Wednesday, September 26, 2012

When Politics Become Personal

Normally I do not like to blog about politics, but lately I have been assaulted by such weirdness and absurdity via social media that I just had to comment:

When I was an at-home father I met a woman at the park. She and her husband and their twins lived just down the road, and she was the sister of a friend. As we got talking, she shared that she’d been a staff person on the Republican Senate National Committee. I shared my liberal political affiliations, the canvassing I’d done for consumer groups in Connecticut and Rhode Island, and the get-out-the-vote campaign in New York.

We didn’t actually argue, but discussed, much like two people in a bar or at a party, with fervor and mutual respect. She was bright, articulate, clearly a good mother, and I liked her brother a lot. Her grandfather, a general, had been part of Kennedy’s cabinet during the Cuban missile crisis. She thought I was wrong about most issues (and I felt the same about her), but our conversation never slipped into the realm where two people (or more) start hurling outrageous accusations at one another over political opinions.

After our initial meeting, I’d run into her at the park or Whole Food’s, and we’d talk about life, politics, whatever was on our minds. She inquired about Verna after Verna was originally diagnosed with cancer. She once said, “If you think I’m conservative, you should talk to my husband.”

I looked forward to talking with her because she was friendly and open about her views without denigrating mine. I believe I treated her with the same respect.

Fast forward to today and another acrimonious election season is upon us. Two weeks ago I saw on my Facebook homepage side-by-side pictures from a former student of mine comparing Michelle Obama and a lipstick-wearing pig. I sent her a private message complaining about such an ugly promotion, and she responded: “She’s such an anti-Semite. She deliberately avoided Jews when she was in college.”

Over the past few days several people have claimed, again on Facebook, that Obama wants to destroy America, is purposely emulating the Nazis and the Bolsheviks, and he controls the media in the same manner as Hitler. These are, I think, reasonably intelligent people.

One of them actually said, “If you were a smart man, you’d do all he could to learn about the man who could be shaping the future of your precious children on your Facebook wall photos. Some folks can't look beyond the now. Sad.”

One friend claims I am close-minded because I refuse to see Dinesh D’Souza’s “documentary” 2016. An avowed conservative, she plans to view Koch Brothers Exposed, a left-wing documentary. I avoid most political movies and have little time for 2016. This analogy might not work, but I don’t have to know much about root canals to know I don’t ever want one.

I fully understand that vitriol and absurdity goes both ways. Some people compared Dubya to Hitler and slung other allegations about him, Republicans, and right-wingers etc. And still do.

What also bothers me is that once I allow myself to be drawn into these posts not passing for civilized debate, I sometimes lower myself and make fun of someone or his or her beliefs. I hope I haven’t been mean, but in the heat of the moment I often get passionate about values, not politics, and when I hear someone say, “You are brainwashed. You are close-minded. You support someone who wants to destroy America. How can you support someone like that with your children’s future at stake,” well that’s when the veins bulge in my neck and I pop a gasket or two.

So, obviously, the best option is to avoid political discussions in such impersonal forums. They are fraught with the potential for us to feel way too emboldened by the lack of accountability inherent in social media. We can be caustic because we are not actually engaging with another person, just spewing words via cyberspace.

And it’s not like any of us are going to change anyone’s minds. So, in an effort to maintain my low pressure, I am going to shun Facebook political conversations.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Many Moms of Maya.

Maya’s had many moms even before Verna died just a little over two years ago. Out of necessity, both Verna and I needed help because Maya was born six days after Verna’s first cancer diagnosis. Without assistance, Verna could not have survived chemotherapy and I my full-time job as an auto broker and support system for Verna.

First, there was Jane, an angel and our night nurse five evenings a week (I subbed in the other two nights) who taught Maya without using the cry-it-out method to sleep through the night within four months. She and Verna also hiked together and talked and talked.

The mantra of “It Takes A Village” has been overwhelmingly true for me for 7 years because family, friends, and strangers have been invaluable. From food delivered to our doorstep, to money, to babysitting, to shoulders to cry on, we cope[d] and thrive[d] because of people’s generosity.

No one has benefitted more than Maya. Miguel has had me, and the bond we forged when I was an at-home father for six years. Maya has me, but there are some things for which the learning curve has been inordinately steep.

A few weeks ago, before school started, I dragged Maya to my office for a photo shoot. The Home Office had authorized a picture taking session with residents, families, and cute kids for our new marketing brochures. I rushed into the office, with Maya, her hair uncombed, her choice of clothing more suited for day camp, which is where she was heading after the session.

“What is she, homeless?” asked one of my co-workers, who was helping to coordinate the day. She ordered me home to get a brush and a dress. By the time my co-worker was done Maya looked radiant.

So I’ve been thinking lately about all the moms Maya has even if she still implores me two or three times a week, “To just bring me Mommy, down from heaven. I want her here right now.”

There’s Michele, who has been caring for Maya since preschool with her husband and two children, one of whom, also Maya, is Maya’s best friend.

There are Fernanda and Liz, who live in our neighborhood, and watch Maya on Fridays and Mondays, respectively. Between them they have five kids. There is Torhalla and Renee, each with two kids, who host Maya for play dates and sleepovers. There was Reena and Rhea, two teenaged sisters, who volunteered after Verna died to play with Maya on a regular basis.

There are my three sisters-in-law, Liz, Donna, and Amy, who shop for clothes and toys with Maya, cuddle with her, take her on adventures. And there is Shauna, my neighbor, who may not have her own kids, but she paints Maya’s nails, invites her for the night, gives her bubble baths and braids her hair.

As I see the journey of my life stretched out like a ribbon of highway, I know Maya may actually get another Mommy, one with whom she already has a great relationship, baking muffins, cleaning house, and playing library.

But there are no guarantees, so Maya’s many moms will always be there to do what I cannot do and what Maya craves: braid her hair, support her fashion sense, and nurture her in a special female way. And for that I am very grateful.