Shari MacDonald Strong

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"My Holiday Has a First Name. It's H-A-L-L-O..."

Macky: Mama, is today Christmas?

Me: No, Macky. But it is Halloween!


Macky: Mama, Christmas is its last name.

This photo is one in a series of otherwise unusable pics of my children flailing about. This one was taken just after I yelled, fully in the holiday spirit: "Okay, NOBODY'S going trick-or-treating until I get a GOOD photo! Do you hear me?!"

PLUS: Halloweeny links from two of my favorite human beings on the planet: Miriam Peskowitz, who writes of conservative religious boycotts of Halloween: "...don't get hung up on the negatives. Slide around them, laugh. Find your own ways, enjoy what's 'pagan' and secular and American and good...", and Brett Paesel, with an all-too-familiar look at the underachieving holiday parent: "Halloween presents a particular kind of challenge for the underachieving mom...I'm the mom who brings paper napkins for the school potluck. I recently had to buy all of my allotted raffle tickets for a school fundraiser because I forgot to sell them to my friends. Last week, during show-and-tell, my 3-year-old son elaborately opened his fists to reveal that he had brought 'nothing' to show because I forgot that Wednesday is the day kids drag in their loot."

Friday, October 27, 2006

Rush Limbaugh: Stupid, or Just Mean? Discuss.

There was a time in my life when I lived with my parents as a young adult, during the height of my dad's Rush obsession. "Well, Rush says…" he would begin about half of his sentences. My dad is a good man, but he had been embittered by life, and Rush's television program was uniquely designed to find such bitterness, disillusionment, and frustration in its viewers and use it to political advantage. It hurt me horribly to watch this happen, and I still feel nauseous whenever I hear Limbaugh speak. So it's no surprise to me that he's up to his old (constant) tricks. But this one is particularly disgusting.

A few days ago, I watched online a political spot that Michael J. Fox had filmed in support of candidate Claire McCaskill in Missouri. Stem cell research is a complicated issue. I know this because my husband and I went through IVF (in vitro fertilization) and if we had wound up with more embryos than we could use in our first attempt to have children, we would have had to freeze them. This was a difficult moral decision for us, but our doctors told us that I had "egg quality issues," and so it would be unlikely that we would get more embryos than we could use in our first attempt, although of course, anything could happen. We got four embryos, we used four, and we would up with two healthy, beautiful baby boys.

I've thought about trying IVF again, as it was so successful for us, and if my husband and I do anything well, it's make excellent babies. But, in addition to financial issues and the fact that we've also had great success in the adoption department, I also know that we dodged a bullet. We had decided that however many embryos we got, we would make sure that one way or another, each one got a shot at life. But could we really have done it? I would do it again, in a heartbeat, to get my boys. But I also would hesitate to recommend that path to anyone, knowing that we were extremely lucky not to have faced any major moral dilemmas.

There are thousands of people who went through IVF just like us, but who also still have embryos that are frozen. Most will go unused. Most will get thrown away. Few people question the morality of that. Would I rather see those frozen embryos used for research than thrown out? Absolutely. Do I support the creation of embryos so that stem cells can be taken from them? No, I do not. (For the record, Michael J. Fox is not talking about creating embryonic stem cells for research, but about using cells from embryos that are going to be thrown away, anyway.) Clearly, this is a deeply complicated issue.

That said, I was greatly moved to see Michael J. Fox speaking about stem cell research. His words were heartfelt, the effort it took to deliver them, considerable. I felt for him, for his wife, for his children. For everyone whose life is touched by Parkinson's, ALS, Alzheimer's, spinal cord injury, and other diseases and injuries whose help and cure may depend on stem cell research.

Then Rush Limbaugh publicly accused Fox of exaggerating his symptoms. Shame on Limbaugh. And shame on everyone who still listens to him, after decades worth of his mud-slinging and meanness.

Me, I'm riled up. But Fox somehow manages to stay calm and thoughtful. His response is one of the bravest, wisest, most moving things I've seen in my life.

"[T]he more soldiers that die, the more legitimate the illegal invasion becomes."

There is a powerful article in Newsweek about the outrage being expressed by Kevin Tillman, brother of football hero Pat Tillman, who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. Kevin Tillman is quoted as saying, "Somehow we were sent to invade a nation because it was a direct threat to the American people, or to the world, or harbored terrorists, or was involved in the September 11 attacks, or received weapons-grade uranium from Niger, or had mobile weapons labs, or WMD, or had a need to be liberated, or we needed to establish a democracy, or stop an insurgency, or stop a civil war we created that can’t be called a civil war even though it is. Something like that.” An important, heartbreaking, and eye-opening article.

Everybody Loves Amy

Thanks to everyone who came to Wednesday night's MotherTalk. Amy Scheibe (who is also one of New York's top editors of literary fiction and memoir) is witty, literate, and an absolute joy to meet in person. Her novel, What Do You Do All Day?" (which was Amazon's #1 women's fiction title last year – not too shabby!) is one of those rare creatures: a commercial book with wide appeal that simultaneously deals with some of the issues that matter most to women and mothers, such as whether to work or stay home with the kids, how to take care of ourselves and remain who we are in the midst of mothering, and how to connect with other mothers in the isolation that often comes with parenthood. I rarely recommend commercial fiction, but I strongly recommend hers. Girlfriend gets it.

For more info on MotherTalks, in Portland or otherwise, visit the MotherTalk website.

Friday, October 20, 2006

How I Would Look If I Had "People"

Some months ago, I plugged in a curling iron and then hovered over it to make sure none of my children wandered by and wrapped their tiny hands around the hot barrel. Do not put it past them. They are capable of anything. It hasn't been all that long since I confronted my six-year-old after school with: "Your brother told me you had 'fire sticks' under your pillow. He said you were trying to light the window shades on fire." Eugenia rolled her eyes. "I wasn't trying to light the shades on fire. I was trying to light the TV on fire." I stand corrected.

As I stood vigil over the newest instrument of heat danger, my youngest came up and stared. "What is that?" he asked, his gaze unwavering. It hit me then: in over three years, none of my children had seen me curl or straighten my hair, even once. A couple of weeks ago we had a repeat of this scene, this time starring a mascara wand and medieval torture device designed to make my eyelashes appear 1/16th as long and graceful as those of my three-year-old son.

It's far too easy to despise myself for not always looking my best. Every mom knows that, in the early years especially, survival ranks lower on the Hierarchy of Parenting Needs than, say, pulling together a snappy outfit or finally getting those eyebrows waxed. We'd love to pamper ourselves, but maybe later, after great spans of time spent trying to clean permanent marker off the wall, after feeding the kid (again), after paying the long-overdue bills, and by the way, is that a spot of somebody's poop on my arm?

We all know that women have enough to worry about without dealing with unreachable beauty standards. This brief commercial spot is a much-needed reminder that, given enough tech support, any woman could look as good as the woman on the billboard. A woman who, interestingly enough, doesn't actually exist.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Church You Know...a Little Too Well?

Seemingly unworried that I might offend every person I know, I recommend these The Church You Know "public service announcements," inspired by NBC's "The More You Know" spots. My favorites are this one and this one. NOTE TO CHURCHGOERS: As best I can tell, these videos were made by people within the church who are using humor as a tool to get people to look at some sacred cows that could use some careful examination. Please do not hurt me.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Me v. Dr. Dobson

Below is a quick sneak peek at my new column going up on Literary Mama this weekend, in which I give voice to some of the reasons I've distanced myself from a contemporary church whose slide into conservative politics utterly dumbfounds me.

"Faced with [Dr. James] Dobson's words [about the Mark Foley scandal], I'm driven to speak out against the trajectory of a church that is failing me as a woman; that is failing my -- and other women's -- children and families. For years, I've felt ambivalent about my association (or lack thereof) with the contemporary church. Today, part of me wants to stand up and shout: "This man doesn't speak for me -- or for my faith!" The other half, the one that shies away from this present incarnation of Christianity, presents Dr. Dobson as Exhibit A in the case against all that is pushing me, and people like me, away. . ."

I wrote the column in reponse to Dobson's insinuation, during an October 6 radio broadcast, that Rep. Mark Foley's sexual overtures to underage male pages could be explained away as "a joke" on the part of the boys. On October 11, Dobson defended himself on air, saying that the media (which also has been critical of his claim) has twisted his words, ignoring the fact that he condemned Mark Foley's actions.

So, for the record: in his earlier broadcast, Dobson did say that "if" Foley had done what he was accused of, he should resign (which Foley did). I don't take issue with Dobson's criticism of Foley's behavior. (It has been revealed that Foley is gay; does anyone really think that Dobson wouldn't have a problem with him?) My concern is with Dobson's political tap dancing: the deflection of blame away from the Republican Party's mishandling of Foley's predatory behavior, the thoroughly insensitive and inappropriate suggestion that the boys themselves are somehow to blame, and now this -- the big show of righteous indignation, Dobson's claims that his words have been twisted, the implication that his behavior is beyond reproach and any criticism of him reflects not on his character but on that of the questioners. Enough, already!

I'm a mother. When I question some aspect of my boys' behavior, I expect them at times to whine and claim that they haven't done the very thing I just saw them do. But they're three years old. Dr. Dobson is more than old enough to know better.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Author Amy Scheibe hits Portland for MotherTalk on October 25

"What do you do all day?" It's the question that drives mothers crazy. What do we do? We do it all -- and we survive, somehow. (Can I get an 'Amen, sister'?)

A funny, thoughtful read for every woman who has ever suffered the playdate blues, secretly abhored her child's best friend, missed either her job or her kids during the day, or wrestled with maintaining her identity in the midst of motherhood, "What Do You Do All Day?" -- and the upcoming Portland visit of author Amy Scheibe -- offers a perfect excuse to get together with other women who are "doing it all day," too, to talk about this mothering gig: one that both fulfills us at times and wears us out, down to our bones.

MotherTalk salons are opportunities to enjoy good conversation, good food, and good company with other women. Portlanders who would like to attend, email me and I'll send you an invitation. It would be great to see/meet you!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Now, with 80% Less Sensitivity! OR "My Mom and Dad Went to the Abstinence Outlet, and All I Got Was This Lousy Chastity Belt"

The day I plan to compare my daughter to a "bare stem" is the day I hope a Mack truck hits me before I open my mouth.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

If I Had Been an Apostle . . .

this is how I would have behaved.