Dancing with my neuroses

I am not much of a fan of reality TV. Aside from the A&E offerings,  Intervention, Hoarders and Obsessed, I switch away. So I was puzzled somewhat when I read that Bristol Palin is among the latest selections for Dancing with the Stars. Since I don’t watch the show, I don’t know if she is supposed to be “the star” or the person who learns the moves with the dancer who is the “star.”  Is that even right?

If I know anything about any show on TV, it’s because I’m subjected to four screens full of it three nights weekly at the gym. So while I may not know one episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, I know who they are and that poor Bruce Jenner carries the family jewels around in a berry basket.

Back to Bristol Palin. What are her qualifications for this role? Are any needed beyond being tabloid fodder? Let’s see: She is a young woman who had a child out of wedlock. Her marriage to the baby daddy was on and then it was off and then it was on and then it was off. Oh, and she happens to be the daughter of a vice presidential candidate who quit her elected post to write books and work on her plan to conquer the world. I suppose that’s more than enough qualification for being on a reality show. After all, her mother’s qualifications to be one heartbeat away from running the free world were about as shaky. Just my opinion. I’m thinking the 2012 election year will feature a Dancing with the Candidates segment. It’s really the true test of leadership.

The whole self-fulfilling prophecy thing really is true. Consider this story: I had this beautiful piece of yard art, one of those metal garden stakes topped with a series of glass balls artfully coiled in copper.  It stood tall and proud over a triangular-shaped lily bed along my driveway.

It lasted one month before a thief plucked it from my garden. I happened to mention it in passing to my neighbors, who then felt responsible somehow since they were house sitting for us when it happened. Immediately I felt terrible. I had no intention of making them feel responsible. I was merely kvetching about petty thievery in the neighborhood.  A few days later they came over with a replacement. Not as nice as the original, but as a good will gesture, I poked it into the same lily bed.

Not one day went by in the last three years that I didn’t check that lily bed. (See above interest in show Obsessed.) Every day I peered around the fence to see if it was there. Every day. I was aware of how neurotic that felt.  That it remained in place for so long made me think the first theft was an isolated incident. Not so. Two weeks ago it disappeared just like that. I checked up and down the block to make sure it wasn’t pulled for some makeshift sword fight or thrown around as part of some late-night tomfoolery.

I’m thinking I expended so much energy worrying about a cheap piece of metal and glass that the universe felt obligated to relieve me of this burden.

Finally, it’s a good thing school starts in a few days. This has been the most taxing summer ever with kids at home. A good part of it is due to the unrelenting heat and humidity, which has been the highest on record. Another part is due to budget constraints and our wish to have a nice family vacation. In order to pull it off, we opted out of scheduled activities for the girls this summer. No day camps or sleep away camp or swimming lessons or enrichment programs. It was just me vs. them here all summer. Read that again, slowly. Imagine it. If nothing else, it confirmed without a doubt that I would never, ever be a homeschooling parent. Ever.

No wonder the recycling bin is so heavy with wine bottles each trash day.

That is all. Happy Labor Day.

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Color me confused

Anyone up for a game of "Goodfellas?"

Somewhere past the pink and purple castle, just around the bend from the horse barn, a stretch limousine stuffed to the doors with Fisher Price Little People rounds a corner on two wheels. All the passengers roll and tumble around on the plastic seats. Except one doll. The brown-faced, afro-haired woman doll in a shocking pink dress stuffed in the trunk of the limousine. She tumbles onto the pink rag rug. The pink party car speeds down the hallway toward the staircase, oblivious of its missing passenger.

Girl from the East : (picking up the doll and holding it at eye level): I don’t like this doll, momma.
MZ: Why?
Girl from the East: Because her face is brown and I don’t like brown faces.
MZ: (Stunned into silence for a moment) What? Why?
Girl from the East: I just don’t.
MZ: But you have friends who have brown faces. You like them, don’t you?
Girl from the East: Uh-huh. I just don’t like the doll’s black hair.
MZ: But you have black hair. You like your black hair, right?
Girl from the East: Uh-huh.
MZ: So, if you have friends with brown faces and you have black hair, why don’t you like this doll? She’s wearing a pink dress.You love pink. (At this point I detect a shrill note in my voice, even though I am trying to regulate the volume.)
Girl from the East: I just don’t like the shape of her hair.
MZ: (Naming two girls she plays with) have hair in this shape and you like them, right?
Girl from the East: (Names the two girls) are my friends.
MZ: Yes. They are your friends. That means you like them. They have brown faces. They have that shape of hair.
Girl from the East: (picks up the doll again and stuffs it back into the trunk.) Well, I just don’t like this doll.
MZ: *Sigh*

Feeling I’ve gone too far, probed too deeply, I end the conversation. But, I don’t let it go. Perhaps Girl from the East is merely telling me she does not like the color brown in general and particularly doesn’t like it when it’s on her dolls. Perhaps she doesn’t like the molded plastic afro design, which resembles a helmet more than a hairstyle. But deep inside me, a cold knot twists as I fear the seeds of racism and prejudice are germinating. What is feeding this? All this time I’ve worried about how others might react to her skin tone or eye shape and here she is making her own judgments.

Orwell visits the play room: All Little People are created equal. But some Little People are more equal than others.

I watched this show on  CNN last week about a study on children and racism.  I’m sure this is why her simple comment sounded alarm bells inside my head. The study had kids looking at cartoon drawings of children with faces in every shade, from the darkest of brown to the palest of white.  Children were asked specific questions and asked to point to the cartoon characters to identify which one was the smartest, the dumbest, the good one, the bad one and so on. Can you guess the outcomes? The message seemed to be that parental influence and media feed these beliefs.

We are not that kind of home. We are not that kind of family. We have friends of all colors and stripes. We live in a community that embraces diversity. Heck, we are a diverse family ourselves. Girl from the East does not watch network or cable programmed TV. She watches DVDs of PBS and Nickelodeon shows such as “Dora,” where skin shades are varied from one character to the next. She watches “Yo Gabba Gabba” where faces are green and pink and one-eyed and pimply like cucumbers.

I have no answers. While my heart hurts that she said this so innocently, I also realize that I may be running her simple judgments about colors and textures through my complicated adult filters. So far, both of my girls have friends of all backgrounds and colors and have never exhibited racist speech or behavior. Sure, they’ve made observations and asked questions. We always teach that if we must judge at all, judge a person on his or her character. Ah, but the world is a complicated, dark and fuzzy place.

Time will tell more about this story.

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Three simple things


Today is the eighth anniversary of 9/11. Each of us has our own distinct memory of how it unfolded. There are two things I think about every year on this day: The first is to remember all those who went to work that day and died before lunch. The second is to recall the only person I know who was in the World Trade Center, a cousin by marriage.

I do not know him well. He has never spoken of that day at any family event. I would not dare ask.

I only know the story as it has been passed through the family grapevine. It goes like this: My cousin by marriage worked for one of the Big Three auto companies. He was sent to New York on business. His wife, my cousin by blood, had recently given birth to twin girls.

After my cousin by marriage escaped the World Trade Center and ran like hell for countless blocks, he was able to patch through a call to his wife — who was no doubt consumed with the care of newborns. When she answered the call in her quiet suburban-Detroit home, he told her he was OK. He made it out alive.

My cousin by blood, who did not have the TV or radio on, did not know to what he was referring. She then turned on the TV news (I’m sure, to her horror, to find out what was unfolding in this country), made arrangements for child care, packed her car, and drove to the Eastern seaboard to bring her husband home. They were among the lucky ones who survived to tell their story.

Remembering this day is important. On a personal level, it helps put things in their proper perspective. This year has been a 9/11 of sorts for my family. The threat of unknown forces has kept us on the edge of our seats, made us cautious and deliberate in every move we make.

This year also has deliver to me some unexpected gifts:

The first is a healing balm applied to a festering wound of a family relationship. The magic began with two words: I’m sorry.

Two words that took more than 20 years to say.

But it’s a beginning. It’s a chance to make things right before it’s too late.

More than 20 years of anger and resentment and fuming and side-stepping and outright lying on both of our ends has kept open wounds from healing. And now, there is a chance to set boundaries and stay quiet long enough to understand the other side.

The second gift is an appreciation for what cannot be pulled from an ATM or rented from Netflix or arranged through Expedia. It’s the hunt and discovery of that which is already out there, free, available to anyone curious enough to seek it. Free stuff. Simple pleasures. Enjoying the moment. Gratitude. Guess what? It turns out some of that stuff we thought was essential really wasn’t so life-and-death necessary after all.

The gift of spending time together, of being grateful that we are alive and in good health, and living in a country that still allows personal freedom is priceless.

The third gift is the deep well of support I didn’t know I had in my own yard. Without having to ask, I’m blessed with wonderful friends who share their own wealth and good fortune with me.  I’ve learned that true friends appreciate the gift of time and attention when you don’t have much else to offer in exchange.

Three simple gifts came to me when I least expected it.

And maybe — if I allow myself to believe such things — three gifts came to me when I deserved it the most.

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More TV kvetching

Read this post using the voice of Dana Carvey’s grumpy old man character from Saturday Night Live:

“In my day, we didn’t have all this fancy satellite TV and DVR. We had regular television. A box on the floor. It had knobs that you turned to change the channels. There were about four channels and we liked them.
Those four channels broadcast for about eight hours a day. We didn’t cry like little babies when the test pattern came on. We went to bed and we liked it. We didn’t have these silly little remote controls either. We got up off our duffs and turned the knob with our hands. We turned the knob until our fingers bled. We didn’t care. 

And we had a thing called a TV guide that came with the Sunday paper. It listed the shows on the four channels on our TV, which was a box on the floor that had knobs. We thumbed through the TV guide with our bleeding fingers until they were covered in papercuts and bled even more. We didn’t complain. 
Now there is all this hocus pocus of cable and satellite and a mandatory switchover to digital television. I’ll give you digits, you con artists.  
Hundreds of thousands of channels of junk. 
And what happened to the TV guide, huh?
I’ll tell you what: The newspaper dropped it a few years ago, those cheapskates.
Then they decided it took up too much space in the daily paper to run any listings. I suppose they needed more room for their precious advertising.
And those crooks over at the local cable company dropped its scrolling TV listings. It’s a conspiracy!
Where in the ding dang dong is a guy supposed to go to find out what’s on the boob tube? Huh?
Don’t tell me I’m supposed to go out and get some fancy computer and surf the Web. I’m living on a fixed income.
I’ve just given up on the whole flim-flam operation.
I figure, if all those big shots out there don’t want me to know what’s on all their fancy channels about cookin’ and wallpaperin’ and back hair waxin’, then I ain’t gonna care one lick.

I’m just going to wrap my bleeding fingers in yesterday’s newspaper and go to bed. Harumph!”

TV bad; computer good?

This just in: unhappy people watch more TV according to this report.
Well, heck. I must be so happy I orbit the earth.
Here are my TV viewing habits:

“Ghosthunters”: one hour on Wednesday nights. This will be replaced by “LOST” when it ever returns from it’s 5-year hiatus. Also one hour.
Maybe one hour of sorta watching CNN or some other news show while exercising at the gym. That’s another three hours a week. 

Maybe another three hours while riding the exercise bike at home.

Total: Seven hours.

About once a month we rent some DVDs to watch. I don’t know if that counts in this study. To be fair we can add another four hours to the total, making it 11 hours.

Before you go thinking I’m all high and mighty here, consider what I’m doing instead of watching TV. Do not ask me about my computer hours. Do not.

My girl crush


Oh Tina, you’re so fine

you’re so fine, you blow my mind, hey Tina, hey Tina!*



I don’t swing that way. But if I did, Tina Fey would be my “it” girl. She’s my girl crush. There aren’t enough adjectives to cover all the ways in which I adore this woman.  I’ve always liked her on “Saturday Night Live.” So smart and sexy. And when “Mean Girls” came out. Shut up! I was impressed, infatuated and amazed. What couldn’t this woman do? Sadly, I’ve not watched “30 Rock” regularly. Not because of dear Tina. Oh, no. Just me not having prime-time TV time in my life right now. But this weekend was the big one for me. I’m head over heels, Tina baby. You deserve every Emmy out there. You deserve to be president. Forget Obama. I’m doing a write-in: Fey-Poehler.

*apologies, I suppose, to Toni Basil and “Hey Mickey”