Friday, May 27, 2011

Bullying - Would you have the guts to intervene?

I live in a small town. Just about everyone knows everyone, which can be both a blessing and a curse. Its a safe town, and everyone looks out for one another. We don't have much crime, except some petty thefts and domestic disputes now and then. But violence and intolerance isn't much of an issue. I don't worry (much) when I send my kids off to school. I know they are in a safe environment with watchful eyes everywhere. The school has strict policies about bullying, fighting, etc., and they do enforce it. (I know this first-hand because, to my horror, my son got in a fight earlier in the year and he and the other boy involved had to face the consequences of their poor choices.)

Last night, I was babysitting two of my friend's boys, ages 11 and 7. It was art night at the school, and my kids really wanted to go and show off their work. When my husband got home from work, we loaded up the van with our 3 kids and my friend's boys, and headed on over.

Shortly upon arriving, the 11 year old spotted a friend and wanted to go off with him for a little bit. He's a pretty responsible kid, so I gave him permission, on the condition he checked in every 5-10 mins. (Its a small school, so its not like he could get too far anyway.) The younger kids (my 3 and my friend's 7 year old) all stuck close as we toured the cafeteria.

Once we'd seen all there really was to see in the cafeteria, I took my friend's 7 year old and my two older kids to look at the work in the hallway, and to try and find the 11 year old. We found the 11 year old, and I told him we were going to look around the hallway a little, then make our way toward the front door to leave.

As I stood there talking to him, a kid who was obviously older and quite a bit taller than the 11 year old (more than a head taller, in fact), walked up to him, didn't say a word, put him in a headlock, and started walking him down the hallway by his neck. It struck me as odd, but I thought maybe they knew eachother and were just messing around.

But as they got further down the hallway, something in my "mama gut" told me that something was just off about the whole thing. I caught up to the boys, and the look on my friend's son's face told me everything. I calmly said, "We're leaving now. Let's go," thinking the kid would let go. The kid loosened his grip til my friend's son was almost free, then pulled him back in.

At that point, I could feel the heat rising on the back of my neck. "My" child was in danger! There is something so powerful and primal that comes over a mother when her child - or in this case, not even her own child, just a child she feels very bonded to - is being threatened. The "I'm very disappointed in you, what were you thinking?!" mommy tone came into my voice, and I said, very seriously and sternly, "You need to be nice to him! What you're doing is not okay!" The kid's eyes got huge, and he immediately let go. He then hung his head, and stammered out sincere apologies to both me and my friend's son. We both told him we accepted his apologies, and went on our way.

When we got in the car, I asked my friend's son if he knew the kid. He said he'd never seen him before in his life. I asked him if the kid had said anything to him when he approached him and put him in a headlock. Again, the answer was no.

So I am left with that burning question - why? What in the world compelled this kid to act out against another human being that way? Why did he target my friend's son, whom he didn't know, and had never had any contact with before? What would compel someone - anyone, child or otherwise - to intimidate, scare, or hurt another individual without any just cause?

The more I think about it, the more troubling that question becomes. And maybe I am making a bigger deal out of this than I should, but from my observation, its the "random acts" of bullying and hate that are the worst because the victims had no warning.

I read this article earlier this week about two men being targeted and attacked for walking hand in hand through a park in Portland (kind of my "own backyard," since I live about an hour and a half from there). These men never saw their attack coming. They didn't do anything to provoke their attackers, the attackers just saw it in their dark hearts to beat the tar out of them for no reason.

The saddest part of the whole incident, at least in my opinion, is that they were out in the open and onlookers did nothing. Nobody yelled "stop!," nobody called 9-1-1, nobody tried to pull the attackers off them, nobody tried to talk any sense into the attackers, and nobody offered the victims any assistence or sympathy. (They had to call 9-1-1 themselves after the attack was over.)

I am certainly not trying to villainize the kid who bullied my friend's son, and most likely this won't happen again. If the remorse in his apologies and shame on his face are any indication, it won't. But I still have that burning question - why?

As I replay the whole thing over in my mind, I keep wondering if I handled it appropriately. The kid's dad said hi to my husband on the way out (I guess they've chatted on a job site or two before), and I contemplated saying something to the kid's dad. Should I have? Is there more I should have said or done?

I can't change how I handled it, but ultimately, I am happy with the fact that I did recognize it as bullying, and I did intervene. I know far too many people who would just chock it up to "boys being boys." Or they would be too afraid to get involved.

But here's how I see it. Everytime you do nothing, a bully gets away with victimizing someone. And every time they get away with it, they figure they can victimize again, so they begin to bully more, and more, and more... When and where will it end?

And what's worse, it just hurts the victim even more. It tells them that they weren't worth rescuing from their abuse. That what they went through wasn't a big deal. That the emotional, mental, and physical pain they endured isn't real. But the thing is, it is real, and it is serious.

I am by no means trying to paint myself as some big hero. I acted in the moment in the manner in which I felt was necessary. I did what needed to be done. I didn't shame the bully, or yell at him, or hurt him back. I just told him to stop. And that was enough.

So I want you to think long and hard. Would you have the guts to intervene if you saw someone - anyone - being bullied, attacked, or victimized? Would you protect your kids, your friend's kids, kids you don't know, your friends, your co-workers, or even total strangers from being bullied or attacked? What would you do in a situation like I was in, or even worse, if you were watching the two Portland men being attacked?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The 5 Things I Love About You

My husband has always been a very quiet, introverted person. On our first date, I don't think he said more than a few words the entire day. We had fun, don't get me wrong, but our 2 hour drive home was pretty quiet. I kept asking questions, trying to get him to open up, and most were answered concisely, with little to no elaboration. He takes a lot of time (sometimes days or even weeks) to formulate his thoughts and words. This is just the man he is.

In stark comparison, as probably exemplified in these ridiculously long blog posts of mine, I almost always have a lot to say. I'll admit, I am often loud, and have a tendency to "overshare" when I'm talking to people. I will tell anyone what I am thinking about anything, everything, and at any given time, and sometimes end up rubbing people the wrong way. (Not that that is ever my intention.) I think on my feet and can answer any question about anything on the spot. No processing necessary. (Which has resulted in regular "foot-in-mouth" moments.)

So my husband's quiet nature, contrasted with my own boisterous personality, causes insecurities in me, and annoyance in him. I am often left feeling like he just doesn't want to talk to me. I love him for who he is, and don't want to change him, but unlike me, he doesn't see the need to constantly reiterate the things he says. However, I like the regular reiterations. Like, really like them.

Last night, as we were falling asleep, I asked him, "Just for my own curiosity's sake, tell me 5 things you like most about me. Don't think about it, just fire them off." He turned the table with, "Well, its your idea, you tell me first." So I did.

Here are my Top 5:
* He's emotionally stable and strong
* He's a hard worker and provider for our family
* He's funny
* He can build or fix just about anything
* He does lots of special little gestures and outings for our kids

He then shared his with me.

Here are his Top 5:
* I am a good cook
* I am a good mom
* I am funny
* I am a caring mom
(I told him this was cheating because he already said I was a good mom, and he told me they're different. Being a caring mom refers to all the "above and beyond" things I do, such as my son's special Feingold diet.)
* The last one is just between us, so I'm keeping mum. ;)

I fell asleep feeling more satisfied and validated than I have in a long time. He didn't say much, but he said enough.

While he was making his list, I resisted the urge to interrupt or ask for elaboration. After he listed his five things, I just laid there and absorbed it. I think maybe I just had a breakthrough! I had figured out how to get what I wanted to know, the validation I so desperately was seeking, without freaking him out!

I think maybe the key to communication in relationships, is to know how much is enough - and not to go over or under. If you need to tone it down, tone it down. If you need to step it up, step it up. Either way, its going to be a foreign feeling. But if our conversation last night was any indication, it can work. All I needed to do was ask, and not overask. Dang! If I'd known it was that easy, I'd have done it a long time ago!

So I am feeling good this morning. I am feeling proud of myself for communicating effectively. And I'm feeling loved and appreciated. I have reminded myself of what is so great about my husband, enlightened him to what I value most about him, and been enlightened as to what he sees as my greatest contributions to his life, our children, and our family. And so I feel grateful for who I am, the husband I have, the children I have, and the life that I have.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. What would your "Top 5" be about your partner?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Yes, I am a pageant mom

I am a pageant mom. And I'm not afraid to admit it.

Years ago, I was just like the majority of people. I thought pageants were nothing but a grand excuse for shallow, snobby, self-centered young women to parade around in fancy dresses, way-too-high heels, and skimpy bikinis, puffing up their gigantic egos and acting like divas. I would occasionally watch a pageant on TV, and end up doing one or both of two things: laughing at the absurdity of it all, and/or feeling crummy and insecure that I wasn't a bleach blonde, size 4, long-legged human Barbie doll.

I was introduced to my first pageant 10 years ago. My aunt joined the board of directors for our local chapter of the Miss Oregon (who then goes on to compete for Miss America) pageant. Being excited about her new position, she begged, and begged, and begged me to come along. I'll admit, I didn't really want to go, but I didn't want to seem unsupportive or snuff out any of her enthusiasm, so I went.

That first year, I still had a negative perception about pageantry and all the girls who participated. They were all about my age. I was already married by then (and I think pregnant by then, too), so I was ineligible to compete (had I even wanted to). All the girls were dressed up, slathered in make-up, their hair in neat, hairsprayed updo's. I, in contrast, was in a lacy red camisole and pleather pants. (Yes, I wore pleather. Yes, I'm ashamed. Yes, I threw them out a long time ago.) I looked like a simpleton, an "average" beauty next to them. Even if I could have competed, I would have felt way too intimidated by these girls. I couldn't even be in the same room with them without feeling insecure!

The following year, a few of my friends competed, and I just couldn't quite believe that women of their calliber would compete in something as shallow as a pageant. I mean, had they no dignity?! Had they no self respect?!

I continued to attend pageants with my aunt each year, and each year I warmed to the idea a little more, and each year the girls seemed more and more human. Being a vocalist and growing up with a sister who was a dancer, I at least enjoyed watching the talent portion. (Well, the good talents. Every year there are some that are just downright painful to watch.)

In 2006 - my 5th or 6th year of watching pageants - my aunt roped me in. Every year she does a training workshop with the contestants, and she needed mock interview judges. I reluctantly agreed to do it. And you know what? I loved it! That, I think, was my turning point.

I finally saw that these girls are real people with real hearts and brains. They're young women who are passionate about their world and community. They are women with ambitions. They are women that are highly intelligent and poised. The interviews allowed me to take a glimpse inside the minds of pageant girls, and not a single one in the 4 or 5 years now that I've been helping with the workshop interviews has been shallow, self-centered, or mean-spirited.

Three years ago, I got to have dinner with Miss Oregon 2007, Kari Virding. She is one of the kindest, most down to earth women I have ever met. I have also had the privilege and honor of speaking briefly with Miss Oregon 2001, who went on to be Miss America 2001, Katie Harman. Let me just say, there is a reason she was Miss America! She is so intelligent, talented, and sweet!

At our local level - and at the larger Miss Oregon and Miss America pageants - we work so hard to make sure the girls keep their eyes on the bigger picture. Its not a "beauty" pageant or a "talent contest." It is a scholarship pageant. The girls are there to compete for scholarship money, not simply to be eye candy. The girls are there because they want to be there. They're there because they are driven and they want to get the education they need to make a better world. They aren't interested in simply being eye candy.

Sure, even in the best programs, and with the best people behind the scenes, things happen. Over the years, there have been some serious situations and "dramas" that have arisen, even at the local level. There have been chauvenistic men who have made inappropriate comments. But our program deals with things by protocol and is always fair toward the girls and sensitive of the situation. And we never let the program be a "free for all" of crazy, whiny, arguing, shallow women. We don't let the negative stigma be what our program is about.

But, there is a stigma for a reason. Unfortunately, "bad" pageants are out there; pageants that do nothing but objectify women and turn little girls into midriff-showing, more-make-up-than-Tammy-Faye-Baker-wearing brats.

And of course, media being what media is, that is all most people will ever see and ever know about pageants. Its chock full of juicy TV shows, YouTube clips, and articles about 8 year olds getting waxings and botox. Because sickeningly - and media feeds off the sickening things in this world - there are bad enough programs, and psychotic enough parents out there, that things like that do happen. And its enough to scare any sane parent!

So this is all people see. This is all people hear about. And this is all people think of when they hear of a child participating in a pageant.

So, you can probably understand why people were horrified when they heard I was letting my 6 year old daughter participate in a pageant. I had a number of less-than-supportive but very well-meaning friends on Facebook expressing their "concerns," worried that I was going to turn into a psycho stage mom and sell my daughter's innocence to the pageant circuit. I feel their fears were warranted, due to what they do see, but unwarranted based on what I know.

The pageant my daughter participated in had her onstage for a total of 10 minutes, if that. She came out for a choreographed dance with all the other Princess contestants, then later came out and stood with her contestant while the results were being read. And the Princess that went on to the Miss Oregon level was chosen by random draw out of a fish bowl. My daughter didn't have to "compete" at all. She didn't have to perform a talent. She didn't have to answer questions.

And out of that came strengthened friendships with some of her classmates and church friends, heightened confidence, a stronger sense of stage presence, and some great mentoring by the wonderful young lady she had as her contestant. Nothing negative came out of the experience. Nothing at all.

Which is why the stigma bothers me so much! With a good, solid scholarship program, and grounded directors and parents, there is nothing but good that comes out of it! I am still the same person I was yesterday. I'm not a psycho who wants to vicariously achieve "fame" through my child. And my daughter is still the same person. Still her sweet, wonderful, beautiful self.

I would never, ever in a million years allow my daughters to be a part of anything that objectified them or made them look like like little lounge singers, rather than the beautiful, natural, innocent girls they are! I would never, ever allow my daughters to be influenced by chavenistic men who want to cut down their worth to only what can be seen on the outside. I will never, ever allow my daughters to participate in something that places no value on their innner beauty, intelligence, personal drive, dreams, and desire to help their world.

I will, however, allow and support them fully in anything - even a pageant - that uplifts them, challenges them, and encourages them to be better people. I will always allow them to participate in activities - even pageants - that allow them to be the natural beauties they are both inside and out. I will always allow my daughters to be surrounded by other strong, intelligent, passionate, driven women who can show them how to make a bigger positive difference in this world.

It gets draining for me to constantly defend our choice to participate in a pageant. I get tired of explaining the differences between what people see pageants as on TV and in the media, and what a legitimate pageant really is. It gets disheartening to provide others with facts and positives about pageants and have it just go in one ear and out the other. And it makes me sad that all the negative "fluff" pageants have dragged pageants liked the Miss America program through the mud, and ruined all its credibility in the public eye.

I don't honestly know what the point of this blog was, except to just share my knowledge, my heart, and my experience with pageants. I guess the bottom line is, if you pick the right program and approach it with the right attitude and motives, it can actually be a very positive thing. Its only about exploiting your girls if you, the parent, let it be!

So, I will continue to support my pageant daughter as long as she wants to participate. When/if she wants out, I'll support her in that decision. If she wants to try and go all the way up to Miss America, I'll support her in that decision. Its up to her, and the sky is the limit!

Saturday, May 7, 2011


I wrote this about 2 years ago, and thought I would share it again. Its about the diversity of my friends, and how powerful that is to me. This was originally formatted addressing my Facebook friends, but I wanted a way to archive and more easily retrieve it when I need to, so I am posting it here.

I have staunch liberals, and staunch conservatives, a few Libertarians, and a whole bunch of you who fall in the middle.

I have Christians, Catholics, Mormons, Taoists, atheists, agnostics, scientists, and those who have been burned by religion and therefore no longer embrace it.

The vast majority are straight, but a few are gay.

I have those who have served our country proudly. Or have been their spouse's backbone while they served.

I have some friends who double as family members.

I have some who are married, some who are divorced, and some who have yet to find their special someone.

I have those I have known for 20+ years, and those whom I have only gotten to know over the past few months.

I have lovers of music, lovers of theater, lovers of art, lovers of science, lovers of nature....

I have some who are financially secure and some who are not so secure.

I have friends who have, or are working on, PhD's, and some who are still completing high school.

I have friends who are white collar, friends who are blue collar, and friends who are stay-at-home parents.

I have friends who are city people, and friends who are country folk.

I have friends who shop Prada and Gucci, and friends who love a good old t-shirt and Birkenstocks.

I have friends with as many as 8 children, some who are currently pregnant, some with new babies, and some who have made the decision not to have children at all. I even have some who are grandparents.

I have some who are serious and some who are complete jokesters.

I have some who live right down the road, and some who live as far away as Spain, Austria, and Portugal.

I have friends who are outspoken and passionate about their personal beliefs, and those who choose to keep those things to themselves.

I have some still in their teens, all the way up to those in their 50's and 60's.

I have some who are experiencing some of the best times of their lives, and some who are going through the worst hardships.

Most have seen me at my best, and a number have seen me at my worst (and lovingly helped me through it).

I could go on and on.... But suffice it to say, I love the diversity of my friends! And here is why. While I may not always agree with all of you on all things, and you may not always agree with me, you all share a commonality. You challenge me. You challenge me to question myself, my environment, and my beliefs. You push me to be a stronger person. You inspire me to be a better mother, a better wife, a better friend, and a better human being. You encourage me to grow closer to God. You challenge me to study and learn more about the world around me and not just accept everything I hear, see, and read at face value. You keep me smiling and laughing and taking life lightly. You continually remind me of where I've been, where I am, and where I am going. You offer me support when I need it most, even though (I admit) it is sometimes unreciprocated or I don't thank you enough.

Well, here is me saying thank you! Thank you, each and every one of you, for being who you are. I wouldn't change a thing about any of you because you are shaping who I am, and I can never thank you enough for that! :) So...keep on keepin' on!!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Maybe its not bragging

I saw a teen girl I know at my daughter's dance team rehearsal last night, and was marveling at how well she dances. Not only do I think this young lady is talented, but I also think she's very sweet. I got to know her originally not through dance, but through our church. I have had the privilege of working with this amazing girl in a few different children's ministries, and she was an invaluable helper with the squirrely (and that's putting it mildly) 1st graders I worked with last summer for VBS. In short, I think this girl is incredible.

After the last day of VBS, her mother approached me, and I sang her daughter's praises, telling her mom how sweet I thought she was, how mature and helpful she was, and that I was going to beg and plead her to work with us again next year.

Her mother's reply surprised me a little. She said, "Yes, she is a very special girl," and hugged her daughter, who got a big smile on her face.

For some reason, that has just stuck with me. The sincerity in her mother's words and actions, and the love and admiration she had for her daughter just oozed out of her. It was clear she took no credit for the wonderful young lady her daughter is, but she truly appreciated and admired the person she is.

I've noticed that a lot of people show their children they love them, and tell them how wonderful they think they are, but it struck me that very few parents show admiration for their children. And even fewer do it in front of others.

I think the reason for this is because parents - well, more accurately, people in general - don't want to come off as braggarts. Occasionally, we parents have those moments of pride that just boils over, and we have to tell everyone who will listen just what our children have accomplished. But that's not the same thing.

There's this concept - especially in Christianity - of "talking up" your spouse to others, and never to put them down or shame them in front of others; to paint them in the best light possible. But it seems to me, we don't do that enough with our kids. And I have absolutely no idea why we apparently seem to think that "talking up" our spouses is good, but "talking up" our kids is wrong and makes us look self-centered.

It was evident to me, through this mother's words, her daughter's reaction, and my own perceptions, that this young lady is thriving because her mother isn't ashamed to "talk up" her child to other people. She knows her mother is proud of who she is, because her mother isn't afraid to tell other people just how marvelous she knows her daughter is.

In parenting, I believe the key is consistent, positive feedback. I don't believe we should overinflate our children, but we do need to regularly praise them. But the sad thing I am realizing, is that we're not afraid to praise our children for what they do, but seem to be largely deficient in praising our children for who they are - especially to other people.

Maybe there is societal shame in "talking up" the things our kids accomplish, because we don't want the label of self-centered braggart. But I see nothing wrong with praising them for the things we can take no credit for - who they were born as, and will always be deep in the core make-up of who they are; for what makes them special and sets them apart from others, with their own, unique set of qualities to use to better this world. For what makes them, them.

And I believe when we do so - publicly praise our children for who they are - it makes our children confident and proud of who they are, and further motivates them to be a kind, thoughtful, loving, caring, motivated, and productive member of society. I believe it builds up their self esteem without puffing them up and making them think they're better than others, because its not about what they do, and how they can "top" others. I believe it sets our children out to attain their full potential. Not because of who we are and what we've done as parents, or our expectations for them. Nor the things they can externally achieve. But because it sends them the clear message that their only real goal is to blossom into someone who is confident in who they are, and help them realize for themselves what only they can give to make this world a better place.