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012


Ever since I got married, I've felt like a yo-yo, bouncing back and forth between my new family and the old. I'm a people-pleaser, and there are now twice the number to please-though some are much easier than others.

Now, having a baby, it's both better and worse. There's even more of an obligation to spend time with both sides, but she also keeps me grounded. Growing up is difficult, especially when your parents don't really see you as an adult. I don't think you can ever blame them for it--after all, 18 years is a long time to set your state of mind--but it's never easy to think of yourself as a grown-up when you're not treated that way. Having Olivia, though, has given me the courage to stand up for myself, at least mentally.

But sometimes, I still wish I could get away with being selfish--it would be nice to just get away, move somewhere far away from everyone and everything, where my only responsibility would be to my daughter and my husband. Things would be simpler, in a a lot of ways.

But family is family, and no matter how frustrating they can be, I'd miss them-especially when I need a free babysitter.

Friday, April 27, 2012

X Marks the Spot

So, I have to admit, I have absolutely no idea what to write about for the letter 'X.' It's past midnight, I'm exhausted, and I don't even feel like searching for inspiration, let alone digging it up once I get there. I'm not much for planning-any time I ever 'try' to come up with something good to write about, it always turns out cheesy, underdeveloped, or just uninteresting. Inspiration is something that's always just come to me. Like a bad boyfriend, it shows up unannounced, gives me something wonderful, and vanishes without even a phone call the next morning.

So it's probably best for everyone if I call it a night. They may say one man's junk is another man's treasure, but all you'll find here are old broken records and dust covered shelves.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

What to Expect

There's a lot of information out there on parenting. There's a lot of advice, both good and bad, both in books, videos, and from friends, family, even mere acquaintances. When I learned I was pregnant, the doctor recommended What to Expect When You're Expecting, and it really was good in a lot of ways. It covered the entire pregnancy in detail, and even the first year of a baby's life, addressing real peoples' questions. It even tackled the hard stuff, like what to do when something goes wrong. 

But I there isn't anyone, any book, that can cover everything. No matter how many books you consult, no many how many people you talk to, there will always be surprises. Every baby is a brand new person, and completely unique, and I really don't think there is one "right way" to raise a child. Each needs something different--more attention in some areas, less in others, even within the same family. Maybe even especially within the same family. For example, I've always been great at school, and I always did my homework without my parents' supervision or prodding. My sister, on the other hand, wouldn't do it unless she was forced to, and even then, she struggled. 

Nothing can ever prepare you for the way you feel when you first see that little person who's been growing inside you. When it comes to parenting, there are no road maps; each and every child is undiscovered territory, and each experience, even those you can prepare for, is like sailing in uncharted waters. 

All you can do is ride the wave, and hope you don't make too many mistakes along the way. It's a hard realization, maybe. Especially for a control freak like me. But I, for one, am going to try to sit back and enjoy the ride--because they only grow up once. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


People say that it's important to pick your battles, and I believe that's true. There are a lot of little things that bother me--heck, there are a lot of major things that bother me--but I am one of the least confrontational people in the world. It's not that I have difficulty with confrontation, though that is true, because I think many people have that problem. It's just that, for the most part, I'm a pretty patient and forgiving person, a combination that makes me very difficult to piss off.

I do have one pet peeve, however, something about which I am quick to anger: my hair. My hair is off limits to all but a very select few. The only time I have ever hit anyone in anger, in my entire life, was when someone messed with my hair.

I was probably 12 or 13 years old, and I was at summer camp with kids from my grandma's church. It was the second or third year I'd gone, and I was the oldest kid in our cabin, so our cabin leader put a little more trust in me. Now, every year the best part of camp was the nighttime pranks. No one in my family did pranks, so this was the most anticipated part of my year.

When we got to camp, however, the cabin leader told us that we weren't going to be allowed to do any pranks until after family day, which was halfway through the week, because last year the cabin ended up too messy, and she wanted everything clean and nice for when our parents came to visit. To make it up to us, she said we'd have a huge shaving cream fight as soon as our parents were gone, and everyone was pretty satisfied with the arrangement.

Everything went fine until Tuesday. We were on our way to go swimming when one of the youngest girls, maybe seven or eight years old, said she'd left her swimsuit at the cabin. Since I was the oldest, and I've generally been very mature for my age, our leader asked me to walk the girl back to the cabin to get her suit, and meet them at the pool. When we got to the cabin, the girl asked me if she could play a prank-she wanted to put rice in someone's sleeping bag. Always a classic.

I reminded her that we weren't supposed to pull any pranks till Wednesday, but said that if she wanted to, it was up to her; I wasn't going to help, but I wouldn't tell on her either. So she went ahead and did it, and we headed to the pool.

Now, there was a girl on the camping trip who was just about my age, named Wendy, who I'd known a long time. We met on my first day in the church daycare, and though we didn't go to my grandma's church anymore, I still saw her every now and then when we went to visit, and at camp. So I guess you could say we were friends, and usually the two of us banded together at camp, as the two oldest kids by a pretty big margin.

During the summer in question, however, she'd brought her cousin along, so I was a little out of the loop. Which was fine--I understood. Her cousin had never met any of us before, so Wendy was the only person she knew, and it's hard for kids, I think, to work the whole third wheel thing. But we were still on good terms, until we all returned to the cabin after swimming, and Wendy's cousin discovered rice in her sleeping bag.

If you didn't already know, eight year old's are terrible liars. So when they asked who had pulled the prank, she got scared, and fessed up. And when asked why, she said I'd told her to do it. Though that wasn't the case, it didn't matter. For some reason, Wendy was seriously pissed off about it, and neither she or her cousin would talk to me for the rest of the week.

The next day was Family Day, and it went well. So that night, as promised, our cabin leader brought out the shaving cream, and told us to be nice and have fun. Before the melee began, I got the group's attention. I told them that I was totally fine with being smeared with shaving cream, but I would really appreciate if they'd all stay away from my hair, because it really bothered me. They all agreed to stay away from my hair, and we had a great time.

When it was over, though, and I was at the sink rinsing the cream off my arms, Wendy walked in with a huge handful of shaving cream and, without a word, smeared it in my hair. I didn't immediately freak out; I reminded her that I'd asked everyone to stay away from my hair, and asked that she please not do it again while I began to wash it out.

In rebuttal, she brought forth her other hand, also full of shaving cream, and smeared it in again. In that moment, all self-control left me--I'd slapped her right across the face before I'd even consciously made the decision to do so.

Needless to say, she left me alone for the rest of the week. But it was a hollow victory. I didn't like that it had had to come to violence, even as minor as a slap in the face, before she left me alone. I'd lost the one almost-friend I had at my grandma's church for good, and I never went back to camp.

Like I said, I've never been a confrontational person, but that situation made me even less so. Since then, I've learned to deal with people touching my hair, and it turned out to be a good thing--because hair is Olivia's favorite new toy.