Saturday, October 30, 2010

Radical and Reasonable

Last night I attended an incredibly moving event. James Pond, founder of Transitions Global was fulfilling a promise he had made to two girls, survivors of human trafficking, to give them the opportunity to tell their stories. Neth and Liya were in their early teens when they became victims of sex trafficking in Cambodia. Neth was sold to a brothel by her mother for $300. Liya was tricked into going to one by girls who were already victims and who were now being forced to recruit other girls.

The story of this horror doesn't come to an end when girls are rescued. There is so much to recover from, it seems nigh impossible that they could ever emerge whole. In fact the success rate for most aftercare programs for victims of sex trafficking hovers around 20%. This is not only because the girls don't learn skills that enable them to support themselves, but because they never have hope for a future of their own choosing. So, inevitably, most of them must return to prostitution in order to survive.

Transitions Global shifts the paradigm; in their words they deal "in the business of dream restoration". After establishing this center, James determined that he must do the same thing for the girls who came to Transitions Global, that he would do for his own daughters. He encourages them to dream, and then helps them achieve those dreams. Based on the belief that every girl is unique, and, working girl by girl (rather than in large numbers), TG's model is seeing unprecedented success in graduating strong, empowered, capable young women, many of whom are now working to help others who are emerging from the nightmare of trafficking.

Neth and Liya are two shining testaments to TG's work. Shy, giggly, sweet teenagers, they enjoy friends, shopping, books, and even boyfriends. They've also both completed over 800 hours of yoga instruction, and currently teach yoga to trafficking survivors and young children. These young women, once labeled throw-aways, have lives and futures. They are remarkable.

At the end of the evening Brad Riley spoke. President and Founder of iEmpathize, Brad has been a nonprofit innovator and leader for 20 years. It was easy to see why. He defined for us the difference between sympathy and empathy. The first is passive, the latter active. Which sounds better to you?

What about radical and reasonable? Ahh, here's the catch. It doesn't have to be radical versus reasonable, it can be radical + reasonable.

Radical describes the actions of the Pond family in 2005, selling their house, cars, furnishings, and moving their family to Cambodia to help young victims of human trafficking.

Reasonable, is the request that each of us become involved in some small way...organize a shoe drive, write an article, make a speech, send a check, volunteer with local groups fighting human trafficking, the list goes on...

What suddenly strikes me is how the efforts of these two men converge. One encouraging girls to find their unique gifts, the other urging us to support the first by using our unique gifts. By combining the radical commitments of rare people like the Ponds' with a multitude of reasonable contributions of people like us, it is possible to harness enough people power to actually make and sustain change.

My shoe drive begins today.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Times are Changing

I was so relieved a couple of years ago when they added a few weeks to Daylight Savings Time...even though most of my kids had passed out of the trick or treating stage, I'm still happy to keep daylight as late as possible. It's easy to understand why alcohol plays a big role in places where it's dark for much of the day! Just sayin'...

Time is a chameleon. When the kids were little, "the days are long, the years are short" summed up the excruciating pain and pleasure of parenting. Similarly, weeks can seem to vanish (unless you forgot to put out the recycling). Thus I love reminders that things actually happened, especially when I feel like I'm running in place. It's one of the reasons I keep writing the mass Christmas letter I said I'd never write but started writing back in '94 when four kids under six made individual cards a pipe dream.

I found some of these stats from the Back Story of NewsWeek's July 26th issue fascinating enough to share. First and foremost: blogs. Guess I'm not the only one who's jumped on the blogging bandwagon...ten years ago there were 12,000 active blogs, today there are 141 million (maybe 142, since that issue). How bout Google? In 2000, they had 100 million searches a day, in 2010, 2 BILLION! Whoa. Daily E-Mails went from 12 billion to 247 billion. Apple is sittin' pretty: from 0 to 10,000,000,000 in in a single decade.

Although it's now over a year old, one of my favorite demos of how much the world has changed is this incredible little video about the social media revolution .

Gina Shrek sums it up perfectly: "To people who say they don't do technology, I tell them that's like saying you don't do electricity." I say "If you can't beat em, join em!" MidChix will soon give all members the ability to have a blog hosted on the site! Ladies, stay tuned...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Let's Make Sure All Kids Know It Gets Better

When I called the house on Friday night, to say I'd be home soon, my eleven year-old son sounded a little upset when he replied " I have some news for you".  Knowing his flair for the dramatic, I didn't panic.  "What's that?" I casually asked.  "Squirt isn't a boy." he replied.  Squirt is the rabbit that our animal-loving neighbor had bought Cameron for his birthday almost three months ago.  Squirt was just a tiny baby bunny when he-I mean she- first came to live with us.  Now he-I mean she- is bigger than the smallest breed of dog.  Apparently the reason the nearly invisible testicles were hard to see back in August is because they weren't actually there.  Squirt, now known as Trixie, was a girl all along.

This story resonated as we've had other experiences with gender issues. When our oldest son insisted that a Barbie was all he wanted for his third birthday, we got one for him, along with a fire engine and a kiddie basketball hoop. At age four, we struggled to find a boy's Halloween costume that he would wear.  When he was five and a half, and wished out loud that he were a girl, I found a therapist who specialized in "gender identity disorder".  I wouldn't have recognized the term reparative therapy back then, but I'm guessing that is what was really going on.

It wasn't easy to parent a gender non-conforming child, and I know damn well it wasn't easy to be one.  Now I believe the best therapy for kids like mine is therapy for those individuals who make their childhood hell.

When our fifth child, at the age of two, showed signs of taking after his brother, I was a lot better educated, but just as anxious as I'd been six years before.  That doesn't mean that I tried to change him, but his first therapist did.  No wonder he began to shut down.  Can you imagine getting the message that something is wrong with you not just at school, but from a doctor as well? We tried desperately to understand him, and to help him to understand himself. It's confusing to be a boy who thinks like a girl.  No wonder both my older and younger sons wished they were girls; girls don't get taunted for playing with dolls, loving princesses, or having long hair.

Three years ago our newer therapist gently broached the possibility of transgenderism.  The word is so rarely used, that my computer has underlined it, indicating that it doesn't exist.  Funny, the notion that a person's brain and body could possibly not match up in terms of gender identity is novel, and to many people, impossible.  Before I began educating myself on the topic, I was pretty ignorant, too.

The fact is,  the same way that other things can go wrong during fetal development, so can gender identity.  When some kids announce they were born in the wrong body, they're right.  What a terribly difficult thing to grapple with, especially in a society as sexually and psychologically stilted as ours.

After joining a listserv for parents of gender non-conforming children, I was horrified by some of the stories of I heard.  Children being threatened, pets being murdered, families being stalked.  No wonder my child was guarded and reticent to leave the house.  He already knew what the world thought of people who were different.

My oldest son told us he was gay at age 15.  Fortunately for him, and for so many other GLBT teens, he attended a high school where, for the most part, it was safe to be out.  It wasn't until recently I heard about some of the bullying he'd experienced in middle school.  But I guessed that bullying would be a problem for his younger brother at that same private school and pulled him out after second grade.  At his new school, he wasn't bullied, but he wasn't included either. What's worse: being left alone or being left alone?

When I talk to GLBT adults, I hear more childhood stories of isolation than I do of bullying.  Most of them survived those hard, lonely years and emerged into happy adulthoods where they have found welcoming gay-friendly communities. For gender non-conforming children and teens today, however, bullying seems to have trumped isolation as the biggest issue and because of it, more and more of them aren't ever making it to adulthood.  Whether driven to suicidal desperation or victims of homicidal homophobia, bullying is the common theme in a rash of  GLBT deaths over the past decade.

What can be done to stop this tragic trend?  Two things.  Address the bullies. We should insist that all  public schools provide a program such as Challenge Day to all students in 6th grade and up.  Read more about how this powerful program has changed lives in Denver.  Address the bullied. Let's follow the lead of writer Dan Savage, creator of the It Gets Better Project and make sure we tell desperate kids that the future is brighter.

Yesterday my daughter's best friend, Zach, came up with his own spin on the  It Gets Better Project. He filmed a public service announcement featuring nearly fifty members of the Denver theatre community to get the word out that gay is okay. I hope it gets lots of attention.  The more we can make the topic safe, the more people will talk about the topic.  The more that they talk, the more they will teach, and learn.

Many people have expressed shock and, occasionally admiration, when they hear that our oldest son felt safe enough to come out to us at 15.  Mostly, I think people are surprised that we talk about him so openly.  I hope and believe the thousands of videos that have been made for the It Gets Better Project will bring hope to LGBT or questioning teens; I also hope and believe that sharing my story will bring hope and education to their parents.

As he approaches puberty, it seems that our youngest son is more likely to be gay than transgender. But no matter what his adulthood turns out to be, having watched his brother, and witnessing our whole family's support of him and other members of the GLBT community, he now knows it does get better and that the rest of his life stretches out before him...with open arms. I pledge to try my best to make sure that other kids like him know this too. I hope you will join me.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Remember when ...

I said something wonderful is going to happen today? Well I said it again this morning, because the most wonderful thing is about to happen. The recycling truck is coming!  When we missed putting our bins out two weeks ago, my husband and I looked at each other and groaned.  With pick-up only occurring twice a month, and our family recycling everything from empty toilet paper rolls to any glass/plastic/metal container that passes over our threshold (except for- I CONFESS- peanut butter jars), we knew it was going to be a rough couple of weeks.

It was my friend Jill, once upon a time, our cleaning gal, who turned me into a rabid recycler.  We went from five overflowing trash bins every week, to two.  I even tried composting for a few wasn't so bad-until a mouse emerged from our rodent-proof Garden Gourmet one morning.  Now that the City of Denver is providing weekly compost collection, maybe I'll try again...

The last time we went a month between recycling pick-ups, was the year of the holiday blizzards.  Maybe you can imagine the remains after we hosted the office holiday party, celebrated my husbands 12/20 birthday, cleaned up from Christmas morning and prepared the huge holiday dinner, threw a New Year's Eve party, and added that all to the assortment of empty wine bottles, compliments of a dedicated chardonnay connessieur.

Towards the end of every December, I can be found stalking our alley watching for the sainted souls who pick up our trash every week and our recycling every other.  I pass out twenties to whoever I can intercept.  Those guys earn every penny of it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"I'll Vote for The First Person Who Stops Calling Me."

This was Kirsten's line, but I liked it so much, I borrowed it...with her blessing. 

I don't answer the phone much anymore, but occasionally do indulge in cheap entertainment by checking caller ID.  Some campaigning politicians have taken to using the same trick I've tried (to get more clicks on the MidChix newsletter).  They disguise themselves.

Yesterday, I was about to hop on the elliptical to work up a little sweat, when the phone rang; I glanced at the caller ID, and it read: "Laurie Romer".  For a second, I hesitated, as I have a new friend named Laurie, and I thought "oh, maybe Romer is her maiden name", and almost picked up the receiver.  Luckily my new resolution to exercise daily 'NO MATTER WHAT' prevailed. When I listened to the message a little later, all I heard was the pre-recorded "This is Senator Chris Romer", before I hit 7 to erase.

Of course, then I thought I'd better listen to all the other recent messages that have been left on voice mail since I stopped picking up the phone.  The next one was from Barack Obama...apparently dialing for Michael Bennett.  Now don't get me wrong, because I happen to be one of the dwindling number of former Barack fans who still is a Barack fan.  And I'll take Michael Bennett over Ken Buck any day of the week!  But that doesn't mean I want any of them calling me.  Especially when it really isn't them that's calling.  As my family will testify, I am not a phone person. And I'm especially not a pre-recorded phone message phone person. If you want to talk to the live me, then you had better be the live you, no matter which party you belong to!

While working out, I usually zone out watching the telly.  But these days, every commercial break is filled with ads of one candidate slandering another.  Or worse yet, a carefully crafted message from one of the many self-appointed groups who are apparently charged with saving Colorado from imminent disaster.  Imminent disaster is the only possible result if the wrong guy or gal is elected, right?  Believe me, I understand that the consequences of certain legislation are dire. (I even forwarded an educational email about 60,61, and 101 to my husband in an attempt to better educate him). I also get that the election of certain individuals would make such legislation more likely.  What I don't get is how fiction and non-fiction in political advertising have become so irritatingly intertwined.  As Sgt. Joe Friday used to say, "we just want the facts, ma'am"

I'm a Democrat.  My husband is a Republican.  Often friends ask how we manage that.  Well, we manage that by respecting each other enough to be cordial and open-minded.  We also acknowledge that our differences lie in our philosophies about the role of government.  Does that make him selfish or me stupid.  No.  It makes us human.  And by the way, that's not just what he and I have in common, it's what we all have in common.

Fancy a society where the only people vilified were the real villains...those folks that dreamed up calling tree autodialers and the answering system hell that replaced our good old-fashioned receptionists!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Community is the Heart of Pomegranate Place

Thank you to all who wrote to the city or stopped by Pomegranate Place to show support.  The city is reviewing the situation and we are hopeful that Pom Place will prevail!  Please hold off on letters for now, until we have heard from them.  Many thanks to you all!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Plan B

I spent all weekend mulling over my out of control MidChix to-do list.  Email has been kicking my ass. As somebody said, it's like drinking from a fire hose.  But after stepping back to gain perspective and some advice from my better half, this morning I was rubbing my hands together in eager anticipation of wrestling back control. Then two minutes after the door had closed behind my kids as they headed to school, it opened again.  "Mom, I have a flat tire."  Deep breaths.

Although it's been less than four weeks since Nicki got her license, and I got freedom, the old hand-me-down car has now twice challenged me to a duel.

Out to my car and off to school.  That was forty-five minutes shot.  Doesn't seem like much, but funny how the domino effect arrives, invited or not. When I was supposed to be working out, I was walking the dog.  When I was supposed to be talking with a gal from a non-profit I want to highlight, I was squatted on the ground trying to use a bike pump to inflate the tie enough to drive down the street. (I was afraid Triple A would blackball us if I called them one more time).  When I was supposed to go to pilates, I was picking up the kids.  When I was supposed to be at The White House Project  event, I was driving to the airport to pick up my older daughter since my younger daughter had no car.

Plan B is pretty much my middle name.  In fact it explains my last 21 years so perfectly, I decided to write a book about it.  Labors of Love...21 Years of Plan B.  A chapter at a time via blogger-more on this soon!

In the meantime, Plan B means this is posting two days after it was supposed to.  When a Type A person lives a Plan B life, mental and emotional stability can be a bit iffy.

Tell me about your Plan B days.  Misery loves company.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Stepford Tellers

If there is anything worse than a company getting so big they lose touch with their customers, it's a company losing so much touch with their customers that they hire people whose primary job is to touch (not literally, although that may be next) every customer that walks through the door, by greeting them with a booming and cheerful solicitousness that rings so false you could stuff your Wonder bra with it.

Note to Wells Fargo:  When I'm rushing into the bank to make a deposit and praying that the check I wrote next door didn't bounce yet since you have a nasty habit of bouncing checks and collecting fees faster than green grass through a goose, the last thing I want is a greeter.  This isn't church folks, it's the bank.

Most of us find banking tedious, stressful, and  inconvenient, but sadly, unavoidable.  After I reach deep down to my toes to come up with a polite smile back to the greeter's irritating cheer, he asks if he can help me with something today.  Well, of course he can help me with something, that's why I'm there.  But he can't actually help me with anything.  All he can do is greet (and then gesture towards the teller line), which shockingly, I'd already seen.

When I finally do get to the teller, I realize that she is saying the exact words to me that I heard her say to the customer in front of me, and the same words that the teller next to her, and the one next to him, are saying too!  I hypothesize that these were probably all perfectly personable young people before systemized brainwashing by the human resources department. Now they are THE STEPFORD TELLERS.  The 'casual' inquiry "how's your day going so far?" bewilders me. That's a question that I will occasionally allow from my husband, when he is actually paying attention. It's not the kind of question that you ask to every single solitary customer with whom you briefly interact. It makes me tired just to think about answering... and I know darned well they wouldn't have the slightest idea how to respond if I actually did lay out the trials and tribulations of my day.  My question is why don't they just use the tried and true "How are You?" which is both easier to field and to fib.

Believe me, I am a nice person.  And I appreciate friendly small talk.  But not with automatons. The next  innocently posed but pathetically scripted question, is similarly unanswerable: "Have you had a chance to enjoy the weather out there today"? Meanwhile, I am glancing at my phone (aka watch) to make sure my meter doesn't run out as another parking ticket might put me right back in the same spiral! Do they really want to hear about my my brisk bike ride, the skin cancer I'll probably get scraped off my nose, or that a newly-acquired agoraphobia prevents me from leaving the house (except to head off a bouncing check)? I think not.  As I try to nail down exactly what it is about these mundane inquiries that I find so irritating, my conclusion is that the questions are worded in such a way as to be overly personal.  I'd be fine with someone asking "is it still hotter than a chili pepper out there?" I don't mind people being friendly, I just mind them asking me questions that imply we have more of a relationship than a two minute business interaction.  Especially when they ask the exact same thing to the guy in front of me and the gal in front of him.

If Wells Fargo really wants to appear to be friendly, how bout they hire a few telephone operators and chuck the voice messaging system.

Last Friday, I stopped into another bank.  I'd received an offer that would help support a charity I cared about if I opened an account.  I figured it would be a good chance to move my dinky personal account while checking out a smaller bank.  The gentleman filling out my paper work told me that every single employee in that branch office, had once worked for Wells.  He also confirmed that Wells employees are scripted.  I knew it must be true, but still had to shake my head in wonder. ( I mean even my eleven year- old knows how to make polite small talk without being told what to say.)

This branch manager was helpful, humorous, and human.  When I later called the main branch to confirm some information, the phone was answered by an actual person. Today I'll be moving my business account over there as well. My two little accounts probably don't mean much in Wells World, and convincing my husband to change banks would involve a battle I'm not yet willing to fight, but next time I head to the bank, I won't have to brace myself for the superficial interaction that has come to characterize this bank turned behemoth. I miss the good ole' Wells Fargo Wagon!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Spiders! eek!

My sixteen year old just killed a "gigantic" spider in her bathroom.  AND she said it was the second one this week.  I wonder if she starts counting the week on Sunday.  Otherwise it means she killed two today.  Or that she exaggerates. But either way, my skin has been crawling for the past hour.  I know there may be some of you who are those creepy-crawly loving nature types.  But as Camp Experience t-shirts say " I love nature, as long as it doesn't get on me".

When I was a kid, if I saw a spider in my room, and my Dad was asleep, I would go sleep in the bathtub.  No wonder I have chronic back pain.  We lived in an old house, and there were plenty of those little brown guys. I didn't find out until years later that my Dad was terrified of spiders too! Now that's what I call a good father.

When we moved to Denver, the finished basement of our first home (dubbed The Nightmare on Elm Street) was a big draw for my husband.  He had grown up with one, and so the idea of a home theater, pool table, plus bedrooms for the boys was just what he pictured as Home Sweet Home.  It was just what I pictured as Home Spiders' Home.  I'm sure my two oldest sons are scarred from me suddenly giving up the tucking in routine, after I realized that spiders like basements, finished or not!

While I loved the early Halloween years, when we would get super-creative and caught up in the hoopla, I dreaded the appearance of those reality-show worthy black plastic spiders that would topple out of goody bags from school parties and give me daily heart attacks throughout the week.

When this same 16 year old was eight, her third grade class took a field trip to The Butterfly Pavilion.  Sure, it sounds wonderful.  Who doesn't love butterflies?  When I volunteered to chaperone the trip, little did I know that the kids are encouraged to try holding Rosie. I blanch to think that I once considered naming that eight year-old, Rosie.  In case you haven't guessed, Rosie is the name of the resident tarantula at the Butterfly Pavilion. If this link doesn't make your skin crawl, then we're not friends anymore.

So Terminex is coming in the morning.  Terminex and I have had a  long and complicated relationship.  The first time I called them, we lived in Westchester NY, and I had just spent 6 hours frozen on my bed after spotting a rat meandering across the kitchen floor when I made the 2 AM journey to the fridge for that same child's bottle. Are you sensing the same theme that I am?  Did you notice that all of these encounters were prefaced by something with Nicki ??? Hmmm.