Friday, April 29, 2011

Me and my colon

When you write a blog, you often straddle a fine line between coming up with things that are interesting and telling people too much. This time, I know, right off the bat, that I'm erring on the side of the latter, and I apologize in advance. But I really hope you keep reading.

On my mom's side -- and even, to some degree, my dad's -- my family is a crazy-quilt of cancers. So when I started experiencing some vague new symptoms, my doctor insisted we check them out. Her preferred mode of investigation? To my chagrin, a colonoscopy.

That idea didn't thrill me. I had planned to start colon screenings at age 50, but I'm not there yet, so the possibility of having to go through something so scary-sounding hadn't been something I'd had to consider. I agreed with my doctor, though, that it was foolish not to try to get to the bottom (ha!) of some alarming things my body was doing.

I especially agreed after I -- as I tend to do -- turned myself loose on Internet medical sites. According to every site I Googled, my symptoms certainly pointed to stage IV colon cancer, and I had but weeks to live. I tend to be quite the cyberchondriac, so when the doctor's office scheduled my procedure for the very near future, I was terrified but relieved.

Friends who already had experienced colonoscopies had told me that at the bowel prep a patient must undergo the day before the procedure is far worse than the procedure itself, and they were right. For advice about this part of the process, I leaned hard on Annette, a co-worker who is well-versed in such issues, primarily due to the tragic loss of her much-loved brother to colon cancer months ago.

Annette has turned her grief into vocal advocacy for colon-cancer screenings, and she shared with me her bag of tricks. I won't tell you I can't wait to drink another gallon of salty sludge, but Annette's helpful hints made the whole thing slightly more palatable. (And she and another co-worker, Patti, even sent me off with a bang by having me drink my first of 16 glasses before I left work, and cheering me on as I gulped.)

The rest of the night was challenging, but I also tend to be a huge wuss when it comes to dealing with an upset stomach. So suffice it to say I got through it, and you will, too. I even was able to eke out a great night's sleep, then wake to watch much of the Royal Wedding. A win-win, indeed.

This morning, Kevin and I arrived at the office of Dr. Charles Larson, a man I recognized from the photo his staff had sent me (inexplicably, on a bookmark-type thing) in a "welcome to our office!" packet. I was happy that he shares a first name with my late father, but disconcerted that he looks a whole lot like the individual who fired me from a job long ago (and was fired himself months later; ha!).

I needn't have worried, though: Counting even my children's former pediatricians, I had never encountered such a happy, jolly, laid-back guy. His genuine manner and reassuring tone told me I was in good hands (and, I also hoped, steady ones).

The nurses asked me some questions; then I changed into a gown and was covered with the most heavenly, thick, warm blankets. Another nurse started an IV, and I was wheeled into the "procedure room." Something wonderful began to flow into my right arm through the IV, and I started laughing at my own jokes. Dr. Larson walked in and laughed with me, and the next thing I knew, Kevin was sitting next to me, telling me it was time to get dressed.

Yes, that's right. I remember nothing about my colonoscopy. It didn't hurt; I didn't feel pressure, see blood, or throw up. Unfortunately, I also don't recall a thing Dr. Larson told me, but Kevin does; and thankfully, I also was provided with a written report of the findings.

The result: Despite the many Internet warnings to the contrary, I don't have colon cancer. Not even close. Like millions of other people, I have a pretty benign issue that was fairly easily explained and resolved. I'll return in three years to make sure all remains well.

In some ways, life is a crap shoot (no pun intended). Sometimes the healthiest people are struck down by the least likely diseases; other times, heart attacks fell marathon runners. But it's also becomingly increasingly the case that medical science can predict and prevent some cancers that remain among the deadliest.

And colon cancer is one of them: It's the third-most-common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, 101,700 new cases of colon cancer and 39,510 new cases of rectal cancer will be diagnosed this year. But did you know that if you're diagnosed with a stage 0 or 1 colon cancer -- which can be indicated early by a tiny polyp, as many of us have -- your survival rate is believed to lie somewhere between 95 percent and 100 percent?

I was frightened to undergo a colonoscopy -- not because of the organ involved, as I'm not the least bit prudish about those things -- but because I was terrified to face the possibility that something might really be wrong. Thanks to people like Annette, I was able to push it aside and determine that knowing was better than not knowing, and that I liked those early-diagnosis odds just fine.

And seriously: I'm no stranger to medical procedures, and this one was, hands-down, the easiest I've ever experienced.

So I'm lounging on the couch tonight, watching a Royal Wedding recap and picking at some snacks here and there. My stomach is a little sore, but that's nothing compared to the sense of gratitude I feel -- not only that I'm all right, but that perhaps someone who happens to be reading this and who has been experiencing a little pain or a little bleeding won't be afraid to visit the doctor.

Bottom line (again, no pun intended): If you know me, you know what a drama-queen weenie I am. If I can do it, you can do it. And, friends -- you will love those drugs.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Be nice, or go to your room

A few years ago, it was popular to repost those "All I need to know, I learned in kindergarten"-type lists. I think it's just about that time again.

It's been a grouchy couple of weeks at work. And at the doctor's office. And in the grocery-store checkout line. And by "grouchy," I mean that an inordinate number of people are behaving in ways that would have gotten me sent to my room as a child to "think about the way you're behaving and come out when you're ready to be nice."

The cause? The weather, maybe. After all, the pre-spring blahs are no fun. Sure, we just celebrated a holiday, but there's no day off associated with it. And it's a long time till Memorial Day. Then there's the fact that we all have a ton of things to do, and not enough hours in the day to get them done. But still ...

Do people really think that treating others badly will do anything positive for them? I realize people don't often quote ex-spouses in blog posts, at least not in a non-nasty way, but my ex-husband often used to admonish my (occasional) snits with, "Remember that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." And he was right.

The way we treat others is often a reflection of something that's happening in our lives; I get that. But if I respond in a not-nice way to the guy in the cubicle across from me, that's not going to make me feel better, and it's sure not going to make him feel better. It's only going to ratchet up the tension of the day, and we all spend too much time at work to be miserable while we're there.

Not to mention: Yes, I make mistakes sometimes. Yes, I lose things. Yes, I occasionally fire off an e-mail without thinking about the fact that it's going to make me sound sanctimonious as all get-out. But guess what, hypothetical co-worker or neighbor or nurse in my doctor's office or tax accountant? Chances are you do those things, too. And I can't think of the last time I was snotty to someone for making an honest mistake.

Little Mary Sunshine, I'm not. But really, folks -- does it take that much effort to issue a pleasant greeting and a smile when you start your day? (About as much extra effort, I think, as it takes to type 'y-o-u' instead of 'u' while text messaging. But I digress.) Clerk at McDonald's, when I stop for my morning caffeine, that means you. Thank me when I give you my money -- the same way I thank you when you give me my Coke.

I'm simply tired of the grouchiness. So in a meager effort to combat it, I'm reposting -- yes -- "All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten" by Robert Fulghum. Read it, then go be nice to someone. I dare you. And if you don't want to: Please, just stay in your room.
  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don't hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don't take things that aren't yours.
  • Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Flush.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  • Live a balanced life -- learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
  • Take a nap every afternoon.
  • When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
  • Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
  • Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup -- they all die. So do we. (You've heard the saying: 100 years from now, all new people.)
  • And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned -- the biggest word of all: LOOK.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Dear Home Depot: Do you really have to be open on Easter?

One of my co-workers, Travis, works a part-time job. He and I share a cubicle wall, and I heard him talking this morning about being scheduled to work that job, at Home Depot, on Easter.

I was incredulous. But I don’t know why I should have been.

(A warning: My age is going to show in this blog post like a pair of purple panties under a pair of white linen pants. You’ve been warned.)

What has happened to family holidays? I’m not even talking Christian-versus-non-Christian observation here, but a family holiday – a day when stores are closed, work isn’t completed, movies aren’t showing in theaters, and people play board games or hang out on the couch watching bad TV. I haven’t seen one of those for a long time.

When I was little, that’s all there were. We’d wake up, go to Mass, and then the relatives would come. We’d talk, eat, talk some more, eat, play some games, half-heartedly watch whatever sport or “big-event” movie was on TV, and call it a day.

Even as I grew older, holiday rules didn’t change. I distinctly remember having to stretch my phone cord long enough to hide in my bedroom closet and sneak a phone call with my high-school boyfriend. Each of us, you see, had strict Catholic parents who had forbidden anything non-family-related on Easter.

And Good Friday – that was even more intense, from an isolated-with-the-family standpoint. When I was little, between the time we woke up and when we attended Stations of the Cross, we could do little but read quietly. We couldn’t even think of turning on the TV or the radio; out of respect for the suffering of Jesus, we had to have lengthy “quiet time.” I remember vividly that when 3 o’clock came around, I was so (uncharacteristically) happy to head to church.

But now – well, here it is, Good Friday, and most of us went to work. (Not everyone is Christian, so that makes sense, but I still would have liked to see the workday world stop for just one day.) My mother-in-law is here from Illinois, so we’re not likely to have quiet time; tonight will be spent playing cards and probably doing some shopping.

Tomorrow, my 14-year-old stepson has ball games all day; strangely enough, ball tournaments really don’t even constitute “family time,” as I sit in the bleachers and talk with the moms as my husband stands and paces several feet away. We’ll be cold and cranky, and by the end of the day we’ll be too wiped to interact with anyone, even those in our own house.

We’ll do Mass and a family meal with the relatives on Easter; my kids will come from their colleges and spend a few hours before rushing back to their activities. Later on, I’ll catch up on some writing and some laundry and get ready for the week.

None of this is bad or detrimental in any way, really; we’re not disregarding the holiday. But to most people these days (“these days”? Told you I’d show my age), a holiday is simply another excuse to play catch-up, and we’re no exception.

I was easily bored as a child, and in no way would I want to go back to quiet Good Fridays; yes, we had the day off school, but what was the point if you couldn’t watch Betty Lou and the House with the Magic Window?

At the same time, though, I miss seeing my grandma walk into our house with platters of baked goods and tell us in hushed tones that Easter is the best day of the whole year, because "on this day, Jesus rose from the dead and proved to his detractors that he really was the son of God."

That was a holiday. Here’s what’s not a holiday: Knowing that Home Depot is open so we can stop and pick up a gallon of paint if we absolutely can’t wait till Monday. Even if the store is festooned with cardboard eggs and bunnies, it’s just another indicator that not everything changes for the better.

Monday, April 18, 2011

I have a hater.

I wrote an editorial that appeared in the paper yesterday, and people who read the Register online have the opportunity to leave anonymous comments in a forum designed to encourage conversation. I appreciate and support the need for such a forum, but I was taken aback by the fact that someone who commented after reading the piece really doesn’t like my work and decided to share that fact publicly.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t expect everyone to like my work. In fact, I sometimes don’t like my work. But I was also raised with regard for people’s feelings and taken to lunch at Younker’s Tea Room by a grandmother who insisted I wear gloves, so I’m always a bit surprised when someone chooses to behave rudely, especially in public.

As a writer, when something big happens in my life, I usually choose to, well, write about it. It helps me process the event and sleep better at night – and if my experiences can end up helping someone else, so much the better. I don’t expect valentines in return, and I’m perfectly OK with the fact that some people choose not to read my work. I’m also grateful – seriously – for people who offer constructive criticism. “I’m tired of reading about your dad” is a fair statement; “Your sentences are too long” is another. Those are comments that can help me do better.

But my hater said this:

“You should be embarassed (sic) about your ignorance about hospice and the services it provides. You seem to have made quite a career of being ignorant and then seeing the light.”

He or she is right about the fact that I should be embarrassed about my ignorance regarding hospice, and I had said as much in my editorial. But the second part: wow. Unless this person knows me, how can he or she know anything about my career, or the issues about which I’ve been ignorant and have then “seen the light”?

If the hater has been following me long enough to notice a pattern in my work, then – thanks, Hater, I guess. Chances are, as my husband pointed out, this person probably derives some sort of satisfaction from leaving anonymous comments on public forums. But here’s the thing: I looked the person up on the Register’s website, and he or she usually leaves comments that are in agreement with my views on numerous social and political issues. So, chances are I’d get along with this person in real life, and that makes this worse.

I was involved in a mini-workshop at my office last year that involved answering a series of questions, the answers to which were used to determine our strengths in the workplace. The result was that I’m a relationship-builder; I relate to people on an emotional level. I care about their lives. I want them to be healthy and happy. I know the names of their children and pets. And I tend to share quite a bit with the people in my life.

Thus, I’m not at all thick-skinned; in fact, I can be somewhat of a wuss. I don’t take it to the extreme: I don’t expect all, or even most, people to like me. But I expect them to treat me fairly, and I sure don’t expect them to be mean, especially in public.

Some well-known newspaper writers generate pages and pages of comments every day, and not all of them are positive. Many are personally directed, and I can see how they would hurt. I notice these writers in the skywalks around my office, and they don’t look upset. They obviously know how to handle this kind of thing just fine, and I need to suck it up and learn from them.

At the same time, though, Hater, if you happen to be reading this, help a girl out. If you think I can do better, tell me how. And if you don’t have anything constructive to say, as my grandmother would have instructed you, please don't say anything at all. Because really, for all of us, the world is difficult enough to navigate without being tripped up by someone who hurts feelings just for the heck of it.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Does this mean we're not BFFs anymore?

I’ve always prided myself on having raised children with overactive consciences. If anything, they’ve been guilty of over-sharing – telling me things about long-ago exploits about which I could easily have gone to my grave not knowing. But I love that they’ve always felt comfortable sharing details about their lives and knowing I probably wouldn’t overreact. For the most part, I don’t think I ever have.

But today, I realized that perhaps things may be changing. One of them was texting with me today, and the conversation turned to a person he or she is getting to know – not dating, per se, but spending time with. I asked my child how things are going, and the child responded, “Great!” I typed back, kiddingly: “You could fill your mother in sometime…” and my child responded, “Nope!” I prodded a bit, but the child said, “Seriously, stop.” And that was that.

Both my children are in college, so such a response is normal and expected; I get that. And don’t get me wrong – I don’t want or expect intimate details, and of course the kids haven’t offered any. But the fact that my children have always discussed incidents and emotions so easily with me has been a source of great joy as a parent, as I knew each one of them felt he or she could rely on my support. I’m uneasy about the possibility that the “over-sharing valve” may be shut off.

This subtle shift is also a reminder that I really, truly will have to rely more heavily on my own life as a source of interest and enjoyment in the years ahead. Is this how the midlife crisis signals its arrival? (That would be OK, numerically speaking, because if this is truly “midlife,” I’ll live till my mid-90s.) I’m no longer the heavily needed parent; sure, they’ll humor me by allowing me to take them to dinner, but do they really need me? Let’s be honest: not really. They can feed and dress themselves, forage for food, do their own homework. They remember, presumably, to lock the door and turn off the stove burners.

If, God forbid, something happened to me, they’d be fine, and that thought brings me comfort; isn’t that what all parents want? But at the same time, I want them to continue to reach for the phone to share, commiserate, or simply hear a kind word from the person who loves them the very most.

So maybe I’ll simply give that child a taste of his or her own medicine. Maybe when the child calls and asks me to give up some detail of my own life, I’ll simply respond, “Nope!” It will serve him or her right to miss out on stories about work or the laundry or the furnace or my dentist appointment.

But seriously, I know this is probably a good thing. We’ve all seen what sometimes happens to children whose mothers and fathers are more concerned with being their friends than being their parents. Boundaries can be a good thing, and I guess I’m glad that my relationships with my kids do tend to possess healthy ones.

At the same time, though: “Nope!”? That’s just cold. Let’s see how that child feels when I flat-out refuse to spill the beans about my perfect triglyceride level.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The "transgendered identity politics" of little boys who like hot-pink nails

So, more ridiculousness. The president of the J. Crew clothing company is being raked over the coals for painting her son’s toenails.

Why? Because, of course, some people assume she is “trying to make her son gay.”

As I noted in a previous post, I’m really darned certain that one person can’t turn another person gay. That makes it doubly foolish that the ad that features the woman, Jenna Lyons, is upsetting so many people. The story was, in fact, one of the lead news items on the Today Show this morning.

The ad is here:

Yep, Ms. Lyons seems to have painted her son’s toenails, and the photo of her having done so is accompanied by a quote regarding how lucky she is to have a son who loves hot pink. She’s a pretty woman, and the little boy, Beckett, is cute. They look really happy. All in all, it’s a visually pleasing ad.

But read these comments from other blogs and media outlets:

  • “Social conservatives are accusing the popular clothing brand of trying to turn kids gay. Commentator Erin Brown of the right-leaning Media Research Center went so far as to call the ad ‘blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children.’ She also accused J. Crew of exploiting Lyons' son for its liberal agenda.”
  • "J.Crew, known for its tasteful and modest clothing, apparently does not mind exploiting Beckett behind the facade of liberal, transgendered identity politics.”
  • “Yeah, well, it may be fun and games now, Jenna, but at least put some money aside for psychotherapy for the kid—and maybe a little for others who’ll be affected by your 'innocent' pleasure. This is a dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity."
“Liberal, transgendered identity politics”? Puh-leeze. I look at the ad and see a happy little boy who probably simply likes looking down at his feet and seeing a bright color, and a happy-looking mom who appears to adore her son and be totally fine with painting his nails. That’s pretty much all I see.

And, thankfully, some smart people agree with me. According to ABC News:

“Advocacy groups and some medical professionals are dismissing the uproar as ridiculous. Dr. Jack Drescher of the American Psychiatric Association tells ABC there is no scientific evidence to suggest painting a young boy's nails pink can make him gay or transgendered when he grows up.”

When my son, Scott, 22, was 4,he loved makeup and nail polish. He would ask me to paint his nails, and I’d happily do it. He also loved costumes and would cry unless I’d agree to pin his Batman cape to his clothing and allow him to wear it everywhere we went. He also enjoyed art and music and hockey and dogs and Ninja Turtles.

In short, he was a little boy with a variety of interests. Now he’s a man with a variety of interests. Oh, and by the way, he happens to be heterosexual. (Those who know me know that if he happened to be homosexual, that would be awesome as well, but for the sake of illustrating the lack of relationship between toenail-painting and sexual preference, I’m simply pointing out that in Scott’s case, there wasn’t one.)

We also knew, when my kids were little, a boy who loved to dress like a girl. He would come over to play with Scott, but would raid Caroline’s closet and hang out in a princess costume and heels. His parents, not thrilled, forbade him from touching feminine clothing. They dressed him in camo gear and made him go out for football and baseball. He’s in his early 20s now, and despite the athletic overload, he happens to be gay.

The point is: Kids are who they are. They’re pre-programmed with a genetic code, and that code will point them toward Barbie or books or horseback riding or paintball. Later, when they’re older, it will point them toward the people with whom they will fall in love. No amount of camo gear will change that personal compass.

So, Jenna Lyons, good for you, and good for your son. When I look at that ad, I see a relationship that warms my heart and takes me back … and a little boy who knows that he won’t be judged for liking something a little boy isn’t “supposed” to like. That in itself makes me want to order something from J. Crew right now.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Not just another awards ceremony

Think of how many awards ceremonies you've attended in the course of your life.

If you're anything like me, you haven't enjoyed many of them. But let me tell you -- Iowa State University knows how to do awards ceremonies right.

Tonight, I was a guest of my 22-year-old son, Scott, at the VEISHEA and Student Activities Center's Leadership, Faculty/Staff and Organization Recognition Ceremony. Scott is humanities director for the International Student Council, and the group had been informed that its members would be receiving the "Outstanding Commitment to Diversity" award.

Very cool, yes. But even cooler was the fact that the ceremony was really about all the students. It wasn't just an excuse for administrators to tout their own successes; it was really about highlighting just what the kids have done throughout the year to make the campus -- and the world -- a better place.

From the group Scott belongs to, which has organized several events this year to raise awareness of global disasters and world injustice, to a group of construction students who had built handicapped-accessible boat docks and ramps on the Skunk River, these are kids who have spent the year doing more than playing Call of Duty and watching Jersey Shore. 

Iowa State had a lot to be proud of tonight.  And it wasn't a bad night for a proud mom, either.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The world's best reality TV, right here in our back yard

As someone who has very little patience with things that move slowly, I’m surprised that I’m into this eagle thing.

For the benefit of those of you who recently emerged from comas, the “eagle thing” is the Raptor Research Project. It involves a set of cameras trained on a nest of bald eagles in Decorah. Within the past few days, all three eggs in the nest have hatched; the parents take turns sitting on the eaglets, switching off every 45 minutes or so. The parents hunt, bring prey back to the nest, and pick it apart to feed themselves and the babies.

It’s all up close and personal; as I sit at my desk eating my lunch, I’m looking at the eagles’ midday treat: a bloody muskrat in rigor mortis, claws in the air, having its insides dissected by the mother eagle. Appetizing? No. Fascinating? Absolutely.

This is authentic reality TV. Although it sometimes seems suspiciously as if the eagles are playing to the cameras, the devices are located far enough away that the eagles can’t see them; if they do catch a glimpse, they, of course, have no idea what cameras are. So we’re seeing nature at close range, in the way it truly unfolds.

Sometimes it’s pretty darned mundane. The mom and dad sit in the nest, on top of the eaglets, for insanely long periods of time. But occasionally, you catch a glimpse of something that makes you wonder how these two birds could be behaving in a fashion that we would regard as "human."

Case in point: Earlier this week, the dad eagle accidentally caught one of the eaglets in his beak as he was pecking at something in the middle of the nest. As he lifted and turned his head, he flung the baby a few inches, causing him to land frighteningly close to the edge of the nest. A hawk swooped overhead. Cue the dramatic musical score.

But then the mom came back. Settling herself into the nest, she gave the dad a look similar to one I would have given my husband if I had come home from an errand and found that one of my kids had been flung somewhere. She glared, and he flew off; she then proceeded to use her beak to gently maneuver the little guy back where he needed to be.

The instinctual way the eagles care for their young reminds me of the way I reacted when I had my first child. I didn’t have the vaguest idea how to breastfeed, for instance, but as soon as I held my son in the proper position, he seemed to know. I carried the kids in Snuglis and front carriers because the devices seemed to help them feel more secure. And when they cried, I felt a physical reaction down to my core. The eagles seem to have figured out all of this and so much more, and something tells me they don’t second-guess themselves.

Of course, as enjoyable as all this is to watch, there’s also a certain degree of risk involved; statistics tell us for every 20 eagles born, only about three survive their first harsh winter. Chances are pretty good, then, that we may end up witnessing something upsetting and gross. For the time being, though, in a world that moves so fast, it’s nice to train our eyes on something that runs on nature’s time.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

If you wonder where your kid's tuition money really goes ...

...maybe this will make you feel better.

I have two in college right now: one who determined her path when she was in fourth grade and hasn't taken a single detour, and another who -- like many kids, I think -- has taken a while to decide where life will take him.

This weekend, he gave me a glimpse into where he might be going.

On Saturday, the Iowa State campus looked like this. It was a warm day; most students were outside.

Not all students, though.  Some were in Martin Hall, involved in this.

This was the agenda for the event, which was sponsored by the International Student Council.  It included a  fast from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. to help students understand what it feels like to be hungry. The rest of the day's events revolved around educating, discussing, and raising awareness for one of the world's foremost problems. 
The students gathered; some, like my son, were members of the ISC, and some weren't.  Everyone interested in helping to alleviate world hunger was invited to participate.

The students played games; this one was designed to help students experience and understand illiteracy.

It was more difficult than it looked. My son, Scott, sitting on the table, was the moderator.

Although the game was challenging, the students enjoyed it. 

A lot of talking went on that day ... and a lot of listening. Students there represented many countries and many different life experiences. Some had experienced hunger; others, like my son, have never lived more than five or 10 minutes from a McDonald's and always have had money in their pockets for a burger.

This game, Market Madness, gave students a glimpse into the corruption often involved with trading, bartering and purchasing in local markets in developing countries. 

A reporter from the Iowa State Daily arrived to ask questions. 

The tone of the day was serious, but the students got to know each other and enjoyed a sense of shared purpose and camaraderie.

Students who could spare a dollar or two contributed to a relief fund for victims of the recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

All in all, the day was about the importance of finding ways to provide others with a sense of dignity ... no matter where they live, or how much money they have, or how educated they happen to be.

Sometimes college is about nothing more than deciding what kind of beer you're going to drink that night, and where you're going to drink it. And that's OK. But when you're a parent, hoping and praying for a child to be able to support himself or herself in a meaningful capacity, sometimes you wonder what you can do to provide a little more direction.

The answer, I've found, is: nothing. Have faith, and sit back. And one day, you'll realize that everything he's been saying all along is true, and your child -- the one who can expound on European history, the Bolshevik revolution and Che Guevara the way you can expound on 1970s TV theme songs -- is going to be fine. 

In fact, he's going to help change the world.

Friday, April 1, 2011

You were born this way, baby.

“Born This Way” is not a “gay” song, per se – it’s simply affirming. No matter who you are, what your strengths and weaknesses happen to be, or how you happen to look, the lyrics talk about loving yourself the way you are. Not much new there – Christina Aguilera had a song out several years ago, “Beautiful,” that operated under the same premise. But “Born This Way” speaks to listeners a little differently, I think, because of those three simple words: born this way.

When I was in high school, two of my best friends were young men who happened to be gay. When I married my first husband, one of the benefits of that union was my enduring relationship with his brother, who happens to be one of the world’s kindest people, a devoted uncle to my kids, and a drag queen. As my kids have gone through high school and college, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know some wonderful kids who are beginning to come out as gay young adults.

I’m also a Christian. And to borrow liberally from Gaga: God don’t make no mistakes, baby. If you’re gay, it’s because you were born that way.

Those who agree with me may be nodding your heads right now; those who don’t may be unfollowing my blog. And that’s OK; I respect opinions that differ from mine. On this topic, though, I’m pretty darned sure that if you don’t believe as I do, you’re flat-out wrong.

Consider this: When I was in sixth grade, I had crushes on boys: Bob George. The McNamara twins. One or two others, maybe. And at no point did I stop and say to myself: “Wait a minute; I’m at a crossroads here. Do I like Nick … or do I really like Tricia or Julie or Karen?” I loved my female friends, but at no point did I want to kiss them on the lips. I simply knew I liked boys.

But if you feel sexual orientation is a choice, don’t you believe we all must experience that decision-making moment at some point during puberty – perhaps write out a list of pros and cons of playing for one team or the other? If you did that, educate me about it. To my knowledge, that’s never the way it works.

With regard to choice, let’s also consider the fact that coming out does not ever seem to be emotionally easy. Back in 1981, my two gay male friends were sure their parents would disown them if they knew the truth. Suicide rates among gay teens are higher, as we’ve all read, than in the heterosexual population. How terrifying must it be to risk rejection from the very people who are expected to love you unconditionally? What thinking person would choose to take that risk?

Proponents of the “choice” theory have asked me over the years: “How would you feel if your own child turned out to be gay?” They may as well ask me, “How would you feel if one of your children turned out to be blond?” Thankfully, I was raised in such a way that sexual orientation would never be a variable by which I would form an opinion about someone, especially my own child.

One of my favorite teachers in high school was a priest who happened to be gay. He came out to me years later, when I happened to run into him in, of all places, a bar. We talked long into the night, and he told me that although he had kept his vow of chastity since being ordained, he still agonized about living a lie – but he was equally certain that the God he believed in, and the one he had taught me about for four years, had chosen to create him with the genetics that would result in his being gay. He told me about trying to play football to appease his father, and about his mother telling him – after she had found out – that he couldn’t ever let anyone else know, or she would have no option but to kill herself.

A young man, or young woman, would choose to risk that type of reaction from loved ones?

I know a young man who is preparing to have a difficult conversation with his parents. Best-case scenario: Hugs all around after they tell him that they’ve suspected for years and it’s no big deal. Worst-case scenario, and the one he fears: that they’ll send him away to a facility that can “cure” him. Not only does he not want to go away, but he doesn’t want to be cured … because he knows there’s nothing wrong with him.

Yesterday, legislators in Colorado got things dreadfully wrong, killing a measure that would have allowed gay couples to enter into legally recognized partnerships that would have afforded them many of the rights that are currently reserved for married couples. Thankfully, gay marriage still is allowed in Iowa – a fact that continues to make me proud.

But it’s my hope that in my children’s or grandchildren’s lifetimes, people won’t be able to fathom a time when legislation was voted up or down on the basis of something that’s as immutable as the fact that I have green eyes and can’t fold my tongue. It’s all about the genetics … and I hope we’re all graceful enough to be more than a little embarrassed when someone finally figures that out.

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