Monday, September 1, 2014

#SelfCare: Doctors, Heredity and Ovarian Cancer

This week I had my annual checkup with my gynecologist. Now that I'm done having kids (we decided that very soon after the second one was born #sleeplessnights), I have different concerns to discuss with my doctor. You see, both my maternal grandmother and great-grandmother died of ovarian cancer. I learned about this when doing an oral history project for one of my Women's Studies classes on the women in my family. My great-grandmother was just 31 when she died, leaving behind my then 12 year old grandmother and my great-grandfather. I can't even imagine how devastated it would be to lose your mother at such a young and critical age. I don't know much about what kind of medical treatment she received or at what point she realized she had cancer, but they had her on laudanum to keep her comfortable. Ovarian cancer is really hard to detect and this was in the early 1920's when she was diagnosed (1923) and died (1925).

My grandmother died of ovarian cancer when she was about 60, so it hit her later in life. I was just a baby when she was receiving treatment. I do have a flash of a memory of getting into a rental car after flying down to Florida with my mom to visit her. The interior was red. Funny how you remember those little things, but I digress. My grandmother was active and healthy and had the same doctor for many years. She went to her doctor about pain and bloating in her lower abdomen but he just said "oh you girls just don't drink enough water" (#sexism). When the pain didn't go away he said it was gallstones. When they went in to remove her gallbladder they did a large incision and noticed that she had stage 4 ovarian cancer. They told her that with chemo she would live 2 more years, but without it she would only live 6 months. She did chemo but lost the battle 11 months later. She got to live longer than her mother, but 60 is still too young. I've heard wonderful stories about what an amazing woman she was and it really saddens me that I only had her for the first few years of my life which I don't remember.

Me and Grandma Rose.
She was sick and towards the end of her life at this point.
I treasure this picture of us as its the only one I have.

My mother had a benign tumor on the outside of her uterus at the age of 50. Because of her family history her doctor recommended a full hysterectomy. She wanted to talk with other women about the surgery and the after effects, but because of HIPPA regulations her doctor couldn't connect her with his patients. She did find online support, but that was in 1998 so there wasn't as much out there as there is now. Despite no knowing much about the after-effects, I'm glad that she agreed to the full hysterectomy. Now I don't have to worry about her as much. She is definitely a wonderful role model for self-care. She was having problems with her hips a couple years ago and went ahead and had them both replaced. Now she's walking around like nothing ever slowed her down. When something is not 100% with her health, she takes care of it. She doesn't ignore it and hope it will go away. This is the main reason why I really listen to my body when it does new or different things. This will hopefully come in handy if I start to exhibit any of the symptoms of ovarian cancer, or any other ailment for that matter.

My role model for self-care.
Love my Momma!

I brought up this history with my doctor this week. It was already in my medical chart, but I wanted her to know that I was concerned about it. I asked if there was anything I should be doing or looking out for. Guess what? She validated my concerns! High-five, doc! She asked lots of questions about each of the women on my mother's side, including my aunt, and I was able to answer most of the questions (which I would not have been able to do if not for that Women's Studies assignment). Since my mom didn't have ovarian cancer (thank goodness for that), and we don't know if she would have, but my grandmother and great-grandmother did, she decided to treat me as if my mother had had it. She prescribed me ultrasounds every 6 months. She said this is not fool-proof method. She told me of a patient that developed ovarian cancer in between her biannual ultrasounds. However, there isn't much else to help you detect it. There is a blood test, but that isn't always accurate. She said I may want to have the genetic test done to see if I'm at a higher risk. The ultrasounds are less invasive which I appreciate. If you've read either of my previous blogs Knitting Pidgen or Femiknitzm you might have picked up on that I'm terrible at giving blood. I've had enough ultrasounds with the three pregnancies (one ectopic) that I'm not nervous at all. Well, except maybe for the results. Speaking of my ectopic pregnancy (2008), I brought that up to my doctor as well and she said that had nothing to do with ovaries, just tubes. That piece of info helped me to relax a little.

I always thought I would have daughters, or at least one, but now that I'm really thinking about all this, I realize that it is a good thing that I had boys. This way I don't pass on the ovarian cancer gene or whatever it is to daughters. I mean, not that it would have been a bad thing. Maybe by the time my daughter would have been my age they would have discovered not only a cure but a shot that would prevent it. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that my mom had me, and her mom had her, and her mom had her. I'm just a little relieved that I don't have to worry about continuing our history of ovarian cancer. I have many more positive things that I want to pass along to my future generations.

I do have an older sister and I will be talking with her about all this. I think she's pretty good about listening to her body and getting things checked out, but it can't hurt to have a sister-to-sister chat. It's important that we know our bodies, listen to them, and talk with our doctors when we feel something might be wrong. I know people worry about being thought of as a hypochondriac, but it's better to be safe than sorry. Check out this video (and the symptoms listed below) from the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition:

Okay, so now you get that it's important. Now what? Know the symptoms:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Feeling the need to urinate urgently or often
  • Fatigue
  • Upset stomach or heartburn
  • Back pain
  • Pain during sex
  • Constipation or menstrual changes
These symptoms can seem like every day kind of issues, but if they persist for more than two weeks and don't go away after diet changes or rest, talk to your doctor. If your doctor brushes you off, find a new one. Ask your friends who they go to and trust. Just reading through the list worries me because I have several of these symptoms. However, I also know that I inherited my dad's acid reflux issues which can cause some of these symptoms. I'll admit that I'm a little worried, but my first ultrasound is scheduled for September 16th. Read all about ovarian cancer and the symptoms here at the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. Listen to your bodies and choose a doctor that listens to your concerns and validates them instead of brushing them off easily. Your life depends on it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Like A Girl: Physical Conditioning of Girls

My 5 year old is going to start Kindergarden this Fall. Being the diligent parent that I am, I did some investigating of what to expect of his new school. I went to their website and opened up the Parent Handbook. I expected to see information about absences, school closings, dress code, grading scale, etc... What I was surprised to find was their "Wellness Related Fitness Criteria". See here for yourself:

First thing I noticed was the color separation: blue for boys, pink for girls. I couldn't help but think of the irony that these were pink and blue boxes, but I digress. You will notice that boys and girls start off with the same physical activity requirements. However, there is a definite gap as the kids get older with boys being required to do more physical activity. The only exception where the girls are expected to do more is with the "back-saver sit & reach". One of my friends commented that basically they just wanted girls to be more flexible. What a spot on metaphor for traditional gender roles for women! 

I remember this testing in elementary school. We didn't have a gym so we got tested on the stage (behind the curtains thank goodness). My favorite part of that memory is reliving my leg wrestling success. I won all the matches against my female peers except for one who was much taller than me. They never let me try it against the boys but I bet I could have won those matches too. I had a lot of confidence in my physical ability then. I wonder why that changed...could it be...socialization and conditioning (see chart above)?

Some of you may get why this is an issue. For those of you who don't quite get it, you may be saying "but boys are stronger than girls" or "girls and boys have different body types". I would argue that anyone who is conditioned from an early age to reach certain physical goals will as an adult be able to do those things. For example, there was the great episode of Myth Busters where they busted the "you throw like a girl" myth/insult ("insult" because our society thinks associating something with the feminine means it's weak or less than). Watch them bust that myth here (totally worth the 3:39). Basically what they found was that since most boys/men are traditionally taught how to throw a ball/play catch, that...

"men throw with a better technique..and when we removed all that training and had our blank slates throw with their non-dominate hand, males and females threw with almost identical techniques...this suggest strongly that it is cultural, that it is training and when you remove that training you level the playing field...given the training, there's no reason why women can't overcome cultural bias and throw as well as the guys" 

So, if you start from the beginning with a level playing field of training and conditioning, in this case with physical activity, there is no reason why boys and girls won't grow up to have the same level of skills. The reason we require less physically of girls than boys is because of socialization and traditional gender roles. We are taught that women should strive for beauty and men should strive for strength. That does a disservice to us all, but mostly to women. The message is even though we are capable of being strong and reaching the same physical activity goals as men, we should conditioned to be physically weaker because society doesn't value strength in a woman. (What does it value? Beauty.) Women are basically taught to take up less space. It is assumed/taught that women are not capable of doing physical activity up to par with men. Check out this video from Always about "run like a girl". (Fave quote "Why can't "run like a girl" also mean win the race?" Excellent question. It can.)

I played sports my entire childhood. I played t-ball then softball from age 5-17. I played field hockey from age 14-17. I saw that the girls whose parents took them to softball camps where they got extensive training became much better than me, even though I think I was pretty good. ;-) The point is they got more training and conditioning. I got hit by a 70 mph softball (nothing about those are soft, by the way) in the thigh while up to bat once. After I got over being super mad at her for hitting me, I realized just how great of a pitcher she was (obviously not the time she hit me, but I think she meant to do that. #meangirls). Speaking of 70 mph pitches, did you hear about the 13 year old girl that pitched a shutout recently? Awesomesauce! But, did you also hear the Fox News correspondent ask her that incredibly sexist question? Le sigh.

The start of my t-ball career. The 80's were awesome.

With my t-ball team. I was one of 4 girls out of 14 kids.

Freshman year of field hockey. With my goalie mentor Towanda who passed on
her ass-kicking knowledge and my best friend and goal sweeper Tiffany.
Why were we wearing volleyball t-shirts? Because they put no funding into "girls" sports beyond getting us to and from our games but "boys" sports had new equipment and uniforms. Just in case you think what I'm pointing out with this article doesn't matter.

Field hockey Senior year when I was a co-captain.
I'm in the center with the feminist t-shirt. ;-)

A friend of mine who is in the military agreed with me that requirements for girls and boys should be the same. Then he referenced physical requirements in the military. I will agree that physical requirements in the military should be the same for everyone, but not until we have reached that generation where both boys and girls have been conditioned from the beginning to reach the same goals and taught the techniques to be successful. We're not there yet so I don't think it would be wise to raise the bar there until we have leveled the playing field. Say if they changed the standards next year for 6 year olds (the first age listed on the chart above), in 12 years when those boys and girls are 18 and eligible for the military, then the military physical standards should be the same for everyone.

So, let's start now. Let's start telling our daughters and sons, nieces and nephews, and kids we know from down the street that boys and girls are physically capable of doing the same things given the same training and conditioning. Let's empower everyone to do their best and have respect for others knowing that they are also capable of reaching the same goals and standards. Let's stop telling girls that they're weaker when we don't give them a chance to prove what they're capable of from the get-go. This message to our kids won't just have an effect on what girls and boys are taught in P.E. class, it will have a ripple effect where we start to see and treat both girls and boys (and everyone else on the gender continuum) with respect and give them a level playing field.

In other news, CBS just announced that it will launch the first all-female sports talk show. I have my fingers crossed that they do it right. It could go either way (awesome or stereotypical gender portrayals) but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt until they prove otherwise. I would definitely watch as long as it was on at a reasonable hour and not stuck at midnight or something. Onward! 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Under The Radar: My Newest Adventure as a Professional Speaker

This week I was awarded the awesome opportunity to be added to the Under The Radar Speaker Roster through Soapbox, Inc. I have been speaking on women's issues through my current job for the past 9 years so this is not my first time up to bat. This new adventure will give me the opportunity to travel around the country speaking for other Universities or community organizations. You can read my bio and list of topics I am available to speak about here:

I'm very excited to get to combine two of my favorite activities, talking about gender equality and traveling, thanks to the awesome feminists over at Soapbox, Inc.

Wish me luck...or book me...either one is great! :-)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Teaching Empathy to My Boys

Jackson is now five years old and will periodically have emotional outbursts. Sometimes I can easily walk him through them and get him to understand the situation so he won’t be so upset or offer him alternative solutions to whatever he’s objecting to. Recently he got on this kick that he wanted me to do something for him (I forget now what it was, but it was something simple like getting him out of his car seat or fixing him a snack) and not his daddy. I was busy with Myles (who is about to be two years old) so Bill was trying to tend to Jackson. He pitched a fit when his dad tried to do whatever it was and hollered that he liked me better and just had to have me. I tried to talk him down and explain how it didn’t matter who did this task for him and that he needed to be nice to his daddy because he loves him. He just would not stop. I could tell that it was hurting Bill’s feelings so I told Jackson that. “You’re hurting Daddy’s feelings. You wouldn’t want Daddy to say that to you, would you?” I asked. He said no but continued to fuss, tears and all. I try my best to keep calm when he loses his mind like this and I think I held it together pretty well. It was upsetting me though because he really was being mean to his Daddy.

I finally got him to understand somewhat and he calmed down a little bit. It was almost time for bed and I wanted him to apologize to his daddy and give him a hug. I didn’t want him to go to bed thinking it was okay to behave that way. It was like pulling teeth. He crawled over to Bill and hugged his leg and whispered very softly “sorry”. I did not want to get him upset all over again, but that was not acceptable. I kept encouraging him to give him a “real hug” and finally Bill was able to get pick him up and hug him and kiss his little head and tell him that he loved him. You could tell Jackson was just allowing him to do this just to get it over with. It was a half-hearted apology but it would have to do because Bill and I were both over the whole situation and just wanted him to get some sleep. He was obviously tired and that was making him a Mr. grumpy-pants.

The next morning he was better and I talked with him again about how he hurt his Daddy’s feelings. My goal was to help him understand how he was making his daddy feel hoping to teach him to empathize with him. He eventually got back to normal and even randomly said “you’re the best daddy every!” which I could tell made Bill quite happy. He loves being a daddy and is a very good one. Any good parent wants to hear that they’re doing a good job from their kids, so when they throw fits like this and say mean things, it can really hurt their feelings.

I recently read this great article on “Why It’s Imperative to Teach Empathy to Boys”. Girls are taught empathy but boys typically aren’t. I have worked in the field of advocacy for victims of sexual and relationship violence as well as prevention education around those issues for almost 10 year. I see what boys’ lack of empathy for others can do, whether they are the perpetrator of violence against someone or a silent bystander unwilling to do anything to help the victim. Now, Jackson is a long time from college, but I want to teach him this skill early so he will naturally turn to empathy when reacting to various situations.

We’ve talked about a few bullying scenarios he’s seen in Preschool and how that made the person being bullied feel. One of those instances was when a bus monitor called him out for being a boy with painted nails, so he knew a little bit about how it feels. You may have heard people say that babies aren’t born knowing how to hate and I see that to be true. However, it doesn’t take long for them to learn jealousy which I see as a source of a lot of tension among kids (and adults) and that can lead them to bully or be mean to others.

When Myles copies something that Jackson does, or plays with one of his toys, Jackson will pitch a fit or try to snatch the toy away. His latest response to why he doesn’t want Myles to play with his toys or follow him around is because he “doesn’t like babies”. And yet, he will lead Myles around the house in whatever made up game he wants them to play together not long after one of his fits. It can be frustrating that he doesn’t understand when he’s being contradictory, but I have to keep telling myself he hasn’t learned that skill yet.

PARENTING IS HARD! It is a job that requires you to be on your game at all times. If you are tired too often and as a result always react negatively to a situation, that is going to affect how your kids behave toward others.  You can’t just wave a magic wand and make your kids turn out to be perfect angels who have empathy for others and a strong sense of self-confidence and humility at the same time. Actions speak louder than words. When I want my kids to stop hitting each other or one of us (something Myles does as part of his terrible twos) I usually say “gentle” but if I’m yelling it at them it kind of defeats the purpose. See what I mean? I may not get it 100% right all of the time, but I’m hoping that I am resilient enough to teach them how to be good people at least 95% of the time.

I have seen how my efforts to teach Jackson empathy have worked. He will identify how something someone did probably made someone feel and I applaud him when he does that. Now if I can just get him to identify when his actions affect others, we’ll be good to go.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Nail Polish Adventures

About a month ago I remembered how much I like to have my nails painted. I got a suggestion from a friend about a quick-drying brand, you know, because if I’m gonna paint them, I have to do it quickly with two little ones running around. I found a few free minutes where I only had my oldest son, Jackson, with me. I told him to entertain himself for a few minutes while I painted my nails purple (my favorite color if you haven’t figured that out already). He asked to watch and of course I didn’t object. It gave us time to talk, and I do love to hear him talk. He’s so inquisitive and clever. Anyway, when I was done with the first coat he said “Hey, can you paint my nails next?” I didn’t skip a beat and said “of course!” If you’ve read my previous blog posts you know I do not limit him to prescribed gender roles, toys, etc… So, I painted his nails purple too. He liked it so much he asked me to paint his toes. He was ecstatic. You could just see the joy in his face. He was so proud and excited to show his friends at school the next day. Now, I was a little nervous because I wasn’t sure how everyone would react. However, I have worked very hard to instill a strong sense of self-confidence in Jackson and we’ve talked on a regular basis about boys and girls being able to like whatever they like and point out silly things like how McDonald’s always asks if the Happy Meal is for a boy or a girl. Toys are just toys, so they should really ask if kids want the Spiderman or My Little Pony toy (or whatever brands they’re marketing that month). But I digress.

Just look at that joy!
He wanted his toes to match.

I sent Jackson off to school with his purple nails and wondered all day how it was going. I didn’t get any calls from his teacher or his school so I waited until I got home to find out how things went. When I came home from work he poked his lip out at me and said “The kids didn’t like my nails.” I consoled him and asked him to tell me what happened. He told me how the kids asked why he had his nails painted “because nail polish is for girls” and asked if he was a girl. His reply was simply “No, I’m just a boy who likes to have my nails painted”. I asked him if anyone said anything nice about his nails and he said that his friend who’s a girl liked them and so did his two teachers. He then remembered that one of the bus monitors told him to go home and take it off because it’s for girls. That upset him the most. He said “Mommy, can you go to my school and teach her that nail polish is for everybody?” Believe me I wanted too. But I decided to instead talk to him about tolerance and how not everyone is nice when people do things different than are traditionally done. I told him we just have to be confident in ourselves so when we run into people like that we don’t let it get us down or change our mind about what we like or who we are. I called his teacher the next day and asked her how things went. She said she was surprised but told all the kids that they need to respect everyone, even if they do things differently and that if Jackson and his parents thought it was okay then it was okay. She said the kids were fine after that and went on about their day. She had talked to her daughter about it who is also a teacher and was told “You know, Mom, men used to adorn themselves with jewelry and the like in different times and different cultures.” So, she’s “learning a lot from (her) daughter” and I was very please with how she handled it. I did tell her about the bus monitor so that she could keep her eyes and ears open for any similar comments. I didn’t want to cause a big raucous, but I wanted her to quietly spread the word. I didn’t want Jackson to have to deal with any drama from administration. 

After Jackson and I talked about all that he was fine and went to school with his nails painted until it chipped and he wanted to take it off. He kept his toes painted longer. A week or two later he and I were in Target and he asked to pick out some pink nail polish. I found a cheap bottle because it would be just for him. I’m not about to paint my nails pink (not my favorite color). While he was on Spring Break he asked me to paint his nails pink. One of my family members who is very traditional and shall remain nameless asked "what's this" when they saw his pink nails. When I explained, that person turned and scratched their head but didn't say anything about it. I was grateful for that because I want Jackson to feel free to be himself around his family. Everyone else in the family has been great about it and this person has either gotten past it or knows not to say anything that might hurt his feelings.

Jackson (with his pink nails) and Myles enjoying some sweet tea.

When it was time to get ready to go back to school he asked me to take the polish off his nails but paint just his toes so he could still have some nails painted but the “bad teacher” (bus monitor) wouldn’t know it. It was his little secret he said. Internally I was and have been grimacing over the fact that he has to hide some of the things he likes because it’s not the current cultural trend. I don’t want him to feel ashamed. He doesn’t feel that at this point, but the fact that he thought it would be better to hide it worried me. I don’t want that to be how he handles things in the future, but I guess it’s okay for school. I don’t want him to get bullied but I also want him to be who he is and like what he likes. I guess I should be proud he still liked having his nails painted even after other people reacted the way they did. So, I’m still going back and forth about him feeling the need to hide, but he’s happy so I go along with it. This time he wanted his toes painted in a pattern: pink, blue, pink, blue, etc… He’s been learning about patterns in school so he was excited to be able to do that. I haven’t written about this until now because I wanted to see how he continued to handle it. Jackson has remained happy and has learned to just laugh at any kids that ask if he has his nails painted today or if he’s a girl. He’ll say “Ha, ha, ha silly!” and let it roll off his back because he knows “they just have to learn”. While we were waiting for the bus the other day he asked me to go tell the little girl who lives across the road about how nail polish is for everybody and so is pink and princesses. Well, her grandparents were waiting for the bus with her and I wasn’t about to start up that conversation. They don’t seem like the most open-minded folks, but they are nice and cordial. It just wasn’t the right time. Plus, my inner introvert was too shy. LOL I just told him he could talk with the girl about it on the bus if she brought it up and to let me know if he needed to talk through any conversations he had.

Pattern on his toes!

Pink, blue, pink, blue...

Jackson’s favorite color continues to be pink and he has found a love for all things Disney princesses. He even picked out some Sofia the First pajamas. I keep reminding him that not all girls are princesses and that there are different kinds of female characters he could learn about. There is this great book called “Disney Princess Adventure Stories” that actually tells tales of the princesses saving the day, being daring, creative and smart. I found it for him for Christmas and for the most part find all the stories to be positive examples. They’re still “princesses” and fit the ideal beauty standards, but it’s a step in the right direction. He has since discovered Doc McStuffins and she has quickly become a favorite.
Excited to find him a pink shirt in the "boy's" section
(with a shark of course because "Tough Guise" (Film by Jackson Katz you should totally check out).
FINALLY found pink swim trunks!
Playing Legos in his Sofia the First pajamas.

He recently had his 5th birthday and for his party he wanted pink plates, cups, utensils, princess napkins and a princess balloon. We got those things for him because we knew the family and friends around him would be supportive and love him for who he is. He was happy to recently discover that one of his friends who is a boy also likes to have his nails painted. He even had them painted at the party. For his birthday he asked for a princess palace bath toy as well as rescue bots and other various toys. He was super excited to get both of those. We try to balance what kinds of toys we give him and of course avoid the ones with weapons. We also got him some Frozen sheets and he was super excited tonight when I put them on his bed. He is such a sweetheart and I want to continue to encourage him to follow his heart and his interests. It hurt me to hear that the kids’ initial reaction and that of the bus monitor wasn’t positive but I wasn’t surprised. I am just so proud of him that he is still confident in himself and continues to like whatever he wants. He doesn’t limit himself on what he likes and neither will I. I just hope this will last through his lifetime. 
Selfie with Jackson!

Jackson loves his new Frozen sheets!

Jackson with his Rescue Bot

I know people’s discomfort with boys liking pink and princess things has a lot to do with homophobia, but just because he likes those things doesn’t mean he’s gay. And if he is, I’m still going to love him and he’s still a valuable human being so people need to get over themselves. These prescribed gender roles are all about trends and the almighty dollar. It has nothing to do with biology (pink used to be marketed to boys and blue to girls in the early 1900’s). It’s time that our culture relaxed these rigid gender roles and let kids be kids, adults be who they want to be and love who they love.

I love my sweet little fella!

I’ve been thinking how nice it would be to live in a community that was feminist and accepting of difference and non-traditional gender roles. I even thought about starting a Meetup group for the area to connect with parents and kids who just want to be themselves, even if that means breaking out of the pink and blue boxes. I’ll let you know how that goes if I find the time to put it together.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day, Momma!

My mom and I were watching my kids play in the yard the other day. Somehow the conversation turned to her knowing how to ride a skateboard. I remembered that I had a white one once but that I wasn’t very good at it because I didn’t have anyone to teach me. At the time I didn’t realize that she knew how to ride so I never asked her to show me. But her next comment “Oh, I guess I wasn’t around to show you”, really struck a cord with me. My mom pursued her Masters degree when I was young but I never thought of her as “not being there” and I realized at that moment that she holds some guilt about taking that time away from us to further her education. I’m very proud of her for pursuing her Masters and working a job in a non-traditional field for women (computer programming). In fact, there are many things that I am proud of her for and never once have I thought negatively about her pursuing her career or education because it may have taken some time away from me. I don’t remember her not being there. So, I have decided to write this piece to tell you my mother’s story so you can know just how awesome she is and how lucky I am to have her as my mother.  

I don’t ever remember my mother telling me about feminism or even using that word around me, but she certainly raised me from a feminist perspective. I always knew that I could be who I wanted to be and pursue any dream my heart desired. When I graduated high school, I had it in my head that I was going to be the goalie for the US Women’s Olympic Field Hockey Team and work for National Geographic as a photographer. Neither were small dreams, but I had every confidence in my ability to do those things. Granted, I never actually did those things, but that was only because my interests and passions changed, not because I tried and failed and certainly not because I thought I couldn’t. This was because mom instilled a sense of confidence in me that carries me through everyday even now. (Note: when I say confidence, I do not mean narcissism or conceit. She also taught me to be humble when it matters.) She also taught me to be independent and to learn to do things for myself. Thank goodness for that! That is one thing she taught me that I used the most. She shared with me the wisdom that her mother shared with her: never let a man leave you without a car, always wear clean underwear in case you get into a car accident, and always have a financial cushion/save as much money as you can.

She learned that first one the hard way. On one of her trips up to Richmond to attend Masters classes at VCU the guys she rode with from work left class at break and went to a local bar that was having a wet t-shirt contest. They asked to take her keys so they could put their bags/briefcases in the trunk on their way. When it was time to go, they were nowhere to be found and she was stuck 2 hours away from home in a not so safe part of town with no way to get back.  Just the thought of that makes me want to physically hurt those men, leaving my momma stranded like that, but she gave them what for. Around about midnight after waiting around in a local deli she finally saw them coming out of the club. She told them exactly what she thought about what they had done and also let them know about it while she drove them home. Of course, the guys didn’t see what the big deal was. This was in the 80’s before everyone had cell phones so my Dad was at home worried and waiting for her to come home, not knowing all that had gone on. One of the guys was married and his wife also had something to say to him about his behavior and how he treated my mom. The guy who was married finally got it and apologized to Mom the next day. The single guy went around the office telling his funny story thinking nothing of it until all the women in the office responded the same way that Momma did. I think he finally apologized and hopefully they both learned a little about how to treat women better. Of course, the fact that they thought it was a good idea to go to a wet t-shirt contest makes me think not, but maybe it set them on a road to a feminist revelation. One can only hope. My mom also taught me to be an optimist, but never na├»ve, so I know better.  

At another point in her career in the non-traditional field of computer programming, Mom experienced sexual harassment that she actually blocked out and didn’t tell me about until this past year. One of the centerfolds “models” in Playboy magazine had my mom’s same name one month. The guy down the hall at work thought it would be funny to hang up that picture with a cutout of my mom’s face pasted on it in the break room for everyone to see. Now, this was in a time before we had the word “sexual harassment” that could help women describe what they had been experiencing. She felt embarrassed, but mostly angry because with that one act he had reduced her to a sex object after all of her hard work to do a good job and gain respect from her peers as a computer programmer. The guy had no idea why she was upset about it (seemed to be a trend at this place) and brushed it off as “just a joke”. As I said, my mom blocked out this experience , and she was only reminded of it when this guy reached out to her through email this year. He had some sort of “come to Jesus” moment now 20 years later and realized what he had done was wrong and was seeking her forgiveness. In a switch in our roles, she asked my advice. She told me the story and I confirmed that what she had experienced was indeed sexual harassment. I think validating her experience helped her to do what I suggested next. My mom is a Christian so I told her that it was up to her whether or not she chose to forgive him. However, I suggested she not let him off easy, but instead spell out for him just how his actions affected her and why what he did was wrong, because she probably wasn’t the first nor the last that he harassed. I could see she felt empowered and she did in fact email him and let him know just that. I forget whether or not she forgave him but she said she felt better afterwards. It makes me wonder about other women from that generation and what experiences they had with sexual harassment and what they have blocked out. It’s hard enough now to call out sexual harassment and we have a word for it, when they didn’t even know what to call it. I’m very proud of my mother for standing up for herself then and now.

Another thing I admire about my mother that I try to emulate is her compassion for others. One thing in particular is her encouragement of young people, especially girls and young women, to pursue their education. In my line of work I get to interact with and hear the stories of many young women and men and encourage and empower them to follow their hearts. Knowledge is power that no one can take away from you and it can help you to achieve your goals in life. My mom has helped a few women financially that I know of with their college books and the like so they could pursue their degrees. She also tutors kids in math and also guitar (something she tried to teach me but I didn’t have the patience to practice, just like the piano). I love watching her with my two boys teaching them new things, taking them on adventures, and reading them the books she brings for them. Instilling in them a love for reading is something very important to me because it is something that both myself and my husband enjoy. Other ways she shows compassion for others is by giving to charities and volunteering for the local library and various other non-profits, especially her church. Also, she’ll gladly talk to you about her faith but she won’t push it on you. High five for that, Mom! She recognizes that we all have our own point of view and experience of the world. She knows what works for her and won’t deny another the right to have that for themselves, whatever that might be.

My mother is a wonderful person and every time you see her she will have a smile on her face. That smile is not just to be pleasing for others (something that is expected of women), but because she is a genuinely happy person. She loves life and her family and friends. She has worked hard and come through adversity all with a smile on her face. I may be in my 30’s, but nothing makes me feel better and more centered than a hug and conversation with my Momma. I love you Momma! You have always been there for me when I needed you. Happy Mother’s Day!