“Whatever you are, be a good one.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

 The journey is more important than the inn

Photograph by L. Liwag

“What you are comes to you.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I am returning this otherwise good typing paper to you because someone has printed gibberish all over it and put your name at the top.” ~ Unknown English Professor, Ohio University

Well, eldest son did it. He walked up there and took his diploma, and the school Superintendent pronounced them graduates. The ceremony was a fast-paced deal that lasted only an hour and a half, as compared to my daughter’s graduation which seemed to go on and on and on. The venue was good too, open, roomy, not squooshed up against the person you are sitting against, so I had no claustrophobia problems.

Aside from immediate family, his cousin who is graduating tomorrow came, as did his friends since childhood, Gordon and Tailor. I made Eamonn stand for pictures with everyone, and he was actually pretty gracious about it.

The only downside was when I was trying to move up a row (because of course every seat in the row that I selected was being saved), and I scraped my thigh on the arm of the end seat. I have a nice, big black and blue spot on my leg, but I don’t plan to enter any hot legs contests anytime soon.

As far as people being overly rowdy and loud, it wasn’t too bad. The school’s principal had already made a few announcements prior to the start of the ceremony in which she said that if the noise became too loud, she would step back and stop handing out diplomas, and she kept her word. Twice she stopped the procession until the crowd calmed down.

It’s such a shame that she had to make the announcement in the first place, and that she had to follow through with it, in the second place.

“What is the most important thing one learns in school? Self-esteem, support, and friendship.” ~ Terry Tempest Williams

The Road Less TraveledI always like to choose a fitting quote to go into almost every card that I give, and I found a really good one on Goodreads. The quote is by writer Neil Gaiman:

“I’ve been making a list of all of the things they don’t teach you at school. They don’t teach you how to love somebody. They don’t teach you how to be famous. They don’t teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. They don’t teach you what to say to someone who is dying. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing.”

The reason that I like this quote so much is because it is essentially true. What do we take away from high school? How to conjugate a verb in French? How to find the square root of an isosceles triangle? What the Monroe Doctrine was?

If you remember this kind of information, you probably do really well at Trivial Pursuit and/or you have gone on to become a teacher. But what is my son taking away from high school?

A group of friends who have stood by him during the worst times of his life (so far) and the best times of his life (again, so far). Memories of some really great times that he would prefer his mother never finds out about, and more than a few regrets that he didn’t follow through on a few things (track, football).

He is also taking with him the following lessons:

  • Mom knows if you are lying if you giggle too much
  • It’s hard to explain why you were absent from a particular class if your mom dropped you off at school that morning.
  • The school is serious when they say they will confiscate cell phones
  • You cannot make the team if you never go to practice
  • Yes, you have a deceptively charming smile, but that smile only works with some teachers, probably females
  • Mom was right when she told you that you really would survive the second breakup with your first serious love
  • Girls do talk to each other, so it’s probably not a good idea to date friends no matter how hot they are
  • Asking your mom to type your paper that is due the next day at 9 the evening before does not put her in a good mood
  • It takes money to put gas in the Trooper, and it’s probably a good idea to check the oil sometimes
  • Your mother knows when you have been smoking in her car, even if you leave the windows down all night

“High school: Oh man. This is where boys and girls go from tweens to teens and become complicated and cruel. Girls play sick mind games; boys try to pull each other’s penises off and throw them in the bushes.” ~ Eugene Mirman

Zen leapOkay, those are the fluffy lessons, so to speak. But he also learned some really hard lessons, like how much it hurts when your first love breaks your heart. And how hard it is to keep your word if you never meant it in the first place. Or how someone who claims to be a friend can stab you in the back without breaking a sweat. And how your parents can become real hardasses over things like curfews, and grades, and conduct notices, even though you don’t really understand what the big deal is.

I think that it is profoundly unfair that you first discover love at a time when you least know yourself in life. How is a teenager supposed to cope with all of the drama and accusations and breaking up one day only to make up the next day? How are they supposed to handle all of this angst and study for calculus too?

Frankly, when I put things in perspective, it’s no wonder that 11th grade becomes the make or break year for so many people. The pressure from their teachers is incredible because they are pushing students to think about college, and they are trying to cram as much information as possible into a brain that is essentially a sponge: and while a sponge can absorb a great deal, it also lets a whole lot seep out.

The pressure from worried parents intensifies in their junior year because there is college to think about, and if not that, then how have they prepared for a trade? And aren’t they spending too much time on the phone, and shouldn’t there be limits on the computer?

And the poor teenager is thinking “God, I wish that I could talk on the phone in peace, and I really don’t think that chemistry is going to make or break my career, and I’m responsible enough to stay out until midnight on a school night.”

And then comes the summer before senior year, and everything changes. By October, your senior is already thinking about graduation and getting an apartment, and you are wondering where all of the years went and praying that nothing goes horribly wrong in the next seven months.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain

Eamonn made us tremendously proud today, but I have to admit that there were times when I wasn’t sure that he would make it. There were moments when it seemed that there was nothing more than Pooh fluff in his brain, and there were many nights when I would get anxious about his state of mind and just how much he was in control of himself when he wasn’t under guard at home.

But I really believe that the senior year is more for parents than it is for their teenagers. It’s nine months in which you can begin to accept the fact that you son or daughter isn’t 7 any more, that you are not the most important part of their world, and that they are thinking about life without you.

Starry skiesIt’s a hard reality to face, and if you are anything like me, you don’t accept it gracefully. Even as your man-child or woman-child is thinking of new paths of discovery and a brand new chapter in life, you are reconciling yourself to fate and the need to close a chapter that has ended much too soon.

I hope that Eamonn figures out what his great adventure is going to be. I hope that he never stops dreaming, and trying, and loving, and living. I wish him star-filled skies at night, and red-orange sunrises that will take his breath away. I want for him all of those things that are possible, and even some that may not seem possible. I wish him joy, and I wish him love, but most of all, I wish him a life that is filled with hope.

Hope for better tomorrows, a world more at peace, people who are more in tune with their environment, friends who will be there at 3 o’clock in the morning if he needs them, and the immutable knowledge that home is always waiting.

And in the words of the incomparable Maya Angelou:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget the way you made them feel.”

More later. Peace be with you and yours.

“In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.” ~ Coco Chanel

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Beauty Depicted in 
“Boreas” by John William Waterhouse

“Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.” ~ Harriet Braiker

We just returned home after having dinner at our favorite sushi restaurant. I tried a couple of new rolls tonight: a volcano roll and another roll that I cannot remember the name of for the life of me. It was just the two of us; we only do this about once every two months.

I always feel very superior and healthy when I eat sushi and drink green tea. I can just feel those bad cells being replenished with Omega 3 fatty acides from the fresh fish, and an overall detox of my system from the green tea.

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A Young Elizabeth Taylor Before Her Roller Coaster Weight

I don’t know how much of this is true, but it’s what I like to believe, especially in light of the fact that I seemed to gain at least seven pounds while I was on that new headache medicine, this after noticeably losing some weight. I hate this weight roller coaster. It makes me feel so bad about myself, as if I am just some lump, a bad representation of my former self.

To make things even worse, I was reading a story today about movie villains, and it included a picture spread of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter next to Sharon Stone, as the ice pick killer in Basic Instinct. Sharon Stone, with or without airbrushing, looks fabulous. I am overcome with jealousy when I see her pictures because she is one of those women who just gets better with age.

I know. She has the money for a personal trainer and probably a personal chef, but the fact is that at the end of the day, it’s her body and her face, and I hate how these pictures of beautiful women make me feel.

“Nobody objects to a woman being a good writer or sculptor or geneticist if at the same time she manages to be a good wife, a good mother, good-looking, good-tempered, well-dressed, well-groomed, and unaggressive.” ~ Marya Mannes

I also know that I am not the only normal woman who feels this way. Society has conditioned females to be in a state of constant anxiety about their bodies, their faces, their conversational abilities, even their choices in shoes. Just peruse the magazine section of any store: the covers are graced with luminous women who look as if they have never gotten up in the morning with crust in their eyes, and hair that looks as if gerbils nested in it.

But what really pisses me off is that after all of these years and all of my women’s studies courses, I am still a victim when it comes to society’s socialization of females.

On the other hand, men do not face nearly the same pressures as women when it comes to looking good, dressing well, and always being outstanding at their jobs. Granted, the whole stigma associated with not looking your best all of the time is starting to infiltrate the marketing aimed at men, but not nearly as profusely as that aimed at women. Yet women still feel a need to be wonderful mothers, sexy spouses, and fearless in the workplace, with each role being a contradiction of the next.

Advertisers in general bear a large part of the responsibility for the deep feelings of inadequacy that drive women to psychiatrists, pills, or the bottle. ~ Marya Mannes

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Gwyneth Paltrow Advertising Estee Lauder

Don’t believe me? Just watch one evening (let’s say three hours) of prime time television. Count the number of commercials aimed at women versus the number of commercials aimed at men. And notice just exactly how these commercials aimed at women are focused. An Applebees commercial in which the men are enjoying hot wings does not fall into the socialization of which I speak; more, it’s just a reflection of how commercials aimed at men focus on enjoyment more than anything else.

Women are assaulted in magazines, on television, on the radio, even on line to get rid of wrinkles, eat yogurt that helps them to be more regular, whiten their teeth with new, better fitting whitening strips, and to end their affairs with their old mops and brooms. How many men are targeted in commercials about replacing brooms and mops with Swiffer Wet Jets? How many men are cautioned about eating more yogurt ? How many men are asked if they get bloated, moody, and crampy every month?

Do you see my point? Men are depicted in commercials as having fun: wearing big Number 1 foam fingers at football games, having beers with a bunch of friends, using the latest portable machine to make their abs rippled like washboards. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a commercial in which a man is bemoaning how awful his kitchen floor looks. In one commercial, a group of men are at the bar, ordering premium vodka or tequila or something while some stylish woman in a black dress has her arm draped around one of the men. She is literally arm candy, while the men are incredibly intelligent for ordering this premium liquor. At least, that’s what I get from this commercial.

Do you ever see a commercial in which a man is complaining to his best friend being bloated? How about one in which someone tells him that he should be wearing better underwear, the kind that gives him more “lift and support”? Now that would be a commercial worth watching. 

“It matters more what’s in a woman’s face than what’s on it.” ~ Claudette Colbert

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The Always Suave Pierce Brosnan as James Bond

Understandably, I am more than a little cynical about this great disparity between the sexes. I mean come on. To look good, a man has to shave and shower and throw on a tuxedo with some clean underwear and shoes that aren’t scuffed.

A woman getting ready for a black tie event needs to shave, shower, pluck, depilatory, put moisturizer on her face, a different moisturizer on the rest of her body, paint her finger nails, paint her toe nails (after using an abrasive skin slougher on her feet to make sure that they are extra smooth), add mousse and gel to her hair, come up with some kind of hairstyle that is flattering, put on concealer, foundation, loose powder, eyeliner, mascara, eye shadow, lip conditioner, lipstick and gloss. Not to mention finding just the right jewelry and trying on 10 pairs of shoes before deciding on the first pair that she tried.

Bollocks.

I left out at least ten steps in the above, and then after all of this primping, plucking, and preening, I’ll bet you that there isn’t one woman who still isn’t sure that she picked the right dress, or the right shoes, or the right shade of lipstick. And as she is walking to the car, she’ll look down and see what is supposed to be the natural curve of her belly and immediately think that she needs to put on another Spanx to hold in her grotesque fat before she lets anyone see her in public.

“The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, ‘It’s a girl.'”  ~ Shirley Chisholm

We females are socialized from a very early age to try to look pretty whenever possible. We are taught table manners, and the proper etiquette for what to do in a stranger’s home.

Boys grow up to be men who belch and then laugh about it, compare body odors, consider cleaning up to be changing yesterday’s t-shirt, and make it a point to use the decorative soaps in other people’s bathrooms just because they know that they shouldn’t. And all of this is considered to be absolutely hilarious.

I know that I’m generalizing, but I just can’t help but remember earlier in the evening as I was putting the last piece of my volcano roll in my mouth, that I looked down at my stomach and thought to myself, “ugh, I am so fat. I can’t stand myself.” You can bet that when Corey put the last piece of sushi in his mouth, his first thought was probably that he wanted more sushi.

“The test for whether or not you can hold a job should not be the arrangement of your chromosomes.” ~ Bella Abzug

No, not all men are boors, and not all women are preoccupied with their physicality. But the chances are far greater that most of the women you will meet during your life will have said at some point: “I hate my body. I wish that I looked like X.”

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My Lovely Daughter Alexis

I always wanted blond hair, and my hair is very dark brown. My daughter always wanted dark hair, and her hair is dirty blond. My oldest son, on the other hand, comes into my room and looks in my mirror and says, very confidently, “God I’m sexy.” And then he walks out like a rooster getting ready to take a stroll among the hens. We all have the same genes. But my son has the one thing that Alexis and I will never have: a Y chromosome. And that makes all of the difference.

That Y chromosone is a free pass. It allows the holder to ignore social signals, be completely confident about looks, and to dare anyone to say anything negative about the holder, even when something negative could be said.

Socialization is a bitch, but genetics make socialization moot. No matter how far we’ve come “to get where we’ve got to today,” and even though we have our own cigarettes and razors, it’s going to be a long, long time before someone’s daughter struts into the bedroom, looks in the mirror and says, “God, I’m sexy” without being sarcastic about it.

So let me close with the following:

“I am beautiful as I am.  I am the shape that was gifted.  My breasts are no longer perky and upright like when I was a teenager.  My hips are wider than that of a fashion model’s.  For this I am glad, for these are the signs of a life lived.”  ~ Cindy Olsen, co-owner of The Body Objective

There will be more later. Peace.

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Grace in Small Things #37

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In Each Other’s Arms On Our Wedding Day
 

It’s All Relative

I’ll try to be more attuned to the purpose of this exercise today. So I will write about the things that truly matter to me the most: family. Since I can only write about five things, this will not be all-encompassing, but it will include some of the most important.

1. Corey’s arms. Not only do I love the shape of his arms, not big and bulky and overdeveloped like monkey men, but I love what they do for me: they hold me up when I am falling, literally and figuratively. They enfold me and keep me safe from harm. They are the place I return to again and again when I need affirmation that in spite of all of the bad things that are happening, we will make it through as long as we work together. They are my save haven and my bulwark against the darkness.

2. My son Brett’s art. He is an amazing artist. He drew an incredible picture  in pencil and charcoal last year that I haven’t had framed yet. But when I do, I plan to hang it in the living room. It is so reflective of him, and I could tell how proud he was of it when he brought it home and presented it to me.

3. My son Eamonn is a right pain in the butt, but each morning he wakes up singing. It’s the most amazing thing. He always wakes up singing, and if he doesn’t, then I know that he doesn’t feel well. He has a built in barometer and thermometer.  I am not a morning person myself, especially since most nights I don’t go to bed until 4 or 5 in the morning, but I envy this in him.

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4. Alexis has the most beautiful eyes. One is grey/blue and the other one is more hazel, and she has long lashes. We were never quite sure where the blue/grey eye came from, but when my dad died, his brother Ben flew in from California. Uncle Ben had bluish grey eyes. Apparently it was a recessive trait on my grandmother’s side as she was Spanish. Before then, I had never seen a Filipino with blue eyes, but my uncles told me that it is actually not so uncommon because of the Spanish blood that runs through many bloodlines in the Philippines.

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Why Yes Thank You, We Will Have Another

5. My sister-in-law from my first marriage, Ann, has always been a friend. In fact, her daughter Rebecca was born right after my son Eamonn, and they went to school together up until High School. We used to push their strollers and walk Alexis to grade school so that we could get some exercise and lose our baby weight, and  it was just nice spending time together. Over the years, she has been there for me through every major problem in my life, never asked questions, just asked how she could help. We have lived less than half a mile apart for almost 20 years. It’s true that you don’t get to choose your relatives, but I have been incredibly fortunate in the ones chosen for me.

That’s all for now. More later. Peace.