July 19, 2013

Using All The Crayons

I asked Arun to draw a picture of his dream vacation.  Apparently, Disney World can suck it because my kid wants to go to India with his daddy to catch cobras and pit vipers.

I have not said much regarding the Trayvon Martin case yet because frankly, I was too damned busy listening (per Kelly Wickham's request).  I've also been pondering Te-Nehisi Coates' observations.  I have been following Slate's coverage (and felt my heart sink when the uncomfortable prediction was offered that we would see an acquittal of Zimmerman.)  And then, I click on more links. Which lead me to yet MORE links.

And then I listen some more.

You would think that my being married to a person of color grants me some Special Pass, a unique revocation of my White Privilege, but it does not quite work that way.  Oh sure, I gain some perspective when I hear folks compliment his English.  I gain insight when I hear him take calls with patients and the patients question his use of the name "George" as if it was his lame attempt to Anglicize himself.   Things certainly begin to click for me when I hear folks ask his location and express disbelief that he is truly in Kansas and instead, would rather believe he is huddled in a stifling cubicle deep in the heart of Bangalore.

Nope.  There are no Special Passes.

When I first heard of this notion called White Privilege, it rankled me.  Seriously, What. The. Hell.  White Privilege? Meaning the results of all of my hard work was actually based upon the color of my skin?   After all, I did not feel very privileged growing up in crummy, small Kansas towns with a father still deep in the throes of PTSD from his stint in Vietnam (not to mention my parents' incessant fighting and eventual divorce). Oh, and I can definitely report that my pasty, pale skin did not feel privileged working through college and later, still paying off student loans (certainly, there were no Moaning Myrtle scholarships to be had.)  Furthermore, the machine that graded my CPA exam probably did not care that I am white. Indeed.

And yet.

I have never had reason to be scared of a cop.  I freely wear hoodies.  I have never been followed by security in a department store.  I have a HUGE temper, but no one has ever referred to me as an Angry White Woman (complete with predefined character attributions). In fact, I can only remember one time I have felt discriminated based upon color (let's leave misogyny out of this for now-- that is for another time entirely).  Manoj and I were out for dinner in Maine about 11 years ago and the waitress was extremely rude and curt with us. Manoj and I tend to give long leashes for our waitstaff because we respect how hard they work.  So, we simply thought we had gotten a server who was having a bad day.  Until I noticed her 2 tables over laughing, small-talking and offering up some really good customer service.  And then, I watched her come to OUR table and her demeanor did a 180.

However, honestly? The experience wasn't horrifying for me.  Because it was isolated.   It gave me some acumen, to be sure, but I did not leave the restaurant scarred for life.  And besides, the waitress was being crappy to me only because I was with a person of color.  I walked out of that restaurant still WHITE.  My husband was still BROWN.

Oh, and here is the real kicker -- because of my WHITE skin, my kids are now so ethnically ambiguous that I may never have to worry about them wearing hoodies on a rainy night as they dash to the store to buy Skittles.

Now that I have reconsidered this White Privilege gig I have going on, what am I going to do about it?  What can any of us do about it?  Yes, we need to listen, but then we need to talk about it.  And we need to quit pretending that kids do not see color.  Ever since my kids have grasped a crayon in their grubby paws, they have always been conscientious of coloring their family members the correct, corresponding shade (and as I have written before, we are very frank about color with our kids.)

Quit chirping brightly "my kids are colorblind!"  Your kids are not colorblind, they just don't care! Do what you can to keep it that way.  Encourage questions!  The other day, my son's friend was asking who Arun's mama was and who Anjali's daddy simply because he was confused by all the shades we have going on in our family.  And this kid is African-American!  At one point, he thought he shouldn't be asking the questions, but I encouraged him to finish his question.  And then, I gently explained to him what happens with mixed-race kids.

I can't change any laws, but I can keep a careful eye on who I vote for.

I can't change others' racist views but I can discourage the conversation or call out racist views.

I am in charge of two small humans who have the potential to positively influence others.  And when their friends come to visit and are in my home, I have those moments as well to reflect a positive attitude.

In the meantime, I need to get back to listening.




July 9, 2013

Her Special Ingredient is Chemical X

This morning, I told Anjali that I would be writing a blog post for her 6th birthday.  She insisted that she be the one to choose all the pictures...........

Anjali and The Black Elephant
She is going to start taking piano lessons this fall.  I have been waiting for this moment since the day she was born so that I may live vicariously through her ..... as is my destiny.  Because this is all about ME, right?

After her first dance recital, she declared she was ready for something new.  First swimming, and then piano.  I wasn't much of a Stage Mom, but I could be a Music Lessons Mom in a quarter note.  Totally.

The Butterfly Palace in Branson MO is a yearly tradition for us and each visit is a 3+ hour affair that ends with me begging to leave.  This was Manoj's first visit with us and I think he was shocked at the tenacity our kids have for butterfly wrangling. 

I cannot express how impressed I was with her bravery at her recital-- not only did she perform onstage on the huge, professional stage at the Lied Center at the University of Kansas, but she SMILED the entire time.  She is so shy and reserved in school settings, this was a shock to see her so comfortable on stage.

I love this snap because in her hand are pieces of salt water taffy.  We go to Branson every year and she begins talking about the candy store months before the trip.  It reminds me of the time when she was so, so small and she declared emphatically to Manoj, "Daddy, food is my FAVORITE."

Speaking of "favortie"..... Her favorite TV shows are the Wild Kratts and the Powerpuff Girls.  Her favorite Powerpuff Girl is Bubbles because "she is the creative one."  When she grows up, she wants to be "an artistic veterinarian".  However, according to her, "you have to go to school to be a veterinarian, but you can't go to school to be an artist.  You are either born with it... or you are not". (Captain Subtext guesses she thinks she was born with it.)   Her favorite books are Fancy Nancy and Curious George.  Her favorite restaurants are Wei-Wei Thai Place and Taco Bueno.  For breakfast, she likes to eat waffles or an organic veggie burrito with Cholula sauce.  She has a crazy sweet tooth which her father is more than happy to indulge.  Her favorite song is Taylor Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble".  She is in complete charge of her hair, her wardrobe and her fingernail polish (and if it were her choice, she would be in charge of some makeup, too.  Argh.)  She mostly thinks boys are stinky, except for her brother who is either her best friend or her worst enemy, depending on the hour of the day. She spends hours upon hours in our dining room creating elaborate construction paper masterpieces (and complementary elaborate messes.....)

At night when we snuggle in bed, I tell her the story of how madly I had wanted a little girl ever since I was a little girl myself and how I had wanted a little girl just.... like.... her.  

And it is true.  She is exactly who I had always dreamed of.

Anjali Lilly
Bug Eyed #2
I am sneaking this picture in, despite her Lack of Approval.  I love this picture -- she is just a day old and it reminds me of how in awe I was of her.  Since she was my 2nd baby, I was completely at ease with her and co-sleeping and breastfeeding.... ALL of it.   I remember relishing the fact  that I had a baby boy AND a baby girl.  I felt like the luckiest mama in the world.

And I still do.

May 7, 2013

Having All the Things

The alarm goes off at 5:15am.  I blearily wander to the bathroom and hop into the shower.  As I gradually wake up, I mentally run through a list of all the things that must be accomplished for the day.  I finish my shower, get dressed and stumble downstairs. I put the tea kettle on, feed the cats, mist tarantula cages, let the dog out, let various cats in and out (and inevitably, in again).  By 6:30am, I am headed out the door to work where I bury myself in an exciting extravaganza of process documentation and identifying the associated risks and controls. My client, a giant packaging provider in the consumer products and foodservice industries, is a dream to work with and one of the best clients I have ever had.  Everyone is very agreeable! and organized! and forthcoming! and has made this project go so, so smoothly.  At 3pm, I will hurriedly pack up my laptop and dash to the school to retrieve Team Chaos. Sometimes, there is work to be finished.  Sometimes, there is not.

Yes, I am working.  While it has never seemed to me there was a time where I was not working, society demands the distinction.  Last year while on another contract, I wrote a post titled “On Working” that detailed my hazy, mixed feelings on this so-called “working thing” and that ambivalence has still not cleared.   I love making money (along with the rest of humanity?) I like relieving Manoj of some of our fiscal responsibilities.  I enjoy getting dressed up every day.  I appreciate that I am working with intelligent professionals.  I relish pulling out Big School Words mixed with Business Clich├ęs.  I love digging deep into a Visio diagram and even deeper into my brain as I recall past knowledge and experiences.  I like hanging out with men for a change and talking sports and politics and pop culture all in my favorite sarcastic, cynical sense of humor (I always had a difficult time finding my Sarcastic, Cynical Tribe of SAHMs. Where were they??!!)

I feel the tide turning with a slow, creeping ascent.  When my kids were little, I was not conflicted about “just staying home” with them.  Not ever once. My self-esteem remained intact, I was never bored and I certainly never thought that I had tossed some feminist agenda to the wind!  However, this current school year has introduced a subtle shift to our lives.  Anjali is in afternoon Kindergarten and I cherished our mornings together while appreciating my afternoons all to myself.  I was able to do quick errands, visit my grandma, volunteer at the school and sneak in some reading or gym time.   I suddenly found myself with a luxurious abundance of free time and unapologetically, I was enjoying it. 

Obviously, accepting this current project ended all of that and frankly, the transition was painful.  Anjali has missed me terribly and has expressed herself in extremes – either with sadness or anger.  One day, she might sob uncontrollably at how she misses me.  The next day, she might completely reject me and drift toward Manoj.  I rarely cook these days.  The house is a complete disaster.  And the worst part is oh, how I miss my kids.  They are asleep when I leave the house and not seeing them until 3:40pm each day is difficult.

I don’t know what our new life will hold for us this fall when both kids are in school full-time.  I hope to find a solution that will allow me the flexibility to be home with them after they get out of school since rushed, frantic evenings are not a lifestyle I ever want. However, I also know that I simply cannot drop my children off at school, and then sit around all day just waiting for them to come home. The days of gin-soaked afternoons playing canasta with bland snacks served on melamine plates belong to the likes of Betty Draper.

Yes, I love Staying Home but only when my children are actually home with me. 

April 29, 2013

The Mute Button

Obviously, my writing here has dropped off considerably.  It would be easy to blame it on the project I have been on since February, but a quick glance at my archives would show that I have been neglecting this blog for more than just a few months.

I am not sure what happened.  Sometimes, I feel that I cannot be 100% honest here and that any opinion I express will insult someone….will hurt someone.  And that can become quite paralyzing.  For example, I have had a post brewing for ages in my brain about my shift in motherhood – that of going from a mother to teeny-tiny kids, to school-aged ones and how that affects my future choices. I have a post about my experiences taking a conceal carry/ gun safety class. And a post about why we told Arun about the Boston bombing and about Newtown and about tragedies in general. However, I have learned from past experiences that no matter how carefully I phrase words, no matter how carefully I attempt to tip-toe that someone... somewhere will be hurt or insulted or angry.  I already spend an excessive amount of emotional energy tiptoeing around people's feelings on Facebook and in Real Life that by the time I get here, I am simply tapped out all the while realizing THAT is a post right there -- how to be true to yourself without trampling over people.

And then, at one point, I accidentally blew up the template on my blog.  My blogroll is now missing, my sweet sheep are out wandering in the Blue Nowhere and…… I don’t know.  I thought that was a sign that I need a massive redesign on my blog but when I tried to find a designer, I could not find someone who would design on Blogger.  However, does a blog design really matter??  Add in the impending demise of Google Reader, I can’t help but wonder what that will mean to the few readers I have left.  Will any of it matter?

Still….I miss it here.  I miss writing.  I have drafts and scribbles and half-written entries scattered across various notebooks, journals and computers.  Over the next month, I am going to dust off some of those drafts.  I hope you will have patience with me as I recap a trip that I took last summer….as I wax sentimental on my kids…. as I post some snaps from a painting project from last fall….. as I post about some AMAZING books I read last year…. as I bore you to tears with my newfound passion for knitting socks.

Maybe somewhere in all of this I can find my voice again.


Even Anjali is bored with this post.

March 4, 2013

Drunk With Money



A month ago, I accepted a short-term engagement with a new firm working with a new client making new money that necessitated new clothes and a new routine. And obviously, a new handbag.  I absolutely detest clothes shopping, but I am still in lust with my new handbag. While I do have some fun shopping in mind (mostly in the form of some minor updates in our house) I  suspect that Manoj is concerned with how eager my neighbor Evan is to help me spend my newfound, legitimately-gotten gains. Furthermore, the primary objective to this new gig is for us to bulk up our savings account since it has become a little flabby in the abs.  So, the house will get a few minor updates, but mostly will remain as woe-begone as usual.  

Mostly, everything with all this New Stuff Going On has been going fine.  Just fine! Well, if you don’t count the fact that both children have been sick and Kansas City was hit with unreasonable (albeit seasonable) snow which meant sick children were not going to school anyway.  Fortunately, this was mostly not MY problem because with my New Routine comes New Hours which means that I leave the house at 5:30am each morning which means most of the scheduling headache has been Manoj’s.

In other news, because of all the snow, Manoj was in a minor car wreck the other day while taking Anjali to school.  The wreck occurred very close to our home – specifically, a mere two houses down from our own driveway.  In fact, at one point during the hub-bub with the police reporting and tow-truck wrangling, Anjali grew bored with it all and simply left the crime scene to go home and make herself a sandwich.

If you don’t believe this to be true, then you obviously have not met my daughter.

One of my favorite conversations in the aftermath of the car wreck went like this:
Me: Don’t you think we should look for a rental car tomorrow?
Manoj: I don’t need a car over the weekend.
Me: Well, I have to be at work at 8am on Monday, how will you get to work?
Manoj: I’ll get a ride from someone in the office.
Me: But what about the kids?
Manoj: I’ll get a ride after I drop them off.
Me: But how will you drop them off if you don’t have a car?

And if you don’t believe this conversation to be true, then you obviously have not met my husband.

January 17, 2013

THE OBVIOUS GAME by Rita Arens

My Pretend Lawyer Made Me Write This: I have not been compensated for this post, but I did receive an electronic galley copy of this book.  Also, Rita is a long-time friend of mine.  However, I am a firm believer that if I cannot help my friends promote their projects, I have no business helping ANYONE promoting their projects.  In that vein, I will be purchasing an extra copy that I am giving away -- details at the very end of the post!



Get THE OBVIOUS GAME here:

A few years ago, Rita asked me to read a draft of a novel she had written.  I read the draft and then I told her what I thought.   Over the next year or so, Rita tweaked the draft, signed with an agent, made more tweaks, then signed with a publisher.  And then, I imagine, she made a few more tweaks. (I am always fascinated when folks I know manage to write a book AND survive the arduous process it takes to get it published.  And I have seen Rita do this not once, but TWICE.)

I was very excited to read this book and I was not disappointed.  THE OBVIOUS GAME is the story of a teenage girl living in a small-town in Iowa.  Diana's world is falling apart as her mother battles cancer and just as Diana takes part in that delicate social dance known as "high school".  Her best friend (who is not always the nicest person in the first place) is losing her own footing and her other friend is too wrapped up in her new boyfriend to take notice of the downward spiral that Diana is in.  And soon, Diana has a new boyfriend of her, which makes things even more interesting.  As Diana navigates all the challenges that life is throwing at her, she finds herself on the path to an eating disorder.

I really appreciated how Rita eloquently and respectfully approached the dissonance of living in a small town.  Yes, there can be a safe, cozy embrace of being surrounded by people and traditions that never, ever change.  But the environment can become stifling, particularly if you are a teenage girl trying to find yourself but are limited by the constraints of a small town mentality that expect you to never change or God forbid, to be different (Not that I am bitter about my own small-town experiences.  Never.)  Generally, I thought Rita's observations of living in a small-town were spot-on.

As a mother, this was interesting for me to read.  I probably had far more sympathy for Diana's mother than I did Diana (Obviously, I will need to become more sympathetic for the Plight and Angst of the American Teenager in about 6 years.  Ahem.)  Still, I felt it was important for me to read this book as a mother of a daughter.  I thought Rita was compelling in the way she depicted Diana's gradual march into her eating disorder.  It did not happen over night.  And as a mother, I am glad that I read about some of the methods girls use to hide their eating disorders.  I had no idea.

Thank you for writing this, Rita.


Interview With the Author
1. How much of Diana herself was autobiographical for you besides the obvious bit where you have both fought an eating disorder? Did the similarities make it more difficult for you to write in the 1st person narrative? 
We both fought an eating disorder and we both had moms with cancer and we both grew up in small-town Iowa. My mom had cancer when I was in elementary and middle school -- years away from when I developed anorexia at 17. Diana has it all happening at once, which I think is a very different experience. Diana has a really rocky relationship with her best friend, whereas my best friend in high school has been my friend for 35 years and has been one of my biggest cheerleaders all through my life, particularly when I was sick and when my mom was sick. My life was easier than Diana's. I took every problem I could think of and threw them at Diana all at once to see how she'd handle it. 

My first, unpublished novel was written in close third person. I found my real voice through blogging -- to the extent that when my former thesis adviser read a draft of THE OBVIOUS GAME, he was shocked at how much my voice had changed since grad school. I find it much easier to write in first person, and YA does quite well with first person, so I went with it. 

2. While writing this novel, who (a fellow author or someone else) most influenced you during the process? 
My agent, Eric Myers, was hugely influential and helped me isolate what was not working at all very quickly. My former professor, Michael Pritchett, helped me line edit the finer details. Author Jean Kwok talked me off the cliff more than once -- I met her through my work with the BlogHer Book Club. And I had beta readers -- including you, bless you -- who told me what just smelled wrong in earlier drafts. And I read tons and tons and tons in the last three years -- I'm up to about a book every week now, which is much more than I was reading before I started working on THE OBVIOUS GAME. Anything I read I try to learn from, even if it's what not to do. I'm reading a mix of review books for BlogHer Book Club, YA novels and adult novels right now from my review queue.

3.The novel is based in Iowa in a town that is similar to the one in which you grew up. Did this make it easier for you to write the novel since it was coming from a place of familiarity? How will you react to potential criticism to the parts where small-town life in Iowa is not portrayed in a positive light?
I knew I was taking a risk by setting this book down in Snowden, Iowa (which I made up -- Snowden is the name of the bombardier who dies in the opening scene of my favorite book, CATCH-22) because it is so similar to the town in which I grew up, which will remain nameless in deference to family who lives there. The setting -- small town, 1990 -- was like a character for me. I can't imagine writing this particular book in any other place. The one I'm working on now takes place in Chicago, so they won't all be like this. It would be hard for me to set a book down somewhere I'd never been, though, so maybe also setting the book in small town Iowa just removed months of research. 

 In terms of potential criticism about small towns -- if they don't pick that, they'll pick something else, right? I don't plan to respond to criticism of any kind online. Authors get themselves in trouble when they do that. 

4. My mother had breast cancer and the scenes with Diana and her mother really rang true for me. How was it for you to write scenes? Did you talk to your own mother about your shared experiences when she battled cancer? As a mother yourself, how was the experience of putting yourself back into the role of daughter to get yourself into the mindset of writing Diana's character? 
 My mom actually had malignant fibrous histiocytoma, which is cancer of the soft tissue. It is crazy super rare: As with all sarcomas of soft tissue and bone, MFH is rare, with just a few thousand cases diagnosed each year. MFH of soft tissue typically presents in a patient that is approximately 50 to 70 years of age though it can appear at any age. MFH is very rare in persons less than 20 years old. 

My mom was in her early forties when she got sick from the mysterious lump in her shin that has made me forever paranoid about lumps and bumps. She had chemo and radiation twice, lost all her hair twice. I gave Evelyn the same kind of cancer out of laziness, because I don't know how other cancers are different. I found it shocking no one ever questioned me on this bizarre cancer that very few people have, but apparently that detail wasn't important to the story -- the fact that she was sick was the important part. I've talked to another reviewer who had a sick mama and really related to that part of the novel, too. It's a weird thing when your caregiver suddenly needs care.

I didn't talk to my mom about it as much as I wrote the book and then gave it to her -- and then sat around fretting until she read the whole thing. We had some really good talks about our experiences, as well as her experience of my eating disorder. And my dad, and my sister -- my sickness affected the whole family just as hers did. I have no idea who we'd be if we hadn't had sickness in our family tapestry while my sister and I were still at home.

I had a lot of catharsis while I was writing THE OBVIOUS GAME because my daughter is just a little younger than I was when my mom got sick -- she's in third grade and I was in sixth (my sister was in third). I started to see how very young my mother was when she had cancer and how completely terrified and exhausted she must have been -- my dad was our sole income provider and she had to send my sister and me over to my cousins' house to get on the school bus in the morning because she was too sick from chemo to get out of bed. There was still a big stigma. People didn't talk about it. The hospital where she got treatment was forty miles away. And there we were, needy little kids who didn't understand what was going on. On the flip side, I got so into the character of Diana that I actually woke up from dreams mad at my mother because I'd dreamed she grounded me or something. It was bizarre. Depending on the scene, I related more to Evelyn or Diana as a mother or as an adult child. The experience also made me extremely humbled and grateful for every day with my daughter when I'm not sick. Not being sick is a huge thing. 

 And..... here's your softball!
5. What are you currently reading??
I am currently simultaneously reading MRS. LINCOLN'S DRESSMAKER (BlogHer Book Club), ASK THE PASSENGERS (YA novel) and CITY OF WOMEN (adult lit). I'm farthest into CITY OF WOMEN which is so, so good.


Giveaway Details!
I am giving away a copy of this book! Since I am receiving a free copy myself anyway, this is my way of "paying it forward".  And I suspect that I could strong-arm Rita into signing it, as well.

To enter to win a signed copy of THE OBVIOUS GAME, simply leave a comment here and tell me what YOUR favorite book has been lately.  I will have a child (or pet) select a randomish number from the comments.  (Giveaway ends January 31st, at midnight, CST.  Open to US addresses only -- Sorry!)