Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Oh, Thank Cuteness!

My friend Jake, who spearheads Generation Q Magazine, got a blog topic going this week - "Oh, Thank Cuteness!" She wrote about her daughter, and invited the readers to chime in with their versions. She got me to thinking about my son Steve, known to many in my life as The Boy (the capitalization is honorific here) and so here goes...

Steve's personality was evident in utero. Every time we got an ultrasound wand near him he turned his back playfully and kept us guessing as to his gender. We could tickle his feet through my tummy, and in return he would torment me with bump-heaving hiccups. He made us wait to meet him, finally consenting to arrive the better part of a month late. The reward in this is that he smiled early.

From the get-go, he had a sense of humor. Mischief sparkled in his eyes often, and still does. He's relentlessly funny, not in that doesn't-know-when-to-quit annoying way, but in a lightness of being that is just present, even when he's not fully awake. It's a lightness that carries me often, as I tend to take it all a bit too seriously.

At two years old, Steve grabbed the hose while I was washing the car and sprayed me down, squealing. It was the first salvo in water wars that continue between us even today. As a youngster, he would ask the most hair-curling questions, but could find the humor in the then-ickyness of the answers. As a sleepy teen, he took to tapping my head and mumbling "snooze" when I tried to wake him up. I once painted his toenails while he was napping, and he laughed and wore it for the day before asking for the remover.

Steve understands the concept of having fun. He encouraged me to give up the 2-day ritual of decorating for Christmas and instead spend it in pajamas eating leftover Chinese food, while watching a full season of something geeky with him. In fact, this is how we spent our last Thanksgiving together, getting properly dressed only long enough to go to the movies in the afternoon. I reflect back on that day and remember it as one of my faves.

It would be easy to see all this fun and humor and imagine that Steve is just a party guy. Far from the truth. He thinks deeply about lots of things, and continues to ask the tough questions. The first election he voted in was the one that put Schwartzenegger on California's throne, and there was Steve, wading through the pamphlets and brochures, trying to figure out how you pick a winner out of a pack of a hundred when all you can see is the slick marketing.

Like his mama, Steve wears his heart on his sleeve. And literally at that. When he decided to get tattoos, he asked me to help design something that spoke to his ideas of family heritage and life philosophy. No impetuous, beer-fueled doodles for him. I was honored to be trusted with this, and he graciously let me share a version of the same ink (it's on my foot). He has since added more to his collection, all beautiful, and of course, consciously chosen and personally meaningful to him.

Obviously, there is a lot about Steve that has a lot to do with me. But then there is that part that doesn't have anything to do with me at all. It's a construction of what he has observed and tried and discarded, ever refining who he chooses to be on any given day - and I find that I really like that guy. I like how straight he tries to shoot. I admire that he keeps trying. I'm humbled by how loyal he is to those he loves.

We are tight, Steve and I - and this is the greatest thing in the world to me. They say you can tell who a man is by how he treats his mother. Let me tell you... Steve is a good man.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Call to Arms

A couple of months ago I attended a screening of Miss Representation, a pretty important film that is now catching some deserved rotation on the Oprah network. In it, a bleak picture of the current portrayal of women in the media is painted. One would imagine that it would have been easy to make this film one long peepshow of the offending gratuitous images, but instead it is a finely crafted affair, focused on many women in positions of power eloquently discussing the complexities of the issue. It is a somber analysis, smartly presented, and well worth your time.

The film tackles not only the responsibilities of the men who have the power over these images (there is a dearth of female leadership in the upper echelons of pretty much any field), but also brings forth the responsibilities required of women. Even if we haven't yet scored the top jobs, the time has come to give up watching from the sidelines while other people manage our image. We are certainly not powerless. We can write. We can vote. We can use our considerable purchasing power to change the landscape. But the film makes one thing frighteningly clear: we MUST do these things to reverse the terrible backslide in the long way we've tried to come since the 70's. And if we won't do it for ourselves, we need to do it for the upcoming generations of girls.

And so, with this movie ringing in my consciousness, when I caught the headlines about Ashton Kutcher's latest fling, instead of keeping my thoughts to myself (as a polite and seemly woman is taught to do), I wrote the following. It's my offering to the conversation started by Miss Representation. Hope you enjoy:

While there have been many times in my life that I thought being a man would have made things so much easier, I have always appreciated that one of the greatest things about being a woman is being part of the team, the sisterhood. Women have girlfriends, that priceless tribe of confidantes that supports us through the best of times, and the worst of times. Women, for the most part, take care of each other, regardless of what the latest reality bitch-and-bite show would have you believe. We understand that to make it out in the world we need to stick together, have each other’s backs, and support each other like only women can. And so, as I note the most recent lapse in judgment of a certain young lady in Ashton Kutcher’s presence, I want to call women to arms to take care of our womenfolk.

First of all, to Ms. Sarah Leal and to any other women who eyes a married man: Stop it. Stop it right now. You are letting down the team. Move on. If we are serious about elevating our stature as women, we need to take care of our married sisters by not pursuing their men. It is easy to think that a man’s choice to cheat on his wife is none of our business, but if we are serious about taking care of each other, this is business of a most critical order. Don’t fall for that trite “she done me wrong” sob story. Please. You are smarter than that. Don’t help him hurt one of our sisters by cheating with him. Wasn’t it the late, great and wise Ann Landers who pointed out that a man who marries his mistress is merely creating a vacancy in the position? Don’t contribute to the stereotype of philandering lothario as a great catch. True sexy is a man who stands up for his woman, not one who lets her down. Such weak-willed opportunists are catch-and-release material only. If you must give a married guy some attention, let it be in the form of a referral to a great therapist. And then walk away. We can inspire men to better standards by raising our own.

Second, to Ms. Leal: I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I’ve stood by in silence while media standards for the portrayal of women has sunk low, so low that we have taught you that the way to make it big in this life is by banging a celebrity and selling your story to a tabloid. I should have fought for a media depiction of us that is so much deeper than an image parade of starlet d├ęcolletage. I should have stood up for you, for me, for all of us years ago when I first noticed the downhill slide. I should have argued for better portrayal of women who are doing the kind of stuff that would inspire you do something big with your life, the kind of big that would have you featured on instead of in the gossip rags. Truly, I’m sorry.

Ladies, you have my word that I’m working on it right now. I am voting with my feet, turning off the sexist shows, and writing to call attention to the abuses of our image. But I need your help. Can you do a solid for the team?