Arguing With Pundits

One of my favorite pastimes is to yell at my television and radio. Of course, the TV and radio aren’t really the subjects of my frustration; my issue generally lies with the personalities who use these poor, defenseless inanimate objects to deliver their misguided messages to the public.

For the most part, this tradition has always been quite an excellent arrangement for me; I get to sit on the couch in my pajamas, remote in hand, devouring the junk food of my choice, all while energetically poking holes in said cable news personality’s horrible excuse for an argument.

Surprisingly, this whole ritual is never as satisfying as one would think (junk food aside, of course). You would think that winning an argument completely unchallenged would be a huge ego boost, and since this generally all takes place when there no one else in the room to do anything else but roll their eyes at me (enter my spouse), I always win. But somehow, I still tend to leave the argument even more enraged than I was before; frustrated that I really haven’t done anything to change the fact that there is someone out there who holds a worldview that is, in my opinion, illogical, baseless, and probably even destructive. And, astonishingly, my arguments, no matter how loudly delivered, never seem to reach the ears of the pundit who so unapologetically espouses his or her views.

I have always passionately argued that this practice helps me better understand different points of view so that I can defend against them in an “actual” debate. I have even gone so far as to say that my Unitarian Universalist Principles demand that I occasionally immerse myself in alternative opinions so that I may challenge my own beliefs and explore other truths. Also, I figure that if I expose myself to some of these sometimes shocking ideas then when I hear them repeated by someone who is, I don’t know, cutting my hair, I will be able to keep myself from saying something I might later regret every time I look in the mirror.

On the other hand, there is a distinct possibility that this whole custom might really be contributing to the problem. If I tune in once a week to a cable news channel, what kind of money am I responsible for feeding into the whole operation? Am I just egging on these people? Perhaps my energy would be better spent writing letters and having an actual conversation with somebody.

So, with our cable service cancelled and the local talk radio channel erased from my presets, I have decided that it is time to have real conversations with people while engaging in a new spiritual practice: listening. Really listening.

I have discovered that the most disastrous result of my cable news and talk radio habit isn’t that I am giving the networks money. The worst part is that that every time I surround myself with the kind of hyperbolic rhetoric that comes from someone who can say whatever they want from the safety of a studio surrounded only by people who are making money from his or her wild assertions, then I forget that none of it is real. It only becomes real when we all start emulating the tactics of these pundits and stop having conversations outside of the safety of our living room couches.

Our pundit culture has completely changed the way we think about politics and debate. It taught us to view debate not as a way to expand our minds and understandings, but instead as a contest to be won; and what could be more interesting than to watch in a time of reality TV than two people engaged in duel? The winner has successfully and stubbornly stood her ground and the loser walks away with his tail between his legs, dragging his credibility behind him.

In the pundit world, ratings have replaced enlightenment as the ultimate coveted prize, and there is no line networks aren’t willing to cross to win them. Cable television and talk radio have become a modern-day Roman Colosseum, and our politicians and pundits are gladiators, pitting ideas against one another and hanging on to ill-begotten ideas as if their lives depended on it. Thanks to pundits, we have all adopted the opinion that to change your position on an issue “wishy-washy”, and that as long as you never show a single sign of humility or an ability to expand your mind, you will never have to answer to the person yelling into her TV screen a thousand miles away.

It is so easy to forget that opinions are much more likely to change when two people are in a position to actually listen to one another. Not just because they happen to be physically in the same location, but because they really want to hear what the other person has to say and (gasp!) are even amenable to learning something that they didn’t already know. We need these conversations to get back in touch with our humility and remember that we do not die when we change our opinions. Sometimes we actually grow.

So we, on both side of the aisle, can continue down the path of the pundits; we can continue to engage in destructive debates that focus only on destroying the character of another who disagrees with us. Or we can choose the higher road. This is a path that requires us to leave our couches and our studios and to listen in love every time; no matter how hard it may be.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

A Common Language

MultitaskingI realized today that I talk about my kids incessantly. I have become one of “those parents” who can’t help but insert a funny anecdote about my kids and their bowel movements to help illustrate a point– any point– even if the conversation at hand has NOTHING to do with children OR poop.

And yes, it did take me 5 minutes to remember the word “anecdote,” because my brain is only 25% focused on what I am writing at this moment. The other 50% is paying attention to the toddler and preschooler fighting over who is going to get to sit on my lap right now. And before you start wondering about the missing 25% of my brain, it has long ago turned into mush and has a voice that sounds like Elmo. I am not making that up.

But as I look back over my sadly out-of-date blog, and attempt to type with one hand while my toddler has staged a sit-down strike on my right arm, I realize that the reason that I write so much about parenthood is because… well… it is sitting on my right arm. And it’s starting to smell.

I have been lucky enough in life that I have had few challenges as profound as parenting. But this challenge, or series of never-ending challenges, never has and never will leave the forefront of my brain. It occupies my existence 24/7/365. So I guess that it is probably a good and necessary life skill to be able to find big life-lessons in the seemingly small, gross, and weird that comes along with kids. Think of it as multi-tasking.

Now, if childless me from the past had accidentally stumbled upon this exact blog entry (because, let’s face it, childless me would have never read a blog talking about kids, like, on purpose) I would have told me to stop complaining.

Well, childless me, let me let you in on a little secret: I am not complaining. I am merely speaking a different language– a not-so-secret tongue shared between caregivers of children the world over. You might witness evidence of this language in supermarkets; that knowing look shared between parents when a tired, hungry child has a complete and utter meltdown in the bread aisle. It is a look that says, “Yeah. I know. I’ve been there too. But I am SO glad it’s not me this time.” This look, childless me, is the exact opposite of the look that you presently give to parents with cranky children. The “you are the most horrible parent in the world, and I know this because I have taken care of a kid for a couple of hours before” look. Stop this look. It will come back to haunt you, I promise.

Spoken correctly, this “caregiver of children” language is spoken with great love, understanding, and support. This language can transport you to a world where it might SOUND like you are complaining to a friend (or complete stranger) about changing crib sheets three times in one night after your toddler discovers how to undress himself for the first time. But, really, you are bragging about how awesomely brilliant your kid is for performing this Houdini-esque act, and paying tribute to that adorable, proud smile that made your otherwise miserable day. (Besides, you took some sweet pictures that you are going to show your kid’s future friends and partners. After all, you did change the sheets three times.)

The best part of this language is talking to other caregivers knowing that their lives have been forever changed as profoundly as yours has; that they, too, have had the unbelievable opportunity to humbly rediscover the world all over again through the eyes of a child. Stories shared have the power to help bring back beautiful memories, they can open your eyes when perspective has been lost, and can help a parent come to terms with the limits of what he or she can realistically offer their child.

Somehow being around and nurturing children, and being around others who share these experiences, has taught me more about this world, myself, and even my own childhood than I could have ever learned any other way. Shared experience, I think, can be one of the most powerful tools of understanding and support. Sometimes we just need a little anecdote about poop to break the ice.

And now that my hand is falling asleep from the toddler that has been happily perched on my arm, I am wondering if perhaps there is a lesson in this for me; a subtle reminder that I also need to care for myself so that I may be a fully-functioning parent. Or maybe my son is just telling me that he needs a new diaper. Multi-tasking.

Finding Meaning

sunsetBecoming a parent for the first time is a tricky business.

It really is true what they say: you are never really ready for the adventure that awaits you once you become a parent; there is nothing you can ever do to prepare, and there is no perfect time.

For as long as I can remember I have been the type of person that likes to be “the best” at everything I do; a horrible character flaw that is quite possibly related to the “overly and unnecessarily competitive” gene I seem to have also inherited. So it was only natural that when I became a mom for the first time that I was determined to be the best parent. Ever.

Of course I knew beyond any doubt that I would be able to effortlessly add “mom” to the laundry list of other things I was committed to keep doing after giving birth; hormones and sleep deprivation be damned. I would breastfeed, homeschool, be involved in my community, make all our own own baby food (from our own garden, of course!) and cloth diaper; I would also continue working and working on my career, write, continue school, take care of our home and our pets, and everything else I was already doing. Even with the wonderful partner I have in my husband, I was vowing to be super-human.

Shortly after our daughter was born, we discovered that some of the issues that we were dealing with as first-time parents were outside the realm of “normal” (whatever that looks like). Our beloved child was covered from head to toe in eczema and it never seemed to get any better, no matter what we did to treat it. As her level of discomfort increased, sleep became harder and harder to come by for all of us as we spent many of our nights trying to soothe her so she could rest. My hazy waking hours were spent searching for new answers; stressing out as new approaches consistently fell short.

Of course, after trying countless treatments and several doctors were consulted, our answer came to us after our daughter’s first taste of candy sent us to the emergency room and her life-threatening peanut allergy was revealed to us a few months after her first birthday. Upon further testing, she was diagnosed with many other “less-serious” food allergies as well.

We were scared and heart-broken, and our lives totally changed. Again.

After everything we had done “right”, none of our efforts kept this from happening to our daughter. Surely we had listened to the wrong doctors, and I MUST have eaten the wrong things when I was pregnant, or perhaps we introduced solids too early, or maybe we should have questioned the vaccines, or perhaps our house was not clean enough. In the months that followed our daughter’s first anaphylactic reaction, I found a million different ways to blame myself for her allergy. It broke my heart to know that, in all probability, the rest of her life she will not be able to enjoy a birthday cake at a friends party or eat Halloween candy; and it horrified me even more as I realized that her life would be in danger anytime we left the safety of our peanut-free home.

The three years since we learned of our daughter’s hidden disability has been filled with making new discoveries, tweaking the way we live everyday and anticipating the challenges of the future. We have learned to read labels, educated ourselves about current laws and and school policies, and made sure that among our daughter’s first phrases was “I have a peanut allergy.” We have been frustrated by the lack of understanding in some, but also moved to tears by the efforts of our family and friends to ensure that our daughter would be safe and feel included in our celebrations. We have felt anger that this has had to happen to our family and then overwhelmingly fortunate that, really, things could be a hell of a lot worse.

I have never been a fan of the whole “things happen for a reason” bit, but I have discovered through all of this that I am okay with “everything that happens can have meaning-if your mind and heart are open to it.”

My daughter’s allergies have been a challenge and a gift all at the same time; I have learned so much about the challenges of parenting, gained empathy for the range of challenges that people face every day, and, most importantly, I have been learning a thing or two about understanding (and respecting!) my own limitations. I can’t do it all, and I can’t anticipate every curve ball that will be thrown my way.

What will tomorrow bring?

I am not sure; but I think the biggest challenge for us is to not let our imagination of what is going to be or SHOULD be take away from the “is” and the lessons it brings.

Want to learn more about food allergies?

Nut Free Mom Blog

The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN)

On Killing Evil

on killing evil

I cried on the day that Saddam Hussein was executed. And, yes, they were tears of sadness. Not because I thought that Hussein was a great, upstanding guy by any stretch of the imagination; he was undoubtedly responsible for the death and suffering of many, many people.

I was upset because his hanging was celebrated in the same manner as we behave when our favorite team wins the Superbowl.

When I see a culture that is not only indifferent about the loss of life, but actually feels pleasure and delight when another being is killed, my heart sinks.

I wonder how I am to teach my children to value peace and non-violence when they are surrounded by the mixed message of “killing is wrong… unless ‘we’ have decided ‘they’ are evil… and then we have a huge party to celebrate your killing.”

The same pit that I had in my stomach in December of 2006 was there again this morning as I read a text from my husband that said, “Turn on the news. Bin Laden is dead.”

As I made my way to the TV, I wondered what the attitude of the reports would be. Perhaps the journalists would be solemn and contemplative; maybe our media would be raising important questions like, “what does Bin Laden’s death mean for us and the rest of the world? His family? Those who lost loved ones on 9/11? Those who lost loved ones fighting the war in Afghanistan?”

Or would the reports be a cheerful? After all, Bin Laden had taken responsibility for killing thousands of American men, women and children on 9/11. I would understand if there was a cheerful undertone.

But the reaction I saw brought me to my knees.

A Party in front of the White House. Seriously?

Relief? Yes.

Contemplation? Yes.

Remembrance of those who have lost their lives because of and in pursuit of this man? Absolutely!

PARTY????? NO!

Why not a candle light vigil? Why not have a discussion on how further loss of life could be avoided without having to murder another human? Heck, why not even have a conversation about why so many of us seem to feel this release of emotion; so much so that we are chanting “USA! USA!” in front of the White House in the middle of the night?

Our media (mind you, the very SAME media that has reported with condemnation in their voices when attacks on America were celebrated in the streets of other “radical” countries) is highlighting these jubilant celebrations and even reporting them with elation. Because the person WE killed was EVIL. So OUR celebrations are clearly justified.

How is it that we live in a world where a death, ANY DEATH, is met with anything less than a heavy heart and a celebration of life? Bin Laden’s death should lead us into a period of meditation, prayer, and wondering. Bin Laden’s death could even lead us to celebrate the lives of those who choose every day NOT to kill in the name of a bastardized faith and those who have made many sacrifices for the greater good.

To me, justice is when the people who promote love and peace dominate the news; celebrating the good decries the destructive ambitions of those who choose to live in a world where “might makes right” and where retribution is a means to that end.

We should be ashamed of ourselves. All of us.

Today instead of celebrating a killing, I will instead light a candle for life and love.

For the lives of all are worthy, and a day when a life is taken in the name of protecting the greater good is truly a sad day.

Stop and Smell the Roses

Stopping to smell the roses

It is funny how children can speed up and slow down your life all at the same time.

There are days that I scarcely remember; a blur of tasks: Get the kids up and clothed, fed and cleaned, out the door and in the car, back home, settled down and snuggled, read to and asleep. Before you know it, you are passed out on the couch (nursing that foot you injured stepping on those stinking toys) wondering where the heck your day went.

And then there are the days when you are forced to slow it down; your daily flight into “to-do list land” grounded, plans derailed, and to make it worse, there is usually puke involved. Or, perhaps, I should speak for myself.

Oddly enough it is on these days, when my time is spent sitting on the couch, snuggling with my sick kid, that I wonder why it is that I am so inclined to wait until I have endured a toy-inflicted injury to spend some time crashed on my couch. It is nice when there is a chance to slow it down… just for the sake of slowing it down. No puke involved.

I think that my daughter has made it her life’s mission to remind us to take it down a notch; this is a child who, from the time she was born, has always moved at her own pace. Sometimes to our greatest frustration. Shortly after she started to walk, we discovered that the days of moving our bodies from point A to point B in a timely fashion was a thing of the past. We no longer walk somewhere; we go on adventures.

I am convinced that if you were to research the origins of the phrase “stop and smell the roses,” that you would undoubtedly find a picture of my daughter with this caption underneath: “Flowers, bugs, small creatures, leaves, trees, and pine-cones be warned: if you see this child, you WILL be smelled, talked to, SUNG to, touched, picked up, hugged and collected. And parents, you WILL be late. You just WILL.  Go with it. *See related phrase: ‘Moving at the speed of Alex.'”

Even though there are times when I wish she would get in the car so we can JUST LEAVE ALREADY, in my heart of hearts I adore this about my daughter. Time and to-do list be damned, there is nothing more beautiful than watching the awe and wonder in the eyes of a child who is experiencing the magnificence of our earth with her whole self. I have truly never met a single soul who so naturally live and breathes her connectedness to all of existence.

She takes the time to notice what everyone in the room is wearing, and wonders why. She feels the wind on her face and wants to know where it came from. She remembers the exact rock to look under to check up on her favorite hill of ants, asks them how they are doing and what it is, exactly, they eat.

I would be heartbroken if this child, this insipiring being full of love, imagination and compassion, no longer found meaning in the beauty and wonder of all that surrounds her because I taught her that meaning can only be found in crossing stuff off a list and in racing the clock. She makes me wonder how much of my world I am missing out on while I am counting down the seconds until I HAVE to be out the door or when I am hyper-focused on reaching my destination.

What would happen if the rest of the world took a little time to “move at the speed of Alex”? Perhaps my daughter could teach us all a thing or two about embracing the journey and soaking in the beauty that surrounds us instead of anticipating the destination. I am finding that the roses along the way have quite a bit to teach me… almost as much as the three-year old by my side.