Friday, May 22, 2015

The Dog Factor

The beautiful thing about stepping out into the world and experiencing other countries and other cultures is that you see things from another point of view. Sometimes it is one you hadn't considered before. And sometimes, you learn something about your own culture you never would have questioned before.

I had this happen when I was living in England. I had an experience that allowed me to see what Americans look like to...well, not Americans, and this revelation all started with a movie.

I was living in the UK in 1998 and 1999, and you may or may not know that American movies used to get released over there later than they do here. Because of this I had the opportunity to see the movie "Independence Day," twice with new-to-the-movie audiences.

The first time I saw the movie, I was a sophomore in college. I saw the movie in Denver, at a fairly well-known and very large theater. I also saw it mere days from when it came out, so we were in the Fourth of July spirit. The theater was hushed most of the movie, with a smattering of gasps and snickers during scary or funny parts. When the lights came up, people cheered. It was a serious (albeit fluffy) action film.

Or so I thought.

Then, two years later while living in Norwich, England, I attended the performance with four of my British friends. Within the first fifteen minutes I had begun to wonder if I was even watching the same film as they were. The entire theater would erupt into raucous laughter at parts I couldn't even begin to see were funny. By half-way through the movie it began to dawn on me that what I had previously experienced as a serious action film at home, was instead being treated like a full-on comedy by my British compatriots.


I left the theater bewildered and perplexed. How could an entire theater find humor in a dog running down a tunnel from scorching flames, only to jump to safety at the last second? Why is that funny? Where was the humor in people communicating with each other at the end by Morse code? Somehow, amidst what I perceived, there was a thread of humor that seemingly everyone could see but me.

Later I asked my friends about it and they laughed and laughed and made comments about "Americans and your cinema," how "Americans sure love their dogs," and "isn't it always the Americans the save the day. The rest of us don't sit around waiting, you know."

Later, when I was back stateside, I rented the movie for a third time and attempted to watch it from their perspective. And after spending a year, as anthropologists call it, "going native," I suddenly could see exactly what they were talking about. This scene truly is hysterical:

As this scene was as well. Trust me, most Brits found this either hysterically funny, or deeply offensive...."About bloody time" those American got off their butts and saved the rest of us....

And it wasn't just "Independence Day," either. No, suddenly all movies were viewed with the dual lens of American and British. Suddenly, I was the one laughing hysterically at bizarre moments. Because I am here in America, I mostly laugh alone. But once I saw things from their perspective, I couldn't un-see it. It is there, in my brain, forever. And Americans, Oh my LORD are we obsessed with our dogs!! Once I saw was permanently ingrained and suddenly I saw dogs everywhere.

So, next time you are sitting in a movie like the "Avengers: Age of Ultron" and you hear someone bust out laughing as the random dog leaps to safety as they are leaving the danger zone, or you hear someone snicker at the random dog in Transformers, or any other action movie ever made, just know, that what we see, isn't always what someone else sees. The dog factor is real. They truly are everywhere!

We even put them in movies that they have absolutely NO business being in. The novel, "The Road," which is a post-apocalyptic dystopia that has people eating people, made mention that few-to-no animals were left in the world because they had all been eaten. And  yet....and YET.... the movie, "The Road," ends like this:

Yes. That is a very healthy, well-fed dog you are seeing. I am sure that family, while attempting to resist the cannibalism that is rampant throughout the rest of the world, would have eaten that dog long ago. Not to mention, in a movie where food is that scarce, they never would have wasted it on a dog. But, this is America, and there has to be a dog in everything!

Seriously, this dog, from "Transformers," is just there for humor value....that and the unwritten rule (I can't find one) that you can't make an action movie and not put a dog in it somewhere. I suspect it is in some secret film maker by-laws:

I want you to think about that the next time you are watching a movie. Pay attention to the dogs. You will realize they appear in almost every film, not the just one's that are part of the story (The Husband has been converted, he sees the dogs now too so I no longer have to laugh alone.)

They are often random and extraneous, but God forbid you pull something like Ridley Scott did in "Gladiator," where you make the dog a part of the story and then fail to deal with what happened to him. That is tantamount to crucifixion-worthy.  No joke. You should see the message boards. Whether he forgot the dog as he claimed, or killed him off only to find out that wasn't acceptable to American viewers is hotly debated, but not dealing with it at all created a storm of criticism.

Americans do not stomach killing dogs very well. We even made a movie about a hit man coming out of retirement because someone killed his dog in "John Wick." Someone killed his dog, and that fact somehow justified his killing somewhere upwards of 75 souls. As an audience member, you are supposed to be ok with that math; 1 dog= 75 humans. And the sad part is, we are ok with it. Americans are really, truly obsessed with dogs. I am not sure what it is about the American culture that bonds so significantly with the loyal canine companion, but it is there, indisputably there.

So, whenever I am struggling with seeing something from someone else's viewpoint, I stop and think about my total confusion as I sat through a movie I thought was a serious action film, while everyone else was busy wiping tears of laughter form their eyes. Sometimes we are just coming from very different places. That is okay, as long as you can step out from time to time and realize that sometimes the dog really is the elephant in the room.

I am curious to know. Comment and let me know if you see it, the dog factor. It is like one of those hidden messages in the optical illusion, pay attention and you will start seeing it....then you won't be able to stop seeing it.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Summer is Coming!!!

This is a quick, fluffy blog. Mostly because I, like my kids, am totally suffering from spring fever. I too am ready to be done with daily grind of the school year. I am wearing out on packing lunches, finding library books buried under toys, asking for the 10th time if everyone's homework is really done.

I want to play. I am ready to get outside and garden. I am ready for hiking and kayaking and biking. We are only a few weeks away from trips to the zoo and the museum or afternoon movies at the discount theater, but I want it now. Are we there yet?

It is during summer when I really truly appreciate working from home and being a mostly-at-home mom. I get to party with my kids for 12 weeks and now that they are older, I love every minute of it. I  am counting down 8 more days of school!

It was much harder when the kids were small. When the daily grind of baby care and caring for school aged children made our days confined and monotonous. Back then I had bored kids or a cranky baby. We couldn't go to the zoo or the museum, or if we did, we couldn't stay long because the baby needed to nap. Art projects were hard because we had to pick toddler-friendly supplies.

Back then, summer was a 12-week long wasteland that seemingly stretched on for what felt like forever. But, that was a different season. We are exiting the baby season of our lives and I am looking forward to summer because....*fingers crossed* this is the summer we finally potty train Starman (3 1/2) and say goodbye to the last vestiges of babyhood. This is my summer of transition.

This summer I move officially into the mother of "older children." This past weekend my 9 year old asked me if we could watch "Jurassic Park". The weekend before we took our girls to see "Age of Ultron." For those of you still attending movies like "Home" or "Minions," have no worries, the time is coming when you will get to mix it up and go see something that is actually on your radar. You can go see something you would have gone to see without your kids.

Older kids are fun! And I am going to get to hang with them this summer and enjoy their company while they still think I am cool. This is the proverbial "honeymoon period," or "second trimester," of child raising. We are post- high-need, cry-happy, tantrum-thowing baby and toddler-hood. We are pre- puberty, eye-rolling, "mom, could you just walk five steps behind me so people don't know we are together" (something I actually said to my own mom).

Right now, my kids still think I am cool, and right now I think they are pretty cool too. We are in the best part, and I intend to enjoy every single second of it!

So, eight more days! And then, let the fun commence!

With that,  here are just a couple of pictures from our awesome summer last year:
End of Soccer Season Fun

Colorado History Museum

Fourth of July Fireworks

Children's Museum

Cherry Creek Reservoir

Backyard Fun

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Risk Is Real, Lawsuits Won't Change That

I spend a vast amount of time scrolling through the net seeking out articles on my passions:
  • risk management
  • parenting
  • reconnecting kids with nature
  • improving the workplace for all caregivers
  • political movements to improve the lives of working women
  • anything on how to build communities, or communities that have made the news
Occasionally, my searches brings me to an odd conglomeration of articles that trigger a thought process that takes me outside of my "box" that I normally think from.

Last night I found a news story about a local cat café that is being sued by a customer. She is being sued because the customer got a cat bite and it became severely infected and she ended up missing a week of work. Her family income situation was precarious and the incident was apparently devastating to their economic position so of course they had no choice to but to file a nearly $6,000 lawsuit.

On another note, this past Monday the verdict finally came down in the lawsuit where a police officer sued Starbucks after he burned himself on a free cup of coffee in 2012. Yes, in case you hadn't heard of that case, the officer was given....GIVEN....a free cup of coffee. Apparently the lid on this coffee disintegrated and he was burned. This apparently caused his Crohn's  disease to flare up which then required surgery. He didn't win.

Do you know what we would have called this before we turned into a "litigation nation?" We would have called it a misfortune. We would have called it a tragedy. We might have even said it was just a seriously crappy day. What we would not have done is point our finger at someone else and say it is their fault. We would not demand monetary compensation for any and every horrible thing we experience. Sometimes shit just happens, as they say.

The stories are tragic for those affected. What they are NOT, are acceptable law suits. This stuff is making me crazy. I am not joking....C.R.A.Z.Y. Here are the facts, and I will offset them so as to make a stronger point:

Coffee is hot, Cats are unpredictable, and children get hurt sometimes. Risk is real. Suing every time something bad happens does NOT, contrary to popular belief, prevent risk. All it does is instill fear in everyone.

A short time ago I wrote a series of articles on the subject of risk and how we treat risk in America has created a ridiculous standard for parents. If you want to check some of them out, I am including a couple of the more popular posts.

Moms, Let's Ditch the Defensiveness
Taking Page From the Homebirth Movement
Parental Pinch Gets Tighter

Additionally, after I was done ranting and raving on social media about the 9 news story about the cat café and the ridiculous cop, I found an article, Criminalization of Natural Play, which then led me to explore the website, Children and Nature Network . The authors on the site posited various study results which posit that the increase in sensory issues, balance problems and lack of body awareness in older children these days is directly related to the lack of outdoor play, physical activity and the increase in screen time, indoor activities and organized extracurricular activities.

The idea that was proffered throughout the site, is that by attempting to make children safer, we have in fact made the LESS safe. Would you like to read that again?.... By attempting to make children safer, or in other words, by trying to anticipate every risk they may encounter, we have actually made things more dangerous for them. Children are less balanced, less body aware and more likely to injure themselves with mundane tasks because we won't let them climb trees, play outside unsupervised, or allow them to roam unattended by adults.

I have reached a point where, every time I read one of these lawsuit stories, I just want to weep for society. For me it is a total *head desk* moment. Do we, as a society, not see that we are gradually making everyone's life harder every time we add a new waiver form, disclaimer posting, change in behavior, state requirement, or need for reliance on liability insurance? Every person who files a frivolous lawsuit or engages in any type of risk that turns out badly creates another level of fear in America.

Teachers know what I am talking about. Many of them are terrified to discipline children in school because there is always the ever-present threat of a lawsuit hanging over their heads. I would even purport that there may come a time when disruptive students are either automatically expelled or immediately turned over to law enforcement because teachers don't dare touch a student, no matter how violent or disruptive they are being. 

Many parents, like many teachers, want to let their children take risks. I, as a parent, want to let my kids climb trees, walk to school on their own, ride their bike around the neighborhood, walk down the street to their friend's house, be adventurous in the classroom and on the playground. I want them to take risks so they can learn their own limits and build their own confidence.

Sure there are times when I have a moment of terror, like the time I went out into our backyard because I couldn't see the kids from the window and I found my oldest balancing precariously on the tippy-top of their two-story playhouse.

And if something happened and the beam broke and she fell and hurt herself, or God forbid, she was killed. I would seriously hope that I would have the good sense to recognize that it was an accident, and not someone's fault. But, too many people's first response would be to sue the playground equipment maker, or demand that we change the composition of the equipment itself (make it shorter, wider, safer etc.).

If we keep on instituting this culture of fear, this "litigation nation," we may find that we have an entire generation of children who are more dangerous to themselves just walking around, than they would be if we just let them takes some risks now while they are young. Not to mention totally unable to function outside a controlled, organized environment. Just when the country will need new innovaters we will have an entire generation of kids that believe, with all their hearts, that all risk is bad.

And so, I will leave you with a quote from a great article, titled, "THE UNSAFE CHILD: Less Outdoor Play is Causing More Harm than Good":
Secondary to restricted movement and less time outdoors on a regular basis, more and more children are walking around with underdeveloped vestibular (balance) systems. In other words, they have decreased body awareness and sense of space. Teachers are reporting that children are falling out of their seats in school, running into one another, pushing with more force during games of tag, and are generally clumsier than in years past. In fact, the more we restrict and coddle our children, the more unsafe they become. -Angela Hanscom