A Force to be Reckoned With

Cortesha Cowan stands out in a crowd.  She speaks with confidence and certainty.  She wears one of the brightest smiles I’ve ever seen.  I met Ms. Tesha last summer at a grant opportunity meeting for nonprofit organizations.  Direct Energy’s Reduce Your Use for Good program makes grants to nonprofits for increasing their energy efficiency.  Not surprisingly, Cortesha took it all in, applied and won a grant for the nonprofit organization she founded (one of several) for homeless teen moms.

Mothers Helping Mothers is the umbrella over the Haven of Hope Shelter.  Teenage girls come to Haven of Hope House with babies and young children.  They come empty handed and out of options.  They come with the clothes on their backs and little hope for the future.  They find shelter and security.  They find people with warm hearts and determination that life can be . . . and will be . . . different.  What they do works.  And they do a lot.  Having already helped over 250 teen moms and their children in many different circumstances, they have seen high school graduations and even a college degree and moved these young women on to independent lives.

Haven of Hope House has ten bedrooms and a full back yard where children can play in safety.  Sometimes it’s the first time in their lives they can do so.  The moms find refuge, support and guidance.  They find expectations, too.  Expectations that they will grow into self-sufficiency.  They will be healthy.  They will be in charge of their lives and care for their children.  They find people committed to helping them with the basic necessities so that they can complete their educations; so they can develop interpersonal skills that will lead them to employment; so they can plan their families in the future.  They find strong role models.

Tesha is very upfront and clear about what she needs to make this happen.  When told by the City of Columbus and major nonprofit organizations that she needs “important” people on her board, she laughed right out loud.  “What I need,” she said, “is people who will work.”  When she said that, I thought, ok.  I can work.  She told me “sometimes I get tired.”  “And then one of those little ones comes up and wraps arms around my leg and looks up at me and I think yes . . . I can do this one more day.”

Tesha has stayed in casual contact with me and we have talked about her goals, her dreams and the building she is rehabbing in Mansfield, Ohio to create a shelter there.  I have asked her repeatedly what she needs and how I can help.  We both knew the time would come.

A couple of weeks ago, with the holidays looming, Tesha and her crew were working toward providing a Christmas for the teen moms and their children. She wanted the moms to have the opportunity to give gifts to their children.  To know the joy and the dignity of providing for your own.  Moms who have nothing and spend their days in basic survival mode.

As kind as people generally are, we all tend to get distracted with our own lists and families and needs, and that is how it should be.  But thinking of Cortesha and the girls and the babies, early last week I posted a message on Facebook.  I shared a link to Cortesha’s website and suggested that if anyone had an urge to help someone during the holidays, this group could use their help. I said I would be happy to deliver anything.

Over the next few days, my entryway began to pile up with gifts.  Friends called for the address so they could mail checks.  Gift cards were put under the entry mat.  Toys, food, warm clothes created piles.  A friend who owns a bookstore called me for a pickup of an enormous box of books.  Supplies for the daycare they run for the little ones mysteriously appeared.  Family members put together gift bags and left them on my porch.  By the time my own teenage daughter and I left for the Shelter, my car was packed to bursting with the generosity of my friends and family.

We stopped on the way to pick up bottles of sweet-smelling lotion for the moms.  Cortesha had told us that last year when she had her first Christmas party, they had some things for the kids but nothing for the moms.  Looking at my own teenager, warm and safe and dressed in the best the mall has to offer, it seemed a small thing to have a bottle of lotion for ones self.  Even as we drove down, my brother called and said “let me help.”

Arriving as Tesha along with her staff and her mother were setting up, Han and I helped them unload the car.  She showed us the rooms where the moms could “shop” for their kids and the bounty reaped in toy drives and community pleas. They had fallen just short of their goal — until our car was emptied into the mix.  They never stopped working with their community dinner just hours away but the laughter, the hugs and the stories created a joyful noise.  The excitement was palpable and the joy evident on their faces.  Tesha stopped for a moment so I could take a picture of her and Han.  We traded wishes for the holidays and hugs of joy for the generosity of those we love.

Han and I left them to the party, knowing that we had just been given a wonderful gift.  A couple of miles down the road, my daughter said “I feel happy.”  Me too kiddo, me too.

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Yes Fox News, this is Santa Claus

Thank you so much my friends and family for the kindness you shared with young women you don’t know and likely never will.  But you have shown them that they are not alone in the world — and reminded me that I am not alone in the world either.  I love you all.

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Grandma This, Babe – Reprint from Skirt! 2010

O.M.G.  You do NOT ask a woman if she’s pregnant and you do NOT say, “Is this your grand daughter?”  I’ve had both happen to me.  In the case of the pregnancy question, I uttered “no, just fat” and ran out of the store in tears.

Not so much with the Grandma comment.

It happened yesterday in the church nave.  As I was kidding around with my 14-year-old daughter and two of her friends, a kindly looking older woman walked up and said, “are these your grand daughters?”  It was almost worth it to see the looks on the girls’ faces.

Having grown and matured since the preggie comment – and since I was in church – I said “this is my daughter and her friends.”  Knowing that she had to talk around the big old shoe in her mouth, the older woman said “Oh.  She’s lovely.”  Then hot-footed it out of there.

The girls in question took a moment to recover from their horror and then one of them said, “gee, you don’t look that bad.”  I informed them that silence was a virtue.

So I’m 40 years older than my daughter.  Through years of growing up, restlessness, college, horrendous mistakes and some ill-advised behavior, I insisted that I didn’t want to be a mother.  That was followed by more years of infertility treatments, the big “try” sex thing and wishing that I could be a mother.

At 40, it all came together with the adoption of the World’s Most Perfect Daughter.  How do I know she’s all that and a cup of soup?  When I brought up the “thing” yesterday and told her that 2011 was the year for cosmetic surgery so no one would mistake me for her grandmother, the WMPD said, “that’s silly, mom.  Everyone gets older.”

I love that kid.

My Teenager – My Facebook Friend. Reprint from Skirt! 2010

Sure, honey, you can have a Facebook account — but you have to friend me.

“NEW YORK–(BUSINESS WIRE)– According to Kaplan Test Prep’s latest survey* on social networking trends and practices among today’s teens, 35% of teens whose parents are on Facebook report that they are actually not online friends with them. Of that group, 38% say the reason they are not friends is because they’ve ignored mom or dad’s friend request.

. . . “Although for generations high school students have come to accept and even embrace their parents’ involvement in their academic work and the college admissions process, Facebook continues to be the new frontier in the ever evolving relationship between parent and child,” said Kristen Campbell, executive director, college prep programs, Kaplan Test Prep. “When a teen ignores a parent’s friend request, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are hiding something, but it could mean that this is one particular part of their life where they want to exert their independence. Alternatively, some parents and their children may actually mutually decide to keep their Facebook lives private from one another.”

Other key Kaplan Test Prep survey results:

  • 16% of teens who are friends with their parents on Facebook report that being friends with them was a pre-condition for being allowed to create their own profile.”

Well, yeah, Baby . . . let’s think this out.  She wants to go on Facebook to communicate with her friends, post pictures of them doing things together and in general, be cool.  Same reason I’m on Facebook.  But really, now, would she still be on the social networking site if I didn’t approve her privacy settings and she didn’t “friend” me in?  Uh, no.

If Princess-and-the-pea wants to communicate “privately” with her pals, they need to do it nose-to-nose snuggled down in the pillows at 2:00 a.m. during a sleepover.

Her on-line life, safety and reputation are a reality unlike any we faced as children.  Employers are increasingly asking for Facebook URLs and personal websites.  One mistake can live forever on the internet – Google never forgets.  So to that end, I’m going to shepherd her online activities the same way I shepherd her daily activities.  We don’t talk to strangers, we only say things we are proud of and we don’t do anything we wouldn’t do in front of mom.  Don’t like the rules?  Don’t do the activity.  It all seems so simple to me.

The Sweet Freedom of Driving Mom Insane 2010

The bumper sticker said “It’s 4:00.  The children are alive.  My work here is done.”

I have never forgotten that bit of vehicle wisdom.  My approach to motherhood is based on that — perhaps my approach to life.  She’s such an easy kid, this joy of my being . . . all I have to do is keep her alive.  Despite her best efforts.

Easter Sunday afternoon.  One of the first nice days of a soggy spring.  My 14-year-old daughter is a goddess as proclaimed by her nine – yep count ’em – nine second cousins.  It’s complicated.  But she’s the oldest of the pack and such a cool girl.  The little girls are in awe, the little boys are smitten.  They laugh, they play, they hang on her every word.  “I want to sit by her!”  “I saved you a seat!”  “But I wanted to sit with her!”  They eat what she eats.  They hang on her arms.  She is the Pied Piper of the backyard egg hunt.  Mommy is so proud honey, that you’re growing into such a lovely young woman.  So sweet with the children.

One thing the old momster forgot, however, is that this perfect child has a desire.  One that eclipses all else.  This child who can’t remember her shin guards for soccer practice knows . . . to the date . . . when she gets her “temps.”  That’s right – when she can obtain a temporary driver permit.  She wants nothing more than to captain her starship.  She is strong.  She is invincible. She is 14.  And one half.

The Uncle (grandfather) in the story is a laid back kind of guy.  After all, he helped raised four children.  They have sprouted these nine (maybe ten now) beautiful children of their own for whom he is the perfect “poppy”.  He loves his niece.  He appreciates her playing with the pack.  He trusts her as the eldest to keep an eye on the babies.

“Uncle Steve, can I drive the gater?”  “Sure Honey.”  The first time I see them, there is an actual, real live adult in the front seat with my little driver.  Seven small children in the back and they are proceeding at a stately pace through the yard.

Cut to the next scene:  No adult in the vehicle.  Seven children laughing as my 14-year-old UNLICENSED driver high tails it down the freakin’ street . . . hair blowing in the wind . . . eyes sparkling with an insane glee and me . . . in high heels . . . scrambling to the side of the road to be the world’s biggest killjoy.  She drove right by me.  Fourteen year-old children do not have peripheral vision.  As they careened back down the road, dodging candy-throwing neighbors and a child on a scooter . . . mommy-dearest was standing in the middle of the road.

“STOP!  RIGHT THIS INSTANT!”  Said the previously reasonable mom.  “SLOW DOWN.  Do you realize you have seven children in the back of this thing?  Do you see the kids on the road?  WHAT ARE YOU THINKING????”

Of course, what she was thinking was “Hey, I got this.”  With your mother doing the crazy-mother-in-the-road-yelling thing, what are you supposed to think.

Later, when all children were safely on the ground and the gater was back in the garage, I was able to say “Honey, I’m sorry I yelled.”  “That’s okay, mom.  I was driving.”

Just get her to 18 alive.

A Girl and Her Bags Are Seldom Parted – Reprint from Skirt!

When The Girl was a baby, I had the super-deluxe, ultimately chic and extraordinarily heavy diaper bag.  She and I could have sustained a two-day adventure at a moment’s notice.  Thinking about it now, I realize that our chic bag (Chanel-inspired) is still hanging in the back of my closet.  Yes, it is still packed.

As an active toddler-babe, The Girl required changes – yes plural – changes of clothes.  Our Vera was sunny yellow with lots of pockets and we had not just adorable outfits, but snacks, games, cute little sunglasses, towels, bandaids with super girl-heroes, books and again we could have taken flight at the drop of the ruffled little cap – or cool tiny baseball cap with requisite sunglasses.

The search for the perfect tiny backpack for Kindergarten was legend.  It was also the beginning of a yearly search for “the” backpack.  Yes, every single solitary one of them is stashed somewhere in the house and yes, they still contain papers and supplies.  Don’t judge me, it’s a system.  One year I tried to cheap out and buy a discount backpack.  We have two from that year.

The Girl is not a “purse girl.”  She is happiest with the tiniest of designer envelopes holding a few bucks and her license and hanging from her car keys.  Handbags are tolerated only when required for an excursion or when serving as adjunct to an outfit.

This being said, however, she is most definitely a “bag girl.”  Her life and activities are accompanied by bags.  The afore-mentioned bookbag, which must weigh 50 pounds, is her mainstay.  I do not look into this bag unless by request to add or subtract a book or folder or make sure there is lunch money in that little pocket at the top. When she began driving, the book bag took it’s place in the back seat.  I should probably insist that the leviathan wear a seatbelt.

Last weekend, I began the annual spring rite of purging the other bags.  The soccer bag, stiff with dirt and sewn-on badges was emptied and shaken over the lawn.  Clumps of dirt from dozens of fields fell from the corners.  Head bands, knee braces, cold packs, about a dozen socks (none matched) outdoor cleats, indoor shoes, extra t-shirts, gum wrappers and yes – a stale water bottle – all were pulled from the depths.  “Let’s get you a new bag,” I vounteered.  That was a mistake.  Athletes get very weird about their stuff.  A new bag could change the course of soccer history, and not for the better.

Then the “cheer bag.”  Making it’s appearance only during basketball season each winter, the cheer bag is roughly the size of a Volkswagen.  It has pockets on each end.  It comes with it’s own shoes, socks, brushes, auxillery bags, pom poms, glitter lotion, make up, spare change, and it smells so much better than the soccer bag.  Seriously.  Added bonus, the cheer bag seemed to be full of loose change.

Last summer, the beach bag made it’s inaugural appearance.  Yes, it is still packed from then (I checked for water bottles and consumables) and awaits spring break.

The snowboard “boot bag” has a place of honor in the room of The Girl.  Not used as heavily as the others, but serving as the steward of the goggles, helmet, boots, gloves, etc. that contribute to the right look and attitude of a ski bunny, the boot bag is big time.  Also, it weighs a ton but looks pretty snappy hanging from her shoulder.

The Girl is not a purse girl.  The stuff of her life can’t be contained in a little shoulder bag.  May it always be so, my darling.  Live large.

Never Tell Me To Shush . . . Reprint from Skirt! 2012

Last night I turned into one of those mothers.  Maybe a little more over-the-top, but that’s just me.  First, let me apologize to the parents and others near the soccer field who were treated to my profanity-laced diatribe, directed solely at the middle-aged man with the pot belly and the flag.  It was inappropriate.  While not an excuse, and certainly not a justification, it had its origins in the early 1970s – it was a long-time coming.  Perhaps everyone will remember my daughter’s grace and sportsmanship in the situation and know that while I did not do better, I did teach better.

For women who are today on the wise side of 50, we were, in high school, often on the sidelines.  In those pre-Title IX days, organized sports programs for girls were few and far between.  The few girls who wanted to participate in organized sports either played with the boys’ teams or rode along in a little group, hoping there would be girls at the other end of the bus ride.  In high school, girls could play basketball, but were encouraged to go out for gymnastics.  They could be on the track team, if they didn’t care about competing against other girls and most of us thought the rarified ranks of cheerleading were beyond us.

Club sports for girls just didn’t exist.

Fast forward 40 years and watch the blur of the Equal Rights Amendment that never passed and the glass ceilings that still prove to be impenetrable.  The recent spurt of legislation across the country and draconian laws that determine what happens to a woman’s body, even in the sanctity of her doctor’s office.  Women continue to fight for a place on the front lines and the further they get, the more we learn about the scandal, the abuse and the heartbreak that accompanies their ascent.

A male friend told me not long ago that the young women who work for him have derided him for being a “feminist.”  Like that’s a bad thing.  My own daughter has said to me, “I’m not a feminist like you, mom.”  This in a world where web sites tout the ranks women cannot join.  I was a member (for a short time) of a small-town Rotary Club that still had a “men’s table” during their weekly lunches.  And yes, I did take the devil’s own delight into sitting with that group on occasion.

But I digress.

My daughter is an athlete.  She is strong, determined and talented.  Her prowess is beyond anything I could imagine and there are hundreds of thousands of girls just like her who have grown up running and kicking and throwing and hitting.  They take that hard-won freedom for granted – and well they should.

Women, however, still are often on the sidelines and not actively coaching or refereeing the contests waged by these girls.  Frankly, we just have not stepped up.  Which brings us full circle to my daughter’s soccer game last night.

A group of supportive dads for the other team raucously cheered, encouraged, criticized and directed their daughters.  The sideline judge ran past them over and over.  They were, frankly, loud and obnoxious and he never turned his head.  I sat down the line among the parents for my daughter’s team.  We’ve been together a long time now.  We know each other’s kids and we know each other’s foibles.  We share coffee and umbrellas and at any given road trip have each other’s girls in our cars.

Soccer is a rough and tumble sport.  The girls who are playing as teenagers have learned to take the bumps and bruises and truth-to-tell give as good as they get.  My kid is tough.  She is honor-bound to stay on her feet, she never cries in public and she won’t dignify trash talk on the field with any sort of reply other than to play harder.  She has never been seriously hurt while playing and for that I am grateful.

Last night, the game was rougher than most.  As I said, the other team’s parents were louder than some.  Going at a dead run for the ball, my daughter caught an elbow to her cheekbone and dropped face-first to her knees.  She was down only momentarily, but any parent who has seen their kid go down knows the abject terror that flows through your heart.

That’s when I yelled at the center referee.  Told him to settle the girls down and not let them hurt each other.  Even as I yelled, I knew that what can look intentional from the sidelines usually isn’t.  That would have been the end of it.  Except that the sideline judge jogged toward my chair, past the noisy dads and calling “hey!” to get my attention he put his finger to his lips and told me to “shush.”  He told me to “shush.”  Should I repeat that again?  This overweight, huffing and puffing man told me to “shush” and that “he would not let them hurt each other.”

Forty years of fury and frustration turned immediately into explicit instructions to this sideline judge.  While the game went on and my daughter continued to play (with several moderate injuries it turned out) my disdain for men who tell women what to do and my despair knowing that a perfect stranger – a perfect male stranger – felt superior enough to tell me to “shush” boiled over.

I raised a tough daughter because I am, indeed, a tough broad.  I’ve been through career fire and personal grief.  I’ve stood against bullies and been crushed under tyrants.  I work in a highly competitive field and face daily challenges.  I don’t know that man’s story – but I do know this.  You do not “shush” adult women.  Because I didn’t curtail my temper, I’m sure he now adds “crazy” to his internal lexicon about women.  Any man who thinks he can do that, clearly has no respect for the gender in general.  And sadly, I didn’t teach him a thing.

So as moms it’s not enough that we teach them to play.  That we encourage strength and competition, that we look for teaching moments for sportsmanship and skill.  Apparently, we also need to return to the field ourselves as coaches and referees.  We need to go back out and play ourselves because the road isn’t yet clear.  There is more to be done.

Falling From the Nest Too Soon – Reprint from Skirt! 2012

The little bird was still covered in baby-bird downy feathers last night, perched defiantly on the hose guard.  She (I think of her as a she — it’s as good a guess as any, not being familiar with bird-sexing) had fallen from the nest somewhere high in the maple tree.  I could hear the distressed chirping of the mama bird but the leaves were too thick and the branches bent from a summer storm to see where the nest was.

She patiently permitted me to get close and take her picture several times.  However, the entire set of that fuzzy little body spoke defiance and bravery.  When I got a little too close, she shook out her baby wings, those emerging glossy and beautiful from under the fuzz.  She didn’t make a sound.

Going into the house to retrieve my own baby bird so she could see, I called “come, look what’s in the garden!”  When we went back around the corner, baby bird was gone.  But no, about five feet away, she was perched confidently on a low fence.  Still allowing us to come close, she stared back with her little bird head tilted.  We looked and looked and then walked away to give her privacy to try another flight.  A short time later, she was gone and I choose to believe that she flew back up into the tree to the nest where her mama was waiting.

Particularly poignant for me, this is the summer of my baby bird’s first tentative steps from the nest.  Car keys in hand, all glossy hair and wide smile, she drives too fast, stretches curfew a little and all in all exalts in her freedom to spread her wings away from mama and the nest so carefully constructed to nurture her.

Let me be clear, she will graciously hang around when asked and she attends carefully to those things that require her attention — sports, friends, her job and the occasional boy.  The girl is everything a 16-year-old should be, and a part of that is straining at the bit . . . leaning against the fence and peering over the edge of the nest into adulthood.  As her mother, I am constantly chirping about the dangers of the fall, knowing full well that she is almost prepared and eager to fly.  That beneath the down, her wings are glossy and strong and will carry her where she needs to go.

And the mama bird, and I, will go on, knowing that our babies are flying through the beautiful sky.  There may be new nests and there may be other sheltering trees . . . but our work here, mama, is almost done.

Some people are just mean

Living in Delaware County Ohio, I’ve grown used to petty politics and attempts at personal destruction.  Through the years, I’ve seen some of the ugliest small-town politics you can imagine — and fallen victim to rumors, gossip and attempts at intimidation.  Even writing a letter to the editor of the local newspaper can result in anonymous letters at my home and personal attacks as the local GOP attempts to hold on to power.

However, the nastiness is often perpetrated by people who are frankly intelligent enough to know better.  They themselves are victims of a culture and a heritage of ugliness and I don’t necessarily hold them accountable becaused I believe they are “true believers.”  The intent doesn’s seem to be more than trying to hold on to the government jobs they have.  Ironic, since they all seem to cry out for smaller government — as long as the government includes them.

Not taking them seriously works for me — until they actually begin to do damage.  The most strident of the group is Powell City Councilwoman Sara Marie Brenner.  Now Mrs. Brenner is the wife of Ohio House of Representatives Andrew Brenner.  My travails with the Representative are well documented on this blog.  Mrs. Brenner even invited me to coffee once to ask “why I don’t like Andy.”  As you can imagine, that didn’t really go well.  Because I don’t like Andy — I think he’s an idiot.

She, however, is the current voice (self-appointed) of the Republican party in Delaware County.  Strident and clamorous.  And although I’m happy to ignore her rants and leave her to her constituency, it was recently brought to my attention that she has now turned her hatred toward “liberal women.”  That I cannot leave alone.  Women in this country – in this time – have enough problems without Mrs. Brenner’s public statements such as “liberal women who want the right to choose to abort a baby in the ninth month, but who don’t want us to be able to choose what size slurpy we order from a food vendor.”  It’s fairly  clear that no one is limiting her slurpy orders.

Her false and ugly attacks published on her blog certainly fall in the realm of freedom of speech.  I’d love to take up with her the argument about the current state of women in this country – but she and her public-sector-paid husband do not return my calls and have blocked my emails (see earlier posts) and indeed, won’t engage me in public.

So here you go — Sara Marie you are out of control.  Your strident and ugly rants aimed at women in this country do no one any good.  Entering the public realm and promoting your beliefs is your right — a right ensured by people who put their lives on the line — even for the likes of you.  However, when you fling accusations such as the one above you risk having another woman — in this case me — throw it back in your face and tell you to calm down the rhetoric.  Your profanity, your mean-spirit and your persistence have no place in civil discourse.  Grow up, shut up and learn to fight for your point of view with a modicum of grace.

He got the happy gene

My brother Bob just had to be first this time. The first of six siblings to die. He left us sad and sad and oh so sad. Because he had the happy gene.

I’d like to take credit for knowing that he had the happy gene, but really it was a sister-in-law who said it. The primaries in the family, my brothers and I, would never say that. At least out loud. We are a cranky, grumpy lot with varied levels of mental health. But Bob, he had the happy gene. He always smiled, and he would laugh out loud at our foibles. He was gentle and sweet. Even when he was slugging it out with the other boys as they passed through the teens in our turbulent household.

As the rest of us watched for moods and shifting tides rumbling through the family, he just went along. He avoided a lot of the turbulence as he kept his own counsel and he smiled. At everyone. As a young man, he faced the Vietnam Era with grace and courage. After watching two of his brothers taken away by the draft, he tried to follow them, but to no avail. There wasn’t a place for his gentle soul in that man’s army. So he did what he needed to do. He went to live with a family with a critically ill son and saw his friend through.

His move took him to a quieter, different Ohio where people lived in a world apart from the one we knew. He married a young woman in a tiny Mennonite church. He smiled at me even when I showed up at the wedding in the tiniest of bright green polyester dresses with more leg showing than the women of the church would ever deem suitable. I was his baby sister, bad attitude and all.

He and his beloved bore three children of their own. When his first born cried through the first year of his life, Robert never showed impatience nor frustration. While our house wasn’t the ideal place to learn to be a father, he chose to be a really good one on his own.

He took his small family and moved to another state for awhile. That was courageous and exotic. See, we are Ohioans. That was pretty big stuff. But he came back to raise his kids. Not in Central Ohio where we mill about, but in Northern Ohio where it’s a whole different world. He taught us about “lake effect” snow and how silly it was to drive three hours away knowing there would be an avalanche in your lawn later that day.

He and his wife made chocolates. They made zillions of chocolates. And they brought them to us as treats every year at Christmas. Everyone had their favorites and he brought us buckets to take them home in. Buckets of chocolates.

Bobby hit his stride with the birth of his granchildren. He was playmate and confidant and after those children came along, he was all theirs. They lived in their own little world that grandpa and his babies. His view of the world around him was through their eyes and they will miss him fiercely.

Quietly and with great love, he was a member of the Lion’s Club for 25 years. His interest, this man who never owned a dog, was in supporting the Pilot Dogs program. He gave so much to give sight to others. I think it must have been because the world he looked at with his beautiful blue eyes was one that pleased him.

As a little girl, I had baby sister crushes on my handsome older brothers. I thought he looked like Little Joe Cartwright and I shamelessly used his shoulders to give me a view of the world from six feet up. My four older brothers tolerated my reign and perhaps they still do. I’ll never be the same without him. He had the happy gene.

Rick Santorum is wrong

Earlier today I was cut off in traffic by a male driver, who shared an obscene gesture with me as he whipped around my car on the highway.  Lately I have noticed that men step in front of me to get on the elevator, shut doors in my face and barge in front of me in line.

You know what?  I’m good with it.  Clearly, the world is full of boors of many sexual persuasions.  Being a feminist, I do not expect unwarranted niceties from men.  I don’t expect civility from people around me and that allows me to be delighted when I receive it. I try to be courteous to everyone, say please and thank you and hold the door.  I’m even guilty of telling complete strangers to “have a nice day.”  But hey – I want to be a nice person.  Not everyone does.  I believe that people can choose to be civil beings – ladies and gentlemen if you will – but I am responsible only for what I choose to be.  I am not responsible for the jerk who cuts me off on the highway, only for my response to his rudeness.

Enter Rick Santorum, presidential candidate and very conservative guy.  He made the news earlier this week with his comments on “women in combat.”  In an interview with Ann Curry, Mr. Santorum said, “(It’s) because of that reason of a sort of natural inclination to not focus on the mission because of the natural inclination to want to protect someone because it’s natural within our culture,’’ he told Curry. (really – that’s direct quote)

Curry asked the former Pennsylvania senator whether he believes women are not capable of fighting alongside men in the fiercest parts of the battle.

“No, that’s not the issue,’’ he said. “I’ve never raised that as a concern. The issue…is how men would react to seeing women in harm’s way or potentially being injured or in a vulnerable position and not being concerned about accomplishing the mission.’’

Oh dear.  That old saw about how the boys want to protect us.

In 2003, Dr. Leonard Wong, associate research professor at the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute said the paper “Why They Fight: Combat Motivation in the Iraq War” validated the popular belief that unit cohesion is a key issue in motivating soldiers to fight.

Wong and a team researchers from the War College went to the battlefield in Iraq for interviews because they wanted to speak with the soldiers while events were still fresh in their minds.

Their findings followed conventional wisdom, finding in part that each soldier is responsible for group success and protecting the unit from harm. As one soldier put it, “That person means more to you than anybody. You will die if he dies. That is why I think that we protect each other in any situation. I know that if he dies, and it was my fault, it would be worse than death to me.”

Hmmm.  So soldiers in the field report that protecting fellow soldiers is their first, best priority. 

The other role is it provides the confidence and assurance that someone is watching their back. In one infantryman’s words, “You have got to trust them more than your mother, your father, or girlfriend, or your wife, or anybody. It becomes almost like your guardian angel.”  Let me see . . . guardian angel . . .

I’m not sure where candidate Santorum has been for the last few years, as women have worked, died and killed on the front lines in the Mideast.  In 2009, the New York Times covered it fairly well — http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/16/us/16women.html.

In the most dangerous, fragile circumstance I can conjure in my mind, the people I would choose to have my back are not chosen based on sex, but rather on their love for me.  Help me, protect me, save me . . . and I will help you, protect you, save you.

But more importantly, perhaps when Mr. Santorum looks at his own little girl, he feels a parental surge of protectiveness and can’t imagine her in combat.  If so, he and I have common ground.  Perhaps what he can’t connect to is that parents of boys feel the same.  Here’s an idea for political debate:  instead of spending time trying to figure out what to do with women, let’s put that time and effort into figuring out how to avoid the lunacy of war and protect all of the children — girls and boys — on both sides of the guns.