Monthly Archives

July 2016

7 Life Lessons Our Children Can Learn from Hillary Clinton’s Historic Nomination

You have probably seen the Clinton campaign ad.  You know, the one where Donald Trump disparages women, encourages violence against protesters, claims he could shoot up Times Square and his supporters would still vote for him, makes racist comments about Mexicans, and mocks a disabled reporter.  (If not, click here or see below.)   We have all heard Trump say these things, almost to the point of becoming desensitized to them.

But what about our children?  The ad is particularly devastating in that it shows the faces of children watching Trump on TV.  It shows that they are listening and taking in the words and the message.  Trump, in essence, says and does things that we as parents try to teach our children not to do.  The ad (entitled “Role Models”)  next displays this message “Our children are watching.  What example will we set for them?”

And then, the ad concludes with the words of Hillary Clinton herself, who is saying during a speech (again, as children watch on TV), “Our children and grandchildren will look back at this time, at the choices we are about to make, the goals we will strive for, the principles we will live by.  And we need to make sure that they can be proud of us.”

We have heard a lot about the horrifying things that Donald Trump has said and done–both during his campaign and over the course of a lifetime.  It almost goes without saying that these things–bullying, incitement to violence, racism, misogyny, xenophobia–are lessons we do not want our children to learn.  But what about Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and the things that she has said and done over the course of her lifetime?  What does her historic nomination teach our children (and us) about life and the principles we want them to learn?  The media has done little to distill these for us (except to note the self-evident, highly significant truth that at least one woman has been able to achieve the previously unattainable).  So, here are seven other life lessons (the first being that kids should dream big, that even a girl from a middle class upbringing can grow up to be president) that our kids can take away from Hillary Clinton’s extraordinary life and nomination.  It wouldn’t hurt to point these out to our sons and daughters and show them how Clinton’s story is, in many ways, a model well worth following

1. Perseverance Pays Off

Clinton is the poster child for the motto, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”   Her perseverance has been one of her most important character traits over the course of her adult life.  When she took on as First Lady, the thankless, impossible job of tackling universal health care and failed, she could have given up and retreated into a more traditional role.  Instead, she worked with members of Congress to find common ground and enact the Children’s Health Insurance Program, providing health care insurance to millions of children.   When she lost the nomination in 2008 to Barack Obama, she could have thrown up her arms in despair and lived out the rest of her life in comfort.  Al Gore did just that in 2000 when he narrowly lost the election to George W. Bush.  Instead, Clinton picked herself up, dusted herself off, and returned to public service, working directly for the man who had defeated her.  And then, put herself through the same grueling schedule and withering criticisms by running for the nomination again four years later.  Lesson taught?  If you give up, there is no chance at success, so why not persevere and try again.

2. Nobody Is Perfect But That’s OK/Own Up to Your Mistakes

Clinton has been around the block–many times.  She has been in the public spotlight since the early 1990s and, as a woman ahead of her time, has endured a particularly harsh, brightly lit, and cynical spotlight at that.   Could anyone come out of that without making some mistakes?  Of course not.  Do we expect our kids to be perfect and never make mistakes?  Do we never make mistakes ourselves?  Of course not.  Clinton has made her fair share of mistakes and her political enemies have always tried to make hay of those mistakes.  However, Clinton has also been unusual on the political scene by keeping an open mind and when she sees she was indeed wrong about something, she will admit it.  She will grow and learn from her mistakes and change either her way of thinking or try to make things right.  Male politicians on the whole seem to struggle with admitting to mistakes and instead dig in deeper and double down.  Changing one’s mind in the face of reason or admitting you made a mistake and sincerely apologizing for it is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength and it’s a great lesson for our children.

3. Ignore Naysayers

How is it possible that Clinton holds her head up every day and forges ahead despite people yelling “Lock her up!” (and that’s just the Bernie-or-Busters)?  How can she work towards making a change to a deeply entrenched idea (like, disabled children can’t be educated in the public school system, or a woman’s place is in the home with her husband) when people all around her are saying it’s impossible, it’s not worth the effort, it’s just plain wrong?  Somehow she can block it out because she is secure in her values and in her heart knows she is doing the right thing.

4. Stand Up to Bullies

Clinton spoke during her acceptance speech at the DNC about how her mother–herself a tough cookie who had to fend for herself at a very young age–taught Clinton always to stand up to a bully.  When you’re relatively small, or weak, or female, it’s easy to be intimidated by those who seek to shut you down through force–physical or emotional.  Clinton’s defiance in the face of men–most recently, Donald Trump–who seek to bully her is another great life lesson for all of us.

5. Listen to & Learn from Others

While Clinton can block out a lot of unfair, politically motivated noise, she somehow maintains her ability to let in voices of reason and constructive criticism.  She also has never become so powerful that she forgets to listen, or has stopped listening, to those people who are weak and powerless and downtrodden.  Those who are closest to her and her advisors marvel at how she can truly listen to the plight of individual men, women, and children while on the campaign trail and immediately try to help solve their problem.  She does this by listening and not just hearing what they have to say.

6. Have Confidence in Your Abilities/Dare to Be Different

To be a college woman in the 1970s, the first student commencement speaker at your school, a student at an old boy’s club like Yale Law School, a political activist that poses as a housewife and mother to uncover school segregation in the South, and a First Lady that pushes the envelope like no one before her, etc., etc., etc., you have to be both very confident in your own abilities and also willing to go out on a limb and try another pathway.  Girls and women have always struggled with these things.  We allow ourselves to be talked over at meetings, needlessly apologize for our words and actions, doubt ourselves at every turn.  Clinton’s life history teaches all of us that we shouldn’t psych ourselves out and rather to trust our instincts and values to make change when we feel something is wrong and needs to be fixed.

7.  Empathize with Others

Clinton gave a speech when she was First Lady saying that what the world needed was more “love and kindness.”  She was crucified in the press for it.  This was yet another of her ideas that was ahead of its time.  She was right, of course.  What an antidote for the hatred and divisiveness peddled by her opponent than some love and kindness for our fellow humans.  When Clinton talks about “love and kindness” what she really means is that we need more empathy.  We need to be able to step into the shoes of a single pregnant mom living in poverty or the child of an illegal immigrant who is terrified he will be deported.  We need to see that saying racist things leads children who are African-American or of Mexican descent to feel devalued and ashamed of themselves and their ancestors.  We need to understand that “Black Lives Matter” because all lives should matter but do not, even in 2016.  We need to empathize more and judge less.  What a great life lesson for all of us.


The Case Against “Bernie or Bust”: 7 Reasons to Vote for Hillary Clinton

OK, full disclosure:  I am a Hillary Clinton supporter.  I like Hillary Clinton and have since she was our First Lady.   I voted for her in the primaries in 2008 and was disappointed when she didn’t get the nomination (though I did end up voting for Obama–twice).  I trust that Hillary will continue fighting for progressive causes in a way that will actually get things accomplished, just as she has her entire adult life.  She’s a pragmatist, but she’s also an idealist who has always had lofty goals for what can be accomplished in America if we don’t give up.  In case it needs to be expressly stated: she is the Democratic party’s nominee.

That is to say, I am in total agreement with Sarah Silverman when she said last night at the DNC that “the Bernie-or-Bust people are being ridiculous.”   Why?  Well, let’s first define the “Bernie-or-Bust” movement as I see it:

These are supporters of Bernie Sanders during the 2016 primary season who believe so ardently that Sanders should be our next President that last night they went to the Democratic National Convention (or sat home in front of their TV) and booed almost every speaker in protest.

These are people who claim that they will either sit out the general election in November, write in Bernie Sanders name, vote for a third party candidate such as Jill Stein or Gary Johnson, or even vote for Donald Trump.

These are people who say they will never vote for the Democratic nominee even if a readily available assault-style weapon is held to their heads.

Bernie Sanders stood for some very basic progressive principles and I’m going to make the assumption that this is why Bernie-or-Busters wanted to support him in the first place (and not because, let’s say, he reminded them of their adorable great-uncle Marvin).  Last night at the DNC, he reiterated these principles as if giving a stump speech.  Generally speaking, Sanders wants to overturn Citizens United, and make absolutely certain that people who aren’t at the top 1% of wealth distribution in this country earn and keep enough of their money to support themselves and their families.  He wants to restore fairness to our political system (assuming it was ever fair) and to our capitalist society.

With all that having been said, here are 7 great reasons for the Bernie-or-Busters (you know who you are) to put down your pitchforks, stop booing at your TV, and start supporting Hillary Clinton for the presidency.

1. Clinton’s History on Progressive Issues

Many of the Bernie-or-Busters are too young to remember or have never learned the honest-to-goodness truth about Hillary Clinton’s background.   The truth?  Clinton has been a champion for progressive causes her entire adult life.  She was a trailblazer on issues like universal health care and worked tirelessly to help get the Children’s Health Insurance Program enacted.  While First Lady in the 1990s, and against conventional wisdom, she dared to march in a gay rights parade and went to China to announce to the world that “Women’s Rights are Human Rights.”

2. The Fate of the Supreme Court

Whoever is the next President will get to determine who will be the all-important, tie-breaking ninth justice on the Supreme Court.  Clinton will choose someone who will be most likely to overturn Citizens United, support women’s and minorities’ rights, support LGBTQ rights, and interpret the Second Amendment consistently with its plain language.

3. Clinton and the Democrats’ Platform

Sanders delegates claimed victory after victory during meetings held to determine the Democratic platform.  If elected, Clinton will seek to carry out that platform.  Bernie himself enthusiastically stated last night that this platform is the most progressive in the history of the Democratic party.

4. OK, She’s Not Donald Trump

Well, I had to throw this in there.  For every single issue that Bernie Sanders cares about, for every progressive concept there is, Donald Trump is the anti-Bernie.  Trump would love for the Bernie-or-Busters to vote for him in a frenzied rage of “I’ll show those Democrats!”  Don’t. Fall. For. It.  If you for one second think that Donald Trump will even attempt to tackle, much less achieve any of Bernie’s goals, then you really haven’t been paying attention.  I’ll admit that I made similar threats when my candidate lost to Obama in 2008.  Then I woke up the day after she conceded and came to my senses.

5. Be On the Right (Correct) Side of History

There is a political cartoon making the rounds on Facebook that depicts a man in a tattered suit sitting around a campfire with three children, who are presumably his children, and he says to them:  “Yes, a homophobic, Latino-hating, racist, sexist pig won the US presidency, but for a beautiful moment in time I got to stamp my feet and refuse to vote for Hillary. . . .”   In other words, if the Bernie-or-Busters do not vote for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump will win and the Bernie-or-Busters will be to blame for this.  Just imagine what America would be like then.

6. Vote Democrat Now, and Buy More Time for the “Revolution”

I get it:  Bernie-or-Busters do not want to be “sellouts.”  They hate the idea of selling out and want a perfect end to a perfect “political revolution.”  This all-or-nothing approach, however, could not be more self-defeating.  If Donald Trump wins in November and Congress does not change overnight to a strong majority of Democrats, there is no hope–none–that the Political Revolution championed by Bernie will succeed.  On the other hand, if the Bernie-or-Busters go to the polls in November and vote Democrat up and down the ballot (federal, state, local), then they hopefully will have four years to try to make some real changes to a system that is either “rigged” or not.  Even assuming Jill Stein or Gary Johnson would support every single proposal of Bernie Sanders, these two are so far behind in the polls, a protest vote for them will help result in a Trump presidency (see Reason #5).

7. Listen to Bernie (and Elizabeth Warren, Michelle Obama, President Obama, etc…)

Bernie-or-Busters listened intently to Bernie Sanders during the primary campaign and not surprisingly heard a message that was very positive about Bernie Sanders and neutral to negative about Hillary Clinton.  That’s called “politics.”  But did Bernie go to the DNC and give a lukewarm or non-endorsement of Hillary Clinton?  He could have been the Ted Cruz of the DNC but chose instead to throw his support behind the Democratic nominee (who had accepted much if not all of his agenda as part of the platform).

Last night, Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren, NJ Sen. Cory Booker, NY Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, immigrants, disabled people, and others, all spoke passionately about Clinton and her devotion to progressive causes.  President Obama couldn’t wait to get on the campaign trail to champion Hillary Clinton.  Both he and the First Lady were impressed with how she handled losing to Obama in 2008.  She could have faded away and cashed in.  It would have been so easy for her do that, the First Lady pointed out.  But instead she has risen to the occasion and will be our first woman president, a real champion of progressive causes in the White House.

If only progressives like the Bernie-or-Busters vote for her in November.







Rape Culture & How It Impacts Our Children



In 2007, my husband and I went to the first parent-teacher conference for our daughter, Beatrice (not her real name), who had started Kindergarten a couple months before.  I was eager to hear about my smart little girl.  Because of Beatrice’s advanced language skills, we had decided to send her to a private international school with a Spanish immersion program.  Although we are native speakers of English, this meant she would be learning in Spanish subjects like reading and math.  Naturally, I wanted to know how she was adapting to her new school–the immersion part, the academics, and to some extent the social life.

We sat down at one of the tiny tables that dotted the classroom and the teacher said to us, “Beatrice is doing great!”  I heaved a sigh of relief and looked at my husband and smiled.  Clearly, we had made the correct decision sending our daughter to this school.

The teacher then continued (somewhat exuberantly):  “The boys love Beatrice.  They always want to sit or stand right next to her.  They hold her hand. . . .”

By now, my feminist mom mind had switched on a very bright lightbulb over my head.  When the teacher finished with her description I asked (somewhat diplomatically), “Is Beatrice ok with that?”

The teacher didn’t hesitate:  “Oh yes, she loves it!”

Hmmm…I thought.  But does she?  Does she really?

We did at that point go on to discuss how Beatrice was adapting to foreign language immersion and academics, but the question hung in the balance.  Beatrice had always been a joy–a natural entertainer to whom people, adults and children alike, were drawn.  If someone was down, she would comfort or try to cheer him or her up.  I wondered if perhaps the teacher’s assessment of her interactions with her male classmates did not reflect how Beatrice genuinely felt about all that attention, including the touching part of it.

So I went home and asked her.  Beatrice was only five years old and had little self-awareness but I knew my daughter well enough to see that she found the routine invasion of her personal space by the boys–at the very least– annoying.  In any event, it clearly wasn’t something that she loved or wanted as the teacher seemed to infer (and enthusiastically at that).

Consent.  It is actually so simple (Yes means Yes; No means No; unconscious people are incapable of consent–see this video about tea to drive home the point):

Yet, young children are so innocent we don’t tend to think that sexual consent is an issue at that point.  The problem is that teachers like my daughter’s, when they put a positive spin on a boy’s impulse to touch a nice, pretty little girl, send a potentially dangerous message that both the boy and the girl may bring with them into adulthood.  The message that the boy gets is that he has carte blanche to touch girls.  The message that the girl gets is that she has to suck it up and pretend it doesn’t bother her.

These messages are dangerous, particularly when coupled with a culture that is–face it–absolutely saturated with messages that women are not in control of their own bodies; that unwanted touching is something to be endured without complaint; and that if a woman does dare to complain about unwanted sexual contact (e.g. rape)  she will be the one who is blamed, shamed, dismissed, and worst of all, even when believed, her rapist will get off with little more than a wink and a nod.

Growing up in this culture–the so-called “rape culture”–in this country makes for future men who may see “no” as just an inconvenient roadblock to move out of the way through verbal or physical coercion or brute force, or that believe if a woman is sexually assaulted on a college campus she is not a rape victim but merely an inconvenient roadblock to a college man’s bright future.  It makes for little girls who think it’s ok for little boys to invade their personal space because the teacher (who is, after all, a product of rape culture herself) thinks it’s cute, even if it is actually annoying to the little girl, who just wants to be left alone.

The problem is that teachers like my daughter’s, when they put a positive spin on a boy’s impulse to touch a nice, pretty little girl, send a potentially dangerous message that both the boy and the girl may bring with them into adulthood.  The message that the boy gets is that he has carte blanche to touch girls.  The message that the girl gets is that she has to suck it up and pretend it doesn’t bother her.

Therein lies the rub:

When schools have stringent dress codes that specifically target girls, this sends the message that girls are responsible for making sure that boys are not attracted to them, thereby serving as a distraction, and further implies that boys do not have the responsibility to learn and practice self control when around girls.

When matters of women’s bodies and health are routinely decided by male lawmakers rather than the woman herself and her doctor, this sends the message that women are not in charge of their own bodies.

When campus sexual assault is routinely “dealt with” outside the confines of the criminal justice system, that sends the message that a man’s future and the reputation of colleges and universities are more important than a woman’s health, safety, and physical and psychological well-being.

When the “song of the summer” (Robin Thicke’s hit song “Blurred Lines”) is all about “no” maybe not really meaning “no” and claiming that really there are “blurred lines” in the context of sexual consent, that sends the message that it’s ok to coerce or force a woman into sexual activity or ignore a woman’s state of consciousness; and further, that women don’t even know what they want sexually so men should just go ahead and decide for them.

When the hottest bestseller and movie (Fifty Shades of Grey) romanticizes the story of an older man who refuses to take no for an answer from a college woman and enters into what is an essentially physically and emotionally abusive relationship with her, this sends the message that relationships such as that one are normal, healthy, and desirable.

When a woman is brutally raped and assaulted by a college student (Stanford swimmer Brock Turner) who is convicted, yet receives a three-month jail sentence because the (male) judge is concerned about his future (and–“Hey-he is an amazing swimmer”!), that sends the message that even if a woman goes forward with a criminal rape case and is believed, her life and self-worth as a victim of rape is not worth as much as the convicted rapist’s future.

On the other hand, slut shaming puts society in the position of judging a woman’s exercise of certain freedoms by invariably identifying with the male perspective.   American women should be as free as men, however, to make their own choices in life.  Thus, when an adult woman consents to sexual activity with an adult man, that is her business.  She can make these decisions for herself, and it isn’t the place of a man or anyone else to make them for her.

Incidentally, having consensual sex doesn’t make a woman a “slut” or a “whore,” any more than it makes a man who decides to have consensual sex with a woman a “_______” (fill in the blank, because there is no male version of the term “slut” in our rape culture lexicon).  It doesn’t mean a woman is asking to be raped when she dresses in a way that some men might happened to find alluring.  Women should not be responsible for men’s lack of impulse control, however.  Boys and girls need to learn this from an early age before it becomes “normal” and accepted adult behavior.

One more time everyone:  “no” means “no” and “yes” means “yes.”  There is no secret language that exists–at least outside of our culture, which at every turn glorifies male sexual domination and control, equates masculinity with sexual conquest, and excuses men from wrongdoing because, well, a man has a powerful desire to do something wrong to a woman.  Put differently, sexual consent is no different than consenting to drink tea–the only difference between these two scenarios is that men (boys) have really strong urges at times to have sex with women (touch girls) but care a lot less about tea drinking.

It’s high time that we see our rape culture for what it is and make meaningful changes to it.  Our young children–both and boys and girls–are watching, and listening, and learning.



What I Found When I Lost My Ability to Eat

The following essay is a bit off-topic for my blog, but I wrote it a while ago and wanted to share this story with my readers for whatever it’s worth.

Have you ever heard the expression, “Some people eat to live; others live to eat”? I had always thought of myself as an “eat to live” kind of person, which is to say, someone who didn’t care all that much about what I consumed, but ate mostly for sustenance. That changed forever, though, in the winter of 2010, when I was 43 years old.

After a harrowing stage III colorectal cancer diagnosis, two major abdominal surgeries, 31 radiation treatments, and more than seven months of chemotherapy, I realized slowly but surely that I couldn’t eat. Now, everyone knows cancer patients struggle with nausea and poor appetite and, at first, I thought this was my problem. My oncologist expressed concerns, however, about my rapid weight loss from 102 to 76 pounds, as well as the seriously low blood pressure and extreme weakness that came with it, and put me on total parenteral nutrition (TPN). This meant that on a daily basis I prepared a large bag of milky white fluid and hooked it up to a needle accessing a medi-port that had been surgically installed in my chest. For 12 hours a day, a pump I carried around in a backpack transported the liquid into my veins, giving me all the calories, electrolytes, and nourishment I needed to stay alive while, ironically, a team of doctors worked to save me from death by cancer.

At first, I felt grateful and relieved to start the TPN, which could be viewed, quite legitimately, as a form of life support. But after cancer treatment ended and I was, to everyone’s great relief, in remission, I still couldn’t eat. Anything. If I dared to try, within hours I would inevitably feel nauseated. The nausea, mixed with abdominal cramping, would continue unabated for up to 24 hours until finally I would vomit so violently and profusely that one would think there was no fluid left in my body. Anti-nausea medication did nothing but make me drowsy. Without the TPN I would have literally wasted away.

My battle with cancer was hellish, but this latest development made me feel, somehow, less than human.   I mean, what is more basic in life than the ability to consume food through one’s mouth?

To say I “missed” eating is an extreme understatement. As the days of going food-free turned into months, I grieved my inability to eat like an amputee grieves the loss of her leg. My feelings swung wildly between scolding myself for not simply being thankful to be alive, to wondering if anyone would ever be able to understand what I was going through. Finally, my emotions plunged into sheer self-pity and despair, complete with crying jags, as I lay in bed wondering how I could go on if I could never again eat my mother’s chicken soup, much less a soft chicken taco, or a lobster dinner on my birthday. I also worried that, like some freak of nature, I would be dependent on TPN for the rest of my life.

I daydreamed about my favorite foods going back as far as my childhood, including things I hadn’t eaten or thought about in years, such as fried chicken, Philly cheesesteaks, and Italian hoagies. I began to watch the Food Network’s cooking shows, like “Barefoot Contessa,” for hours on end because I was too sick to do much else besides watch TV. Of course, I would fantasize about eating what Ina Garten was cooking, but ultimately the techniques started sinking in and I became tempted to try to make the dish myself. Now this might seem peculiar, given that I actually dreaded cooking prior to TPN. And I have no great psychological explanation for what happened next.

To try to bring myself out of my food-deprivation funk, I began researching recipes on the Internet, and cooking and baking for my family. I especially liked and scoured that website looking for dishes my entire family, including my picky 8-year-old, would enjoy. Besides reading the recipes, I would pore over the many comments that followed and tinker with the recipe based on the advice of home cooks who had already tried it.  Inexplicably, something I began as a desperate, almost pathetic, way of reconnecting with food and my family became a hobby and a major source of pride and relaxation in my life. Even if I couldn’t eat with my family, at least I could be present while they ate food that I prepared for them with love and care and I could dine (albeit vicariously) with them. My cooking skills had improved by leaps and bounds and they were the direct beneficiaries.

Fast forward to Spring 2011, 14 months after I started TPN. My doctors finally determined the cause of my inability to eat. Bands of scar tissue (adhesions) had formed on my intestines due to multiple abdominal surgeries. The adhesions had led to chronic intestinal obstructions that had, in turn, physically prevented the food from making its way through my digestive system. As a last resort, I underwent a nine-hour, highly intricate operation with no guarantees and the goal of removing scar tissue while protecting the integrity of my remaining bowel. It took a lot longer to recover than expected and I’ll admit I started to think that this last-ditch attempt to regain my ability to eat had failed. My intestines had completely shut down and I wondered if the surgery had actually made things worse. Then, months later, the sun came up and my intestines suddenly and miraculously decided to start working again, the way they should.

Slowly, over many months, I added more and more to my diet, progressing from clear liquids to creamy soups and puddings, to low-fiber foods such as chicken, white rice, and potatoes, and all the way to raw fruit, salads, and the occasional box of popcorn at the movies. I celebrated each rediscovered food with the excitement of a toddler having cake for the first time. Friends and family took me out for special dinners to my favorite restaurants. Feeling better in every way, I started entertaining again—hosting homemade holiday dinners and a fabulous “wine and dine” party where every course was paired with a different wine. I made the entire four-course meal, including a refreshing yellow tomato gazpacho with cilantro and my hero Ina Garten’s delicious mustard-roasted red snapper.

Without question, I enjoy food more now than ever before and have become a more adventurous eater. I used to be content to eat and serve my family bland, uninteresting meals, but now I regularly cook with a variety of fresh, healthy ingredients, herbs, and spices, and continue to try new recipes. It is fair to say I am no longer an “eat to live” kind of person. Rather, I am a cancer survivor who is so very grateful—both to be alive and able to eat.