Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Angry! Confused! Grr!

I am a big woman. I will take that into consideration as I write this post and I will acknowledge right up front that I may be feeling a bit defensive.

Having made that disclaimer, I now ask you this: What in the heck is wrong with some people?

I just spent an hour talking to a really nice woman. She's as kind as the day is long, looks out for and loves her child, works hard, and takes care of her family. Her husband is a super nice guy to everyone he knows, who works hard, takes care of his home and family, and would do anything for a friend at the drop of a hat. 

But guess what? Her husband isn't happy with her, he's "disgusted" because she is in a size 6 instead of her former size 2 (mind you, he is no super model...he carries a beer belly that looks about like 7 months gestation).  And because he isn't happy with her weight, she is restricting herself to 900 calories a day. Her hair is falling out.  She's tired, pale, and not feeling well at all. He also wants her to go to a tanning bed because he prefers tan women (I have to ask why he married a red-head).

I am just furious at both of them.

First, what gives him the right to belittle his wife for her weight? If he has concerns about her health, he can find a way to tell her other than saying he is "disgusted". I will never, ever understand men who make their love for their wives conditional on her looks.  I do understand that we are all programmed to be attracted to certain body types and that it is reasonable to expect our spouses to take care of themselves.  What I don't get is holding back affection, sex, or kindness because of pounds.  I don't get cruelty that results in a woman doubting her worth.  I don't understand.

I am just as angry with her for putting up with it. If she isn't comfortable in her body and wants to get in better shape, great. But NO ONE gets in "shape" by starving.  Why does she tie her value to his opinion? How did she let the first comment go by without stopping it in its tracks? Why is she harming herself for his gratification?

I have answers for some of these questions.  I know full and well that part of my self-worth is tied to my husband.  I know that I care what people think about the way I look.  I know that I am more physically attractive when I am healthier, and that I am more physically attracted to my husband when he is healthy. 

But I also know that my weight does not change Chris' love for me.  I know that he loves my heart and my brain and my humor and my body.  I know that regardless of the package I am in, he values me.  But if he didn't, I also know I would leave.  I would not allow him to belittle me into harming myself. I know that I would not let him teach my kids that it's okay to emotionally damage your wife.  I know that I would not teach my kids that they are only beautiful if someone else thinks they are.  I know.

Friday, May 18, 2012

It's 2012 After All

So my last post was an expression of my frustration at my students perception of gender roles.  I should clarify that MOST of the jobs on the "Women Should Do" list are fine jobs and work that anyone should be proud to do.  What struck me most profoundly (besides the obvious "hooker" and "stripper" answers) was that most of the jobs "Women Should Do" were related to the arts, child care or home economics in some way.  Even the teaching positions were arts related and not technical.  These are wonderful professions to pursue; I even pursue one of them myself.  However, I am surprised that none of these kids thought of women in non-traditional roles.

In my shock and frustration, I decided to poll my two of my own children in the car that evening.  Paige, who is 13, and Jeremy, who is 8, had some answers that were more in line with the current times.  They still had some traditionally "female" jobs listed, but they didn't let those gender roles drive their answers.

Photo Journalist
Food Reporter
...and the list goes on.

Penguin washer at the zoo
Car builder
Lego designer
Pooper Scooper
Wrastler (that's how he said it)
...and the list goes on.

I especially like "Penguin Washer".  When I asked them what jobs women should NEVER do, they both asked me a question: "Why would there be a job a girl couldn't do?"  I have to tell you that I am very relieved that my children see the whole spectrum of possibilities that  await them.  I will do my level best to ensure that they never feel trapped by their sex, their socioeconomic status, or any other thing if they have a dream they want to pursue. 

The only job a woman CAN'T do, in my book, is sperm donor.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What Year Is It, Anyway?

Ok, it has been a while since I've been here. I'd love to say it's because I have been so busy (I have) or that it's because my kids and my job and my husband and my home need me more than you do (They do).  Sadly, though, it's just because I haven't been FIRED UP enough about anything to write.  Well guess what?  I'M PISSED!

I am doing a unit at school on gender portrayals in the media.  As an opening activity, I surveyed my students on two questions: "What are jobs that women should do?" and "What are jobs that women should not do?"  18 students took the task, 11 boys and 7 girls, aged 12-19.  The results made me weak.

I expected there to be some gender bias answers...because although we live in 2012, there are some stereotypes that prevail.  What I didn't expect was the OVERWHELMING "keep her in her place" responses that I got.  I had to ask myself, "What year is it, anyway?"

Here is the list of jobs my students said women should NEVER do:
*science teacher
*math teacher
*gym teacher
*truck driver
*factory worker
*lawn care
*police officer
*pro athlete
*cab driver
*business owner

Here is the list of jobs women SHOULD do.  Some answers were only offered once, some many times, and a couple EVERY single child offered.

* retail clerk
*home ec teacher
*day care provider/babysitter
*grade school teacher
*English teacher
*art teacher
*teeth cleaner (hygienist)
*flight attendant
*hair dresser
*nail tech
*fashion designer
*school counselor

Only one student said women should be pediatricians.  EVERY student said they should be strippers.  All 18 of them.

I feel sick to my stomach.  I can't imagine how it is 2012 and these are the attitudes this group of young men and women have toward gender roles.  I'd be interested to see how this list would look in another town...with another set of kids.  Is it the same? I'm not even sure my daughter knows that being a stripper is a job option for her (IT ISN'T!) or that someone out there thinks she should not consider going to medical school because she is a female.  And I guarantee you that my boys don't think it's acceptable for their sister to be a hooker.

So what now? How do you begin to change these attitudes in kids who have been raised to believe this?  If anyone has any suggestions, I'm listening.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Geography Bee

My middle school social studies class is learning states and capitals right now, and my high school history classes are doing a refresher on the same.  I realize this is something most kids learn in grade school, but I felt it was necessary to re-teach it because of some comments kids made during the course of our class discussions. After the first 15 ridiculous answers, I started writing them down.  After reading the following list, see if you agree with me that this is worth revisiting.

Statements and questions from students:

"I didn't know Oregon was a state. I thought it was a season."
"What state is France in?"
"The capital of Illinois is Chicago."
"The capital of Missouri is St. Louis."
"The capital of Maryland is Delaware."
"What ocean is in Colorado?"
"Why is Canada not a part of the United States anymore? Two years ago, it was."
"How long does it take you to drive to China?"

Questions I asked, and the answers students gave me:

Me: "What are the regions of the United States?"
Answer: "America, Mexico, Canada."

Me: "What is the capital of our country?"
Answers: "New York City" "Los Angeles" "Chicago"

Me: "What country borders the United States to the north?" 
Answer: "California"

Me: "What is the capital of Mississippi?"
Answer: "Tennessee"

Me: "What oceans touch the United States?"
Answer: "Mississippi River"

Me: "What states border Illinois?"
Answers: "Alabama", "Mississippi", "Springfield", "Missouri", "Idaho", and "St. Louis."

Me: "What is the smallest state?"
Answers: "East St. Louis" "Idaho"

Me: "What states are in the SOUTH WEST region of the United States?"
Answer: "Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, Hawaii, and Mississippi."

Me: "What states are in the NORTH EAST region of the United States?"
Answer: "Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas, Florida"

(It seems Texas and Tennessee are multi-taskers.)

Me: "What river runs from the top of the United States to the bottom of the United States?"
Answer: "Mississippi River"

(YAY!)  Now look at the follow-up questions...

Me: "In what state does the Mississippi river start  and in what state does it stop?"
Answer: "It starts in Illinois and ends in St. Louis."

Me: "Think about what STATE does the Mississippi empty into the Gulf of Mexico?"
Answers: "Florida" "New York" "East St. Louis" "Chicago" "Las Vegas"

Me: "Name the Continents"
Answer: "Michigan, Brazil, Russia, Australia, North Pole, England"

I think it will be time about you?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

How to Become Rich as an Alternative School Teacher

Most of you know veteran teachers make a decent living, but they work a lot of hours for the pay they receive. My technical work day is 7:45-2:45, but I really work 7-3, and then again at home each night from 9-11 (with Facebook breaks) and another 8 hours or more on weekends, plus lesson planning and curriculum writing in the summer.  When you break it down hourly, my pay is not actually a lot....I'm over minimum wage, but not by much!

Today, I had an epiphany.  If someone had been looking at me at the precise moment this thought dawned on me, they would have seen a little light bulb over my head. I know how to get rich working in an alternative school. It's quite simple, really.  We just need to change the pay schedule from salary to something akin to piecework. I would like to be paid by the "fuck you."

Actually, not just the f-you, but really any curse word or personal insult.  If I were compensated in this manner, at $25 per incident, I would have made approximately $625 today. I don't know how many of you out there are teachers, but those of you who are will agree that that sum is slightly higher than the sum we normally make. Do the math, and you will see that students cursed at me (not around me, AT me) 25 times today. Now granted, it is a full moon, so this was a little excessive. There are days when I would only make $75 or so...but lots of days, I'd be rolling in the dough.

This pay schedule would do more than raise my would hold teachers in alternative schools accountable.  I have found that in my experience, I get cursed out when I am asking kids to learn something new that they might be unfamiliar with, when I am holding them accountable for some socially unacceptable behavior, when I am pushing them to stay on task, and when I am making them take an honest look at themselves and where they stand in the world. So if you think about it, the best teachers in alternative schools are getting cursed out the most and will therefore reap the financial benefits of pushing their students to be the best people they can be.

I think I will take this plan to the White House.  It's definitely better than No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Fighting the Fat

This blog post might make you uncomfortable.  If you aren't interested in reading about some painfully true issues, stop reading now. This was written over a year ago, but I can't say much has changed.

I struggle.  I struggle with my physical body all the time.  I hate its roundness and its lumps and bumps and dimples.  I despise the parts that sag and loathe the parts that jiggle.  I am embarrassed to be seen in a matter of fact, I don't own any. I have several swimming suits, but I won't put them on, even in front of my own children. My husband doesn't see me naked. I feel like a complete failure because of the pounds I carry on my body. None of my achievements stand up to those pounds. When you look at me, I assume you are disgusted. I assume you judge me.  I don't think you see my face or my talents or my personality, because the fat is in the way. I can't imagine how any positive attributes could possibly show through the layers of blubber that surround me.  I struggle mightily.

And I have good reason for this struggle, if you think about it. All my life, people have commented on my weight, even in benign ways such as..."You have such a pretty face" or "You'd be a real looker if you could just drop a few pounds." Those are from people who LIKE ME! Strangers, however, are not always so kind...just recently in a local bar/grill, a man said about me in front of my own children, "Check out that fat bitch." Even at my thinnest, a size 12, people commented on my weight...outloud.  "You look better than you did, but I hope you're not done."

Society, too, has its comments about the weight I carry. Look at the cover of any women's magazine, and you will read the messages loud and clear. "I Can Finally be Happy: I Lost the Weight." Oprah, with all her millions, all her accomplishments, all her charity, is still judged by the size of her pants. Young actresses are featured on the front of gossip magazines in their bathing suits, touted as either "Beach Beautiful Bodies" or "Bathing Suit Disasters". I listened to a radio broadcast the other day that was discussing a comment made by Megan McCain. The commentator dismissed her opinion and finished his assessment of her statement by slamming her for being overweight. Something to the effect of, how can you know what you are talking about when you are a fat pig. What does her weight have to do with her political opinion? Clothing styles are getting smaller and smaller...what used to fit a woman as a medium is now an XL. One young girl from my son's school posted the other day on Facebook: "Abercrombie, where the sizes are small, extra small, bulimic, and anorexic." In order to be fashionable, young girls have to be increasingly thinner.

The same prejudice is alive and well in so many arenas. Almost 4 years ago, I was involved in a car crash. The other driver ran a stop sign and hit me head on--I was going 50 miles per hour when we crashed. My knees were rammed up into the dash board of the car, and I was pinned into the car between the dash board and the transmission, which had come up through the floor board. Since that crash, I have lived with daily knee pain and I take close to 100 Vicodin a month. This summer, I went to court to try to resolve the lawsuit from the accident. The opposing council argued that because I am overweight, I am not entitled to any compensation for the pain I have endured since the accident. He argued that the pounds I carry are the cause of the  knee pain, not the 50 mph impact on them. He pointed at me and said to the arbitration panel, "Just look at her.  This is a BIG woman. She's immense. How can we believe that this crash caused her pain when she's so grossly overweight?" My medical records were entered into evidence clearly demonstrating that I had never been treated for any type of knee pain prior to the date of the accident. Can you guess with whom the arbitration panel sided? It wasn't me.  Their determination was that the evidence was "inconclusive" concerning the origin of my pain, and that in light of my obvious obesity, they could not award damages in my favor.

I've developed defenses to shield myself from this type of abuse..I use humor to deflect comments, and I am usually quite self-depreciating in an effort to beat others to the punch. I wear mostly black and brown because they don't show my flaws quite as readily. Almost every physical move I make starts with the can I hide? How can I make myself smaller?

You might ask, why don't you just lose weight? The short answer is that I have tried. And tried. And tried and tried and tried. When I am pregnant, the weight falls off me like leaves from a tree in autumn...40 pounds with the first pregnancy, over 50 with each subsequent pregnancy. When I'm not pregnant, my metabolism slows to the rate of molasses running in winter time. Regardless of how I restrict my diet, weight stays with me. If I'm lucky enough to drop a few pounds (I dropped 60 on a diet of 900 calories and 18 grams of fat a day, but I got very sick) on some ridiculously impossible weight loss plan, as soon as I resume a "normal" diet, it returns. I've given consideration to surgical procedures, but I am not willing to assume the risks that come with those options. I don't have high blood pressure, my cholesterol is fine, and my blood sugar is perfect, so co-morbidity issues are not a strong motivating factor. Recently, a young woman I went to high school with died.  Her death was a complication of gastric bypass surgery. A woman close to her begged her not to have the surgery, and told her of the death of her own cousin as a result of gastric bypass surgery. She told this woman losing weight was worth the risk to her...but I wonder if she thought that as she lay dying. Another woman I know had the same procedure several years ago and has had 25 additional surgeries to correct the problems associated with the gastric bypass. She still fights the complications every day, and will continue to fight them as long as she lives.

When I look at my life through an objective lens (which isn't easy, as you may have guessed from my opening paragraph), I can plainly see that it is a good life. I have accomplished many things; I have a fulfilling and rewarding career in which I daily make a difference in the lives of others. I have a wonderful husband who loves me and desires me. My children respect me and love me, and are bright and kind. I am active in my church, have many friends, and am capable of doing whatever it is I want to do. My weight does not physically keep me from doing much, with the exception of riding roller coasters and carnival rides, and being comfortable in a baseball stadium. So why do I continue to let my weight define me as a person? Why can't I factor that weight into the equation along with all the wonderful things in my life, to make it just a component of who I am instead of the sum total of my failure? I don't let my curly hair or short stature define me...why the weight?

I dont' want to have this struggle anymore. I'd like to accept myself, with all my lumps, bumps, sags, and jiggles, for who I am. I'd like to see myself as the total package, with my accomplishments and positive attributes getting the "weight" they deserve, and the weight getting less attention. I don't know how to correct this erroneous thinking in myself. But I can tell you this...I will do everything in m y power to build up my daughter for her strengths and internal beauty so that she is able to see her true self. I will fight like hell to keep her from defining herself based on her size. I will work day and night to help her be as healthy as she can possibly be, both physically and that she NEVER fights the battle I fight every day.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Parenting FAIL

I pride myself in knowing my kids.  I think I have a pretty good idea of what is going on with them at all times. While they may argue that I don't know them at all, I am in tune with what makes them tick. 

I remember when they made most of their growth and development milestones.  I know when they had their last set of shots, what their social security numbers are, and the passwords to their email and facebook accounts.  Sometimes I can complete their sentences before they do.

Last night, there was a meeting for all parents who have students involved in the spring musical.  My son is getting involved in drama productions for the first time, and I was really excited to be at that meeting.  The teacher who runs the drama club asked for some simple information on each, email, interests and abilities.  The one that stumped me? What is your child's cell phone number?  Oopsie...Evidently Speed Dial 4 is not the right answer.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

You Are What You (Don't) Eat

S: "It's supposed to be SCIENCE class...we supposed to be learning about plants and animals, not no computers and stuff."
Me: "Science covers a lot of fields, S, not just biology."
E: "BIOLOGIES?  I ain't takin no BIOLOGIES!  Ain't no way I'm digestin no frogs!  That just be NASTY!"
Me: "sigh."
T: "See, E, Mrs. Fenwick all frustrated cuz you didn't say it right."
Me: "Thanks, T, can you tell him how to say it properly?"
T: "Yeah.  It's di-gest-ING. You gotta announce it!"
Me: "Double sigh."

In Thankfulness for My Girlfriends...

I'm watching my daughter form important friendships. She's 12, and she has a "bestie". They remind me so much of Tracy and me at that age. I want to tell her to cherish her girlfriends...that there will be times in her life when those girls (or women) will be all that get her through, aside from Jesus. When I think back to all the joys and sorrows in my life, it's my girlfriends who are always there. I'm so grateful God placed these amazing women in my life. 
I've been blessed to have had the same best friend since 1975. There have been periods of time when we have fallen apart, but we have always returned to this true friendship...and have managed to pick up as if no time had been lost at all. My other "girls" have been my friends since junior high...most of them since the very first day in Miss Hoffeditz's class. A few women have come into my life as adults...and forming true and lasting friendships as adults is rare for women. We rarely have the time or energy to form new relationships, but the ones we are able to grow are such blessings. 
Through the years, my girls have been with me for every imaginable moment. I can remember excitedly chatting about the first boy I liked, and sobbing about the first boy who broke my heart. Funny thing is, I can remember the story but not the boy...but I'll never forget which friend held my hand through it all. I know who I called when I had my first kiss, my first date, my first "scare", and who went to the pink building with me for the first time... 
I'll never forget being thrilled to have all my 7th grade classes with my best friend, relieved that I wouldn't be alone in my first year of public school. But I also remember meeting the rest of my posse that year, and knowing we'd always be there for each other. We went to our first dances as a pack...there's safety in numbers. We also went to the bathroom as a herd for many, many years. 
I know who held my hair up out of the vomit after I drank too much, who lied to my parents to keep me out of trouble, and who held me accountable when I really screwed up. I also know who I went to the limit for, who I would have protected at any cost.
Life changed dramatically after college...There were good and bad marriages, planned and unplanned babies, achievements and disappointments. (And that was just me!) But through it all, there were women on whom I could rely. My girls were there at my first wedding...most of them were ready to sneak me out the back door to keep me from making that mistake, but they all stood there and supported me as I walked down the aisle. The first people to see my newborn child were my girls. When my marriage crashed down around me, my girls picked me up off the floor, cleaned up the broken glass, and sat with me until the tears wouldn't come anymore. They encouraged me, had slumber parties with me, drank with me and sobered me up. They cared for my children when I couldn't cope, cursed out my ex-husband with me, talked me out of committing any number of felonies, and reminded me of all the beauty in my life. At times when some of us drifted apart, others filled the voids, and I was never without true friendship. God has richly blessed me!
I was the first to turn 40, and that's OK with me. I've had the same friends for over 30 years, and I can't wait to see what the next 30 will bring. Thanks girls!

Friday, January 20, 2012


Me: "S", why are you wearing house slippers at school?
S: Cuz I'm crampin.
Me: What do house slippers have to do with cramping?
S: Don't you know anything? Shoes mess up your flow!


The VALUE of Education

My school has 16 students between the ages of 12 and 21.  They are all from the same town, a small community in the St. Louis Metro East that has fewer than 4,000 residents and covers an area about 3 miles by 4 miles. The topography of the town is flat, and there are no bodies of water that have to be crossed to get from one side of town to the other.  Outside temperatures can be cold-ish in the winter and hott-ish in the spring and fall, but generally stay between 20-85.  School busses run for all kids who live more than a mile from school, and for our students, transportation is provided regardless of residence location.

Education in our town is free for all and compulsory up to age 17.  Our school is air-conditioned, heated, has running water, and has some of the most up-to-date technology of any schools in the county.  Every classroom  has a SmartBoard, 1-1 net books, and desk top computers.  Some classrooms are equipped with iPads, class responders, wireless slates. 

Both breakfast and lunch are served to students in our school.  Breakfasts can be light, but always include milk and juice.  Lunches have at least 3 items plus milk.

To say the least, it's a pretty comfortable place to go to school.  Yet students consistently skip school.  Today, 3 out of 16 students didn't come.  They aren't sick...they don't have one stopped them from coming.  They just chose not to be here.  Skipping school is not a big deal.

Out of the 13 who were left, only 6 chose to complete their assigned work to the best of their abilities.  2 chose not to work at all; instead they sat and chatted until they were dismissed from class.  1 slept, and 3 completed about half the work due to sideline conversations and off-task behavior.

This always makes me sad, but after seeing the photo ( below of children in Indonesia crossing a broken foot bridge to get to school, I got angry.  Some children in the world literally risk their lives to get an education.  Each day they brave dangerous conditions just to sit in a poorly equipped classroom and LEARN something.  Why don't we have that drive to better ourselves here?  Why do some students throw away this golden opportunity?  Why isn't education VALUED the same here as it is in other places?
I know some of the answers to these questions.  Nothing that is given for free is valued for very long.  Nothing that is made too easy comes with much of a sense of satisfaction.  Nothing that doesn't have to be earned in some respect gets a whole lot of attention because it isn't going to be taken away.  The fact that schools are free isn't the root of the problem, but it does seem to me that we value what we pay for more than what we don't.

I'm not suggesting that schools become pay institutions.  What I am suggesting is that students who do not want to be in school, who don't value education, who come to school and take up space while disrupting the learning of their peers, who aren't invested in any given a different option.  Create vocational programs, work programs...something else.  Make education in schools the privelege of those who want to be there and who take advantage of what is offered. 

Photo Credit: Beawiharta/Reuters

Butt Writing

So I was behind this girl in line at WalMart today. She was cute. Way cute. She had one of those great bodies that make the rest of us regular women just want to curl up and die. She was wearing a pair of sweatpants that had writing on the butt..."juicy" I think they said. Those pants crack me up. I see them all the time..."juicy", "hot", "cheer", "pimp", short little words that fit nicely on a compact, cute little butt. I got to thinking about it...what would I write on the back of MY pants if I was so inclined?

I don't think I want "juicy"...ew. "Hot" doesn't really describe me very well any more. "Cheer" And "pimp", well that's just not my style. I think I need something a little more substantive. Something positive, still, but with a little more bang for the buck. And of course, we have a little more room to work with here...I know.

Hehe. Just a random thought that ran through my mind at the WalMart today. If anyone wants to order a pair of pants, let me know...I think there's a real untapped market out there...