Monday, January 30, 2012

Thank you, Rachel Lloyd

Human trafficking. I know it's a problem, as I'm sure a lot of people do. To be honest, I haven't sought out a lot of information about it, because I always end up feeling dark and helpless, like there is nothing I can do about it. But that's not the answer. President Obama doesn't think so, and that's why he declared January National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Prevention, not awareness. January's almost over, but I still wanted to write this entry.

I'm really grateful for people like Rachel Lloyd, who transform their suffering into service. Lloyd herself was commercially sexually exploited as a teenager. When she was free, she created GEMS--Girls Educational and Mentoring Service, an organization that helps girls and young women in the same position.

Two splinters from the Forbes interview with Rachel Lloyd lodged themselves in my mind, and a sharp, un-ignorable pain shoots through me every time they're brushed against. First, that "In the United States, the average age of entry into prostitution is 13 years old." Thirteen. So painfully young. Average. There are girls even younger being exploited.

Second, this Q&A segment:

"A recent study cites that 20% of men who’ve bought sex know that they are buying someone or something trafficked illegally against her will and over 40% believe it causes psychological and physical harms. So why do they participate in it?

The truth is that they don’t care.

They’re getting their sexual gratification met. And to them, that’s your job, that’s what they see. That’s what you’re there for. A lot of those men feel like there will always be a population of women who may have had horrible lives or whatever, but they’re there to meet your sexual needs. The lack of empathy is really appalling.

One of my girls was recently in a situation with a pimp on the west coast where she wanted to escape but she couldn’t. We’d gotten her a plane ticket, and a john came, so the pimp left the hotel room. And the girl said to the john, “Look, I really want to leave, can you help me get to the airport?” And he said to her, “Well can’t [your pimp] drive you?” She was like “No, that’s the point, I need to get away from this.

In the end he did end up taking her and she made it home. But I wonder if, after this experience—he’s just bought a girl who after they were done said “ I don’t want to be doing this, and I need you to help me get away from the man you just bought me from”—does that change his mind? Or does he just go and buy a different girl the next week?

So who is a bigger problem? Who’s the bad guy? The pimp or the john?

I think in terms of business, the demand side of any industry is what keeps it going and what keeps it profitable.

We’ve started seeing pimps slowly being held accountable and being prosecuted, but we have so far to go towards seeing johns as a part of the problem. People get that pimps are violent, but the idea that these regular men are villains… These are fathers and brothers and husbands, we know them, we work with them, we go home to them, and yet they’re going out and buying girls and women for sex." (End excerpt).

This is the study that Megan Casserly, the interviewer, refers to. It has a fairly reader friendly format, unlike some study reports. But I couldn't read it all. Grazing through it, I felt my body stiffening, tears forming, and nausea rising. I am not a man hater. I love men, and I think they are capable of so much good. But just as much as I know there is a God in heaven, I know there is a devil. And I know that he twists the minds of men and women as much as he possibly can. I know that sex is absolutely sacred. When I read over that study, I don't see evil people. I see dark, twisted counterfeits of love and intimacy created by the adversary of all humanity.

I think the influence of pornography in this issue cannot be denied. It's seen as normal, socially acceptable, for a man to look at pornography. As long as it's normal for sexual pleasure to be bought, to be severed from any meaningful relationship at all, then men will continue to seek out prostitutes. Why would they be satisfied with fantasy when they can shell out a few dollars and make it real? And why would it matter that a woman, a human being, is being raped when she has become just a product to them? A box of cereal, as one man in the study said. 

And of course there's the idea that every adult, every man especially, needs to be having sex or he's not really "a man." What's a guy supposed to do if he's not in a relationship, or if he can't find some willing woman who's as desperate for sex as he is? Maybe he can masturbate, but how long will that really be enough? Why not just pay for sex? 

There are such poisonous ideas about sexual need. I know from experience that it is possible to have a long and fulfilling relationship with someone with no sex. Nick and I dated since we were sixteen and married when we were 22. We were even completely separated from each other for two whole years, and our love just grew stronger. Is our relationship different, deeper, even more fulfilling now that we're married and intimacy is a part of it? Yes, of course. But for us, marriage was the tipping point, the lowest common denominator of commitment and closeness in our relationship that was required for sex. Maybe for animals sex is just this intense, selfish need that they must have met as soon as they are physically mature. But I think human beings can and should do better than masturbating, porn, and prostitution. I'm sorry, but I don't think sex outside of a committed relationship is an awesome thing that ought to keep going forever in our culture. I don't think sexual need should be seen as such an uncontrollable part of someone that they've got to go out and exploit a sex worker. 

Are there women who choose to be prostitutes? Sure. But the concepts of sexual need in our culture make it so that for most men, it doesn't matter whether the woman has chosen to be a prostitute or not. It doesn't matter if she's being abused and held captive. All that matters is that he has the need and the money, and she has the body. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Please, food lobbyists

If I knew pizza was a vegetable, I would have been eating a whole lot more of it! I would have been making pizza purees for Luke from the day he turned 6 months! Geez! I guess my next baby will have to benefit from the fact that pizza is just as nutrient and fiber rich as broccoli or spinach.

Ohhhhh wait. I'm not the US government. Nobody's lobbying me to consider pizza a vegetable. Cancel the purees.

I'm sorry, but is anyone in Congress even aware of the obesity numbers in the US, for adults and for children? Do they even know that only 5% of people in this country make it to middle age without having elevated blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, or smoking habits? FIVE PERCENT!!!!!!!

Get a backbone, Congress! What is more important, pleasing potato people or not serving freaking french fries to fat kids?!

As long as there are processed, bland, colorless options in school lunches, kids will choose to buy them. You know why? Because the vast majority of US kids are trained up on processed, bland, colorless infant formula!  Formula does absolutely nothing to develop the flavor palette of a baby, unlike breast milk, which tastes different at every single feeding. I don't think people realize how vastly important that is.

And maybe it's just me, but I swear that most of the young moms I talk to still start their baby on rice cereal when they begin solids instead of avocado, or sweet potato, or anything with color, flavor, and texture. Why? Because their mothers did. Why did their mothers do it? Because food companies realized that babies were a gold mine and twisted the minds of American mothers with marketing! Babies go straight from processed, bland colorless formula to processed, bland, colorless rice cereal, and then parents WONDER why on earth their kid doesn't seem to like broccoli, or grape fruit, or Indian food, but looooves Kraft Mac 'N Cheese.

Even if you make rules about what kids have to purchase in their school lunch, no one is sitting there making sure they eat the two servings of vegetables (or one serving, since PIZZA IS NOT A VEGETABLE). Kids imprint on food, and they only eat things that they believe are safe. When the predominant taste in their mouth from the day they're born is that starchy, neutral, or slightly sweet taste of non-fresh foods, that is the only flavor they will think is safe. As they get older, food battles grow more and more dramatic until fruits and vegetables represent stress and processed seems even safer and more comforting. So they grow up eating crap well into their teenage years. Maybe as adults they'll be strong enough to overcome the imprinting of their infancy and start eating more responsibly, but given the whole "only 5% of Americans don't have a heart disease risk factor" thing, I don't think most people are strong enough. America is not going to be healthier and is not going to eat better until more women breastfeed and more parents are smart about the solids they feed their babies.

I linked to the Feeding Baby Green website above, but if you are pregnant or already have a baby, you have got to read the book. It gives so much crucial information about how to actually help your little one love healthy foods. And honestly, if everyone in America grew up eating that way, the obesity epidemic probably wouldn't exist. And maybe some food lobbyists wouldn't exist either, because people would actually feel the shame they ought to feel at pressuring the government to give a nation of unhealthy children pizza and french fries.

Thank you, Pilgrim's Pride/Nacogdoches

I truly love America. And the decision of Pilgrim's Pride to specifically hire hundreds of Burmese refugees at chicken processing plants is America at its best.

People do not idly choose to flee their country and come to America. If you have ever been in a place where you don't speak the language, you know how utterly terrifying and isolating it can be. Most likely though, you knew that you would eventually come home to the US and everything would be back to normal. You would be surrounded by familiar language, sights, sounds, smells, people, and customs.

People who run to America are choosing to sacrifice everything they've ever known for the hope of a better life. Unless you're cool enough to be Native American, every US citizen is the product of people putting all of their hope into this land of promise.

Burma is an intense, militaristic regime. Its citizens greatly suffer under their government. Knowing this, the US government accepted 16,000 Burmese refugees in 2010. Just because they've come here legally, does that make it easy for the Burmese Americans? No. I don't know what percentage of them speak English, but it's certainly not 100%. I don't know what kind of education was available to them in Burma. I hope that while maintaining their heritage, the Burmese Americans and their children will learn English and move beyond working at a chicken processing plant.

Opinions about immigrants abound in this country, legal or illegal. Just looking at the comments of the online news article, you can see a few really un-Christlike ones. But even if every individual in Nacogdoches did not automatically open their hearts to their new completely American neighbors, I am really impressed with the institutional efforts at supporting the refugees. Local newspapers, schools, churches and even business owners are doing what they can to promote compassion and understanding.

As 27-year-old father and refugee Ker Paw Nah says, "Everybody need their freedom. Everybody need their independence. I need a safe place to live and a better life. That's my dream." When US citizens open their hearts and minds, America is still the place to make that dream come true.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Thank you, Kate Middleton

I don't profess to be an expert on Kate Middleton, but I've always liked her. She has a bright and wholesome aura, and she seems like a real person. She was a runner-up for Time Magazine's Person of the Year. Catherine Mayer's article on the Duchess of Cambridge was on the whole absolutely lovely. I felt warm and hopeful reading it. These are some of my favorite statements Kate-ments:

--For a few days in the fall [William and Kate] rode to work on London public bicycles, available to rent at stands across the city center.

--"There could have been a few times where people complimented her and it would have embarrassed her, but she just took it and giggled and moved on. She's going to be great for the royal family. She's mature and intelligent." (quoting Robin Boles, CEO of charity In Kind Direct)

--Sensible and levelheaded are adjectives that crop up frequently in conversation with palace officials. They like her. She's nice. She remembers names.

--Ladylike and gracious, Kate is rarely less than demure, often in accessible fashions. A surge in orders for a knee-length $274 dress from U.K. fashion chain Reiss that she wore to a meeting with the Obamas during their May state visit to London crashed Reiss's website. She has sparked a revival in tan pantyhose. She used to wear short skirts and V-necks, but as a royal fiancée her hemlines inched lower and her necklines higher.

--Her poise is central to her appeal. Perfectly composed, she seems far removed from everyday celebrityland and its public meltdowns.

--Reinvesting celebrity with restraint, preserving silence in a confessional age, making a marriage work, making a royal marriage work — these would be the actions of a true revolutionary.

--Kate, nurtured and well educated, comes to palace life with a supportive husband and an expectation that family is not a battleground but a refuge.

There were only a couple of parts in the article that seemed to criticize Kate. That's fine--when you're trying to give a complete picture of someone, it's natural to address some downsides. However, it was interesting to me that the things teased out as Kate's weaknesses are two of the things I find most exciting about her--she's choosing to pursue motherhood without an additional career, and she is astonishingly modest for a young female celebrity. 

The first time I was really aware of Kate's modesty was with the royal wedding. I was shocked to see a wedding gown with sleeves! And not awful unnatural looking cap sleeves, but long sleeves! Perusing a little slide show of Kate couture, I was so pleased to see how many of her outfits an average Mormon gal could wear. That's just not the case with most famous femmes. And yet, the article (and apparently fashion editors) snub her choices, saying "she appears in day wear that wouldn't look out of place on a maiden aunt in the 1940s. She doesn't do sexy. She doesn't do edgy." Ouch! A maiden aunt? Really? I'm sorry, but just because a dress doesn't show garish, Dolly Parton-esque cleavage doesn't mean it's not sexy. And I think it's incredibly edgy for someone in Kate's position to wear a dress from Zara, a ubiquitous chain in Europe, the day after her wedding. It says "I'm a normal person, and I liked this dress from a normal store. So I'm going to wear it, fashion experts be darned!" 

As for the idea that "it's a mistake for her not to work," you can probably guess what I think about that. When the article says, "In marrying the second in the line of succession, the newly minted princess has accepted a mission riven with apparent contradictions...Though she's the first royal bride to have earned a degree, she is unlikely to build a career or even hold down a paying job. Her primary function is to bear children and prepare for the eventuality of one day becoming Queen," it makes it seem like the Duchess' degree is wasted, like her education is in conflict with bearing children. 

I think Kate's choice not to work is very wise, and not just because I have chosen to be a mother that does not work outside of the home. Countless women pursue outside careers and are happy, successful mothers. But countless other women are not married to the future King. Because Kate comes from a normal, stable family, she knows what it takes to make a family work, to raise children that feel safe and loved. She and William have had a very long relationship, and I am positive that they have had many serious discussions about what they want for their family and their children. William's home was broken in a dramatic way, and he has had to grow up as a celebrity. That is not easy on a child, on a man, on a potential father. 

Kate is a smart girl, and I'm sure she has a realistic grasp of royal duties and maternal duties and how much time and energy both of them take. I think she and William recognize that it would be very difficult for their children to have an uplifting home if both of them were full-time royalty with full-time careers. It would also be very hard on their marriage. Kate's choice to spend her many talents and her quality education on her children is not archaic, and it's not a waste. It's the epitome of the modern woman's flexibility. 

Maybe one day I'll win some silly sweepstakes and get to meet Kate Middleton and tell her she's a babe and a genius. I would love that. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Please, Glennon Melton

So, apparently, this blog post by Glennon Melton has been shared on Facebook 105, 500 times. That's a pretty big number, so it's not surprising that I've seen links to this article popping up all week. I have to say, I'm a little bit disconcerted that so many moms apparently identify with Melton's ideas.

First of all, parenting is not like climbing Mt. Everest. Climbing Mt. Everest is an intense, gargantuan task that a teeny tiny portion of the population undertakes. You have to be a very specialized kind of person to even attempt, much less succeed, in achieving the summit. Having children is a normal biological and cultural part of life. People all over the world in all kinds of situations have children. Saying parenting is like climbing the world's tallest mountain sounds like something an anti-child or anti-family person would say, not like something a mom ought to say. And even if the technicalities of the analogy were better suited, using the words pain, drudgery, exhausting, treacherous, and killer to describe parenting is...sad at best.

Of course there are hard times with parenting. Duh. That's not news to anyone, Glennon Melton. Just like it's not news that climbing Mt. Everest is hard. People who choose to climb Mt. Everest do so because they really  want to, and because they actually do enjoy climbing mountains, despite how intense and hard it is. It is possible to enjoy things that are hard, you know. And when people remind you that it's possible, you can stomp your foot and say, "I don't want to be told to enjoy my children! I want to not feel guilty for complaining about them!" Or you can take a deep breath, laugh at the craziness of kids, and hope that one day, you will look back on parenting just as fondly as the little old ladies do--regardless of the antics of your children.

Luke is still little--just 16 months. There have been trying times (last night's scream-instead-of-sleep included), but I recognize that there are probably slightly zanier times ahead. The 2-3 year old range is full of adventure. I know this from experience with kids, but particularly from the Facebook of my friend Erin, who has 3 children (just like Glennon Melton. Hmm.) Her updates about her little son Liam are pretty epic. Her string of statuses about the artwork of her little Poo-casso made me laugh out loud. So did her longing for a mini straight-jacket and her admission that she had sewn Liam into his pajamas. So did her recent advice to check the oven for toys before turning it on. And this status from Thursday was SO FUNNY: "Just opened the fridge to find one of Liam's shoes shoved down into a container full of hummus."

I love Erin's updates because it never feels like she is complaining about her children. Is it fun to scrape a melted toy from your oven? No, especially when you were probably trying to make dinner. Is hummus kind of pricey and is it annoying to have it be wasted? Yes. Does anyone want to clean up poo smeared on the wall? Heavens no! But I can tell that Erin is laughing about the mayhem and that she absolutely loves her children. There is a lightness and a joy to the way she writes about her kids, and I love that. I find it uplifting.

I get the feeling that if Erin were confronted by the same identical check-out line situation that Glennon Melton described, she probably wouldn't even have been phased by it. It certainly wouldn't have prompted her to write a fairly whiny blog post about old women with good intentions. In fact, Erin's most recent grocery shopping adventure was Wednesday, and she posted about it with the same good humor she always does:
Let's see...I was examining a bag of clementines to make sure none of them were bad when out of the corner of my eye I saw Liam stand up in the seat part of our cart. He had somehow managed to shimmy his way out of the buckle, he looked at me and grinned before taking a flying leap out of the cart an on to me. Mind you, I had Rhys in a carrier strapped to my chest. I caught him (somehow...), but when he jumped, he pushed off of the cart with his feet sending it flying backward into the (apparently unsteady) display of blueberries sending them flying all over the place....and I do mean ALL over the place.

Personally, I hope that when Luke gets into more mischievous stages, that I will be able to laugh about it, like Erin. And I certainly hope that unlike Glennon Melton, my favorite part of the day as a mother is never when the kids are put to bed. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Thank you, Katie Robison

I am an incredibly lucky person. You know why? Because I've actually had the opportunity to gush directly to an author about how much I freaking love their book. Without like, stalking them or spending a fortune in postage writing fan mail.

This author is Katie Robison. Did you know she just released an amazing novel, Downburst? Well, she did. If you haven't read it yet, YOU SHOULD!!

I try to keep up on YA fiction. To stay informed as a writer, and of course because there's great stuff to read in YA--sometimes. I mean, we all love The Hunger Games, but that's because the writing is fantastic, the concept is intriguing, and the heroine is strong and intelligent. Lucky for you, those are also reasons to love Downburst!

But the majority of other YA fiction I've read is generally...frustrating. I was psyched to read Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series, but the pacing was weird, the character choices didn't make sense, and the romance was really insincere. The title of The Forest of Hands and Teeth brought me to my knees. I think that is possibly my favorite title ever. When I heard it was about zombies, I was even more excited to read it. And don't get me wrong--the parts of the book that actually do involve zombies are GREAT. To get to those parts, you just have to slog through an obnoxious, whiny heroine and sappy, gag-inducing romance. If only it weren't in first person, there could have been a hopeful comfort of the zombies eviscerating the lead girl.

The point is, so much YA has potential to be awesome, but falls short. (I don't include Twilight and its numerous knock-offs in the potentially awesome category, just to be crystal clear). When a YA book fulfills its potential, then it becomes something much more than YA. Everybody knows Harry Potter is not just for kids. The Book Thief is far more literary than the most fiction with adult protagonists. The originality and depth of His Dark Materials puts a great deal of speculative fiction to shame. Katniss is not just a heroine for teenage girls to relate to. Everyone wants to read these books and pretty much everyone does because regardless of the age of the characters, the books are good.

This is exactly how I feel about Katie Robison's Downburst. It might be classified as YA by some, but it is so beyond that. It's just a great read for anybody. Here are some of my favorite things about it:

--It calls to mind a lot of other stories--Ender's Game, Tron, The Hunger Games, Brokedown Palace--but it completely has its own soul and plot.
--The main character Kit is real--she's not perfect, she's not invincible. But she's also not weak. She weighs her choices in a believable way, sometimes taking a risk and sometimes being held back by fears or anxieties. When it comes to relations with boys, she is definitely not vain--but neither does Robison try to make Kit relatable by having her constantly bemoan the fact that dreamboy will never fall for an average girl like her. I cannot stand reading a girl whine about how she'll never get some hot guy.
--I find myself savoring images from this book like hard candy, turning them over and over in my mind and getting more flavor every time.
--The suspense is genuine, not manufactured. This intense mix of naturally-occurring beauty and horror drives the reader onward.
--There is a fabulous balance of real facts and magical realism. Events in the books are reminiscent of current events, and have helped me to process real tragedies, acts of terrorism, and wars.

And last but not least, I love the fact that Katie Robison had the courage, as an author, to not waste precious years of her life waiting for just the right agent or editor in just the right mood who ate just the right sandwich for lunch that day to come across her manuscript and decide to invest in it. Pole-vaulting over the tedious traditional publishing process, Katie brought her story straight to those who want it most--discerning readers who want to spend their time and money on high-quality books.

Read Downburst. That's all I can really say.