Saturday, March 31, 2018
I feel as though so many people are missing the point with this "Roseanne" thing. One of the local TV stations is doing a follow-up to CNN's story about the renewal of the show for a second season, and I was contacted because someone had seen my post Thursday night saying I'd enjoyed the two episodes that aired that evening. The reporter was reaching out to people on both sides of the aisle.
"You said you're a Democrat, so did the show offend you?" the reporter asked.
Well ... no. The show's titular character is indeed a Trump supporter, and I'm indeed not a Trump supporter. But the show is make-believe, and the character isn't a real person. (Neither, by the way, is the character of Karen on "Will & Grace," who also is portrayed as a Trump voter.)
Plus, the show is not a Trump love fest -- not at all. One of my favorite actresses, Laurie Metcalf, plays Roseanne's sister, Jackie, who sported during the first episode a "Nasty Woman" shirt and a distinctive pink hat. And the rest of the characters have yet to "out" themselves politically.
And yes, Roseanne Barr herself is a Trump supporter, but I don't care at all about Roseanne Barr. Fun fact: In the early '90s, when I was editor of Iowa Parent Magazine, I wrote an article about Tom Arnold and got to know him a bit and really liked him -- and it became clear a lot of the couple's shtick was just that -- shtick. So how much of Roseanne's stuff now is just for show? Who knows -- and who cares?
Regardless, if you're keeping track of the political views of the show's main characters, the score so far is one Trump supporter, one Trump critic. Who can't live with that? Most of us know people whose views are different from ours, and unless relationships have become volatile, we coexist.
And besides, again ... these are not real people.
Plus, there's this. Since the 2016 election, media outlets have tried hard to define the Trump voter. And say what you will about Roseanne's show; her writers have done a better job of explaining just why someone in the industrial Midwest would have voted that way than some political pundits have been able to do in 18 months.
"He talked about jobs," Roseanne Conner responds when sister Jackie asks how she could have supported Trump. Roseanne then goes on to explain that, presumably under the previous administration, the Conner family had come close to losing its house.
The message was clear: We struggle financially. We're tired of that. He said he'd change things, and we believed him. Why would anyone assume the fictional Roseanne would have voted any other way? To coin an overused phrase, all politics is local. Regardless of anything else the character might have given up to fill out her ballot the way she did, of course, to her, the promise of better employment, and better pay, would have taken precedence.
Here's another thing that critics and fans alike seem to be missing: Credit for the reboot's success should be given to the writers. Yes, the actors are talented -- some more than others. (Laurie Metcalf and John Goodman are treasures, and Sara Gilbert's pretty good, too). But the people who put words in their mouths, including the brilliant Wanda Sykes, are the ones who are charged with keeping the show from being Roseanne Barr's mouthpiece, and so far, they've achieved balance.
I'm going to keep watching "Roseanne" because it's a funny show. I'm eager to see how the writers handle Johnny Galecki's character, and how the whole surrogacy thing plays out. And just as people on the right, and the president himself, pointed out during awards season, it's pretty silly to base one's political decisions on the opinions of people in Hollywood. That's rational thinking, and it shouldn't change simply because the actor in question wears a MAGA shirt.
Sunday, March 4, 2018
Saturday, October 14, 2017
Monday, August 14, 2017
Self-esteem is a funny thing. You think yours is in good shape, and then something floors you and you realize you still need to do some work.
I was at the gym tonight, trusting my trainer as he added weight to the bar on the rack in front of me. He'd slide plates on, clip them, unclip them, slide them off, and replace them with heavier ones. We'd talk a bit as I rested, and then I'd duck under the bar, settle it on my shoulders, and lift whatever he'd served up for me.
And I'd sit down and stand up, over and over, with the bar on my back. And then I'd put it down and swing a really heavy (to me) kettle bell 20 times, and then we'd repeat the cycle.
And in the midst of conversation, he said, "You know, if you trained for another year or so, you could totally compete."
And my first thought, despite the degree to which I like to think I've evolved, was, "What? I'm not athletic. And I'm too old."
And then: "I've gained some weight back. I'm too heavy to do this. If this fat weren't slowing me down, well, then, maybe. Really, though -- no way."
But like a shy little girl, I responded, "Really? You think I could do that?"
"Sure," he replied. "You're strong and you're competitive. And you have a great work ethic. You have a ways to go, and I'd need to look up what's going on and when, but, yeah. You could totally do it."
We have a history, my body and I. It's been sick and it's been healthy. It spent a lot of years carrying too much weight for its heart to handle, and then it spent a little while -- thanks to the physiological and emotional support of Weight Watchers -- pleasantly and healthily lean.
And then it became addicted to the leanness, which then became thinness, and then undernourishment as I obsessed over every calorie I put in my mouth. (Example: I wouldn't swallow a vitamin unless I could look it up and determine its calorie content.)
This body has forever sought to find its equilibrium. And a few months ago, as I found myself agonizing over every morsel, I thought, enough. I was just tired of it all. And I joined a class at the gym and decided I'd try to shift my focus from the size of my body to the strength of my body.
And I found I liked lifting heavy things. Running has always appealed to me, but I run a certain distance and then I stop; I can't seem to motivate myself past a certain point. Strength training, though, seemed to be different. I watched as my form improved. I recognized in the mirror the dancer's body I hadn't seen since I was 18; the lean shoulders. The strong legs. A body too stocky to have developed into a ballerina's body, to be sure, but sturdy and capable in its movements.
I developed definition in my biceps. My balance began to improve. My pesky, weaker left quadriceps muscle began to respond. And, lo and behold, I began to want to fuel this new body with the food it needed -- not withhold from it, but feed it good food. Not punish myself for being hungry, but listen and respond appropriately when my stomach growled.
I felt a connection with the trainer teaching the class; smart and kind, he reminded me somewhat of my son. He was knowledgeable and committed and knew how to push me to do just enough, but not too much. So when the gym offered a great personal-training deal, I signed up.
And that takes me to tonight. And Grant, whom I believe and trust, was telling me I could possibly do this amazing thing, and after the doubt passed, I thought: "Yes. Just say 'yes.' Pretend you're encouraging your children, who you know are capable of tackling any challenge. Don't worry about the potential for failure. Set a goal, and commit to working toward it."
I'm a capable mother, a capable employee, a capable friend. I'm confident in my talents and in my ability to contribute to all facets of life in which I'm involved. I love building others up, mentoring them, helping to develop their skills and their confidence. And yet sometimes when I look inward -- all too often when I look inward -- I see the girl who was awkward and shy and chosen last for kickball. I feel her sense of being "less than." And I hear the voice that says, "You can't."
But tonight reinforced that indeed I can. I can lift heavy weights -- not above my head, but on my shoulders. And much more importantly, I can share the weight of my own challenges, my own frailties. I can let go of the need for perfection and be proud of myself for trying so hard to be healthy.
"You alone are enough," Maya Angelou wrote. "You have nothing to prove to anybody." I can remind my children of that. Someday, God willing, I'll sit on the front porch with my grandson and remind him of that.
And tomorrow, I'll hoist that bar again. And I'll remind myself.
Sunday, June 4, 2017
My niece got married yesterday. I adore her, and I adore her sister. They're my nieces by marriage, and they've remained my nieces through divorce.
I'm a fairly quiet person. And when you're quiet, you tend to hear things. I was at the gym today, basking in the glow of last night's wedding festivities, when I overheard a couple of women in the locker room talking about upcoming nuptials, presumably those of the daughter of one of them. "It's a good thing (husband's name) and I have been married so long; on his side, there are just marriage failures," she said.
I walked away because my buzz was killed, and I didn't want to hear more. The comment made me so sad. But as I walked home, started to feel angry. It was the word "failure" that set me off.
My first marriage, to my nieces' uncle, didn't succeed. We were young and made mistakes, a great many of them mine. No offense intended to my husband or my ex-husband's wife, but the divorce is my greatest regret because of the toll it took on our children.
But no one can convince me divorce equals failure -- primarily because of those children, and the hope that's evident within them as they embark on their own marriages, and the strength we continue to demonstrate as a family unit -- a nontraditional one, but a unit nonetheless.
We weren't always this functional; it took a long time for us to get to this point, and in the process, the kids sustained a lot of hurt. My ex and I lashed out at one another, pushed buttons in any way we could, and behaved in some really immature and ridiculous ways. But I choose to focus on the fact that eventually, we figured out how to relate to one another as parents -- "for the kids" as they say, but also for the sake of our own emotional health. It's not good to hate someone, especially the other person with whom you created two wonderful and deeply loved humans.
Here's what I wish I had told the woman in the locker room today about children of "failed" marriages:
- They don't know only failure, and they don't see their parents as failures. Of course, given the choice, I daresay every child of parents who split up wish their dads and moms had worked out their differences and found a way to stay together. But children of divorce often witness the strength of single parents and benefit later on from the tenacity that was being built while they weren't aware any "life lessons" were going on. They learn to be financially responsible because money is often tight. They learn to appreciate what they're given because chances are someone had to work like hell to give it to them.
- They seek out and value honesty, and their emotional maturity is well developed because of it. By far, the most difficult conversations in my life were the ones my children and I had when they became young adults and questioned exactly why their dad and I divorced. You want your children to adore you, and it's a risk to allow them to see that you're capable of having been a pretty flawed human being. But in most cases, if they know they're not being lied to, they can evaluate, and they can -- thankfully -- forgive.
- They can, and often do, go on to have solid marriages of their own -- precisely because they're determined to prevent the problems that took down their parents' unions. My son and daughter, married three and two years, respectively, insist on communication in their marriages, and on heading off small issues before the problems are allowed to become big ones.
I wish the locker-room women could know my family. At niece Alli's wedding reception last night, I sat at a table with my ex, his wife, my son, and his ex's sons. (My nieces and their parents still welcome me as family and not an "outlaw" -- a something about which I'll always be grateful). We talked and laughed -- not to impress anyone with our "example," but because we like one another and enjoy spending time together. A funny thing happens when your divorce is several years in the past; the brain pushes the bad stuff to the back and highlights the attributes in that person that allowed you to want to marry him or her in the first place. My ex is kind and funny. He's a wonderful son and brother, and a loving father. That's all I see now.
I wish they could also have seen something else. Alli's parents are divorced as well, and as her dad, Bob, began his father-of-the-bride toast, the first person he credited was Alli's mom, Phyllis, for instilling the values in Alli that made her the lovely woman she is. He praised Phyliis in a way you'd expect to hear a man praise a woman whom he continues to value, admire, and respect. It was beautiful and spoke volumes not only about Bob as a person, but about the union that created my nieces -- a union that could in no way be regarded as a failure.
We all know of marriages that are simply toxic; the partners can't abide one another but remain together. One could call this admirable; there's much to be said for placing a value on commitment. But I also ask myself what's to be gained from the resentment and martyrdom that might exist in those marriages. In those cases, does "staying together for the kids" benefit those children, or does it adversely impact their views of what marriage can be? I can't pretend to know. Would staying with my ex have harmed the kids in the long run? Could we have worked things out? We'll never know; we can simply continue to move forward, doing the best we can.
But, please, gym ladies and everyone else: Don't automatically judge divorced parents, and don't automatically consider their children as somehow "less than." My children and my niece are extraordinary, if I do say so myself. In the case of my kids, I used to tell people they were fabulous "in spite of" their dad and me, but I've seen things differently for a while now. Their dad and I chose one another, and we chose to create them, and we're pretty decent individuals, so our son and daughter are pretty great people because of us, as well ... "failure" be damned.
Saturday, August 20, 2016
|My grandmother Teresa, the one with the tiny chair|
I visited my dad's 100-year-old cousin today. (First takeaway from the visit: Please, God, let me have those genes. Not just the longevity, but the one for great hearing and beautiful skin. She looks fabulous and is sharp as can be.)
I've seen Jennie once or twice over 50-plus years, but Dad had a lot of cousins and everyone was scattered, so the children and grandchildren of those cousins don't all know one another. I recognize the surnames; besides Lavias, there are DeFinos and Sodas and Romeos and Punellis and many more that I can't recall. I'm friends on Facebook with first and second cousins I've seen probably only once, if at all.
I'm curious about this side of the family. On my mom's side, we were closer; I grew up very attached to my aunt and saw my Nana quite often. I look like that side of the family, and for whatever reason, I feel more connected to them.
But the Lavia genes are in there, too. The curls. The tendency to ruminate. The slender-ish legs and big bellies. The introversion. No doubt I'm my dad's daughter.
But Dad didn't talk much about his family, and I've always wanted to know so much more. So when Jennie sent me a photograph of my paternal grandparents after she cleared out her house to move into an assisted living community, I wanted to do better than send a thank-note.
She seemed happy I wanted to visit. I hope that when I left, she was as happy as I was that I had come.
I was delighted to listen to her talk. She showed me photos of her family, told me of her childhood in Des Moines and Chicago and about a boy who was sweet on her when she was 15. She told me about my dad and his brothers as young men -- "good-lookin', every one of them."
She brought to life relatives I'd never known. My paternal grandfather, her uncle and godfather, who died when I was 4, was a carpenter at Mercy Hospital just north of downtown and walked to and from work; sometimes she'd meet him on the sidewalk and talk to him a little before she reached his house. He was so talented with his hands and could build anything, she said. (This made me laugh at the memory of my unhandy dad, who relied an awful lot on duct tape.)
She loved my uncle, my dad's oldest brother -- the one my dad seemed to see and speak to in the days before he died. His name was Emilio, but he was called E.A. or Tony or Milly; in World War II, he was a prisoner of war in Japan. He survived, but died young, in his 50s. I was 9.
"Tony was the handsome one; since he lived in California, you know, he probably could have been in movies," Jennie said. "We were the same age, so he would have been 100, too. And probably would have still looked good."
She remembered, vaguely, my dad's little sister, who died tragically at age 5, and that the family was never quite the same afterward.
My dad, she said, was the funny little one who followed his older brothers around and was close to his mother, who died when he was 16. In what was, for me, the sweetest part of the conversation, Jennie described the grandmother I never knew as being "tired, you know, with all those boys running her ragged, and with cooking all the time, and she was sick so much."
She brought my grandmother to life for me by describing the tiny rocking chair that was hers; she was only about 4 feet 9 or 10 inches tall, and it was a chair made for a child. She would have rocked my dad in that little chair.
Jennie talked about her life, too; how difficult it had been a few years ago to bury her son, who died of lung cancer; how much she still misses her parents and the siblings she's lost. How difficult it was to leave her home on the south side, to sell or give away many of her possessions and try to find space in her tiny apartment for the others she couldn't bear to part with. How the new place is fine, but it's not home.
When I was young, I had relatives in, as we called them then, nursing homes. I didn't visit those relatives enough. And although I saw my dad several times a week, there were instances in which I complained about visiting him because I believed myself to be too busy.
Maybe it's because of the degree to which I miss him, and my aunt, and my grandparents, and all the others who are no longer around to tell me the stories I crave hearing. Maybe it's because in my line of work, I understand the value of older adults and their stories. Whatever the reason, I'm unspeakably grateful for today.
And I'll keep going to see Jennie as long as she'll have me.
Thursday, August 11, 2016
He had me at horse heads.
It was my first day at my new job. First day in a new industry. I was nervous. Had I made the right decision? Would people like me, and would I like them?
I walked up and down rows of cubes, my manager introducing me to my new co-workers. And at the end of one row was a dark office.
"Charles sits there," my manager said. "He's traveling, but you'll meet him soon. Charles is a character. You'll like him."
I peeked inside the partially open door and saw ... horse heads, At least a dozen of them. Not the heads of real horses, thankfully, but various and sundry heads. Ceramic ones. Plaster ones. Drawings. Paintings.
I had noticed no one else kept a lot of personal effects in their work spaces. I planned to, so I knew that in spite of the fact that I wasn't really a horse person, I'd likely have something in common with this guy.
It took about a second to realize my hunch was right. Charles showed up a week later, an imposing figure in a too-big sport jacket and too-big pants. I was in the break room, putting together my breakfast.
"Girl, that looks good!" he said, eyeing my food. "I'm Charles Hall, and as you might guess, I like to eat."
We talked that morning as if we'd known each other for a long time. I learned he was in the midst of losing weight -- he was down 50 pounds despite almost-constant travel, and as I had some upcoming travel on my schedule as well, he shared some tips.
He told me that yes, he loved horses, and his children, and his grandchildren, and his work. He was a nurse who served as the organization's director of clinical excellence, and his passion for his job was evident.
I quickly came to realize passion was an integral part of Charles. Whether it was a team member's birthday, recognition of an award someone had received or simply a sunny day, Charles celebrated.
He delivered handmade birthday and anniversary cards to every team member, and probably to every resident in every community our company owned. He was a giver of gifts -- meaningful ones -- and he expected and desired no recognition for his generosity.
He was the first to volunteer to help with a project and the last to leave an event. Often, whether or not the occasion called for it, he wore a tuxedo, He owned three, he told me, in various colors.
When Christmastime drew near during my first year in that job, Charles became aware that a team member was in the midst of some personal difficulties, including financial issues. Charles didn't ask for details -- all he needed to hear was that because of a situation beyond a child's control, that child probably would not have much under the tree on Christmas morning.
Quietly, he slipped the team member an envelope of money, enough for presents and a tree. He insisted the team member accept it, and his only demand was that no one be told.
It doesn't matter who knows now, sadly, as Charles isn't around to hear the praise that would certainly surround and embarrass him. He passed away this week, after a cancer battle that he fought with a few trusted friends by his side. He had limited any news of his daily struggles to a small group, so as not to trouble anyone or disrupt life at the office, and his quick decline was devastating to many.
Companies often invest a great deal of time and resources in something they call "culture." I've worked for a lot of organizations, and all of them either took pride in or were working to enhance their cultures -- essentially, their environment. Their ambiance. What it feels like to work in that space. The "face" team members show to each other and to the external community.
It struck me as Charles fought his fight that although the people who loved him would surely miss his compassion and passion and consistent drive to make everything and everyone around him better, entire groups of people -- whether their members knew him well or not -- would be deprived of the way Charles impacted entire cultures. And that's a shame.
It also struck me that companies could learn much from the example that Charles didn't even know he was setting. Everything was organic with him; it wasn't "let's put a plan together" to improve this or that.
It simply came down to the fact that he was a naturally kind and loving person. His faith was a part of that -- not just what he believed, but the way he lived that faith. It was with selflessness, a deep desire to do unto others.
And then, it was the fact that it didn't occur to him, thank goodness, to censor himself. He loved, genuinely and openly. He didn't care who was watching, or whether he might be judged.
Charles also didn't care about being right. He probably didn't care a lot about being successful as "success" is defined by others. He dressed professionally, but didn't care about labels. If he wanted to wear cowboy boots, he wore cowboy boots. He was proud of his bald head, saying -- along the lines of the Velveteen Rabbit -- that he had lost every hair worrying about someone he loved.
Charles wasn't about exteriors. He cared about making others feel loved. Valued, Treasured, even.
Three months ago, I left the company at which Charles and I had worked together, Business is business; needs and positions change. Opportunities present. People leave jobs, and the world goes 'round.
But leaving was tough, and I was hurting. I missed many people with whom I had formed close relationships. Charles and I had exchanged notes, and he understood and validated the reasons for my sadness.
One day shortly after I started my new position, I arrived home to find a gift on my front porch. I opened it, and it was personal and lovely.
The card, though, is something I'll carry with me always. It's something that will influence the way I treat people. The way I view and try to influence that intangible thing we call "culture."
It was handmade, of course, and signed with a flourish.
"Don't forget," Charles had written, "that you really, really mattered."
Charles: I dearly hope that you know, from your new vantage point, how very much you did, too.