Monday, March 2, 2015

The Two-Penny Soapbox Hits the Real World!

As many of my readers already know, I used to have the perfect job.

I worked 22 hours a week. I had full-benefits, including healthcare, one week paid time off, partially paid maternity leave, 401K, employee stock program, and regularly offered paid training resource opportunities. What mom wouldn't want a job like that? I got to go be an adult, contribute to our household finances, and could still feel like I was there for my kids whenever they needed me. The job itself might not have been the career I would have chosen for myself, but there was no arguing with the awesome way it let me combine income production and child rearing.

And then in 2010 it all came to an end. I won't go into the minute details here, you can read all about in a previous post: My Job Loss, A personal view from the frontlines of the child care crisis . The long and short of it was that we got a new (male) boss who, unlike our previous (female) boss, hated part-timers. Or at least that was the rumor. The supposed word on the street was that he had been overheard in meetings complaining that part-timers made him mad because he hated having to juggle their schedules and that if they were part-time it meant they weren't truly committed to the company. (As a side note, it would not shock me if his wife was a stay at home mom, because only by being truly alleviated of all reproductive labor (housework, appointments, sick kids, errands, food preparation) could you be blind to the need for part-time work.

And so I was given a choice: I could work from 8:30-6:30 or 6:45 four days a week plus Saturday mornings, or I could resign. The fact that they were offering me another position meant they weren't "technically" firing me.  With two children, and child care needs extending beyond the typical childcare day, working full time wasn't exactly an option. We tightened the purse strings as far as they would go and I resigned.

I had already been an advocate for a healthy work/family balance after writing my master's thesis on the steep increase of stay-at-home mothers in America between 1995 and 2000. But in 2012 I launched this blog, The Two-Penny Soapbox, to discuss the things I saw around me in my day-to-day life that were related to the work/family balance. But after a few years of shouting from my soapbox into the blogosphere (yes, that is an actual word), I decided it was time to do more than talk the talk (don't worry, I will never give up shouting from my soapbox), it was time to get up and walk the walk.

Enter: 9 to 5

For me, when I decided to give time to making real change in the work/family balance there was only ever one choice. The national organization, 9 to 5, was founded in 1973 and has gifted working families with legislation like The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, The Family Medical Leave Act, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in addition to other wins related to increasing minimum wage and decreasing sexual harassment. With a 40+ year history of winning justice for working women (and all families) it was obvious where I wanted to put my time in. As it states in their brochure, "if you are feisty, feel empowered (or want to be), fed up, or all three" then you should join up.

And lucky for me I happened to get in touch with them just in time for their membership drive, which meant memberships were discounted. Awesome, I can help out without breaking our budget! Things were getting better and better.

I put my sassy boots on and headed on over to the membership drive kick-off meeting where I got to meet some phenomenal women, who I am looking forward to getting to know very much. I also got to see what is on their agenda this year, which from the Two-Penny Soapbox's opinion is some pretty inspired stuff.

They are looking at creating an insurance program to pair with the Family Medical Leave act in order to ensure "employees in Colorado are able to provide critical care for themselves and their families without risking their financial stability." They are also looking at legislation for Parental Involvement, ensuring "protected leave when parents must miss work to attend school activities." And lastly, they are continuing the fight to bridge the pay gap between men and women.

So, as you can see, EVERYTHING that the Two-Penny Soapbox stands for! Sign me up!!

And now, dear readers I urge you to take advantage of their current membership drive.
There is no better time to band together and fight for change. Together, 9 to 5 and The Two-Penny Soapbox are doing the important work of changing hearts and minds and that can only be done with a unified voice that includes you. So please, please sign up. Even if you just send $5 and do no more than read my blog you are still helping enact change. But, of course if you want to get involved, there are lots of opportunities to do that too (and feel free to tell them Amie sent you).
As always, it is time to stop worrying about Family Values and start Valuing Families.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Am I fighting a losing battle?

This post was edited by my Snowflake and other than a few changes, everything appears as it was originally written, so please share with anyone you feel needs a reminder that they are beautiful! 

I was so careful.

I thought we had inoculated our children well enough.

I thought that modeling a certain way of thinking could somehow defeat an entire culture hell-bent on destroying my girls' body image.

I was wrong.

This week my heart broke into a thousand million pieces in a matter of seconds, right around bedtime. I climbed up the stairs in order to ascertain whether or not my children were doing what I had asked them to do. Expecting to find all three of them brushing their teeth, I only found two. Heading out in search of my oldest daughter, I found her in her room running in place (something she has been doing fairly often of late).

"What are you doing? You are supposed to be in the bathroom brushing your teeth with your brother and sister."

"I am exercising"

"Exercising? It is 8:30 at night, you are supposed to be settling down and getting ready for bed."

"I have to exercise because I'm fat"

At this point the air was sucked out of my lungs and I felt like I was falling backwards into the abyss of time and space. A dreaded sense of horror filled me to my very core and I could feel the hot pricks of tears behind my eyes.

I took a deep breath and attempted to steady my voice.

"I am sorry, what?"

"Mom, I realized I am too wide. I am much wider than most of my friends. That means I am fat, so I need to exercise so I can be skinny. Look at how round my face is, my friends have skinnier faces."

At this point in the story I feel it is important to point out that as an adopted child who is undeniably and irrevocably built like a square, I am extremely sensitive to this topic. My adopted parents are both tall and slender (read: built like bean-poles) and I spent most of my childhood wondering why it was that I looked like I could eat both of my parents and have room to spare no matter how much weight I lost. It wasn't until I was older that I realized, I am just built "wider," a genetic fact that all the dieting in the world wasn't going to change. It didn't help my self-esteem being immersed in the dance world either. I was always a good enough performer but constantly missing out on opportunities because my "look wasn't quite what they were looking for." Many times I heard at auditions that I was a "great dancer," but my build would "distract from the overall look of the line." Translation: we have all these skinny girls and while you rock as a dancer, you should focus on a solo career where you won't stand out as much.

As a result of my experiences I have spent the last 9 years talking about how much I love my body (true or not), how food is something that fuels your body and should be treated accordingly. In other words, food should be analyzed by how it makes your feel, not how skinny or fat it makes you. I have never controlled food nor have I made kids clean their plates. I have read, studied and emulated every study I could get my hands on promoting positive body image. I thought with enough research, enough dedication, I could protect my girls, or at least insulate them from the cultural obsession with appearances.

I have banned all glossy magazines with unrealistically skinny (read: airbrushed to the point of total fantasy) models and any doll where there proportions are such that they couldn't stand on their own two feet if they were actual real girls. I have never said one negative thing about myself outside of, "I shouldn't have eaten that, it didn't make me feel very good." And, I even forced myself to smile as genuinely as possible and tell my daughter, "thank you" and "Yep, that's how God made me" when she told me that she loved me so much because I was "fatter than Santa," and my "big tummy" made me so snugly and soft (seriously kid? Santa?). Earlier this year she asked me why I was so much "rounder" than most of my friends, and I will admit to dying a little inside, but instead of yelling at her for being disrespectful, I smiled and said, "Well, honey. God just makes all his people different, but we are all beautiful if we act beautiful."


How foolish I was to think I could fight the flood of images and messages thrown at our young girls with just one voice. How stupid I was to think that since she was built like me (unlike me and my adoptive Mom) that she would feel more connected and at home in her own body because I modeled that for her.

How could she feel this way? She is stocky and athletic with wide shoulders and a round face. She is not fat, or even overweight, just built like me, a natural born square. How can I tell her how beautiful she is? Why would she believe me anyway? I am just her mother. I am just someone who "has" to love her, not the rest of society who is giving her a completely different message.

self esteem

I went downstairs and cried. I cried not just for my own daughter, but all the daughters of America. I tried so hard to keep her from it, and here she is at 9 years old asking me if we can go to the gym more so that she can lose weight. What the hell!?!

After I pulled it together and talked with my husband I had a flash of insight. I walked upstairs and told her why I reacted so strongly to her feelings of being "wider" than most of the kids in her class. I told her that it hurt me because I think she is gorgeous just the way God made her. I told her that advertisers make millions of dollars every year by trying to convince her and everyone else that they are not pretty enough. I told her that if every girl saw herself for the beauty she truly is, entire industries would go out of business.

I then tucked both girls into their bunk beds and asked my oldest, "Do you have straight hair?"


"And do you (addressing my middle child) have curly hair?"


"And freckles too, right?"

"Yes. I have freckles."

(back to my oldest) "And do you have freckles?"


"Do you think your sister is pretty with her curly hair and freckles?"

"Yes. Of course."

(turning back to my middle) "And do you think your big sister is pretty with her straight hair and no freckles"

"Yes, I think she is so beautiful."

"So you both think the other one is pretty, but you look nothing alike. You know mommy's friend Miss Julie? She is very, very tall. I think she is pretty. I think I am pretty too, but I am very, very short. So, you can see. We don't all have to look alike to be beautiful. We can look very different. It doesn't help to compare ourselves to other people, just be happy with you. I love you both so much, and I just want you to see what I see when I look at you."

And then I kissed them both goodnight and closed the door, all the while saying a little prayer that some of what I said sunk in. I prayed that somewhere in our country-wide obsession with looks, that my girls can find it within themselves to accept themselves just as they are.

In the meantime, we as a culture need to start being more aware of what messages we are sending. I now know I can't fight this on my own. I need help. We are seeing more and more things in the media like the Dove Self-Esteem project but it still feels like a tiny drop in a raging ocean.

Tell me, do you have or know kids who are struggling with body image? At what age did it start? Is it just affecting girls, or are boys experiencing this too?
I want to hear from you (just remember when commenting on blogger you need to chose the posting choice first- and possibly sign in. If in doubt, do what I do and copy your post so if it gets lost you can just paste it back in)

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Long Suffering Wife (or The Awesome Husband)

It occurred to me that in in all the time of writing my blog, the only real description I have ever provided for my husband (other than mentioning his obsession with gaming politics) was in one of my earliest posts about logic versus emotional argument. After witnessing a conversation between him and my oldest, I realized there is no way you can have a complete picture of his awesome quirkiness if I don't share him with you.

*As an aside; even people who have met him often don't know how bizarre his sense of humor truly is because he is very introverted....not shy. He is perfectly capable of making a fool of himself in public or getting up in front of a crowd. In fact he would prefer to do that then actually talk to someone one on one. As a result many people perceive that he can be rude, stand-offish or arrogant. In fact he is none of those things, he just doesn't want to talk to anyone. In six years he has had exactly five conversations with our neighbors, and none lasting much more than a hello.  And so, the only people who really get to see his real personality are me, the kids, relatives and his co-workers, because the joy/struggle of working with the same people 40 hours a week for years means that you can't hide your personalities from each other. Many of his friends don't even really know how quirky he actually is.

So the conversation that sparked the idea for this post is as follows;

Snowflake: *reading her latest non-fiction book* Dad, did you know there are only 30 Tigers left in the wild in China?"

The Husband (expressionless, as if delivering facts): Yes. That is because they look so tasty. That is why there aren't many left. (licking his lips) Mmm. Mmm.

Snowflake: DAD!! I said there are only 30 Tigers left!!! That isn't funny.

The Husband: Well, after I am done, then there will only be 29 left.

Snowflake: *snapping her book shut and sighing heavily* I am not talking to you about this.

This is not an uncommon conversation in my household. It reminds me of the time that The Husband tried to convince the girls that they were actually hatched from eggs, or when he constantly tells them to stop calling him Dad and call him Uncle Bob or Mommy instead, or when he recently taught my 3 year old son to respond to the question, "Who's your Daddy," with, "The Mailman." *sigh*

Raindrop has a unicorn headband that she is in love with and The Husband insists on treating her as an actual unicorn whenever she is wearing it; including asking her to eat hay, putting her dinner plate on the floor and "trying" to chase her down and capture her.
(Enter Raindrop, wearing her unicorn headband)
The Husband: *gasp* Oh my goodness it is a real life unicorn. (lunging) Grab her.

Raindrop: (ripping the headband off) DAD! Stop it.

The Husband (looking around): Raindrop? I just saw a unicorn! Did you see it? And then it just disappeared, did you see where it went? (she puts the headband back on) *gasp* there it is... Raindrop? Where did you go? I found it!! (he chases after her, both laughing up the stairs).                

His humor, which is both deeply entertaining and deeply irritating at the same time, hinges largely on the fact that every joke or high jinx he gets up to is done with a totally straight face. One day, on a particularly slow day at work, he spent an hour fully convincing one of his co-workers, with a dead pan face that while, yes the sun has always risen in the east, now it rises in the west. By the end of the hour, and a whole bunch of pseudo-physics explanation, the co-worker was convinced that this was quite obviously true. Later the co-worker was clued in by a fellow teammate that her chain was being pulled. The Husband was completely amused and chuckling over the incident which served to propel him through what had originally promised to be an extremely boring day.

He does not do this in any malicious way, and in point of fact his co-workers will often go out of their way to tell me how funny they think he is. Recently, he amused his department with his "sales tactic" for selling Girl Scout cookies, which consisted of picking up our middle daughter's picture with an utterly serious face and saying, "You don't want this little curly haired girl to cry do you?" followed up with, "You know, you haven't purchased cookies from us yet. You know, she is coming to take your daughter to work day soon. I am going to have to tell Raindrop that we aren't allowed to talk to you because you were so mean and didn't buy her cookies. If she doesn't meet her goal, I am going to have to hold you personally responsible" Everyone laughed.....and everyone bought cookies.

A short time ago, in a work meeting the department was asked to introduce themselves, tell how long they had been with the company and a little bit about themselves. After going around the circle with everyone's standard, "I am Joe Smith, I have been here for 2 years and I have 2 dogs." my husband decided to stand up and say, "Hi, I am [The Husband], I am a Taurus, I like holding hands and taking long walks on the beach, my favorite color is grey....oh and I have been here for [X number] of years and I work in [this department]." (for the record his favorite color is green.) Another meeting, which was long enough ago that I no longer remember the exact details, the supervisor mentioned how certain things were "optional" but was vague enough that The Husband chimed in with, "you mean, like pants?"

Now a normal human being would never be able to get away with any of this in the real world. But, there is just something about his irreverent sense of humor and his deadpan delivery combined with his keen knowledge of exactly where "the line" is that allows him to say things no one else would dream of saying out loud. He not only gets away with it, but it actually endears him to people. Obviously I am a bit biased, but after talking to friends and family, I find I am hardly alone.

It is also not unusual to look up in our house only to find stuffed animal friends draped over curtain rods, or on high shelves, perched on the doorbell box, or dangling from the ceiling fan. It has been going on so long at this point that the kids, who used to laugh hysterically, now roll their eyes and say in their most exasperated voice, "Dad, this isn't funny anymore." (Although in The Husband's defense, he didn't engage in this juvenile activity for a few months and the kids started hinting that maybe they might want him to start it up again, so I no longer buy their objections as much).

Ultimately, The Husband brings a special brand of humor to our lives and we are grateful for it, but don't be surprised if you see our kids roll their eyes and say in exasperated voices, "Silly Daddy."