When to Call Me “Ma’am” or “Her Majesty”

Okay. I’ve purposely avoided speaking out about the 2016 election. My opinions are strong. But I have no illusion of being able to change your mind with a Tweet, a Facebook meme or a blog post. But I do want to share some thoughts about a particular element at the heart of our current cultural debate–women in leadership. Or about being a modern woman in general…

I recently finished a pretty funny memoir by comedian Jessi Klein titled You’ll Grow Out of It. I started out loving it. Her chapter titled Growing Older had me nodding along while laughing so hard I choked on my morning coffee. But then, she does this thing. That thing too many women do. Even accomplished women. Klein basically starts telling readers about how she equates beauty to sex, lust and youth. She pivots from cracking wise about the banality of our “look young and beautiful at any cost” culture to fantasizing about a “princess moment” at the Emmy Awards, swooning over celebrities and bristling at being called ma’am. (She also attempts to further normalize pornography with a chapter about her interest in it. But doing so is so far off the rails on a train wreck of hypocrisy in terms defending women or decency; I will only roll my eyes and shake my head on that topic. For now.)

First, let me just say that I enjoy looking like a woman. I wear makeup, try to style my hair and often wear high heels (mostly because I’m short, but also because I like how they look.) I am not opposed to girls and women wanting to look or feel beautiful.

I am opposed to letting media, men and an increasingly lewd culture define what is beautiful. High applause for Alicia Keys going sans makeup on The Voice, for high-profile women who allow a crinkle around the eye or a crease in their forehead, for my super classy girlfriend who always looks great but never dresses like her tween daughter.

Then there is the raunchy but funny Amy Schumer skit where she shows up at a picnic of aging actresses who educate her about women in Hollywood only having value if men still want to sleep with them. (The language in this vid is pretty coarse in case you search for it. You’ve been warned.) But if this view is in any way accurate, and I believe it likely is, then why on earth would women want to splash around in that scum pond by focusing more on being/looking “sexy” than on being/looking strong, intelligent, accomplished, wise, classy, lovely, artsy, comfortable, hard-working, etc.

Of course women are sexual beings. I’m not suggesting old-school repression or enforced “modest” dress. I’m just asking WHY would sexually “desirable” be at the top of any list of female aspirations?

And finally, the word “ma’am”…

As with all things, there’s a balance here. An introspective pause button that we should hit when we hear this word.

Klein is frustrated at being called ma’am because she believes it implies she’s “old” and therefore undesirable. I reiterate, if “desirable” is your long-term goal, disappointments will mount (not to mention I’m disappointed in you) and you’ll miss so many opportunities to be someone of greater significance, influence and honor.

Ma’am need not be a curse word or term of degradation. It could be a term of high praise–a word that says you’ve transcended the need to simply be desirable; you’re accomplished. We are mothers, leaders and deep thinkers. We are wise. So fetch me my coffee youngster!

And now, a note of caution to men who think I’ve given you permission to dismiss us with the word ma’am:

A family friend has helped my hubs coach little league baseball for several years. This woman knows as much about the sport (maybe more) than many of the dads on the field trying to relive their glory days.

But one day, an opposing team’s coach attempted to bend the rules, clearly thinking our assistant coach wouldn’t know better–she being a woman and all. She called him on it. He dismissively responded with something like, “Let the ump make the call, ma’am.”

The ump did make the call and she was right. But when she mentioned the exchange to my hubs, he was quizzical. Couldn’t quite figure out why she was still upset. I’m proud to say I helped the hub’s male mind figure it out.

“All other coaching staff is referred to as coach. Your assistant deserves no less. You will inform the opposing team’s coach to refer to your assistant as “coach,” not “ma’am” from now on.”

I could see a light bulb spark to life above my hub’s head. God bless him, he nodded in agreement and walked over to the other team’s coach in an attempt to spread some goodness, decency and respect into the game.

It may seem tricky–when to feel honored and when to be offended. But it’s worth some thought. It’s also worth your time to consider what you want to be known for–being fawned over as a princess? Or being honored as a Queen!

 

P.S. I love the above photo I found online and the video link of women talking about aging. Of course I offer credit. But still, I cringe when an ad for anti-wrinkle cream immediately follows the video. Sigh…

 

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By the Numbers- Thoughts on Aging

50The hubs celebrates a big birthday this month. As our children like to tell him, he’s halfway to one hundred. Whoa! It seems so weird to think about how I married a 29-year-old and that in the blink of eyes that now require reading glasses I’m married to a 50-year-old. Same guy, different number. He’s cool with it. Cause he’s just cool.

But those numbers can rattle my insecurity as if a number is what defines me.

I remember when I was turning 40 and was wringing my hands about that number and what I imagined it stood for. Middle age. Wrinkle cream. Becoming suddenly unsure of my wardrobe because the forties occupy this middle space, a life stage limbo when some clothes make women look like they’re trying too hard–rhinestone studded denim and leopard prints, or like they’re simply giving up–rhinestone studded sweatshirts and elastic waist capris.

I shared my lament about turning 40 with my grandfather who was 80ish at the time. He stared off into the ether in some hypnotic gaze, heaved a great sigh and then said, “What I wouldn’t give to be 40 again.”

THAT, my friends, stuck with me. A message born of wisdom. This train isn’t slowing and it will most certainly stop one day. If we’re lucky and live to be 80, we surely don’t want to have wasted being 40 by being obsessed with the number.

It’s funny how I still try to conceal my number. At what age do we begin boasting about our number? Most 80-somethings I know are always saying things like, “Look how well I’m getting around! You know, I’m 84!”

We’re in awe at the 60-year-old who runs a marathon but people in their forties receive a collective shrug. Why is no one impressed with my ability to work an iPhone or decipher my health insurance coverage? My BMI and cholesterol levels are within the acceptable range and I have relatively few aches and pains. Isn’t that impressive at my age?

But still, I struggle with insecurity. I rant about photo-shopped celebrities and the ubiquitous use of cosmetic treatments and procedures. I occasionally hover weirdly close to the TV screen leaning in to examine a newscaster’s face for a frozen furrow or overly plumped laugh lines. I wish for more women my age to just let those lines live on their foreheads so I’d fit in and feel better about myself. I seek solace by wanting to compete on my own terms.

I’m a fool. Because it’s not a competition. It should not and does not matter how we look compared to other women because our beauty and our worth are not measured by how we look in contrast to others. We know this but how do we live it?

In Amy Poehler’s book, Yes Please, she talks about how there is more currency in life than looks and how people don’t need to be good looking to be good. She suggests that women in particular “decide what your currency is early. Let go of what you will never have. People who do this are happier and sexier.”

Aging women like me who’ve been tricked by society into over-emphasizing youth and beauty as currency might want to figure out what else we’re good at in order to avoid the losing game of chasing what we maybe never really had and certainly can never get back. Cosmetic treatments might help some of us look “better”, but in truth, they don’t really make anyone younger.

And the maintenance. Gah! It’s endless. I can see why grandmas used to just let those chin whiskers grow and their hair turn grey. Trying to meet media standards of beauty is just SO MUCH work.

Okay fine. Yes. I will continue to tweeze those chin whiskers. And my hairdresser need not fear losing me as a regular client just yet. But I’m going to try to be cool like the hubs and live less in fear of my number.

I’m going to focus on what other currency I might have to share. Wisdom? Encouragement? One need not be young or beautiful to be a good mom, wife, friend, reader, writer, thinker with a daily goal to live a useful life.

And if that doesn’t work, I might just start playing with my number instead of keeping it secret. If I over-state my age, people will be all like, “Doesn’t she look amazing for 58?!”

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Seeing Beauty in the Broken Body of Christ

World Vision wants the whole world to have access to clean water.

How beautiful is the body of Christ. Over the years–particularly in the past few weeks–I’m reminded of the multifaceted meaning of this statement. For me, to hit the pause button on this busy life and ponder the beauty of the holiest man to ever live and how he sacrificed his life that all may live… how beautiful. And to bear witness to the body of Christ–the church–living as Jesus lived; sacrificially, intentionally, with love, mercy, tenderness and grace… how beautiful.

When the hubs and I were about to embark on a cross-country move 20 years ago, far away from all family ties and childhood friends, we asked another couple who’d done the same for advice. They said, “Find a church and jump in with both feet. Get connected. Get involved and immersed. Even if you believe you’ll live in a place for only a short time.”

So after driving from Michigan to Washington, unloading our furniture, dishes and our freshly minted wedding album, we went on a hunt for a church home. There is no magic formula for finding the “right” church. The hubs and I have Lutheran backgrounds and so that helped us narrow our search. We found a place that felt right, and by “felt right” all I can say is, we wanted to return each Sunday. So we followed our friends’ advice and jumped in. We joined bible studies, attended potlucks, offered requested input on staffing decisions and even warily joined with the choir on an Easter Sunday when they summoned the congregation to the front to sing the Halleluiah chorus. The singing that day sounded truly awful. Only the choir knew all the words and most of them were Q-tip haired octogenarians whose singing voices had already gone on to heaven ahead of their feeble bodies. But nobody cared about that. A beautiful sound wasn’t the point. The beautiful body of Christ was the point. And it was SO beautiful. In that place, people we hardly knew cared for us for two years. They invited us to barbecues and Christmas dinners. We celebrated the births of their children and mourned the deaths of their loved ones. We helped raised money for a leaking roof and for needy families. It felt like home. Like family. I’m so glad we jumped in even though we would only live in Washington a short time.

Two years later, we relocated to Minnesota, and began again. We attended Sunday services at a few local Lutheran churches and discovered one that kept drawing us back, and so, we “jumped in with both feet” again. We’ve now been members at Woodbury Lutheran Church for 17 years. We’ve seen pastors and members come and go. We’ve watched toddlers become teenagers, celebrated weddings and attended funerals. We’ve seen self-sacrificing, Godly people bring comfort to the infirm, offer endless prayers for the lost and lonely, feed the hungry, fix leaky roofs, care for disabled children, adopt orphans, house the homeless, support struggling families and bring praises to a loving and forgiving Creator each and every day no matter what that day may bring. How beautiful.

Kirk Ingram suffers a spinal cord injury.

Kirk Ingram suffers a spinal cord injury.

Going to worship on Sunday morning is like going to a family function–only so much better. Because despite all of our combined dysfunction, deficiencies and occasional despair, together we find joy and delight in the presence of the Almighty–and in community with each other. This is our family. And it is beautiful.

A generation ago, the church played a central role in American community life. Today, for far too many folks, church is viewed to be either an outdated ritual to be shrugged off or shunned or a strange and mysterious club that intimidates with its cliques and secret handshakes. Trust me. The “right” place is neither of these things.

I have found church to be a safe place to learn a moral language and develop a strength of character steeped in ancient biblical wisdom. I’ve found church to be a place to discover who created me and for what purpose. It is a community of believers (and some skeptics) who are journeying together in this life toward the next. And when I get distracted by all that needs to be done Monday through Saturday, the church points me toward the cross every Sunday. And it is beautiful.

I’ve found church to be the place to find perpetual renewal and to be surrounded by people who love each other despite personal failure and where people support one another through the struggles of this life. We rock each other’s babies. We comfort each other’s sick. We dine together. We drink together. We laugh together. We cry together. How beautiful is the body of Christ.

 

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How a Young Feminist Got Played

Our youngest, a seventh grader, had to interview the hubs and me as part of a school project. His questions included the normal stuff, “Where do you work?” “Where did you grow up?” etc.

But he also inquired about our favorite childhood toys. Oh the nostalgia of pondering what entertained you as a kid. And having your child assigned to ask about such things gives parents an excuse to prattle on about the good ‘ole days while the offspring are “forced” to act interested.

I thought for a moment, mentally scrolling through my memory banks in search of favorite toys. There was the Baby Alive that ate real baby food and soiled real diapers, that is until my cousin jammed a crayon down its throat. Baby Alive gagged on this early introduction of solid food and died soon thereafter. Plus, my box of 64 colors was permanently short a blue violet.

R.I.P. Baby Alive

R.I.P. Baby Alive

Then there was my Barbie Star Traveller Motor Home that I used to take Barbie pretend camping. But having actually lived in trailer park made a toy motor home seem less aspirational than say, a Barbie Dream House.

Barbie Star Traveller

Barbie Star Traveller

Later in life, the hubs and I would camp quite a bit, about which another cousin once remarked, “You spend your whole life working to not be poor. But isn’t camping like pretending you’re poor and calling it a vacation?” Never thought of it that way, but I suppose she makes an interesting point.

So I guess, when pressed, I’d have to say my favorite childhood toy was my Bionic Woman action figure. Remember Lindsay Wagner as Jaime Sommers on the 1970s television show, The Bionic Woman? That show was my first introduction to the notion that women could be badass; that women could not only fight their own battles, but also could be counted on and called upon to help others who are in dire straights.

A toy more badass than Barbie.

A toy more badass than Barbie.

As someone who was raised by a single mother whose heroic adventures included juggling childcare while going to college, becoming a registered nurse, obtaining a driver’s license near the age of 30 and buying a house all on her own, it’s no wonder I was more drawn to the idea of a bionic woman than a fashion model who pretended to be poor.

My Bionic Woman action figure also came with some sort of high-tech computer station play set. It had these rubber cables that plugged into my toy’s bionic arm and leg. It had charts and graphs that I would imagine displayed readings of her increasing levels of strength. I proudly told my son that this beloved childhood toy of mine was pretty much a pioneering female Project Lead the Way education project.

But then, he did a Google search to see for himself if such a toy existed. The search revealed that the bionic play set I was so fond of and believed to be a groundbreaking toy for aspiring young feminists everywhere was actually called the Bionic Beauty Salon. What the…?!

You've got to be kidding me.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

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Yeah But, Life is Beautiful. Even in Winter.

 

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

I arrived on the tundra kicking and screaming. I played the martyr for years, whining about my life being diminished by returning to the Mid-West and having to live someplace where it gets so cold. I remember going to an Eddie Bauer store in Seattle to purchase a winter coat before moving to Minnesota in 1998. The clerk asked where I was going that I needed such a warm coat. I told him we were moving to Minneapolis. The clerk gasped.

“It’s colder than Alaska there!” he said.

Panic-stricken in my puffy coat, I glanced at my husband in disbelief, searching his face for reassurance. He looked away and changed the subject, most likely because he was hoping I wouldn’t cause a scene in the store.

But I’ve managed to acclimate just a bit since then. I still complain about the cold but I have discovered that unlike winter just a couple of clicks south of Minnesota, the frigid temps up here can often mean it’s too cold for clouds to form. The sun shines brightly on below zero days, gleaming on on the crystalline snowpack. And when it’s too cold for snow to melt, winters aren’t as sloppy, grey and gross as they can be in other places that “experience” winter. Minnesota is a frosty white snow globe with its hearty people trekking to and fro in ugly shoes and ridiculous hats thinking they’re both fearless and fashionable while living in a place on the map that other people point to on the weather channel like they’re watching penguins in a documentary film. “Look how funny they look trying to walk in the snow! Why do they live there?”

I’ll admit that when we moved here from the west coast where it’s not only warmer, but there are mountains and large bodies of water, forests and vistas so grand, one cannot help but sense the presence of God, I prayed for help. I asked God to show me beauty in Minnesota. In flat, flyover country with its brain freeze temperatures and people who speak with some variation of what I can only determine to be a hybridized Canadian accent.

And almost daily, if I choose look, my eyes are opened by winter visions like this…

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Minnehaha Falls in winter by Sarah Dibbern

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Winter Carnival Ice Carving

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Frozen Falls by Sarah Dibbern

 

In addition to enjoying the beautiful winter scenery, I’ve recently been reading a delightful book by a well-known character actor, Stephen Tobolowski, titled The Dangerous Animals Club. One particularly great passage in his book reminds me of winter in Minnesota but it applies to life in general anywhere you might live.

He speaks of being a victim of “yeah, but” syndrome, a mental disorder that’s affected everyone he’s ever known, actors in particular. He says,

“Here is an example of how it manifests itself: a case study. Someone says, “What are you working on?”

“I’m playing Hamlet in a new production.”

“Wow, that’s great.”

Yeah, but we’re performing in a parking garage.”

…The “yeah, but” is the way we have developed to diminish our own lives into footnotes. To demoralize, trivialize, and squander the greatest gift we have been given–the joy of watching the sun rise for another day.”

I resolve to not diminish my life, this gift that gets renewed day after day here on the tundra. Here in beautiful Minnesota where God reveals himself in hoarfrost and frozen waterfalls and children building snowmen and hearty, bundled, wonderful people who carve an exemplary existence out of this icy landscape.

The next time you catch yourself starting to say, “yeah, but” give pause and ask for your eyes to be opened. So that wherever you are, you might be blessed to see what beauty is around you. That you will see the work of God’s hand in nature and in your life.

Is it really cold in Minnesota? Yeah, but life is beautiful. Even in winter.

 

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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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