Friday, April 1, 2016

Fat Girl

Just this week, I told my husband and mother-in-law that, in spite of having recently lost 30 pounds, I still feel exactly the same. While I lost the weight primarily for health reasons, not emotional ones, I'm aware that I have struggled with being a "fat girl" my entire life.

With that revelation still spinning around in my heart, I found myself drawn to click on an NPR article posted to Facebook, offering reviews of two works of fiction that "tear down" stereotypes about fat girls.

The Facebook rabbit hole being what it is, this article next led me to a PBS Newshour link about a poet, Rachel Wiley, who penned this:

For Fat Girls Who Considered Starvation When Bulimia Wasn’t Enough
Mom says that my teeth are perfect
Perfect brother has just gotten braces on his top four front teeth
A tiny railroad bridge connecting nothing
And mom says that my teeth are perfect.
At last my quiet mouth, the overlook, the swallowed feelings have all paid off
and cultured something perfect and mine.
My mouth is a music box
stuffed with pearls.
Perfect brother is tall
And lean eats whatever he wants
One time a whole box of oatmeal cream pies.
but it is more clear each day that my baby fat is no longer baby fat
but just fat
It is more clear each day that I will not be a ballerina
I had wanted to be a ballerina.
My mouth is a music box
A small girl spins gracefully at the back of my throat
On point
I am sure if I can just reach far enough back I could still have her grace
I reach for her every night after dinner while the bathtub fills.
Until one day the health teacher shows us a photo
of a mouth crammed full of broken, yellowed dishes
says that a side effect of Bulimia
is ruined teeth
but Mom said that my teeth were perfect
And my perfect is a ransom I cannot bring myself to pay for the spinning girl
So I swallow her
and then nothing more for 4 whole days
My mouth is a music box, plays a low gear grinding that puts me to sleep.
When I do not wake up any closer to the spinning girl encircled in pink tulle
but rather still a ravenous hollow encircled in overgrowth
I sneak down to the pantry and devour an entire box of oatmeal cream pies in the dark
before going upstairs to brush my perfect teeth 1 at a time.

What happened next? Well, I cried

I cried for the little girl in me who wanted to be a ballerina but was instead told, "You'd be so pretty if you could just lose some weight." I cried for the young adult in me who thought she was a genius when she discovered bulimia, without knowing the word for it. I cried for the adult in me who knows that this eating disorder is like an addiction in that it will be with me always, in spite of having beat the behaviors long long ago. 

And now my stomach hurt. I'm sure it's because of the #whole30 decaf mocha I just gulped. It couldn't be feelings.  

Saturday, March 26, 2016

A Plea to My Liberal Friends in America

Please stop using the words "stupid," "crazy" and all of their colorful variations on social media platforms to label people whose behavior and words indicate they are racist, pro-gun, supporters of the Republican presidential candidate who shall not be named, anti-choice, anti-LGBT, and/or some other variation of evangelical Christian conservative. 

From where I sit, calling a DT voter an "idiot" is no different than calling a rape survivor a "slut" 

"Really?" you say. "How?" 

Because the labels only serve to confirm the worst feelings the person you are labeling has about themselves. Regardless of whether they are conscious of those bad feelings or not, the words serve to step on the self-esteem of another in order to lift your own sense of worth and belonging. The primary purpose of labels are to reinforce oppression. And DT supporters (and anti-choice activists and anti-LGBT activists and gun rights activists, yada yada) DO feel oppressed. 

And when people who feel they are being oppressed are organized, they fight back. Tea Party voters and the hundreds of permutations of their ilk, are well-funded and organized. The more we insult, the harder they deeper they feel about their cause and the harder they fight back. 

Think of the lessons American Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Imagine the protesters outside of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, chanting "N****r go home!" to the members of Little Rock 9 as they bravely played their role in desegregating America's school. Did the civil right activists stop, think, and say, "Golly! You're right. We are n****rs and we should go home. We don't belong in a well-funded and high performing high school. Thanks for helping us see the light."? No, they got madder and louder and more organized until they won that phase of the battle for civil rights. 

Based on my experience as a community organizer and a thoughtful human being, I believe that every time someone posts a news article with a comment that belittles or expresses patronizing disappointment in the opposition, they are contributing to a mood in which the organized opposition gets madder and louder. 

Maybe using these labels helps to make you feel better. Maybe they also make your fellow liberals laugh. I'm sure you feel righteously superior to the "others" whom you are deriding. It's important to express your feelings. I'm a social worker. I get it. I'm as horrified as most of you are every time I read the news or skim through comments on yet another witty meme circulating in Facebook or Twitter.

But, in the grand political scheme, name calling is doing nothing to change the political tenor of our country. In fact, it's making things worse. 

So stop it. please. 

I Blame the DNC (or Right Candidate at the Wrong Time)

Who is to blame for the rise of the American presidential candidate who shall not be named? Republicans say it is President Obama. President Obama says it is the Republicans. Liberal talk show host Bill Maher blames the self-esteem movement. And everyone blames "the media."

Notably absent from the finger pointing is the Democratic National Committee.

And I think they have a lot to do with this.

How?

By choosing to put all of their support behind a presidential candidate who was "owed" the nomination after years of party activism and loyalty. Regardless of how qualified their chosen candidate is, their analysis of their chosen candidate's ability to unite the party was, in my opinion, flawed. Why? Because it did not appear to address:

  • The political mood of the country: The high "Obama is to blame for everything is wrong in my life and the world" sentiment - from both sides of the political spectrum - should have been a clue to the party that they needed to move even closer to the center politically and culturally to capture the moderate and conservative vote. Translate this as a "we need a moderate white guy" if you wish. I'm not happy about it, and I accept that at this time, it is also likely true. 
  • The likability of their chosen candidate: Regardless of whether Candidate Clinton's "unlikeability" is "fair," "legitimate," or "right," it has been palpable since the first Clinton presidency. Yes, sexism exists and its sucks. But, given all the other factors affecting the election, it should have been clear to the DNC that this presidential election was not the right time to make a socio-political statement about sexism in America. I believe the risks are too high.
  • The potential opposition from inside and outside of the party: Given the political mood of the country and the likeability of their candidate, the party should have seen (a) the rise of a social liberal candidate from within the ranks who would divide the Democratic vote, and (b) the rise of Tea Party opposition who would take leadership or further erode the candidacy of the DNC's Chosen One. 

I believe Hillary Clinton is extraordinarily qualified to be President of the United States.  I don't need to debate whether she deserves the nomination or whether she is qualified. (And stop calling me a sexist for not supporting her with all of my heart and soul.).

Unfortunately, I also believe she's the right candidate at the wrong time. And, the rise of He Who Must Not Be Named (seriously, I can't even type his name without feeling sick) proves that a vocal majority of the opposition party agrees with me.

So DNC, consider this one very angry finger pointing in your direction for helping to create these politically scary times.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

You Say You Want a Revolution?

Two of my neighbors are feeling the burn for Bernie Sanders. It feels like every other Facebook post from them is is proclaiming the revolution is upon us.

One of the many things that makes my neighbors great is that we can have a political conversation in which we disagree with one another. And I disagree mightily with the idea that Bernie Sanders is going to create a revolution.


I think electing Barack Obama was revolution enough for these United States. Eight years after his moderate governance, a presidency marked by enormous but understated success and peaceful, loving kindness towards our fellow humans, what I believe we're seeing is a pendulum swing towards the extreme and hateful right.

I don't need to go through the litany of disagreements with Donald Trump. Or Ted Cruz. Or [insert tea party candidate name here]. You only need to Google these politicans' names to find comparisons to Adolph Hitler, David Duke, Vladimir Putin, and other powerful hatemongers.

And this is where I think revolution is going to be born. In hundreds of battles against the loud, angry, racist, and hateful factions of our country and the peaceful, tolerant loving factions. And, as we're seeing, this is not a revolution that falls neatly along political lines, geographic boundaries, income, or religion. But I believe it will be a revolution.

I was recently reading a biography of Charles Manson. I returned the book to the library without finishing it. The backdrop from which the Manson family emerged, juxtaposed against the current political landscape was too upsetting to me. It feels like we're going to have a revolution on the scale of the civil rights struggle, with massive waves of civil disobedience and violence of a type we have not seen since the 1970s - in all corners of our nation. In fact, we're seeing it start with the Black Lives Matter movement, and the hundreds of rallies across the country in support of an end to the aggressive use of force, particularly against people of color, by public safety officers.

I can stand on the side of love, but love doesn't seem to touch the chuckleheads who decide to give toddlers the right to carry firearms, the fidiots who think that calling for justice for one racial category necessarily means that one is therefore against justice for people of all other races, the ignoramuses who think they have to vote for Trump because they want to "get that (black man) out of the White House." (Guess what? Whether Trump is elected or not, he's leaving in January because he CAN'T BE RE-ELECTED.)

So I'm pissed. I'm pissed because if I had a five year plan, it would NOT INCLUDE joining a revolution against racism and other forms of fear and hate.

I think Bernie Sanders was right when he said it was time for a revolution. But I predict we won't see it with his presidential candidacy. We *will* see it with a President Trump (I can't even type those two words without throwing up a little in my mouth).

With the primary election over in my state, I'm ready for the first battle in this revolution, which is putting everything I can muster behind whomever the Democratic candidate for president is. Who's with me? (Now, where did I put my beret?)

Monday, February 15, 2016

Learning to be Confident



A close friend recently asked me to teach her how to be confident.

"Uhmm," I replied, thinking to myself, "How do you teach that to someone?"

Not wanting to disappoint her, but not knowing how to respond, I made some vague comments about having a sweetheart who is confident, and having the ability to "fake it til I make it."

Days later I realized there is one thing I could teach this friend, one thing I do fairly routinely, which I'm sure helps me appear confident.

I accept compliments. 

That's it. I accept compliments. When someone says to me, "Thank you for the great work you did on that project," I respond with "You're welcome. I'm glad to be part of the team." Or I might say, "That's really nice of you to say. Thank you,"

What I try not to say is,"It was nothing," "No problem," or worse, ignore the sentiment entirely.

In accepting compliments, I believe I'm internalizing kind words about an accomplishment, an action I took, or a value, quality or skill I bring into the world. What I'm also doing is reinforcing the positive feeling the complimenter may have of me by validating that their statement had the intended effect of making me feel better about myself. And, because I'm not a narcissist, I'm also making it more likely that "pay it forward" and compliment someone else.

Do you accept compliments easily? If you don't, I invite you to try accepting compliments for a week - maybe a month - and see if you notice any changes. I have confidence you will.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

"If I've done nothing else today, at least I can say I did _________________."

What do your daily routines say about you?

I don't think of myself as a creature of habit. I get easily bored with routine. I don't get up at the same time every day, I have at least three routes I take to the office, regular exercise classes have rarely worked for me, because I am loathe to put the same thing at the same time in my book, lest I decide I want to do something else instead. That's not to say I don't have things I do every day - start each morning with a cup of espresso, waste time on Facebook, cross at least one household chore off my never-ending "to do" list. 

While my routines create structure and fill my life, they don't offer me spiritual meaning. 

I've been slowly reading the book The Gnome Project. This is a self-help(ish) book about one woman's effort to create a daily practice by hand-felting one gnome every day. Early in this crafty memoir, the author writes, "I imagined that one would feel 'held' by that rhythm (of a daily practice), finding contentment and safety in knowing what was to come, perhaps an armor of protection (in an otherwise chaotic world)." 

The author, Jessica Peill-Meininghaus, goes on to recount that "some people say that having one thing you do with consciousness and purpose, every single day, will bring rewards." 

This notion of finding safety, peace in a daily practice is appealing to me. I've long wanted to have meditation routine. But I tend to use shame and "shoulds" to cajole myself into being still. Which doesn't work. Ditto for exercise, journalling, gardening, etc. 

At the start of the new year, I found myself reflecting on The Gnome Project and thinking about reframing my desire to meditate. What would change, I wondered, if instead of telling myself, "I should meditate today," I said, "If I get nothing else done today, at least I can say I meditated,"  

or

"If I've done nothing else today, at least I can say I said "I love you" to my husband,"

or

"If I've done nothing else today, at least I can say I ate healthfully,"

or

"If I've done nothing else today, at least I can say I made time to journal." 

These statements say so much more to me about a values-filled life than "If I've done nothing else today, at least I can say I made time for a cup of coffee, to crush some candy, to clean the cat box." 

When you fill in the blank, does it inspire you? If it doesn't what might you do to make changes that offer more meaning in your life? 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Snow Days

When I left for work this morning, it was pouring outside. Protecting myself with a rain coat, rain boots, and a golf umbrella, I thought of all the Chicken Littles who had cried about the "terrible storm headed our way." I thought all of the superintendents who closed school would be ridiculed for making the wrong decision. "Boy will they have egg on their faces," I mused smugly.

As I drove the eight miles to my office, I realized that I was the one who had egg on my face. During that 20 minute drive, the temperature dropped nearly 10 degrees, and the rain turned to sleet, which had turned to snow by the time I reached the office park where I spend 40 hours a week. And by the time I left the office, eight hours later? There were at least six inches of snow on the ground and the roads were a slushy, icy mess.

I used to work for a public school system just outside of Boston. One of my responsibilities was to coordinate the public announcements regarding the closure of school due to weather events.

As a result of these responsibilities, I was typically in the loop as the decision to close school was being made.

Here is how I remember it working with the superintendent for whom I worked:

Consideration 1: Safety Outside
If students and staff aren't safe, learning can't happen. The superintendent would begin listening to NOAA forecasts as soon as he got wind of  potentially disruptive weather system. He would then cross-check the forecast to affirm the trajectory and severity of the storm was verified in multiple sources. If it looked like it was definitely going to be bad, and would interfere with the safe arrival or departure from school, then either closure or an delayed opening/early dismissal was considered.

He didn't rely on meteorologists alone. Was the governor was going to call a travel ban? Was the local public transportation system, used by some students to get to school, be closed or delayed? These were also considerations, which meant staying in touch with state education, safety and transportation officials throughout the deliberations.

Consideration 2: Safety Inside 
We also considered the impact on on staff who who lived far outside of our community. Would the storm prevent them from coming to work, resulting in high absenteeism? This could create unsafe conditions for students once they safely arrived at school. If the answer was yes, then either closure or a delayed opening/early dismissal was considered.

Consideration 3: Follow the Leader
To be the only district that closes for a weather event that is a non-event opens one up to ridicule. So, the superintendent would consult trusted colleagues, particularly in the bigger or more respected districts nearby.

Consideration 4: Municipal Obligations
Municipal officials, particularly those who worked for the department of public works (DPW), also had to be considered. DPW needed adequate time to clear parking lots, sidewalks and entryways. While education is important, DPW officials typically had a first obligation to clear the streets and facilities for emergency responders, including the local hospital. If the volume of snow predicted was more than the DPW could clear before the start of school, then closure was considered. This involved countless phone calls with the mayor and superintendent of public works.

In the densely populated town where I worked, local residents were allowed to park in school lots during a declared snow emergency. This was the city strategy for keeping the roads cleared for plows. So, if the mayor was planning to declare a snow emergency, school had to be closed because there would be nowhere for staff members to park when they arrived at work. Which meant we had to stay in even closer touch with the mayor, who was undergoing his own deliberations.

Consideration 5: Convenience for Families
The decision to close school or to call for a delayed opening/early dismissal created hardships for many families, particularly those with working parents who had to scramble for childcare or negotiate alternative schedules or unpaid days off with their employers. This was a consideration not only in the decision to close school, but also in the timing of the decision. The earlier the decision to close could be made and announced, the less disruption for families.

Consideration 6: Meeting Mandatory Education Time
State laws and regulations required that children be in school for 180 days a year. The official school calendar included 185 days, to give wiggle room for up to five snow days. If there were more than five snow days in a given year, the elected school board was required to find time in the schedule to meet the mandatory 180 days of schooling. This might mean extending the school days, eroding previously scheduled holidays or vacation time, extending the school day, or even calling for weekend schooling. No school board wants to do this, because families AND the teachers' unions get up in arms about having their planned personal time taken back by the school district. Extra care was given if the decision to cancel school was going to eat into the legislated mandatory education time.

And once the decision was made, the communication plan had to be executed quickly. Where I worked, I had to alert the media so our closure or delay could be added to the lists that were published, read aloud, and/or scrolled at the bottom of a TV screen, These notifications were managed through phone automation, in which every district had a numeric code and pin number to gain access to the system. Once inside, you had to trust that the number you were choosing ("Press one for a complete closure tomorrow, press two for a delayed opening...") would be coded correctly so families who relied on the news for these announcements would get the right information.

We would then pull together the multi-lingual robo-dial announcement team, typically via conference call, to record the message that would eventually be pushed out to every family in the district. We experimented with pre-recording messages so we could just hit send when we needed to make the announcement, and found it was more effective to record each message separately so we could include the date of the closure. (Families who got the message via voice mail needed to have the exact date of the school closure recorded, so there was no confusion.)

Finally, I needed to update the District website and social properties with the announcement, and alert the City's 411 operators.

And this all had to be done rapidly, as there was no single source of information upon which families relied. The Twitter people would publicly complain if the announcement reached the television viewers before them, while the phone people would call the City's 411 system to ask why they had not yet received their robo-dial call when their neighbors had.

*****

The decision to close school was rarely simple, although there were times when it was easy. There was always at least one constituency who criticized the move, one constituency that didn't think the message reached them quickly enough or in the right format. And, as a non-union school administrator, I nearly always had to go to work on those days when a snow emergency was called. Unless it was one in which a statewide travel ban was instituted.

When I was a child, snow days were so much fun. As a school administrator? Nothing but stress.