The Role of Exclusion

Students being gunned down and murdered at school triggers things in all of us. Many of us have been having conversations focused on guns. There is a whole other group of people who aren’t talking about guns, but instead, talking about the experience of exclusion. These are the moms and dads of the “left out” kids, the ones not invited to the birthday parties and sleepovers, who aren’t ever asked to hang out with their peers.

These parents aren’t excusing the behavior of the boy who killed those students. They do offer a perspective that maybe other parents can consider.

For each of these moms and dads, the stories are the same. Many of their own friends’ children excluded their child from birthday parties as early as elementary school. Many of their neighbors hosted get togethers at their homes where their child got to see classmates walking by who only offered them a wave. Most parents of the excluded children will say, “we are all he has.”

Its interesting to note that excluded kids aren’t just isolated from their peers. It seems adults—extended family and family friends, neighbors, coaches and teachers also forgo any opportunity to cultivate a relationship with the left-out children. These young ones are our society’s outcasts.
It’s a painful thing to witness, your child being excluded. It appears the young man in Florida wasn’t part of the “in group” or any group at school. Over and over again, we hear comments from his classmates that paint a picture of a very lonely life. Add mental illness to social isolation, and well, now we know the possibility.

He was adopted, and this past November, at age nineteen, lost his mother to the flu. His father had died ten years earlier. Do you wonder like I do, how his community reached out to support him, when he experienced being orphaned again, which must have created unimaginable anguish? I’d be curious to know what all his neighbors and parents’ friends did to help him. It must have been a terrible time.

The gun conversations will continue, but could we also maybe take a look at ourselves and what we are doing or not doing to help the left-out kids? These parents of outcasts can tell you the exclusion stuff starts early, kindergarten even.

Maybe, if your child has a birthday approaching, you could find a way to include everyone in class. Maybe if you’ve got a quirky kid on your street nobody wants to play with, you could spend some time getting to know them. Maybe teach him how to play chess or just offer her hot chocolate and a listening ear. It doesn’t take much to make a person feel like, well, a person.

I kind of feel badly for Harvey

I kind of feel badly for Harvey Weinstein. I worked with someone like him. He was gross too, but I always kind of felt sorry for him.

When I was in my twenties I worked for a broadcasting company. The person in charge of our office was a man named Gerald. He was married and had two daughters. He also liked to say and do very inappropriate things to most, if not all the young women, in the office.

Gerald would not be offered any modeling contracts. He probably wasn’t very popular in school. He had a big pot belly, because he used to race to a bar every day at 5p.m. to drink. I’m not sure he was taller than me when I was wearing heels. I’m 5’3”.

He struggled to say words correctly. He said things like, “the atmospear around here isn’t good.” He was always asking one of the young women in the office to go have a beer with him after work. When a new twentysomething started, we would see him flirting, stopping by her desk, joking with her. He was so predictable.

Of course, each of us had our day where his flirting became more serious. He always used the same pickup line, “do you want to come back to my house and listen to music?’ Obviously, he always waited until his wife and kids were out of town.

We all called him Geraldo. He was a joke to us. We though he was a dirty old man (at 43 years old,) we had to put up with in order to keep our jobs. We all compared notes about his very unoriginal playbook of inappropriateness at work. We all found polite ways to rebuff him and still keep our jobs.

These men, these Gerald’s and Harvey Weinstein’s are sad to me. Men in a position of wealth and power who act the way that Gerald and Harvey do, all share the same delusion: they all believe the young women they are flirting with are actually interested in them.

A neighbor once told me he felt men and women trade commodities. Men trade on their wealth and power. Women trade on their attractiveness. He could cite many examples of men, like Harvey Weinstein, who would not necessarily be considered attractive by the world’s standards, having a gorgeous woman on their arm.

I always feel badly for the guy in that equation. What must it be like to only get a girl by drawing on your wealth and power? How awful it must be when you actually get the girl and know you must sustain your position and your bank account to keep her.

Harvey did horrible things. Gerald was a nightmare to have in the office every day. Still, they both seem pathetic to me. Somewhere inside, they both felt that abusing their position of power was the only way to get women to like them.

Boys who need broken winged girls

“I call it broken wing syndrome,” I explained to my friend, another mother of sons, who was telling me about how one of her sons always seems to find girlfriends who “have just gone through a bad breakup,” or are “having a hard time at home” or are just a “hot mess” as we say in the South.

“And it is its own form of misogyny,” I continued.

“How so?” she asked with a puzzled look on her face.

I shared with her what I shared with my own son who used to gravitate towards the broken winged girls near him. “If you are drawn to a damsel in distress, it is because you can’t tolerate an independent, strong woman.”

I get it. That’s how the world worked for most of its history. The biggest decision for a woman was who she would marry, because every other part of her life flowed from that decision. His income determined their economic status, his views determined their politics, he spoke to the mechanic and the HVAC person. She just needed to find herself the right man.

Not so much, anymore.

This has created quite a shakeup for the children of the 60’s and 70’s, my generation. Most of us grew up in households where there was a stay at home mom who did all the household work, the raising of children and whose career was captured in the title “homemaker.”

You would think this model wouldn’t fit in today’s many two career homes, but because it involves women sacrificing, it actually does fit in a great number of homes. How many full-time working women, if they asked their spouse, “how about we switch household responsibilities for a couple years?” might expect an angry reaction?

Why would that be? Could there be inequity in household chores, and could it possibly be a gender related issue? Are women granted an open vista of opportunity in the workplace but their home lives still resemble the 1950’s?

I give tremendous credit to my husband and all men like him, who although they grew up in more traditional homes, are equal partners in this two-thousand and seventeenth year of recorded history. They didn’t have role models for this new way of doing things. They may be the truest innovators of our times.

It takes a lot of strength for a man to be with a strong, independent woman who doesn’t need him. He has to have a well managed ego to give equal value to her thoughts and opinions. It is much more challenging to have an equal partner rather than a subordinate. You can probably measure a man’s strength by his ability to tolerate a woman’s.

It certainly makes sense that some women are more comfortable with the old model where their man takes responsibility for them and any problems they may be having. It’s what most of us watched during our formative years. It makes sense that some men have internalized these images of being the one in charge, making all the decisions while their wife prepares dinner. Men and women were a good match—women were raised to be supportive and subordinate. Men were raised to be strong and authoritative in their home.

Then all those uppity women went burning their bras and stuff, and things changed forever. Well, in many ways they did.

Women are still going to have problems, their broken wings, but they have learned how to reset the break themselves, although someone being there to give them Tylenol and some soup is really nice. Men can now lean on their partner for support and advice. They don’t have to hide their worries and maintain a stiff upper lip. In many if not most cases, they also don’t have to carry the entire household finances on their back, which has to feel good.

There will always be the broken winged among us. Just take them to the hospital. They probably need professional help more than they need a boyfriend.

Shutdown or paid vacation?

This is my small, public service announcement–

Did you know whenever we have a government shutdown, whether the president is a Democrat or Republican, all the workers sent home are given back pay when the budget passes? Your tax dollars fund two, three and maybe four week vacations for federal employees. I am sure you are aware that federal employees already have a tremendously generous amount of vacation days and holidays.

Granted, it is never easy to have to make all your bill payments when your biweekly check isn’t deposited on time. Hopefully, these federal employees have grown accustomed to these threats of government shutdowns and keep money set aside for the next one. Perhaps, if the shutdowns occur on a regular enough annual basis, these public servants can start planning their vacations around them.

Wouldn’t it be great if inaction among members of Congress paid for you to take a vacation? Can you even imagine your boss saying, “I can’t get the numbers to work on the budget. Go on home. Don’t worry, I’ll pay you back for all your time off, once I get this budget done?”

Is intellectual bullying as bad as physical bullying?

Last night, I had dinner with some really brilliant and accomplished women. These are women who just get stuff done. The conversations were fascinating, challenging, thought provoking, and more than anything, they were fast. We buzzed through topics and covered so much territory, with each person offering something, an idea or observation, that really made you think and stirred your beliefs and opinions.
I have enjoyed many conversations like this with my female friends. Some of them may appear to others to be arguments but it is really almost a form of intellectual sparring—someone brings up an opinion about a controversial topic, another person counters quickly with an example from history that illustrates the other’s opinion is flawed; that person comes back with a retort explaining how that time in history was different in due to X, Y and Z. It’s fast, it is fact filled, and there are no shrinking violets.
I have worked with, and am now the mother to, males who don’t participate in this form of discussion. The men I worked with were very smart. My sons are very smart. They think differently than these female friends of mine; they think slower. They process information at a different pace. This is especially true if it is a particularly emotional topic for them.
While I want to talk (who’s kidding who, I want to argue,) about things in the moment, these slower thinkers—which doesn’t in any way diminish their thoughts, need more time to digest things. They need a period in which to examine the input before creating any output. My younger son is kind of famous for his notes under our bedroom door. If my husband and I were angry with him, he said nothing; speech didn’t seem available to him. Always, there would be the most thoughtful and thought provoking letter left for us to read in the morning.
It has caused me to wonder if perhaps, with these men, and at times with my sons, I have been an intellectual bully.
I remember there being court cases against professional athletes, I think there was a boxer, who got into a fight with some guy on the street. The basis of the case was that this boxer wasn’t just getting into a street fight like any old person; his fists were highly trained tools. It was a completely unfair fight. We are very hard on men who hit women, and rightly so, women, for the most part, are not in a position to defend themselves against a man. Big kids are not supposed to pick on little kids on the school bus. We are an anti-bullying society.
You are not supposed to use your physical strength as an unfair advantage to beat a physically weaker person. What is it called when you use your faster mental processing skills to win an argument with someone who is probably your intellectual equal, but is just not in a position to defend their views on the spot–someone who needs time to process?
Certainly, there are many men who are very fast at processing information, and there are women who are slower at processing information, but from my experience, women, even young girls, are at a great advantage in their processing abilities. Maybe this goes back to the rape and pillage culture. Men were entering villages to rape women—those women had to make split second decisions to determine any options to keep themselves safe, while men only had to think of one thing.
Please know my awareness of my bullying through processing speed doesn’t mean anything has changed much. I want to go right into verbal battle about something, while my sons want to some time to think. I guess I have been thinking about future daughters’ in-law and how it would be painful for me to see my sons receiving this type of intellectual bullying from their quick processing wives. I hope and pray they marry women who say, “Do you want to think about this and either write your thoughts down or talk about it tomorrow?”
We have taught our sons to never, ever strike a woman, even if a woman hits them. What are the parents of these fast processing types telling their kids? Go for the jugular, get the win?

Borders around a Christian nation?

For years, my older son said the same thing every time he called:

“Hello, this is Ethan Carey, your black son.”

We told him over and over that we knew his voice. We knew it was him. He could just say, “it’s Ethan.” It became a family joke. He still does it when he leaves messages just for fun.

We know him. We will always know him. I mention this because sometimes we hear talk about America being a Christian nation or how we have to return to our Christian values. I think of my faith and my values as I watch anti-immigrant news stories and I wonder, ‘if we are a Christian nation with Christian values, shouldn’t we all feel deep pain and sadness about our immigration crisis?

Regardless of how we feel about our borders, people being here undocumented, and whether they should stay or go, shouldn’t we be examining the issue of these peoples’ lives with great compassion, respect and concern?

When someone talks about “illegals” do they realize they are talking about a child of God–whom He knows? Do they know He knows their name, their life story and every hair on their head?

I wonder how my fellow Christians reconcile their faith with the very harsh language being spoken about immigrants. I wonder what Jesus would say about borders around a Christian nation. It is strange to even write–borders around a Christian nation.

We’re all fat

Women, we are all fat.  Fat is just the first line of attack.  If you aren’t fat, then you might be too skinny.  Or have a flat chest.  Or too big of a chest.  No thigh gap.  No butt.  No eyebrows.  Bushy eyebrows.

If a man or “women hating woman,” wants to shut you down, put you in your place, get you to stop talking or acting in a manner in which they don’t agree, they will go for a physical feature.  It’s cheap.  It’s easy, and it works.

Several sexist pigs, who represent and work with women, decided to go for the easy jab these past few days.  Here are a few of the highlights-

Judge Bailey Mosely in Texas called the marchers, “a million fat women.” (You can call his office by clicking on the word Judge for the number. I did and told the woman I was sorry she had to work in such a hostile environment.  She seemed very appreciative of the support.)

J. R. Doporto from New Mexico kept the fat joke rolling when he posted a meme about fat women marching. (Click on the link for his number)

Mike Causey @gocausey2012, N.C. Insurance Commissioner, also posted a meme about fat women marching.  Original, these guys.

First, a moment of silence for their poor wives and daughters.

Great, now that that’s done let’s talk about this form of controlling behavior and how we can confront it and let it wither away.

First, we all have something that can be attacked.  All of us, every single one of us.  I know what you are saying, “But Mary, Gisele, what about Gisele?”  Yes, Gisele meets all the requirements for being pleasing to a man’s eyes.  For now.  Today.  The unfortunate problem is, God willing, Gisele gets older.  And then, what will they say? (I know you know how to answer this)

“Have you seen Gisele?”

“The model, yeah.  She certainly went downhill.” (burp)

“I know.  She used to be so hot.  Now, she looks like hell.  All old and stuff.”

Or, if Gisele, attempts to deal with society’s pressure for her not to age-

“Have you seen the work Gisele’s had done?”

“Yeah. she looks ridiculous with those lips and all.” (burp)

Do you see my point?  There will always be something.  Maybe not today, but one day all women will have had to stand before a man and be judged.

We need to see it for what it is, an attack to keep us quiet, in the corner, not sayng upsetting things.

Second, we need to call it out when we see it, and we need to teach our daughters to do the same.  When we hear men say, “Look at Kathie Lee’s face!” and even though Kathie Lee is on the TV and not in the room with us, and we may not even like her very much, we need to say, “Why do you feel you are in a position to judge someone’s appearance?”

It’s just a question.

Let the silence envelop the room.  It’s your first time doing this; people are not going to react well.  Ask again.  If you get anything but a reaction of remorse for being so rude, then you gotta go for the jugular.  I’m sorry.  It must be done so they can understand how hurtful their behavior is.  Here is an example:

“I’m just curious why you, with that receding hairline, roll of digested Krispy Kreme’s sitting on your belt and nachos in your mustache make you feel you are in a position to judge her.”

Mean, I know.  Sometimes you have to experience it to understand it.

Finally, please tell me you aren’t one of those Judgey McJudgerson’s who makes themselves feel better by thinking how good they look in comparison to other women, and then I hate to even write it, please tell me you don’t say those nasty thoughts out loud.

Never talk about a woman’s appearance, ever, except in positive tones.  Always.  Everywhere.  Everyday.  Remember, you will have your day, and we’ll have your back.  Or backside.  Or nose.  Whatever they decide to criticize, we are going to be all over their ugliness.

 

The good old days are real

I just spent an incredible weekend with friends I have had since I was eighteen years old.  Our early years together had problems;  we worried about exams, bad haircuts, boys who didn’t call and possibly missing out on a really fun party.

In our twenties, we worried about whether we were on the right career path and how to afford the clothes, apartments and vacations we wanted.  We were either dating, engaged or getting married so bad haircuts remained an outlying concern.

Our thirties were a bit more grounded with long term partners or husbands.  Kids had arrived, days were hectic and late night parties were part of our history. There were also issues with our families of origin that had always been there but became less tolerable for us.  Sometimes, when we asked about siblings or parents, the answer was, “I don’t know.  We don’t speak.”

And then came the forties.  Yowza.  That decade needs to come with a warning.  Nobody, and I mean nobody, gets out of their forties without at least one crisis.  If you don’t believe me, work really, really hard at being trustworthy, someone a friend knows will never divulge their secrets or problems to, and you too will know of the agony of the forties.

This is what I have learned — nobody gets out trouble free.  If it isn’t your marriage, it’s your kids, if it s neither of them, it’s your finances, your parents, your job, your health or a loved one’s health.

These are trying times for everyone.  What adds to the suffering is believing you are alone in your challenge.  You are not alone, but if you feel alone, maybe you do one of three things-

  1.  You share secrets.  Don’t do that.  It hurts really badly.  If someone is telling you something about their marriage, family, kids, job or health, take it to the grave.
  2. You don’t want to “contain.”  When we have a burden on our back, we want to share it.  It lightens the load, makes us feel better and sometimes nothing makes things better but a good listener helps.  You can’t cure cancer, pay someone’s mortgage or improve their marriage, but you can listen.  If it is too much to hear someone’s challenges, you might deflect them with platitudes like, “I’m sure things will turn around,” or “that happened to a friend of mine, and she…”  Just listen.
  3. You aren’t an active listener–ding, ding, ding, this is me, my problem, something I am resolving to fix.  When a friend shares financial struggles, don’t do what I do, and start bringing up news stories about how incomes have remained flat.  When someone shares their husband’s infidelity with you, don’t offer advice or suggestions about what they can do.  The very best people in the world, whom I am very lucky to know, say these two things:  “I am so sorry.” and “That is so difficult.”  They say them over and over again as you tell your story, “I’m so sorry you are going through such a difficult time.”  They can say it ten times, and all ten times it feels really good — like they really care and are just letting you have your moment when you just want to feel sad.  Tomorrow, you will get to fixing it.  Today, you just want to be sad.

One thing I have learned that seems so counter intuitive is, if someone starts crying, don’t put your arm around them.  Don’t sit next to them.  You can hand them a box of tissues.  That’s it.  Apparently, the other gestures are our way of saying, “Okay, you can stop now.  I need you to stop crying now.”  I know, it seems weird, but a good cry is a good cry, and who wants to interrupt someone’s good cry?

If you are in your forties or know someone who is, buy the four pack of tissues. I just turned fifty and wish I could go back to caring about my hair.

 

 

Save Me from You- Small Talk at Holiday Parties

Save me from you this holiday season, or my argument why everyone should have to go through sorority or fraternity rush to attend a cocktail party:

We may meet over these next couple of weeks, and I would like to prevent any possible awkwardness.  I want to help you become absolutely scintillating for three minutes or less and then have the option to fade away.  Yes, I am talking about holiday party small talk with strangers.

We can do this together, and I promise, it can be painless.

First, don’t avoid eye contact.  It is so obvious when we are standing near each other and then you decide you want to know what type of crown molding our hosts chose for their dining room.  It’s okay, you can look at me.  I won’t bite.

Because of our close proximity, I may say, “Hi, I’m Mary.”  I may even extend my hand to shake yours.  The appropriate response is not, “Oh.”  It is, “Hi Mary, I’m Jane, Steve,” or whatever your name is.

So now, we are making eye contact and know each other’s names.

You may be panicking about what comes next, I promise it is not rocket science.

Here are some common next sentences:

“This dip is delicious”

“Their decorations are beautiful.”

“How do you know (hosts names)?”

“Do you live in this neighborhood?”

“Have you tried the cocktail they are featuring?”

“Those are great shoes.”

“That is a great tie.”

These are some sentences to avoid:

“I’m not much for parties.”

“So, who did you vote for?”

“I don’t know these people.  My spouse made me come.”

“I can’t eat anything here because I am dairy, soy, gluten, protein, and carbohydrate intolerant.”

“Do you think it’s too early to leave?”

So, going with one of those first, common sentences, I may respond in agreement with you.  I may introduce you to my husband.  He may use one of those sentences, or, because he has a life, he may say, “So, where do you work?”

These sentences may set off a chain reaction of more sentences, thus leading to a conversation, or they may lead us to a dead end.  It will be a pleasant dead end where we have met, exchanged some pleasantries and done our parts as good holiday party guests.

I learned this three-minute conversation technique while going through four years of sorority rush.  It can be exhausting, but it can also lead to meeting some really great people.

I may even meet you.

Companger-when anger gets in the way of compassion

I saw someone who causes me companger.

Companger-when you know you should be feeling compassion but all you feel is anger.

I wonder, are some people here to test us, to see if we will take the high road, turn the other cheek, forgive and forget?

Nearly everyone I know has someone in their life who causes them to feel companger.  The person is infuriating and at the same time elicits feelings of sympathy.

Why do they continue to do these behaviors that are either destructive to themselves or the relationships they have with other people?  Don’t they see their role, their contribution to the drama in their lives?

In many of these cases there is some addiction—to shopping, eating, drinking, exercising, drugs, or some other compulsive behavior.  We know these compulsions must exist to assuage deep emotional pain.

We feel for them.  We want the best for them, but we don’t want to get caught up in their web.  We don’t want to be lied to or lied about or try to pretend they aren’t lying when we know they are.

You know you are dealing with a difficult person when they produce one of two emotions in you-anger or pity.

A friend of mine said these hurt souls need “space and grace.” Is that really the best thing, isolating them? 

Another friend speaks of not letting these challenging individuals vomit all over her shoes.  It’s a strong image—you are going through your life, keeping all your plates balanced in the air, and some person comes along with all their mixed-up emotions and throws up all over your shoes.

Maybe, “space and grace” is the kindest thing you can do for yourself.

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