Monthly Archives: November 2010


I am always amazed at the things we have to teach people, or, worse yet, remind them of. Take last month, for example: while I am always happy to see NFL players running up and down the field in pink shoes, it does make me wonder if they believe that there is really anyone left out there who doesn’t think that breast cancer is a BAD thing.

The same goes for last month’s Wear Purple Day, which was a day where everyone was encouraged to wear purple to show their support for all of the gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered teens in their lives. As I put on my purple shirt, I couldn’t help but thinking thoughts similar to the ones I had had about National Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Really? There are people out there who don’t think that bullying is a BAD thing?

And then I started checking the news, and I was appalled at the number of people who were not only denying that there is a problem with bullying GLBT teens, but would actually prefer that there be a little bit more of it. Yeah, I’m looking at you, Clint McCance. (In case George Takei hasn’t shown up in your inbox to bring you up to speed, Clint McCance is the Arkansas school board member who posted a message on Facebook stating his wish for even more GLBT teen suicides. Nice. Perhaps we should have a separate social network for people like that—may I suggest “Douchebook?”)

And yet, it’s not people like the aforementioned Douchey McDouche that are the real problem. At least he was upfront and honest about his hatred. (And probably always was and always will be—turns out the same people who shoved you into the lockers when you were seventeen are the ones who won’t let you into the hospital room to see your life partner when you are seventy-two). No, the real problem is the people who hide their hatred behind a facade of “protecting our children,” which is ironic, because they are the ones who are refusing to take the steps necessary to ensure that all of our children are protected. Steps like teaching respect for other people’s gender and sexuality choices as far back as kindergarten.

Take for example what happened last summer in Helena, Montana, where school officials suggested new tolerance guidelines that taught first graders that “human beings can love people of the same gender.” This was anathema to a local pastor, who complained from the pulpit that “We do not want the minds of our young polluted with the things of a carnal-minded society.” Yeah, better not teach six year olds to be nice to each other—because who knows better than a christian how crazy talk like that can get people nailed to a couple of pieces of wood?

Or what about what just happened in Michigan, where a teacher was actually suspended for taking a stand against anti-gay bullying at school? (And where a totally awesome openly gay fourteen year old went to the school board with his plea that “just like Dr. King hoped that one day his grandchildren would be judged by the content of their character, and not by the color of their skin, he hoped to one day be judged by who he was, and not by who he loved.”)

Actually, it was that fourteen year old boy who got me thinking about what the real purpose of those pink shoes was: they were about hope. And my hope is that one day, NFL players will be running down the field with purple shoes on their feet. And that people everywhere will look at them and say to themselves: “Wait a minute: is there really anybody left who doesn’t think that bullying is a BAD thing?”

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One time, when my daughter Clementine was little, she tried to cut off her own eyelashes with a pair of sewing scissors. I can still clearly remember seeing those sharp, sharp blades rushing toward her eyes, and the awful visions of the future that followed: the blood, the crying, the desperate trip to the emergency room, and then, finally, standing next to her as she picked out her new glass eye. Of course, I didn’t say any of that to her—at that moment it was all I could do to gasp out a tortured, “gah!” while I snatched the scissors out of her hand, so incapable was I of fully articulating the horror of what I was feeling. She, of course, at age two, was also incapable of articulating what she was feeling, and so had to be content with howling her displeasure at me—her own version of “gah!” I suppose.

Now, of course, she’s much more articulate about expressing her displeasure with me, whereas I am even less able than I was before. It’s true: although a dozen or so years have passed since the scissors incident, when confronted with the spectacle of Clementine putting herself in danger I can still say little more than “gah!”

“Gah!” I say when I see her jump out of a truck packed full of teenagers, “gah!” when she posts a questionable picture of herself on Facebook, “gah!” when she brings home a bad grade and dismisses it with, “School is all bullsh*t, anyway.”


I was watching an old episode of Star Trek the other day; it was the one where the crew was trapped in a time loop, doomed to make the same bad decision over and over again. And even though they eventually figured out what was happening, they were still unable to send back a message in warning until, finally, in a bit of “Data ex Machina,” Data was able to get the message back through to himself, and they escaped.

If you were to take out the part about Data, and escaping, then that is what it is like to raise a teenager. You can see that you are both trapped in an endlessly repeating time loop; you can see that the same mistakes are being made over and over again, down through the generations, and yet, no matter how desperately you try and shout back a warning through time, it never seems to work. No matter what you say it always just seems to come out as, “gah!”

I wish I had a Data around, someone who was capable of taking the “gahs” and translating them into the words that somehow got through. Words like, “You know, it seems like somebody dies in a car accident in every high school class—please don’t let it be you,” and, “Friends will come and go, but the internet is forever,” and even, “You’re right—school is all bullsh*t, but guess what: so is everything else. Get used to it.”

But I don’t, and I know that my voice, if it comes down the generations at all, comes out all feeble and weak, like the voice of the Incredibly Shrinking Man trapped in the spider web of time.

I’ve heard that there are places on Earth where instead of telescopes gazing deeply into the outer reaches of space, there are ones that are listening intently for the slightest cosmic murmur. Knowing what I know, it won’t surprise me at all if it is actually one of the listening telescopes that picks up on intelligent life long before the seeing ones do. Nor will it surprise me when that first contact sounds an awful lot like a more advanced version of ourselves, and that what they’ll be saying will be suspiciously similar to “gah!”

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New Shelly

When I was in eighth grade, there was a girl who rode my bus named Shelly. Shelly made it her mission in life to methodically torture everyone on the bus by singling them out one at a time and then meticulously listing each and every one of their faults. She was kind of like the Simon Cowell of Gilbert Unified School District, except that on American Idol people actually sign up for that kind of torture—nobody chooses to ride the bus. Ever.

Shelly’s preferred method of torture was as follows: once she had singled out her victim du jour she would plop down on the seat in front of them, spin around (in retrospect I’m sure that her entire body spun around, but at the time it seemed like it was only her head), and then proceed to verbally flay her victim alive.

Her delivery was merciless, and her vision all-seeing: I remember that one time she picked a girl that had been a good friend of mine for years; almost immediately she pointed out a small bump on this girl’s left eyelid. Now, like I said, this was a girl I had known for a long time: I had spent nights at her house, jumped on her trampoline, swam in her pool—and I had never once noticed this little flaw. Shelly, however, had picked up on it instantly, as she would, through the course of the year, eventually pick up on every single microscopic flaw each one of us possessed.

For nearly my entire eighth grade year I dreaded the moment when she would turn her Evil Eye my way (no one knew how she picked her next victim: was it where you sat? What you wore? Or was it simply alphabetical?). And then, one inevitable day, it happened: Shelly parked herself in the seat in front of me and began. Her dissection (or rather, vivisection) of me was just as painful as I had feared: I think she even managed to notice a zit I had on the inside of my ear. But then, mercifully, it was all over. The bus arrived at school. We all got off. And the next day it was somebody else’s turn. I would never have to endure another such attack ever again.

Or at least, that’s what I thought. Then I had children.

Today my daughter is in the eighth grade, and while I used to be afraid that one day she would have to deal with her own, personal “Shelly,” it turns out that all my worrying was misplaced: what I should have been afraid of was her turning into a “Shelly” herself. Because, actually, that’s what has happened.

Don’t get me wrong: she’s not a bully towards other people. Who knows, maybe she would like to be, but the fact is that while she does ride a bus, it’s the city bus, which is filled with people who are on their way to work (and grumpy about it), and those people would likely squash an impertinent little critic like a bug. So instead, she has turned all of her attention to me.

“Why do you buy this kind of milk,” she says.

“Why don’t we live in a better house?”

“Why do have to constantly call me and ask me where I am and what I’m doing? Don’t you have any friends of your own?”

And all of a sudden, there I am, right back on the bus. And there is a zit on the inside of my ear.

My only comfort is the knowledge that, eventually, even Shelly grew out of it. In fact, at our twenty year reunion she was very cordial to all of us. And we were cordial back. Once we’d snuck outside and let the air out of her tires, that is.

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The Boy

I used to wonder what what kind of mom I would be when it came to dealing with my daughter’s boyfriends. Would I be the type of mom who introduced myself to each one by sitting on the couch with a forty bottle between my legs and a shotgun on my lap while tossing out conversational landmines like, “Did you know that it’s legal to kill your daughter’s suitor in over twenty different countries? Oh, and by the way, do you have a passport?” Or would I be the harried, disinterested kind of mom, the one who glances up from the newspaper and says, “Didn’t you used to be taller? And blacker? Oh, really? Well, excuse me. I certainly didn’t mean to offend you, Ming.” Or maybe I would even be the private detective mom, the kind who obsessively googles each new boyfriend for their credit scores, arrest records, and hate-filled blogs by former girlfriends.

Eventually, I decided that I would probably end up being a mix of all three. I’m much too nosy to ever be the disinterested type, and yet not quite nosy enough to be a cyber-stalker. (Really: pay no attention to those court orders.) And, of course, I don’t even own a gun (I own plenty of knives, but that’s another story). In other words, I decided that what I was going to do was strike a balance between aloofness and intimidation. Because, like it or not, I was going to have to do something. No matter how much I might wish it otherwise, the future was inevitable: Clementine was going to bring home a never-ending stream of disagreeable young men (and maybe even a few disagreeable young women), and we were just going to have to deal with it.

My husband and I even had a game—the “that’s who Clementine is going to bring home,” game. We’d see some guy walking down the street missing all his front teeth and mumbling to himself and my husband would turn to me and say, “There he is: that’s the guy that Clementine is going to bring home for Thanksgiving. We’ll have to put the turkey in a blender.” Then I’d look around and see some guy with dirty blond dreadlocks, a vacuous expression and a mangy dog on a string and I’d say, “Uh-uh. There’s the guy she’s going to bring home. We’re going to have to cook a tofurkey.” The game would usually end when one of us would take it a little bit too far and point out some guy with the collar popped on his Hollister shirt and say, “No. That’s the guy. We’re going to have to get matching plates,” and then the other one would shudder and say, “Take it back, take it back!”

But then, something completely unexpected happened. Clementine brought home a nice guy. A smart guy. A funny guy. A guy we all like—even Clyde. And suddenly I was really worried, because now, instead of thinking up new ways to get the boyfriends to go, I started wondering how long they’re each going to get to stay.

Look, I’m not saying that I have any idea how this particular relationship will turn out: the last thing I claim to be is an expert on relationships, especially those involving other people. But if I know anything, I know that people always change. Sometimes they change together. Sometimes they don’t. And when they don’t, somebody usually ends up saying goodbye.
What this means for me is that, unfortunately, this whole dating thing is turning out to be a lot more complicated than I had originally anticipated. In other words, it is nothing like the mid-season sitcom script I had previously assigned it in my head.

But then again, real life usually isn’t.

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