Thursday, July 2, 2015

Zoe vs. "Mommy Juice"

Remember the song “99 Bottles of Beer"? Sing it with me:

99 bottles of beer on the wall
99 bottles of beer
Take one down, pass it around,
98 bottles of beer on the wall.

A song about counting down . . . to a drinking problem, apparently.
As a kid I sang this song during long bus rides on class field trips. Maybe you did too. Strange, right?
Now that I'm a mom I see that there are a lot of things from my childhood that shout cognitive dissonance. Grimms' fairy tales, even Disneyfied, are filled with violence, dead parents, and children shoved in ovens. Daily life includes safety precautions that were unheard of when I was young. Helmets. Car seats. I didn't even wear a seat belt when I was a kid. In fact, I'd sit leaning forward, resting my chin on the front-seat back between my parents.
Is it that we know better now or is it that we know too much?


Today marks my 99th post on this blog. And today I’m going to talk about an organization called Responsibility.org, whose mission is to educate parents and children about drinking by talking early. At the conference I went to, there was a representative from this organization who delivered a speech about the #TalkEarly campaign---as the attendees were imbibing, an irony not lost on anyone.

The question raised was: Do we, the (mostly) mommy bloggers in attendance (spill your beer you’d hit ten of us) joke overmuch about drinking on social media?

You know the memes. You’ve seen them. Perhaps liked and shared them. So would we still do so if we knew for a fact our kids would see it?

Dramatic pause.

And, further, would we consider refraining from making or sharing such jokes for a month?

We also saw this video, which made its point over a soundtrack of sensitive but jaunty music, after which we were invited to #RefreshYourFunny, i.e., write about the topic for possible prize money, even if we thought the whole thing was bullshit.

Okay, they asked for it. Prize money is nice but I’m not sure my particular truth is what they’re looking for.

You see, I had a visceral reaction to both the video and the call to action. It assaulted me on two fronts, much like the Southern Comfort--Bailey's combo I drank at my senior prom.

I was tempted to write up my response immediately but decided I should sit on it for a while. When you roll your eyes that far back in your head, there's a chance you'll glimpse the deeper issues in your subconscious.

So I waited. Almost a month, in fact. Thirty days, the amount of time we were being called on to refrain from making "mommy juice" jokes. Also the amount of time many recovering addicts spend in rehab.

Of course, I have no problem with the intent behind Responsibility.org's mission. Someday Zoe will be a teenager, and being female she will need to be especially cognizant of the dangers that accompany underage drinking. And, undoubtedly, there are mothers out there for whom drinking is a very serious problem.

So whence my discomfort? Why do I intuitively reject the 30-day challenge?

Hurdle number one for me is that I'm wary of earnestness. Personal experience tells me it's often followed by finger-wagging and hand-wringing, and I don't find either of these activities useful.

After that it took time for me to attempt to separate the two strands of my resistance, only to find in the end they are probably inseparable.

First, as a humor writer, I believe that, aside from humor that stems from malice (racist or homophobic jokes, for example) nothing is off-limits. Nothing is sacred. Almost anything you can think of can be made fun of, whether your approach is gentle teasing or scathing satire.

And that's not because I'm someone who believes casual words don't matter. I love words. I believe in their power, or I wouldn't write. But political correctness and self-censoring bother me. The boundaries between simple tact and lying, free speech and things better left unsaid must be constantly negotiated. Strand number one.

The other strand, one I don't often talk about, is that humor is the main way I've coped with my up close and personal experience with an alcoholic. Until recovery, I thought life as I knew it was over. In fact, one of the reasons I started blogging was for sanity. Humor was my outlet. Including jokes about drinking.

If you’ve ever attended a 12-step meeting, you know the slogans, just as you know how they share the stage with gallows humor. It's the latter that called to me most. And if you've been in the rooms, as they say, you've witnessed the special tension of the jaded attempting to submit to mantras. The mental contortions are a very human mix of funny and heartbreaking.

Easy Does It. One Day at a Time. Live and Let Live. Good Orderly Direction. (Aka, God, if you're an atheist.)

All undoubtedly true and yearning to be helpful. But that doesn’t mean they're not also bullshit. And Zoe will have a bullshit detector on overdrive if that’s as heritable as the gene that says she can’t drink.

So maybe that's why Responsibility.org's challenge to refresh is not for me. If good intentions cured alcoholism maybe I'd be more inclined, but refusing to engage in light humor is just as pointless a response as searching for bottles and dumping them out.

Further, responsibility is a loaded word when you're talking about addiction. From the responsibility of enablers to the responsibility the alcoholic has for their drinking when they have a mental and physical disease.

The PSA says, Please drink responsibly. And it's as thoughtless as the "have a nice day" grunted by the teenager handing you your groceries, and perhaps as effective.

I know that by growing up in the disease my child may have already absorbed lessons she wasn't ready for. Someday, yes, we will need to talk about it. When she's ready and if she wants, maybe I'll even take her to a meeting.

In the meantime when people make jokes about being drunk or being an alcoholic in a light way and when I know they don’t mean any harm I don’t take offense. I assume everyone’s doing their best to be reasonably sensitive to others' situations until proven otherwise.

Some jokes go down easy, some go down hard. Painfully funny is still funny. Just deeper and about staying sane.

Zoe: 99; Universe: 0

This piece is being submitted to a writing contest sponsored by Responsibility.org. All opinions are my own. I've received no compensation. Story of my life.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Zoe vs. Rachel Dolezal

When I heard about Rachel Dolezal---the lady who was born a white woman but claims to be a black woman---my feelings ran the gamut from "This is tragically comic" all the way to "This is comically tragic." I still can't decide which.
All I know is it's like Martin Luther King, Jr., said, "Girlfriend be trippin'."

Caravaggio made narcissism an art form first.

Okay, he probably didn't say that. But his "dream" probably also didn't include Rachel Dolezal's particular interpretation of racial solidarity. When King spoke of being "seared in the flames of withering injustice," chances are he was not talking about a tanning booth.
Smarter people than I can unpack Rachel Dolezal's psychology and motivations, people who can maybe use the word "unpack," and also phrases like "sociological underpinnings" and "transracial misconceptions" without a trace of self-consciousness. (Can anyone do this, black or white?)
Anyway, I'll leave this to others and instead take the primary-colored back road littered with slide-whistles that I usually take when faced with the sort of controversy that stuns and horrifies me in equal measure, the road of mockery. And so I'll just say this:
Rachel Dolezal has nothing on a four-year-old when it comes to playing pretend.
For throwing herself into an identity she was not born to and putting up a convincing and consistent facade, Zoe has it all over Ms. Dolezal, whose name, by the way, spell-check keeps "correcting," with an almost audible sigh, to "Doleful."
With both Dolezal and Zoe, I can't tell how much of their performance is due to cynical calculation and how much is due to being in the sun too long. (Or the tanning booth.)
However, Zoe takes her inappropriate appropriation in a different direction. Forget white or black, Zoe's not even a member of the human race.
She's a dog. A small brown terrier, from what I can gather. First name: Bummy; last name: Butt.
Bummy Butt walks on all fours, barks, pants, and sits on her haunches. Zoe is more of a method actor than Robert Downey Jr.'s Kirk Lazarus from Tropic Thunder. When I tell her to get her shoes on in the morning, she affects great sadness as she shows me her claws, poor tools for fastening velcro.
She does bring me her sneakers in her mouth, though. The whole thing is very convincing, as well as useful, since human Zoe has never fetched anything I've asked her to. As a dog she's much more obedient.

Apricot has alternately claimed to be a Clydesdale, Triple
Crown Winner American Pharoah, and Catherine the Great.
For this she received the INAPPROPRIATE stamp. Repeatedly.

But claiming canine kinship is not Zoe's only dissociative drama. She also anthropomorphizes her hands.
I know she's in the midst of this uncanny identity shift when she crooks her index fingers. The left hand is named Fast and the right is Bounce. "Because he's really really fast." (The mind quakes.)
One hand is good and one is bad. I can't tell which is which by their actions, but I do know they are sworn enemies. They race each other all the time but, unsurprisingly, one never gets more than an arm's length ahead of the other.
In addition, Bounce has allergies. On trips to the park, Fast enjoys pulling leaves off bushes and throwing them in Bounce's "face" causing Bounce to sneeze quite violently. Very detailed. Very intense. Very Doleful. (That one I left.)

Members of all races unite in rolling their eyes.

Of course, a big difference between my four-year-old and Rachel Dolezal is age, and a child playing pretend is just that: playing. When I'm not engaging in rash judgments for that merciless goddess Humor, I do (honest!) take pains not to judge another's experience, since I can't know what's in their heart. And it's true. We don't know what it's like to walk a mile in Rachel Dolezal's shoes. It's just that in her case, the shoes she's wearing aren't actually hers.
I don't pretend to know how offensive Rachel Dolezal's false representations may be to African Americans. It seems to me, and quite a few others, she could have done the good she did without lying about her heritage.
But as continuing history continues to prove, race relations in the U.S. have many miles left to go. Bigotry will exist as long as there are those of us who give in to our basest impulses to find belonging the emotionally cheapest way possible: by excluding those we deem other.
In the end, no matter what shoes we put on, we won't get very far without the, albeit murky, light of truth.
Zoe: 98; Universe: 0

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Zoe vs. Daddy, the DFP

In honor of Father's Day, I'm dedicating a post to the long-suffering Husband.

Wrapped around her finger, literally

Long-suffering because when all three of us are home and she's looking for a playmate, he's her first victim choice.
You see, The Husband is the DFP, the designated fun parent.
This was no surprise to me. If you've met both of us, it's clear he's the fun one. If you've met only me, you hope he's the fun one.
I don't mind. Especially since I've observed, and sometimes been the focus of, her "play." It's aggressive and terrifying.
Poor Daddy.
But he had it coming. He laid the groundwork when she was an infant by tossing her in the air and blowing raspberries on her belly till she practically exploded with laughter. When she was a toddler, he was the wielder of "the tickle finger." And he can sigh and act all put-upon if he wants, but no one made him do funny voices. So if he's now the go-to parent when she's looking for someone to do Hattie the Hippo from Doc McStuffins, he's got only himself to blame.
(Full disclosure: Sometimes I make him do Hattie too. Because it's hilarious. And because he does it grudgingly. Hmmm. This may be where Zoe gets her sadistic streak from.)
Another reason he's the de facto DFP is because I'm alone with her more, and by necessity Mommy's always "busy doing boring things," like making her dinner when we get home at night. And if The Husband's there, someone still has to make her grilled cheese, and so Daddy's the distraction/entertainment.
The Husband disciplines her, sure, but not as much as I do. In fact, here's a mantra we have her repeat: "Mommy makes the rules!" That's right. Because as Daddy can tell you, I have more of them, and each one has clauses and subclauses, and qualifiers. 
In general, I'm the heavy. The Husband has a sensitive heart and so, for example, doesn't "go far enough" for my requirements when washing her hair or brushing it. Zoe knows this, so she prefers Daddy to brush her hair. And runs from me and my merciless hairbrush. 
Daddy is wrapped around her finger. And though you'd think such a position would occasionally prove restful, it does not. Being the DFP is exhausting. The other night I saw him trailing after her in a defeated slouch, muttering under his breath, "Why is she doing this to me?"
And I smiled because I know it's because Zoe loves her Daddy.
Too bad her love hurts.
Happy Father's Day to the fathers out there, DFPs or otherwise!

Zoe: 97; Universe/Daddy: 0

For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse
I need a win here, people. 
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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Zoe vs. the Middle School Dance at Blog U

The Middle School Dance. Otherwise known as the trial by fire for the socially awkward. This past weekend I went to Blog U in Baltimore and one of the highlights---or horrible reminders of my childhood (six of one)---was the Middle School Dance sponsored by Nickelodeon.

Remember when Susie's water broke
at the church social in 7th grade?

It brought me right back to being thirteen years old and going to a dance in the school basement. How I'd cling to the edges of the dance floor and, because it was safer out where conversation wasn't expected, I would keep dancing, no matter how sweaty or tired I became, no matter how many times they played Rockwell's "I Always Feel Like (Somebody's Watching Me)." Whoa-oh-oh-oh.
Of course no one was watching me. Which was good because I hate attention.
And yet . . .
We all need validation, or at least a sense of belonging.
One of the main themes at the conference this weekend was finding your tribe. Hard if you're not really a tribal sort.
Or if you avoid attention.
Or if you have this issue when you're talking to people where you become hyper aware of your face and feel like it's growing until it seems like it might explode and then face will get all over everyone's clothes. It's very hard to get face out of silk.
Imaginary exploding face issues aside, I'm so glad I went. I learned a lot, even if one of those things was realizing I may never even make lunch money from blogging. I may never do a sponsored post or be a brand ambassador. Because that wouldn't feel authentic for me. Though, I will say that the myCharge portable charger we received as part of our swag is truly awesome.
Should I ask them to pay me for that sentence?
Too late.
Though maybe I could structure a whole post about the myCharge Energy Shot and get all metaphoric, like how a device to recharge my phone reminded me of myself and how in social situations I need time by myself to recharge my mental energy. Maybe I'd even write them a haiku.

Dearest myCharge, you
get me, you really do, you
beautiful bastard

Also after Blog U I now want to drop the phrase "up sell" into every conversation thanks to Julie Nowell's inspiring session on Collaborative Blogging. Though when she first said "up sell" my brain went all Dr. Seuss: "Up sell, down sell, hard sell, soft sell." Soft Cell? Wait a minute, Nickelodeon didn't play "Tainted Love" at the dance!
And so we've circled the periphery of the dance floor, maintaining our chill expression the whole time, and now we're back at the beginning.
Nickelodeon did an outstanding job. Just the right mix of music and antics for a group of mostly women, most in their thirties or forties, many of them moms, many of those with surprisingly flat stomachs (which frankly felt like a personal betrayal! Seriously, fellow moms, cut it out!), who were self-aware enough to give in to memories of our own lameness but wise enough to embrace it, not care, and dance.

Linda Roy from Elleroy Was Here
channeling Mary Katherine Gallagher,
noted Superstar

I don't know if Zoe will grow up to be as awkward as her mom. Right now she loves a good party; you can always find her in the middle of the action. And since she's come into my life, I've noticed she pulls me out into the world more than I've ever been before. And when I am out there, people don't even seem to notice that giant goiter on my neck swelling up till it might explode if you poke it. Don't poke it!
Overall, at Blog U, I learned a lot, got out of my comfort zone, and met several like-minded people, whom I'll enjoy getting to know in my own slow way. Meanwhile, when I'm not craving complete solitude, I'm just happy spending time with the two main members of my tribe.

My tribe

Zoe: 96; Universe: 0


For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse
I need a win here, people. 
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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Zoe vs. One Possible Future: #MiddleSchoolAwkward

Tomorrow I'm headed to my first blogging conference: Blog U 2015. So while I'm busy making preparations (aka, subjecting myself to social-anxiety desensitization through a self-created program of meditative mantras interspersed with vomiting), Zoe's taking over.
The theme of this year's Blog U Conference is Middle School Awkward, and all participants were invited to share photos of themselves from those awkward ages between 11 and 14.
I shared my own. Most laughed. I did too. Not so Zoe.
Here's why. . . .


When I first saw these pictures of Mommy, I thought, with growing alarm: Is this my future? Because if so: O-M-G!
If you haven't seen them, here they are:
Sixth grade


Is this supposed to be "dressing for the job you want"? If so, Mommy clearly wanted to be a supreme court justice.

Seventh grade



I call this one "Sad Rainbow." Mommy says she looks like Luke Skywalker mixed with Prince Valiant. I don't know what those words mean but I suppose I could live with being royal, even if I end up looking like a dude.

Eighth grade



This one's just a shame.
First, what's with the head tilt?
Next, what are those dots all over her face? Is that why she's a total maniac about sunscreen? And, wait, wasn't she sort of blond in the other photos? WHAT IS HAPPENING?
Argh!! And, dear God, what is that metal thing on her teeth? I see now why she didn't smile in the other photos. Is that the thing Mommy's been warning me about if I won't submit to the dentist? But I don't want my teeth to go to prison!

So now you see why I can't laugh at these photos, as it may be my terrible fate to become a dark-haired boy with metal teeth and spots on my face.
If I have to be a boy, I hope I look more like Daddy. Hopefully he was less of a freakshow in middle school.

Editor's note: We'll see about that. Daddy, pictures please.
In the meantime, I'll leave you with this masterpiece. I call it: "This Is Corn."



Zoe: 95; Universe: 0


For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse
I need a win here, people. 
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