Don’t Let the TV Define Beauty for your Daughter

My teenage self shopping in Beverly Hills.

My teenage self shopping in Beverly Hills.

I recently told a friend’s teenage daughter I was glad she wasn’t mine. Whoops. That came out wrong. What I meant to say is that I think in some ways it must be more difficult to parent daughters than sons. I remember being an incredibly sassy, strong-willed, thought-I-knew-everything kind of teenager. But of course boys and girls can be equally obnoxious. Teen girls haven’t cornered the market on moody outbursts or pompous condescension toward their parents. No. Something else seems more challenging about raising daughters, clothes shopping.

My friend and her daughter seem to be having an ongoing debate over what constitutes appropriate apparel for a young girl, or maybe even women in general. I get it. The pressure on young people to conform is enormous. And girls who want to fit in often have to squeeze their bodies into outfits that are not only inappropriate, but also often downright unfortunate. And all for what? To distract people from the enormity of their intelligence? I think not.

If I had a daughter, here are a few things I might say to her on the subject.

First, popular culture would have women of all ages believe that sexy and pretty are synonymous. They are not. To dress sexy, or “hot” as the kids like to say these days, is to be suggestive, to arouse desire and tell the world, this body is ready to rock and roll. This may be the case for Hollywood entertainers and many Wal-Mart shoppers, but it’s probably not the right message for my teenage daughter to be sending to the world. It is possible to be feminine, attractive and stylish without dressing for school as if you’re competing for the mirror ball trophy on Dancing With the Stars.

Also, if dressing in short shorts and low-cut tops garners attention–and you like the attention–then you may have been mislead into believing attention equals affection or admiration. It does not. And for every boy whose attention you’re hoping to grab, there are most likely countless creeps who are also enjoying the show.

Now I’m no prude and believe the human body can be a truly beautiful thing. But haven’t women evolved enough to understand the true nature of their own beauty? Or maybe it’s darker yet, maybe girls use sensuality to compete against other girls, winner take all in an adolescent game of physical prowess and one-upsmanship. The female version of boys flexing their muscles to display dominance in front of other guys. Gross.

If I had a daughter, hopefully she’d heed some of my wisdom on this topic. But if she didn’t, as a parent, I’d still bear responsibility for clothes purchased and clothes worn. I would need to set certain standards about modesty and be willing to go to the mat to protect my daughter from culturally distorted messages about beauty and body image. So, as I stated earlier, I’m glad she’s not my daughter.

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May God Bless Your Obedience and other “Whacky” Sentiments

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This July, the hubs and I celebrate 19 years married. Not to brag since many have logged more years than us. But as the daughter of divorced parents and granddaughter of divorced grandparents, it’s kind of a big deal to me. I have no disrespect for divorced people, especially those who’ve suffered through abuse, addiction or adultery. For them, divorce can be a most welcome salve to their wounded spirit. But if I had any tip for staying married under what some might call more ideal circumstances, it would be this–the needs of the marriage must trump the wants of the self.

To illustrate, let me share a story from my first year of marriage. The hubs and I had packed up and moved west for kicks and giggles. We told folks, if we loved it, we’d stay and if we hated it, we’d leave. Trouble was, we had no plan for if one of us loved it and the other didn’t. We purchased a house in a suburb outside Seattle and spent our evenings after work going for walks around our new neighborhood. We talked about the future, promotions we hoped to attain, money we hoped to make and the number of children we planned to have. One of the hubs’ recurring dreams was returning to the Midwest. “The Twin Cities are great,” he’d say. “You’d really like it there.”

I’d roll my eyes and nod my head. Being a Michigander who’d always dreamed of living west, I had no intention of ever doing winter again. I’d joke in response, “Fine but you’ll have to get a promotion and a relocation package, help selling our house, and I’ll need a winter clothing allowance.”

Two years into our west coast adventure, I’d snagged a great promotion and was excited for more travel, more responsibility and more money. Three months after that, the hubs was also offered a promotion and a relocation package to guess where?? That’s right, the Twin Cities.

His news disappointed me to say the least. But I recalled another component of our evening walks, discussions of starting a family. I wanted a career but I also wanted to someday parent our future kiddos full-time. I’d seen enough jet-set executives to know I couldn’t do both. That meant, gulp, that his promotion meant more to our future family in the long term. I resolved to move to Minnesota and find another job.

I broke into tears when telling a friend my tale of woe. She responded by saying, “God will bless your obedience.”

My tears may have sucked back up into their ducts as I stifled a laugh. Only a religious nutcase would say such a thing, or so I believed at the time.

But 19 years later, I’ll admit that getting to raise our kids in Minnesota is one of the many blessings I’ve experienced since letting go of what I thought I wanted in favor of what my marriage needed.

Growing up with a single mother taught me self-preservation. Submission was not modeled in my mother’s home. Like her, I refuse to be anybody’s doormat. Even the term submission may stir up a feminist rant complete with finger snaps, head bobs and curse words. And yet, year after year, regular practice of submission, putting my individual wants second to the needs of others, particularly my spouse–being obedient to what I know in my heart is right–has brought me blessing. Truth!

I blow a kiss across the plains to my religious nutcase friend whose wisdom once sounded whacky to me. And if you’re trying to cobble together some good years with someone in marriage or even in friendship, consider which small sacrifices each person in the relationship could make for the good of the whole. And may God bless your obedience.

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Sip Your Drink Slowly, and Other Tips for Handling Irksome Family Members.

Large Group of Happy People standing together.Things don’t always turn out how we want. Blah Blah. Heard it all before. Right? Make lemon drop martinis out of lemons… or something like that. But what about when people don’t behave how we want them to? Yes, if we’re honest, we must admit we have certain expectations about human behavior. Not usually our own behavior, no, our harshest criticism seems especially passionate when it comes to the folks who happen to be related to us.

It’s summer and the season offers plenty of opportunity for family gatherings, or at least the expectation of some level of family togetherness. And when it comes to family, what I seem to notice most consistently is the disappointment people harbor when it comes to certain family members.

“Why doesn’t he call more often?” “She forgot my birthday.” “He’s too busy and doesn’t make enough time for me.” “She’s spoiling her children.” “He doesn’t pay enough attention to his children.” “They only call when they need something.” “She’s so critical of everything I do.”

On and on it goes, an endless lament of unmet expectations sprinkled into a simmering stew of deeply held disappointments and grudges.

Welp, here’s the deal as far as I see it. When it comes to family, we’re kind of stuck. Unless there is some really hurtful dysfunction or brutality at work, a la August Osage County, it’s difficult to have relationships if we just pick up our toys and go home when others get on our nerves. Instead, consider a handful of coping techniques I’ve found helpful when tempted to complain about someone else’s behavior.

First, I’m willing to bet that most of the time another person’s behavior isn’t about me. It’s about them. They’re trying too hard or aren’t trying at all because they’re worried about perception or making a mistake. My mind can be hard to read and yours probably can be too. Heck, the people who live in my house with me are often unsure of how to make me happy. So how can we expect others to know exactly what to do or say to please us? Or maybe that person you’re annoyed with is just plain clueless and has no real intention of being helpful or hurtful. So what? Laugh it off. Give it a pass. Don’t keep a record of wrongs.

Second, generational and cultural differences do exist. So stop measuring other people by the social mores of whatever generation, town or religious tradition you came of age in. Be gentle, not condescending. And even when it’s difficult, try to give the old folks a break–for many reasons, but mostly because our behavior toward them is teaching our children how to treat us when we’re old. Seriously. Think about it.

Lastly, stop being pissed off that your family doesn’t mirror some romanticized TV version of unconditional campfire Kumbaya. The fact is many people simply cannot live up to the expectations we’ve set for them. Either because they never learned how or are emotionally unequipped to do so. So when we get anxious, angry or agitated because others are not meeting our needs, we’re being just as annoying as they are. Put yourself in their shoes and consider the source. Then consider the only true source of life, the creator and maker of all things who stands ready to meet our very real needs.

I pray blessings on all of your family gatherings this summer and hope we can be quick to forgive, offer kindness and seek a spirit of harmony. May our expectations be in line with what’s realistic and our concerns be more about how we can bless others rather than how we desire others to bless us. Oh, and if life give you lemons, be sure to sip your lemon drop slowly.

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It’s Only Temporary

My "temporary" home.

My “temporary” home.

For the third time in 15 years, it seemed as if my husband’s employer might experience a merger. But this time was different. Instead of the company purchasing or partnering with another, it faced the threat of being swallowed up by a corporation with a reputation for improving efficiencies by slashing payrolls.

We followed news stories and stock prices. We waited. And during the waiting, I had a sort of epiphany.

I recall starting out our married life feeling as if we had nothing to lose. We pursued job offers in a city thousands of miles from home. We spent an entire night filling a moving truck with what little we had and gave away whatever wouldn’t fit. We’d signed a lease for an apartment sight unseen. We sold my car before we left to avoid paying to haul it.

But then, the job I thought I had lined up fell through. So, with no vehicle and the hubs off to learn his new job, I applied for work in an unfamiliar city and studied the bus schedule in order to get to scheduled interviews. It was challenging but we viewed it as part of a grand adventure. We never doubted things would work out.

It seems people spend their early years dreaming of what is possible. We take risks and work through whatever challenges come along. Most everything–from housing to employment–is temporary, and that’s expected, even welcomed.

But then, we accomplish things like working years with a company that pays well and provides healthcare and paid vacations. We buy houses, cars, furniture and timeshares. We have children who become accustomed to things like groceries, sporting equipment, piano lessons and orthodontia. And suddenly, we think we have a lot to lose.

During those weeks when the hubs and I told ourselves we weren’t worried about hostile takeovers or job losses, I realized that I prefer the adventurous nature of my younger self. When did living become about holding on so tightly to what we’ve accumulated instead of believing, as we once did, that everything is temporary and that something even better is just around the corner?

It seems that potential corporate takeover isn’t going to happen, at least not right now. But the experience has reminded me that security is an illusion. The Lord gives and He takes away. Praise be the name of the Lord. I don’t quote those lines as some flippant response to the everyday agony endured by many, but as a reminder that His grace is sufficient. And that life is sweeter when each moment is enjoyed with fists unclenched of what is temporary. Let life’s joys and sorrows run through open fingers. We cannot grasp one and refuse the other. Being open to change, expecting it or even welcoming it, still can be part of life’s grand adventure.

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Are the Wheels Round? Thoughts on the American Dream

It’s been established that I play a little tennis. And recently, my team played a match at a swanky country club surrounded by even swankier homes. And for a few minutes, after finishing my match, packing up my gear and re-fueling on a granola bar, I watched a young man hit tennis balls with one of the pros. The teen wore a t-shirt with the name of an elite private school. He was a decent tennis player and most likely a nice boy with a bright future.country club

But imagining his future did manage to turn me a bit green. He evidently lives a privileged life filled with opportunities like private school and private tennis lessons at a lovely suburban country club. I wished in that moment that I could give my children access to such privilege. Don’t misunderstand. We’re not broke. And our kids go to very good public schools. But I don’t see myself as wealthy and sometimes feel I lack the ability to provide access to a “good” life. Therein lies my problem.

I’m the kind of person who is impressed when another parent says their child goes to Stanford or Notre Dame. And yet, telling someone your offspring goes to an elite college really says next to nothing about your child. It maybe tells me that your child is intelligent and possibly even hardworking. It certainly tells me that your child is privileged. But where someone goes to school doesn’t say anything about whether that person is honest, patient, kind, generous, loyal, joyful, gentle or self-controlled.

So in essence, my jealousy–spurred only by my perception–of the young tennis player, mainly signals my desire for privilege in my own life. Whoa.

MercedesYears ago–before we had children–the hubs pondered a job opportunity in Nebraska. We were living on the west coast at the time and I joked to my grandfather about how the lower cost of living in flyover country meant the hubs should buy me a Mercedes for agreeing to move there. (Sorry Nebraska. I’m sure you’re state is lovely.) But the point is, my grandpa didn’t laugh at my joke nor did he understand how having a Mercedes could make me happy. In fact, his exact words to me were, “Are the wheels round?”

Puzzled, I squinted at him and asked, “What?”

“On a Mercedes,” he said. “Are the wheels round on a Mercedes?”

“Yes,” I answered slowly, not entirely sure if he was having a senior moment. But then he smiled and I understood. He needed not say more. Round wheels will get you where you’re going. Anything extra serves an entirely different purpose.

The vehicles we choose to drive, like the clothes we wear, say something about our tastes but nothing real about our person. And I don’t mean to be derogatory toward Mercedes. They are beautiful automobiles. Just as I’m sure Stanford is a good school and that many good and decent students attend there. I just need to check myself and be reminded that there are way more important things to offer my children than privilege. If you’ve never given this much thought, maybe consider how the way you live your life speaks to others. Do people know you to be honest, patient, kind, generous, loyal, joyful, gentle and self-controlled? Is instilling those traits in your children more important than providing them every privilege and opportunity? If not, why not?

photoToday is Memorial Day. A day to honor those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, to ensure the privilege of our continued way of life with its access to democracy, freedom and opportunity. My grandfather did not die in the line of duty. But he was a WWII veteran who served his country proudly and lived long enough to teach me much about what it looks like to live a good life. A life that need not include luxury cars or country clubs to be blessed. Happy Memorial Day.

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Help Reveal the Hope that Exists

 

 

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Snark, cynicism and irony are the revered attitudes of contemporary life. Notions of high-minded humor rest on pillars of sarcasm. Salacious television programming suggests viewers be suspicious of all human interaction. And news stories often stir the pots of divisiveness, perceived helplessness and fear. Our natural reaction is to gird up. Armored with a thick skin and a vicious wit, we believe we can thrive, or can at least survive, in this age of raised eyebrows and hardened hearts.

But carrying around a combined weight of skepticism and scorn can be a heavy load. When we distrust every institution, profession or person, we become isolated. Some vent anonymously online. Some medicate. Others meditate. But living in fear of some sinister truth that lurks around every corner waiting to pounce on our latent “naiveté” isn’t the only way to live. It’s really no way to live.

An attitude of cynicism says disappointment is the only possible outcome and that we must prepare accordingly. But what if there is an alternate truth? A revelation that can free us from being overwhelmed by fear. A truth that conquers cynicism and its accompanying band of Debbie Downers: anxiety, depression and anger.

That truth is, hope exists. And if we cannot go so far as to believe anything is good–can’t we at least offer a taste of the hope that exists by doing good?

Some ideas for transforming attitudes from helplessness to hopefulness:

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

  • Search for at least one good attribute in each person who rubs you the wrong way because hope exists in restored relationships.
  • Practice empathy because hope exists when we seek to understand others.
  • Be a good listener because hope exists when we help lighten another’s burden.
  • Be vulnerable because hope exists when others see they are not alone.
  • Be cheerful because it’s hard to have hope when you’re always bitchy.
  • Pray for others because hope exists when we ask the Almighty to protect and comfort His creation.
  • Filter your media input because hope flourishes when you’re not inundated with negativity. (This isn’t PollyAnna. It’s wisdom.)
  • Spend time in nature because hope exists when you marvel at the universe.
  • Don’t mock or undermine others because hope exists when we eschew tribalism and seek to build on common ground.

Please feel free to add to this list in the comments section with your own ideas for offering hope to a cynical world. And may your Monday be blessed as you bask in this truth–Hope exists.

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

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You Can Take a Girl Out of Flint…

Like you, I’m a reader. I read novels and non-fiction, newspapers, magazines and blogs. I’ve got Kindle, Flipboard and iBooks on my phone so that a variety of reading material is literally at my fingertips at all times. And, like you, certain books tend to resonate with me. I’m enthralled by non-fiction and history, books that tend to turn me into the Cliff Clavin of conversations, excited to spurt acquired information like an annoying leaky hose.

When it comes to literature, last month, I wrote a post about a handful of Midwest inspired novels enshrined on my bookshelf. Tales of endurance, family and the allure the great plains has had on dreamers, immigrants and adventurers over hundreds of years.

Today, my reading suggestions zero in on a very distinctive Midwest region, the birthplace of General Motors, home of autoworker union strikes and of a once burgeoning middle class left devastated by changing economics, poor education and broken homes. This region also happens to be the place of my youth, thus the resonance, wincing and personal heartbreak I’ve felt while reading each one.

I encourage you to read these books and attempt to understand what’s happened in places like Flint and Detroit. Because if you think this wreckage can’t happen elsewhere, you need only pay attention to the state of manufacturing, housing, education, governance and family life in other pockets around the country to recognize how close communities, businesses, families and people can come to the brink of calamity.

 

RivetheadRivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line by Ben Hamper

An oldie but a goodie for anyone curious about automotive factory life in Flint Michigan during the 70s and 80s. I give credence to Hamper’s descriptions as they closely match the stories I heard from other “shoprats” while growing up in Flint. His essays hint of the disastrous and greedy collusion between the UAW and GM executives that paved the way for thousands of manufacturing workers to lose their jobs and an entire town to become abandoned; albeit nobody believed that could happen back then. There are no clean hands in this tale and your mind will be blown by factory floor exploits described in raw detail by this foul-mouthed wordsmith. An interesting read that allows the reader to decide which ingredient in this historical stew is most responsible for a city’s unsavoriness.

 

Please Don't Come Back From the MoonPlease Don’t Come Back from the Moon by Dean Bakopoulos

This novel is set in Detroit during the early 1990’s and describes a community filled with kids forced to grow up without their fathers. The turmoil created by parental abandonment seems to have become accepted as a “normal” adolescent rite of passage in contemporary life. But Bakopoulos effectively narrates the real pain of loss and how children and teens attempt to be “resilient” and navigate life mostly unsupervised and without direction.

As an all too typical fatherless child who grew up in a decaying community of way too many fatherless children, this story touched my heart. Combine this read with a viewing of Kevin Durant’s Mother’s Day speech and you’ll want to pin medals on all the single moms who’ve managed to avoid or overcome depression, frustration, drug addiction, loneliness and poverty to raise children after their husbands took, in Bakopoulos’s words, “a trip to the moon.”

 

TeardownTeardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City by Gordon Young

A recent and important book that paints with broad strokes a historical portrait of a city that was once a powerful launch pad into the middle class for thousands of hard-working families. A Flint native, Young manages to highlight the underlying culture of a city unprepared to adapt to change and contrast it with his current hometown of San Francisco–two cities that may as well be on different planets.

When I try to explain what Flint is, this place that partly shaped my young life, many react with skepticism. Could any place in America really suffer in this way? Teardown tells us the answer is yes. It also asks, “What can be done about it?”

 

MiddlesexMiddlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

For the more adventurous literary readers, this epic tale takes you on a journey from Greece to Detroit with an astonishing story of family, adolescence and eventual acceptance of self. Less a book about place as the others I’ve mentioned, the setting still provides some pretty interesting insight into the evolution of Detroit–a locale that cannot be described in one word or even one sentence. It is as fraught as the cast of characters in Eugenides’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

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