Off Duty Mom

Thoughts from an exhausted mom who is NEVER really "off duty"

Archive for the tag “women’s issues”

A change is brewin’

I’m 39.

That might be really old or really young depending on who and where you are.  I have to admit that most of the time it feels kind of old, especially when I look at how much energy my kids have comparatively.

A little over a year ago, I decided that I didn’t want to be 40 and fat.  I knew I had no control over the 40 part, but the “fat” part of it was a different story.

Going back about 8 years now, I decided to become “Off Duty Mom” when I felt that too few people were talking about the ugly side of motherhood or parenting, for that matter.  I needed more people to be open about hemorrhoids, varicose veins, tantrums, post-natal constipation, potty-training, the obnoxiousness of Caillou and the vast abyss of Thomas the Tank Engine and Minecraft into which so many kids fall.

But, it seems that people are talking about those things now.  I am really happy that new mothers now won’t have to deal with what I did:  believing that everyone else had an easy go of it while I was over here crying every night at 7 PM for NO REASON WHATSOEVER (aka:  hormones) after giving birth.  Had my dear friend not said to me, 3 months before I delivered, “when I had my daughter I was not prepared for that much bleeding.  I mean there was blood everywhere,” I might not have known that sleeping on a bed that looks like it was prepared by a serial killer ready to dismember his neighbor and a small elephant or that those giant mesh undie things would be so very, very necessary.  Oh, the joy that was the icepack panty pad.  What a motherfucking fantastic invention.  And, had my mother not given me fiber pills when I came home from the hospital and just said, “TRUST ME,” I wouldn’t have been prepared for the colossal fucking ass-rip that was trying to poop after delivering a baby.

My kids are school-aged now and that comes with new challenges for me.  But, when I hit my don’t-be-40-and-fat “eureka” moment, I knew that I wasn’t just all about the kind of vanity that comes with wanting to lose weight in your 20’s.  It wasn’t about a goddamn thigh-gap.  It was about living a long and healthy life with my family.  I wanted to be strong and fit.  But, most of all, having struggled with depression and anxiety for so long, I wanted to stop the incessant message in my head that said about so much:  “I can’t.”

I repeated the ugly “I can’t” message to myself probably a few dozen times each day, every day.  It related to what I felt was utter exhaustion about e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. around me.  “I just can’t stay up any later.”  “I just can’t run and play with my kids outside.”  “I just can’t walk to the park.  We have to drive.”  The list went on and on.  There seemed to be no end to the things I told myself I couldn’t do as a mom, as a teacher, as a wife, and just as a living, breathing human.

So, I am moving on to talk about something else now that I don’t thing enough people are honest about:  aging gracefully.

Actually, cosmetics companies, fashion magazines, celebrities and other people I don’t particularly want to hear weigh in on the subject are talking about it plenty.  But, I am not hearing a dialogue about what matters to me.

So I am going to start one.

Ever seen a video online of some amazing 65-year old bodybuilding and being all “If I can do it, anyone can!  I’m 65!  Get off the couch!”

Fuck you, 65-year old.

I started CrossFit almost exactly one year ago.  I am most decidedly NOT starring in videos, lifting 150 pound over my head and telling people to get off the couch.  I am in no position to tell anyone a friggin’ thing about fitness.

When I tell people I do CrossFit, I get one of two reactions: awe or confusion.  Some people have never heard of it.  But, most think that I am fucking nuts.  They think I throw tires and run 5Ks with kegs of beer on my back.  Actually, I do push-ups on my knees and I get lightheaded after running 100 yards.

That fit, smirking 65-year old in the videos started small, too, I am guessing.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, y’all.

So, I am recharging Off Duty Mom.  I can’t talk legitimately anymore about how annoying Elmo is because

  1.  I am no longer in a place where Elmo is in my world.  It’s all K.C. Undercover and Avengers movies ’round here now and
  2. It’s been done and overdone.  Blah Blah Blah Being a Mom is Hard.

I mean, being a mom is still hard.  But, what I am finding hard at this point in my journey is how to be better to myself for my family.  How do I increase my life span and breathe in life with more joy and less exhaustion?

I will be sharing with you now the Off Duty Mom journey of growing older, becoming stronger, finding more positive headspace and not being 40 and fat.

Thanks for your readership up to this point.  I hope you’ll be interested in opening conversations about how we can (and must) take better care of ourselves not so we can compete with the 22-year old moms at the pool whose bodies just sprung right back into magazine-cover shape post-partum (“it was so easy!”), but so we can grow from our former selves.

Join me.

Fuck off, Pizza Man

I have not felt compelled to contribute to this blog for a very long time. I am a writer who really only writes for the catharsis — for the experience of emoting via word ammo.

For a long time, I have not been inspired to write because while I have had many meaningful experiences, none gave me the deep feeling that I NEEDED to put my thoughts on a page (or screen, as the case may be).

Today that changed.

As you may know, I am a teacher at a public high school. I love my job — even the parts of my job that I complain about.

I was having lunch today with a few of my colleagues. If you are familiar with the daily routine of a teacher, you may know that our lunch break lasts for about 25 minutes. We get very good at eating very quickly.

I finished my lunch fast and a colleague asked if anyone had a moment to help him carry some pizzas into the school. He had ordered 20 pizzas for an assembly we were having honoring students who had perfect attendance.

It was no problem, I told him. I could come help.

The pizza man came down the street with two giant insulated bags of pizza. He handed one of those bags immediately to my colleague. When I reached for the other bag, he said, “No, no no. Here — take this instead.” Then he handed me a plastic grocery bag with styrofoam plates in it. It must have weighed only a few ounces. The pizza man struggled to carry his bag.

I asked him if he did this “because I am a girl.”

His response?

“You’re too pretty.”

I am going to let that sink in for you.

Women readers are already getting it. Many male readers might not. In fact, some of my male readers (actually, do I HAVE male readers?) may have the same reaction as the Pizza Man did when I responded to him.

“I am not sure that’s a compliment,” I said.

“You should say, ‘thank you.’ It was a compliment, right?” This was his response.

Go fuck yourself with a rusty pen knife, Pizza Man.

I handed the bag of plates to another colleague in the hallway. I did not want to be near this man anymore. Then I went back into the room where I was eating lunch with my colleagues: four men and a woman.

One of the men in the group still doesn’t know why I am upset about all of this. One left the room when I started talking about it. Another got on his computer and tuned me out. The last shook his head and understood and cited that viral video of the girl being catcalled and harassed simply for walking down a street in New York. When man #4 referenced this video, man #1 said he’d not seen it, but asked what the girl in the video was wearing, you know, “just for a frame of reference.”

When lunch was over, I walked down to my classroom and I tried not to cry.

Men: this isn’t that fucking difficult. Stop the bullshit. We are not that hard to figure out.

Telling a coworker she looks nice is FINE. Telling her she looks nice in that sweater is NOT.

The difference? One is a simple acknowledgement of an effort someone put into looking pleasant. The other is a direct reference to anatomy. If you say I look good in my sweater, you are talking about my body — the personal parts of myself that I have chosen not to show to you because I put them underneath a sweater.

Look — I am no spring chicken. I am not as young and hot as I once was. And, I don’t think that this matters much. I still have men say inappropriate things to me, whistle, or ask me “how YOU doin’?” in a tone that perhaps suggests that I am not being asked an honest question regarding how my day is. I am NOT thankful that I’ve “still got it.” I don’t feel good about myself because at my age someone has called me “pretty.” This is mostly because I do not measure my self-worth on the opinions of random strangers who refuse to let me carry pizza.

Now, perhaps you may wonder if it isn’t chivalrous for a man to offer to carry something for a woman. Yes. It is. I don’t think, however, chivalry necessarily is the issue. It would have been chivalrous to OFFER to carry something for me if I were struggling with it. It would have been chivalrous if, when I had offered to take the pizzas, the Pizza Man said, “Oh, that is so nice of you to offer, but I am doing just fine. Would you mind taking these plates, though? That would free up an extra hand for me to carry these.” It is not chivalrous to refuse to permit me to help you then tell me that it’s because I have both a vagina and a cute face. This is not a good deed. It is an insult.

I let this man escape with his life for three reasons:
1. I was at work in a school full of impressionable young people and I would rather not show them that violence is the answer to anything.
2. He was old and is probably from an era where a good ass-slap was a welcome indication of a job well done for perky secretaries and receptionists. This doesn’t excuse the behavior, but does help me perhaps understand it.
3. I can’t go to jail. I have a family to think about.

Now, there are a million ways I wish I had handled this and a million things I wish I had said. And, this all reminds me of when I was raped as a teenager: I am dealt an injustice; I am treated disrespectfully. Then, I end up being angrier with myself for not immediately responding better; for not being stronger and for not being a quick-thinker. This is the great sadness of womanhood: thinking of one’s own faults when someone else has done wrong.

I honestly don’t know what to do now. I am angry and sad and disappointed and reflective and thinking all kinds of awful things. And I had been having such a fantastic day. And a few words from a stranger has sent me into such a different direction. And, when the bell rings to end my brief “free” period, I have to teach a room full of 31 15-year olds. And, I can’t let this color my work with them.

If you can relate in any way to this story, please comment here. I do welcome respectfully dissenting opinions, too. I’d love to open a dialogue about this.

Free speech, bad taste or criminal tendencies?

 

In a recent post, we discussed our disgust with a thread in which military personnel (or readers of a US military [we think] online publication) advocated violence and rape of women.  Read about the issue here.

Thanks to a wonderful reader, we have updated the information with a call to action as well.

I also appreciate all of the individuals who sent messages or left comments on the blog about the issues this raises.  I am still surprised and dismayed that this thread and ones like it are continuing and individuals associated with the defenders of our country are so openly advocating murder, rape, coerced oral sex, and racist hatred of ethnic and religious groups.

But, I am, at the end of the day, in favor of free speech.  I suppose that these individuals have fought to defend my freedom to say that they are uneducated, weak-minded fucktards.  I am troubled that they’ve also defended their own freedom to advocate secretly taping sexual encounters to be used as “evidence” to counterattack potential claims of rape.

I would be interested in hearing about your thoughts on this matter.  Weigh in here in our comments section and don’t forget to “like” us on Facebook where many of these conversations continue.

Bad Grammar, Sluts and the Undead

As a teacher and a mom, I wonder sometimes.

I wonder (and worry) about the future of my community, of my country and of humanity.

Every time I make even the smallest decision relating to my child, I worry about the impact that decision will have on his growth and how that decision might lead him to success or, ultimately, into eventual therapy one day.  Is there too much refined sugar in his lunch for today?  Should I let him watch Caillou when I know it will just teach him how to whine better?  If he refuses to eat dinner, how should I handle that?

We are all bombarded each day with a cacophony of critical moments — one after another.  Robert Frost never warned us that there’d be so many roads to choose.  I’d give my eye teeth for the opportunity to choose between just two paths in one day.

I find myself in a constant state of questioning how I am helping to make an impact on future generations, and how I – as just one person – can forever make a positive dent in the seamless shell of human time.

Even with being as introspective as I am, and working with young people everyday, I am consistently shocked to hear about how my finger is absolutely NOT on the pulse of youth culture and (subsequently) the promise of tomorrow.

…and Abraham Lincoln, William Shakespeare and Plato all simultaneously rolled over in their graves.

If you are over the age of 25 and do not work with or regularly have contact with kids ages 12-18, please let me enlighten/terrify you with the following:

1.  We are raising a nation of illiterate jackasses.  Not only can people born after 2Pac died not write a sentence that makes any kind of coherent sense whatsoever, they (and just wait until you learn this) CANNOT READ HANDWRITING.  If I teach a lesson to 10th grade students, I must write on the board using only printed, block letters.  Otherwise, moans and groans will erupt, followed with complaints of “I can’t read cursive!”  I blame an over-eager generation of text-o-philes for this phenomenon.  And, it sucks.  Kids today can only process typed language.  Many 16-year olds I know do not know how to sign their own names.  If asked for a signature, they print instead.

2.  This is really showing my age, but for people who are too young to remember the Challenger explosion, some weird social convention has come about.  Everyone turned into a big bag of whores after Generation “X” got real jobs.

I was at a party in 1999 where a wet t-shirt contest was taking place.  The final “contestant” to be revealed were actually two 19-ish year-old women who got water poured all over them while they stood in their thong underwear and white tees making out with one another.  They won the contest.  But, I remember wondering (and, I was completely shit-faced, too, mind you, but I don’t ever recall being drunk enough to think that this was a good idea): what would possess young women to degrade themselves for the gratification of young men?  I’ve never been a complete feminist per se, but come on, people.  I was only slightly older than 19 at this time, but the times they were clearly a-changin’.  Have you been to a dance club recently?  If not, just stay the hell home.  It’s gross.  And loud.  Chris Rock once joked that a dad’s only job in life is to keep his daughter “off the pole.”  If you have been out of your house to witness the under-24 set lately, you may have found already that deciphering between who sucks up dollar bills with her ass cheeks for a living and who is on her way to Philosophy 101 at the local community college is tough since they look an awful lot alike.

3.  Technology is a way of life now.  Isaac Asimov tried to warn us about the rise of the machines, but the damn kids these days seem to be welcoming it all in.  My child could use an iPad before he could pour himself a glass of juice.  At the time, I thought that I was just allowing him to be immersed in educational experiences.  But, I realize now that he’s likely sitting back and secretly plotting my demise.

Watch your backs, old timers.

Kids view technology as essential for life now.  Many adults I know cannot be separated from their smartphones, but the whipper-snappers these days very literally cannot function without electronics.  As a teacher, I cannot remember the last time I saw a teenager do even simple addition without a calculator or cell phone.  Well over 90% of my students show up to school every day without a pen or pencil.  It isn’t that these are bad kids, either.  They just don’t typically USE these items in their daily lives.

And, now I have come to realize that kids know that we don’t understand C++ coding techniques and Java Script, I realize that these illiterate sex fiends are poised to be the only survivors of the Zombie Apocalypse (which, for some reason, every 14-year old INSISTS is imminent).

I wonder sometimes about whether I am just becoming old, senile and out of touch with the changing landscape of human society or if that very human society is disintegrating into a wasteland fed by cell phone radiation, whipits and ramen noodles.  Either way, I fear I am pretty screwed.

So, adults, beware.  I have spoken with the future of this country.  And, they are prepared for zombie war and careers as fluffers, but not for writing thank-you notes to their grandmas.
Sleep well.

What the Holy Frick is Wrong with People?

I was preparing to write a piece that was going to be freaking hilarious about women and styling salons.  I wanted to open with a funny one liner that would be a take on “Women:  can’t live with them; can’t live without them.”  So, I turned to my old friend, Google, to help me find something adorable.

What I found was this.

I didn’t investigate much.  This was the second hit when I started my Google search.  But, I did see that it came from something called the “Military Times.”  I do not know if this site is associated formally with the US military, whether it is a legitimate publication, or if it is just garbage, but I was totally disgusted.  And, I don’t get disgusted easily.

There is what appears to be a legitimate site called “Military Times” which seems to offer news, information and opinions for, by and about military personnel, defense issues, politics and policy.  I would love to believe that these two factions are not, indeed, connected, though.

I was first horrified to see that, at the time, the top response to “Women:  Can’t Live With Them, Can’t…” was related to vicious commentary about rape.  Not sure anyone associated with the military should be giggling about illegally shoving your penis where it doesn’t motherfucking belong.  Isn’t there enough bad press about how women are treated in the armed forces already?  Jesus.

The rest of the responses I read were about murdering, defiling and otherwise performing (or forcing the performance of) sex acts with women.

Seriously?

I don’t talk about it.  Ever.  But, I survived a rape 16 years ago.  It changed everything about everything in my life.  And, to see sexual violence used as a punchline makes me feel a kind of anger for which there is no real word in my language.  I, very literally, feel sick right now.

I don’t even really recommend you go and read those posts on that forum.  I really hesitated before even linking to it as I was afraid to give it more of a voice.

But the mother in me came out.  If you are the parent of a daughter (or if you love any woman in your life at all), you need to see what kind of people she will encounter in her lifetime.  Think about how you might teach her to respond to these animals.  If you are the parent of a son, perhaps you can think about what you can do to make him turn out NOT to be like the (presumable) men on the aforementioned forum.

Rape and molestation are not about sex.  They are not about “urges” or “attraction.”  They are about violence, power, anger, aggression and the deep and insecure desire to cause pain, shame and a feeling of weakness.

If you have or if someone you know has been the victim of a sexual assault, or if you were involved in a situation where you were forced, coerced or taken advantage of while you were in a state that made you unable to consent to a sexual encounter clear-headedly, please contact your city’s Rape Crisis Hotline or visit http://www.rainn.org/.

Things don’t have to be the way they’ve always been.

 

**UPDATE:

I received this message recently from reader, Christine Moore:

The Military Times is indeed a Military publication. My husband gets the Navy Times all the time. I’m not really surprised that thread is on there, rape and sexual assault is a HUGE problem in the military. Most victims of sexual assault in the Military are “written off” as crazy and discharged from the military. There is always stories in the Military Times that talks about it, and how the Military is working to fix the problem, but the honest truth is nothing is really being done about it. I think what needs to be done here is that thread needs to be reported to the military, to DOD, to the Pentagon. AND it should also be reported to the media, if the media gets a hold of something like that the military will have to do something about those people, they will have to investigate, and hopefully that will lead to some arrests.

I will be reporting it, I hope you do also, and encourage others to do so.

 

Thank you, Christine!  And, indeed, please, everyone, feel free to take action against this heinous attitude about victimizing women.

(Almost) Last Call for Submissions!

This December, Off Duty Mom will be featuring the stories of several women who have experienced all stages and types of battles with infertility.  As the holiday season approaches, many of us know that it can be difficult to cope with NOT getting the one thing we really want:  a family.

You can’t always get what you want, but you can try sometime and you might find you get what you need.

Avid readers of Off Duty Mom know that we love humor, wit and cleverness.  However, stories of all types and tones are welcome.  Send us your happy, sad, exhausting, gory, triumphant, expensive and just plain weird stuff, too.  We will feature selected stories about people’s struggles with all types of infertility throughout the month of December.

If you are interested in submitting a piece for consideration, please visit the “Guest Posting” section of the Off Duty Mom blog.  Or, “like” Off Duty Mom on Facebook and submit your piece through a message to us there.

The goal is to provide the many, many loving adults out there who have a very special wish for this holiday season will have a wonderful series of stories to read from people all over so that they may understand that they are not alone in their struggles.

If you’d like more information about the upcoming series, please leave a comment here.  We’ll get back to you soon.

For the many of you with whom we’ve already spoken about submitting your stories, please get those to us soon!  We can’t print everything we receive, but we do hope to include as many as we can!

Submissions will be accepted until November 22 (Thanksgiving Day).

Happy writing!

Should I Move to Australia?

Work sucks.

We all know it.

It turns out it sucks worst here in the United States, especially for women, and most especially for women with families, it seems.

“Did you know that 138 nations mandate vacation time by law? But, one of them isn’t the ‘Republic of here,'” said Bill Maher on the June 15, 2012 episode of Real Time with Bill Maher.

He went on to note that “in England, you get 28 paid vacation days a year. In Switzerland, you get 20. In Sweden, you get 25.”  Currently, I have “earned” 10 vacation days for the next year (July 1, 2012-June 30, 2013).  I have so few because I have had vacation days deducted from those “earnings” since I opted to take a maternity leave within the past work cycle.

But, it seems as though I was even lucky to have been afforded the privilege of taking unpaid maternity leave and being charged with sick, vacation and personal days in the process.  Many other new mothers don’t even get that.  And, I appear to be enormously fortunate and in the vast minority in the fact that I even get those 10 vacation days at all.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, “The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a law that requires most companies to allow their employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave time after the birth of their child. The FMLA applies to both men and women and is also available for those that adopt a child.  If the parents work for the same company, the 12 weeks is then divided between the two of them and is an accumulation of both of their time (i.e.,. each could take 6 weeks off; one could take 4 weeks while the other takes 8 weeks).  There are exceptions to the FMLA which release a business from the obligation of allowing unpaid time off. These exceptions include the size of the company (less than 50 employees), the time of employment (at least 12 months), and level of wages (top 10%). Employees with incomes that account for the top 10% of wages for the business may not have access to the unpaid benefit if the company can show with evidence that your absence creates significant financial harm to the organization.”

This has me wondering whether this is a convenient way for companies to legally discriminate in their practices.  Certainly, it cannot be a matter of official record, but if a company employs 55 people and feels as though it cannot “afford” to allow women time off to undergo a major medical experience, would it not be better served by hiring only men?

One might argue that times are tough and women can always refuse to accept a position with any company whose policies do not meld well with their personal beliefs, medical needs, or family interests.  In other words, we can just say to women, “If you don’t like it, go work somewhere else.”  Interestingly, men don’t have any equivalent I can see where they might be told something similar.

Here’s where it gets worse.  According to a report on Forbes.com in 2009, “more than half of U.S. companies employ fewer than 50 people.”  So, just going and finding somewhere else that jives better with your family needs doesn’t seem that possible all of the time, then.

How is the United States, a country that takes such pride in its focus on equity, social justice and civil rights, among the few who still treat women as second-class citizens who must choose between their personal and professional lives?  The following may be surprising.  Here are a few countries with longer maternity leave options for their workers:  Belarus, Cambodia, Chad, China, Congo, Egypt, Iran, Thailand and Zimbabwe.

CHINA?!  Don’t they have some of the worst human rights policies on the planet?  And, yet, they mandate more maternity leave for women.

Recently, The New York Times reported:  “Canada and the United States may share a border, a language and much cultural affinity, but if women face broadly similar situations in terms of education and economic opportunity in the two countries, they are far apart in the area of gender equality, the experts said.”

It also reported that “last month a report by Save the Children suggested that America is one of the worst places to be a mother among rich countries, pointing to what it said were one of the highest maternal mortality rates and worst breastfeeding environments among developed countries.”

Craptacular.  So, if we survive (which we are less likely to do here than in a host of other industrialized nations), we are still subject to a lifetime of over-work and low pay.  In fact, the Government Accountability Office concluded that men statistically receive earning boosts after having children while women receive significant losses at the same lifepoints.  They also concluded that still after 20+ years of this pervading statistic, women still earn a mere 80% of men’s average salaries — 80 cents to every man’s dollar.

This all leaves the US as one of the worst places to be a working woman and mother who believes in equity and fairness and who values family time.

In 2011, Marie Claire reported that “a 2005 report by the World Economic Forum found [Sweden] to be the world’s ‘most advanced country’ for women, with greater levels of equality, power, health, and well-being among women than anywhere else. (The survey ranked the U.S. an abysmal 17th place — one above Costa Rica.)”  The article went on to note that “Sweden, which has a population of 9 million — around the same as the state of New Jersey — has a long history of female-friendly policies. The government gave women equal rights to inherit property way back in 1845; in 1901, it introduced the world’s first formalized maternity-leave program. In 1958, the Swedish Lutheran church changed its doctrine to permit women to become priests. And today, female politicians make up around half of the Swedish parliament.”  In the US, women make up just 17% of the Senate and just shy of 17% of the seats in the House of Representatives.

Again, though, it doesn’t all just suck for women, though it sucks for us the worst.  But, it seems as though everyone in this country is getting shafted.  The Denver Post says, “Blue-collar workers get five days of paid leave after one year of service, and 23 percent of Americans get no paid vacation whatsoever, the 2006 statistics showed.”  NO. VACATION. WHATSOEVER.  Wha?

“Experts said the lack of vacation stems in part from an American obsession with work as a form of defining one’s identity,” The Denver Post article continued, “whereas European and Asian cultures enjoy longer vacations and define themselves by familial or national affiliations.”

So, again, I see a trend.  Americans must choose between family and work.  People just about everywhere else do not. Because they out-earn their female counterparts statistically by 20%, men often do not face such decisions in this country where women still do.

And, of the work we all do, Americans are working harder for their money, to boot.  An article on 20somethingfinance.com said in 2010:  “At least 134 countries have laws setting the maximum length of the work week; the U.S. does not.”

So, let me see if I have this straight:  women in the US work longer hours, for less money, less vacation time, less maternity leave time and fewer cultural perks than workers just about everywhere else on the globe?

Is it time to do something about this?  I’d love to hear what you think.

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