This is a test of our liberal democratic system.

Note: When I was thinking about writing about the importance of voting in the mid-term elections, I wanted to do it with humor. Sadly, there is nothing humorous driving my vote this election cycle. 

This isn’t about welfare. 

This isn’t about abortion. 

This isn’t about taxes. 

This isn’t about traditional Democrat versus Republican ideals.

This is a test. 

This is a test to see if we can make it as a liberal democracy. 

I’m not talking about right-and-left politics. I’m talking about continuing this 242-year-old experiment. This form of representative government that believes in political competition and supports economic freedom, civil rights and personal liberties. That kind of liberal democracy. 

This is a pivotal point in our history. Look at what we’ve become in the last two years. 

This president has uncorked simmering hatred that taunts empathy and compassion and kills those who are different. He threatens critics and cozies up to foes. 

Our representative form of government is under attack by voter suppression and an enemy nation executing cyber warfare — both of which favor one party over the other. 

Economic freedom means tax breaks for the rich, the benefits of which don’t seem to trickle down to the working poor who struggle to earn a living wage and pay for health care. 

Civil rights and personal liberties battle each other when we are afraid to go to synagogue, yoga or school. We have lost our way when it is more important to get the semantics of assault weapons right rather than finding a way to keep them from people who shouldn’t have them so we can save our children and ourselves. 

These aren’t even the worst of our problems. There is an existential threat we ignore at our own peril. 

If we don’t act now, climate change will be irreversible and it won’t matter if you’re a Democrat or Republican. 

We have to fix our politics. We have to ask ourselves, is it better to win the battle or the war. The war is bigger than a woman’s right to choose, taxes, who should pay for health care or the Second Amendment. Reading that might make some of you mad and I’m not suggesting we stop fighting for what’s right. What I am suggesting is we have to look at the big picture. 

This will make even more of you mad: Remembering the big picture probably means voting for a Democrat. Hold your noses if you must when you vote during these mid-terms. Keep it a secret from your family and friends if you will be ridiculed. This election is that important. 

Why? Because we have a president who is going unchecked. Our system of checks and balances isn’t working. Our elected officials are not holding the president accountable. The only check on his power is from the media, who he maligns as a tactic to create doubt in those who really want to believe that the president should always be respected and never criticized. 

Make the right choice so we can go back to arguing over politics as usual. We have to pass this test. Put another way: The Roman Empire had another 261 years on us. We aren’t that special. But we could be.

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Snap, Crackle, Pop: Secret Thoughts of a Misophonic

I have snapshots in my head of moments in time growing up. They are faded color from the ‘70s and ‘80s because for some reason my memories were processed by Kodak.

One of the early images is of the back of the front passenger seat in my parents’ car. We were stopped at a gas station. Dad was pumping gas.

It was quiet. Dad was taking a long time. Pops and cracks broke the silence. Mom was torturing a piece of gum – and me at the same time.

Why were we in the car and where were we going? I have no idea. But I do know this was my first misophonic memory and the first time I wanted to explode and yell, “Dear God, woman, would you throw out that gum before I jump out of this car and run to a new family of people who hate gum?”

But saying something would have been rude and disrespectful so I bottled my anger for forty years.

Misophonia is “the strong dislike or hatred of specific sounds” according to WebMd. It really is a thing but I’m referencing WebMd because it’s easy; Neurology Times, Harvard and others address it also. To be clear: when they say misophonia is a “strong dislike or hatred” we’re talking anger. We’re talking, the desire to kill the source of a common sound, or flee altogether.

My mother is still alive today. I didn’t kill her. I thought about it, but I didn’t do it.

I also thought about smothering one of my college roommates. It was senior year. I was in my small dorm room with Marcia and we were studying. She was studying; I was plotting her murder that night. As far as I know, she’s still alive today. I couldn’t go through with it. She was nice.

But I did have to tell her that her gum-cracking was making me crazy in our small space and if she didn’t stop, I couldn’t promise not to hold a pillow over her face while she slept. Marcia handled it better than I would have. If memory serves, she started studying in the library – and then moved to another dorm the next semester. Marcia and I didn’t keep in touch after that.

College was particularly tough. If there was a student across the room chewing gum, I knew it and laser-focused on the perpetrator until I bore an imaginary hole into her head. Gum chewers are responsible for many a sub-par test score and the reason I couldn’t pass the foreign service exam and am not a diplomat serving in a country where gum is illegal. In retrospect, diplomacy wasn’t a good match.

Triggering sounds like gum chewing, open-mouth eating, snot-snorting and adenoid-clearing made me hot, and not in the good way. Growing older I realized this wasn’t normal so I decided I would do something about it. I scowled at gum chewers, open-mouth eaters, snot-snorters and adenoid-clearers. I was growing as a person.

They didn’t take the hint though so I took the humor route and made jokes:

Hey, your gum sounds tasty, can I have a go at it?

Mind if I join you on that crunchy, juicy apple?

One early career boss of mine was a gum chewer and I handled it pretty well until I couldn’t ignore it from my office next door any longer. I started walking into his office with my hand out asking him to spit his gum into it. He didn’t but he did put it in the trashcan. Winning! Luckily, he was good natured and I was later able to leave the job on my own accord.

Over the years I’ve learned coping skills that keep me from acting out on my homicidal thoughts: my own gum-chewing (oddly), reminding myself that a bag of popcorn can’t last too much longer can it?, manipulating space and time, and praying for a targeted asteroid strike. Yet, sometimes I can’t ignore it.

A few weeks ago, I listened to a co-worker lead a two-hour call while he ate a salad into the microphone. It seemed to be a salad of only celery and carrots from what I could determine without asking.

I have no idea what the call was about but I found a kindred spirit in cyberspace who was also listening and we IM’d about the celery, the eater’s complete lack of self-awareness and our superior social etiquette.

Conference calls are particularly bad for misophonics. I finished a call today with static clicking the entire time that morphed into a physical presence reaching through the phone to tap on my temples. I could have sworn on a separate call someone was eating another salad, but this time out of a Styrofoam container the consumer was moving across a table. I remember these experiences in vivid detail but have no recollection why I was on the conference calls in the first place.

Speaking of salads, my husband stabs his with a fork like the lettuce will get away if he doesn’t move fast enough, leaving me to ask the question: What did that salad ever do to you? I usually move to another part of the house while the massacre takes place.

I remember breaking up with a guy many years ago for the partial reason that he ate spaghetti with his mouth open; yet, I was totally willing to give my future husband a chance after our first meeting when he was chewing gum like he was auditioning for a Doublemint commercial.

Two kids later and he isn’t dead yet. I really am growing as a person.

I thought you knew me, Facebook.

Like many of you, I’ve been paying closer attention to my Facebook feed since all the hullabaloo about a third-party using our data for political targeting.

Frankly, it’s not the political content worrying me, Facebook. You don’t really know me, do you? That hurts.

Over the years we’ve shared so much. We’ve celebrated birthdays, holidays and friendship anniversaries.  You know when I’m on vacation or a work trip. You’ve connected me to long-lost friends and family.

Together we’ve fought for what’s right. We’ve loved, laughed and cried together. We’ve shared an intimacy unmatched in any other relationships.

And for these reasons I’m perplexed about why you, Facebook, think I need a new slip-resistant surf bikini for pinnacle performance in the water.

I thought we understood each other, Facebook. In my many posts over the last decade have I ever demonstrated a need for nanogrip technology in my swim suits? Have I posted much about swimming at all?

You think I need a swim suit that holds onto me like a cat at bath time. One that stays put when I’m hanging ten off the big island. I’ve never even been to Hawaii.

I will grant you this: I do need performance swimwear. I need something that allows me to swim away from my Labrador’s sharp toenails in the pool without losing my suit in front of my kids’ friends. But a nanogrip suit small enough to leave nothing to the imagination of anyone wondering what I’ve been hiding under my flannels all winter might be an elegant technology solution for a Lands End body.

Let’s talk about bras.

According to you, I need a new one. Not just any old bra. It should be sleek and blend with my body like a very thin, well-trained chameleon willing to dedicate its life to making my boobs appear right-sized and perky. And yet it should be fun and sporty enough to wear as a top to spin class followed by drinks at a trendy happy hour spot.  State-of-the-art wicking technology makes this possible.

Finally, shoes. Oh Facebook, this is where you really confuse me.

No, I don’t wear stilettos that double as martial arts weapons. But let’s talk about flat shoes made from recycled materials and the clunky Queen Elizabeth designer footwear in fun colors. I need arch support, it’s true, but can we please find a happy medium here?

You’re almost there, Facebook. Here is some help.

My bathing suits should leave my thigh gap a mystery, yet show enough skin to collect some Vitamin D and stay on in front of children.

I don’t need a bra so versatile I can take off my top at the office and head straight to exercise, yet I do want something flattering in case paramedics need to restart my heart some day.

I want to fight climate change as much as the next person but preferably in fashionable footwear with sturdy arch support.

Take another shot at your algorithms and crack down on the sharing, Facebook. Prove to me our relationship is real.

Preferably before the next presidential election.

36 Unsharpened Pencils

It’s really not a big deal that I missed both deadlines to order my kids’ school supplies this year. Just ordered from Amazon. First time’s a charm. Why haven’t I done this before?

Almost everything has arrived and is sitting unboxed on the dining room table. Got my supply lists and a pen. Two boxes for sorting – one for boy, one for girl. This will be done in no time and soon I’ll have my feet propped up watching TV with a glass of wine in 20 minutes tops. Or maybe I’ll read a book or do something volunteery. The dining room table will be decluttered and I’ll be patting myself on the back for being so smart.

Yes, yes, I missed the ordering deadlines. That’s not really the point here. I recovered thanks to Amazon Prime. It’s so easy: Just take the list and do a quick search using the EXACT same phrasing the schools used so I know I’m getting the right stuff.

Here we go. Here are the three boxes of Dixon Ticonderoga pre-sharpened pencils, all 48 of them. Just like the school wanted.

Wait, 12 per box, three boxes. There must be another box here somewhere. Nope. OK, no big deal. They won’t notice we’re missing a few.

Wait a minute these aren’t sharpened! OK, OK, calm down the kids will have a little project tomorrow sharpening the 36 pencils and putting them back in the boxes. I see some teamwork happening tomorrow people!

All right what’s next?

One two-pocket, three-hole folder; one two-pocket folder, blue; one two-pocket folder, red; one two-pocket folder, green; one two-pocket folder, yellow; and one two-pocket folder purple. All right here.

Hang on, these don’t have three holes along the side. But the list just says the first one has to have three holes. Does that mean just ONE folder should have three holes or are they assuming I will infer ALL of the folders should have three holes? They should really be more clear. Setting that aside for now. I can probably use these folders for the boy.

Twenty-four glue sticks, Elmer’s. Got them right here. One, two, three…whew. All 24. That could have been bad.

Next up, two-inch three-ring binder (any color) – on it! I’ve got your binder right here. (But I don’t have binders full of women. Hahahaha! I crack myself up.) OK, moving right along.

Five subject, college-ruled spiral notebook with plastic cover. Oh yeah, baby right here. Check!

This isn’t that bad. A couple of little glitches but I think we can call this done in just one minute…

What are these? Six more five-subject, college-ruled spiral notebooks with plastic covers under this box! Where did these come from? Probably for the other kid. Must be for her but no I don’t see them on the list. I do see  those pesky folders. Yes, yes, I know. I need to get the ones with the holes those since I used the two-pocket, multi-colored folders for the boy.

But what’s up with all these spiral notebooks. Maybe I read FIVE spiral notebooks instead of five-subject spiral notebooks. But I’m counting like eight of these sons of biscuit eaters on this table. Why is there so much stuff on the table?

Never mind that, who’s supposed to get the 200 sheets of filler paper? I don’t see that on anyone’s list. Pretty sure they asked for 150 sheets and I overachieved by 50.

I see what happened: 150-page spiral notebook. Do I even have that here? How many pages does that say on the edge there? Why don’t they have the label on this? OK just eyeballing here that looks like 150 pages. Eh, I’ll throw in one of the five-subject, college-ruled spiral notebooks just in case the other one isn’t enough.

Now then where was I? 3×5-inch index cards, check…wait, other side of the list says another box of 3×5-inch index cards. Criminy. These schools are needy. Where do all my taxpayer dollars go anyway?

Two more glue sticks??? Are you kidding me?? I suppose they want Elmer’s and not generic. Needy AND picky. An eraser, three-ring pencil pouch, scissors…oh, I’m on it. I know I have leftovers from last year in the other room.

SCORE! One slightly used eraser, a pencil pouch WITH three rings (and the tag from the year I bought that by mistake and was supposed to get a pencil BOX instead) and one pair of semi-pointy scissors. (Wait, are they five inches? I’ll get the ruler. STOP IT! Just put the scissors in the box! What is wrong with you woman?!)

There are way too many things left on the table and not everything is checked off the list.   Sort of reminds me of that Lego set that time. But I found an old eraser, a pencil bag and scissors.

And I saved shipping charges using Amazon Prime.

I can save these extra spiral notebooks for next year. I’ll keep them right here next to … wait, the Health folder was supposed to be orange??!

On Vacation with ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is more about self regulation than the name implies. It also normally coexists with other disorders, which makes it difficult to both diagnose and treat. This cocktail also makes parenting tricky and difficult for others to understand. Here’s how it looks in action.

It had been one year since his last vacation and the Boy couldn’t wait to go again to the beach. He loved seeing his family and riding the boardwalk rides. Soft serve ice cream. Pizza. Caramel popcorn. Late bedtimes. The …

“WHY ARE YOU STILL TALKING??? WE NEED TO GO NOW!”

Meet ADHD. He goes everywhere with the Boy.

“Can you hold it down a little? It’s only 8 in the morning,” I said.

“Hold what down, my pants?? Okay!” ADHD said, while he started pulling down his pants.

“You know that isn’t what I mean! Knock it off!” I said.

“Knock knock…” ADHD said.  “Come on, you’re supposed to ask who’s there,” he said.

Sigh.  “Who’s there?”

“Itsa.”

Sigh.

“Itsa who?”

“IT’S A TIME TO GO TO THE BEACH!!!!!!” ADHD said. “Get it???! It’s time to go to the beach! Bomboleo, BOMBOLEA!!!”

A little breakfast and a few minutes later the Boy calmed down. He dressed and put on sunscreen. He even offered to help carry some beach stuff down. Walking happily and quickly, he talked about how great it is to finally be there. We found the perfect spot right near the waves in front of the crowd, hoisted the umbrellas, positioned the chairs and sat. The kids excitedly ran to the water. The Boy ran with them. Into the water they went, knee deep.

Peace. Peace. Peace.

“Oh my GOD what is that?!” the Boy yelled. “Something just touched my leg.”

“What did it feel like?” one of the kids asked.

“Smooth. It felt smooth,” the Boy said.

“I think it’s a shark,” Anxiety said, “Definitely a shark. A friend of mine’s brother’s cousin said he heard about a shark that came onto a beach once and attacked a bunch of kids.”

Meet Anxiety. Anxiety goes where ADHD goes.

“I heard about that too! You’re right!” the Boy said. “I’m getting out.”

The Boy ran back to the chairs and sat down. “I can’t go back in there,” he said. “I can’t see the bottom and there’s all kinds of stuff in there.”

I told him there’s nothing dangerous in knee-deep water. There’s nothing to worry about. Plus, look at all the people.

“Chances are if there were a shark interested in dining on a kid it would get someone else first, like that guy over there. He looks delicious,” I said.

Oops.

“But I’M DELICIOUS. What if I’m the person it gets?” Anxiety said. Sigh.

“You won’t be,” I said.

“But what if I am?” Anxiety asked.

“It’s not going to happen. Just try to relax and don’t think about these things. Focus on having fun,” I said.

“Don’t tell me what to do! You’re not my boss!” he raged.

Meet Oppositional Defiance Disorder. His friends call him ODD for short. ODD, Anxiety and ADHD go pretty much everywhere together – whether they want to or not. Generally things go like this:

ADHD pokes another kid with the eraser on his pencil. Kid says stop. ADHD does it again. Kid says stop. Again and again until kid tells teacher and teacher gets angry at ADHD. That’s when ODD steps in and says he didn’t do anything wrong. He was just joking. Teacher says the other kid didn’t think it was funny. ODD gets angry and pouts the rest of the day, refusing to do any work. Then Anxiety shows up later and says he doesn’t want to go to school anymore because no one likes him.

“Maybe you could try a game,” said Relative 1.

ODD gritted his teeth and looked at me, even more irritated.

“I think he just wants to do something else,” I said.

“We’re at the beach! What else would he want to do?” Relative 1 said. “He probably just wants to go watch TV. I don’t get it. This is a great place for kids!”

I suggested we just sit and watch the waves roll in together. So there we sat. Watching. Thinking. Thinking. Sitting. Watching.

“I’m bored,” ADHD said.

“I can’t take it anymore. It’s making me angry,” ODD said.

“You can go back to the house then,” I said. “You know the way. It’s right there.”

“But I can’t go alone,” Anxiety said. “Someone has to go with me.”

“Okay well no one else is ready to go back yet,” I said. “Tell you what. How about we just read?”

“But I could get sand in my book,” the Boy said.

Sigh.

“If you get a little sand in your book who cares? It won’t hurt it,” I said.

“Okay,” he said.

Reading. Reading. Reading.

“It’s too loud,” ADHD said.

“What’s too loud?” I asked.

“The ocean,” he said.

Sigh.

To learn about ADHD, check out CHADD, which is a national organization that provides educational resources and advocacy for children and adults with ADHD. Here’s a blog I wrote for parenting.com that also has additional information. 

Are we there yet?

“Grampa, when you were in the Army were there women in the Army too?” my nine-year-old daughter asked my Dad.

We were at The Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Washington, D.C., for a Fourth of July event seated with two other women when she asked. We all smiled and looked at each other. One of the women said she liked where my daughter’s head was and that it was an important question to ask. Dad said yes there were women in the Army when he served.

That was the end of the conversation.

Embarrassed, my daughter stuffed the end of a hot dog in her mouth and left the whole thing hanging out while she stared at me and I stared back wondering what to say besides, “how about taking a bite of that and putting the rest down?”

I wish we’d spent more time talking but it was awkward at the time with two strangers. Who among us could recite the history of women in the military – more than superficially — anyway? (Had I known the subject would come up, I would have taken a crack at some PowerPoint slides with a timeline and pictures. Maybe I’ll still do that.)

The question was insightful coming from a nine-year-old girl. But why? I assumed she would have thought women always served in the military. At nine, she doesn’t know a whole bunch about the role of women in history. I’m really only learning now myself.

But from an early age I remember hearing I could do whatever I wanted. That’s what we told girls then and certainly do now. We’ve come a long way from the workplace of 20-or-30-years ago, I’m told by older work colleagues. I have no doubt we have.

So why would my daughter ask that question?  Is it because she’s exposed to messages that have been baked into our culture from books, TV, movies, her family or things she hears on the rough streets of suburbia?

I think I’m on to something here.

A few months ago, I thought we would elect our first president who would happen to be a woman. That’s where I thought we were. She was certainly more qualified than her competitor. Fast forward to now. Female senators were excluded from drafting major healthcare legislation that, as it happens, also excludes the word “women” anywhere in it. These examples go on and point to something I thought we’d left in the past.

We tell girls they can do anything but can they really? Maybe we aren’t there yet.

Oh never mind! What am I thinking? She was just asking a silly question because she’s inquisitive. I obviously don’t know what I’m talking about. We’ve arrived. I’ll shut up now and go back to what I was doing before these silly thoughts entered my head. You’re silly too for reading this far.

Dear Abby

On June 21, 2017, the columnist Dear Abby responded to the letter below from the mom of a toddler wanting to know if it’s appropriate to ask about guns in homes. Dear Abby responded saying that would be “off-putting.” The columnist received criticism for her response to the writer, later issuing a statement correcting her advice – but the letter remains online and in print. It’s doubtful most readers saw the correction. This left me wondering how Dear Abby might have elaborated on the offensive nature of the question had she gone with her original gut response. 

Dear Abby,

I am a first-time mom of a toddler. I suffer from (and am being treated for) anxiety issues. I am having trouble finding the balance on gun safety and awareness in other people’s homes — especially if my daughter will be visiting. I grew up in a household where my father hunted and had guns in the house. However, he stored them safely in a locked cabinet and was the only one with access to the key. He also stored ammunition separately. Where do I draw the line? Do I ask everyone whose house I’ll be going to whether or not they have guns? What are the appropriate questions? Do I ask where they are stored and who has access? What else should I ask? Or should I mind my own business? I know the questions won’t be appreciated by everyone because it will seem like I am questioning their judgment.

— * FIRST-TIME MOM IN NEW JERSEY

Dear First-Time Mom in New Jersey,

It is understandable that the topic of guns is a touchy subject to address. One must always keep this in mind. These days are especially uncertain as civil society becomes less civil. One wonders where it will end. I’m sure this would create anxiety in anyone who doesn’t already suffer from anxiety!

Do you ask everyone whose house your toddler will visit if they have guns? By all means no. There are more guns in the United States than people. Assume everyone you know has at least one and knows how to use it without shooting a toe off!

Do you ask where they are stored and who has access? Again, no. Assume they are safely stored and only the right people have access. After all, gun owners are all responsible and would never store them loaded under the bed, behind the couch or in a shoebox on the top shelf of the bedroom closet.

Just because a child unintentionally fires a gun and kills or injures himself/herself or others every 36 hours is no reason to worry your toddler will be shot. These tragedies only happen to other people. Just because guns are the third-leading cause of death among U.S. children has no bearing on the reality of your child’s life.

About 1.7 million American children live in homes with guns that are both loaded and unlocked. Each year in the United States, nearly 300 children aged 17 and under gain access to a firearm and unintentionally shoot themselves or someone else. Nearly 500 more commit suicide with a gun.

Why? Freedom.

Minding your own business, as you suggest, is the best advice I can give – aside from doing a better job of getting your toddler to listen and not touch things he/she shouldn’t touch! A polite society is a civil society. We do not wish to make others uncomfortable with nosy questions like, do you have guns that my toddler might find when he/she ignores me when I tell him/her not to hide under your bed playing hide-and-seek?

Civility can return with the mindfulness, self-awareness and good manners of people like you.

Abby.

For better advice on keeping kids safe from guns, please visit momsdemandaction.org and besmartforkids.org

Dear Abby has a change of heart about gun advice

 

 

First Blog

For a few years now I’ve been thinking about starting a blog. I like to write. Most people like to read. This can work.

But do they want to read what I want to write?

I thought about it for a long time, but when I realized how much money I can make it sealed the deal for me. What anxiety about writing things other people will read?

See, I’ve heard stories about people like me who just start posting videos of their kids doing funny things. People dispensing mom advice in blogs. Pretty soon they’ve collected 150,000 followers that advertisers want to reach. Just this week a colleague told me a story about a friend of his who started a website that posted some kind of data “for the common good” for free.

An advertiser approached him after he started collecting followers.

He refused. “It’s for the common good,” he said. Well, he collected thousands and thousands of followers. He had to buy more servers and spend more time on maintenance to keep it up – time in addition to his real job.

The advertising opportunity passed.

Maybe I don’t have the details all right but that doesn’t matter. The point is, I don’t want to be that guy. Partially fictitious or not.

I want to retire early. That’s where you come in.

I need you to follow me. Tell your friends to follow me. Tell them to tell their friends to follow me. We can earn my early retirement together.  Think about how good you would feel about that.

Once I decided to jump into possible ridicule by better writers than I, I needed a blog name. I chose Side Quirk after reading a book for work, called Non-Obvious 2017 Edition: How to Think Different, Curate Ideas & Predict the Future.

Side Quirk refers to the odd things people do as hobbies. The name struck me like lightening because the only thing holding me back from starting my blog – after I decided that readers will want to help me retire early – was finding the perfect name. One that isn’t phony, shallow, pretentious or bubble gum.

The name is perfect and fits because, well, I’m doing this on the side until I can retire, and because I can’t commit to one genre.

If you decide to follow me you will probably see blogs that are witty, try-to-be-witty-but-fail, serious, heartwarming and insipid. When I’m not writing about the weather, I’ll write about airlines, work, dogs, family, ADHD, gun control, climate change, kids, ticks, Star Wars and the fake media.

Let’s see where Side Quirk goes.