30 Days of Gratitude: 2013 Edition (November 26, 2013)

Yes, I have seen this meme work its way across Facebook over the course of November. I thought about participating, but my brain is usually too stream-of-consciousness for that level of daily content commitment, and I refuse to violate my personal rule of one status update per day (any more than that and I run the risk of the dreaded newsfeed “block” by bored connections). So with that in mind, here’s a month’s worth of people, events and phenomena for which I am grateful over the course of 2013, all in one shot.

1.Occupying the top spot with good reason, I am grateful for April’s reconciliation with my sibling and her family. Life is a lot less funny and loving without my baby sis.

2.Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, recently described by funny man Stephen Colbert as a “possessed Cabbage Patch doll,” I thank you for two things: reminding North America that the USA does not have the monopoly on mentally challenged local politicians, and for instilling waves of nostalgia for the comedic stylings of Chris Farley.

3.Early summer period of unemployment: I salute you. Were it not for the unexpected job loss, I would not be happily ensconced as a Marketing Manager with a wonderful company in downtown Chicago.

4.I am grateful that pompholyx eczema, while challenging and painful, has thus far limited itself to my hands. In many cases, the feet are also affected, ushering in a whole new wave of debilitating restrictions.

5.Early Fall welcomed Act III with the love of my life. We’re making it work this time, applying the lessons of the past with strategic guidelines for a balanced future. That might sound more business jargon than romantic sweetness, but I’ve finally learned that hard work and commitment are every bit as important as passion. And we’re lucky enough to have that too.

6.I’m grateful that the Illinois Woman’s Press Association chose me as their 2013-2015 leader. Together we’ve grown membership by 20 percent in six months, introduced dynamic new programming and collaborations with other communications organizations. The era of siloing and membership bleed is over. This makes me proud.

7.Thank you to the rollerblading ukulele player and singer who often greets me as I alight from the Red Line stop near my apartment. The sight of you gliding in circles with perfect tune and pitch never fails to put a smile on my face.

8.I cannot stress enough how much I love my de facto stepdaughter Amber and four year-old grandbaby Chloe. I leapt right over motherhood into a full and diverse family life as unexpected as it is treasured. Our growing bond is a source of continual joy.

9.Dr. T: You with your string of pearls, pale blonde hair and Stepford Wife looks. You may not have been the ideal of how my perfect therapist should appear, but when you echo my angry “f” bombs, I never feel more understood.

10.Salt Lake City: As an atheist from an all-business metropolis, I never expected to find your exceedingly friendly locals, natural cultivation and Mormon-culture appealing, but your $4 beer and shot specials, clean streets and sincerely helpful citizens won me over.

11.Breaking Bad: Thank you for five seasons of jaw-dropping storytelling and acting. I held my breath, I cried and I was angry. You shall never be duplicated. Thank you as well for leaving the party long before you got stale.

12.Mr. Roger Ebert: Your April death provoked a sense of public loss I had not experienced since the 2008 premature passing of NBC’s Tim Russert. My sincere gratitude for your thoughtful, diverse body of work and the opportunities to bond with a father who was and remains, mostly incomprehensible.

13.Thank you soft, black doughnut cushion (February 2013 – August 2013) for making hours of sitting bearable as my poor, busted tailbone slowly healed. Thank you also for doubling as a comfy Metra train sleeping pillow. I apologize for carelessly leaving you behind in the Salt Lake City airport. I like to think you are enjoying a second life comforting the buns of another injured soul.

14.Epsom salts: I just wrote about you last week, but it bears repeating. For your affordable, diverse ability to treat and soothe so many conditions, this Bud’s for you.

15.My growing adoration for the NFL, despite its imperfections and the perennial so-so-ness of the Bears, is the reason I do not entirely succumb to Seasonal Affective Disorder each Fall.

16.The Republicans behind the late-Fall government shutdown: grazie for providing a much-needed, if temporary distraction from the abominable rollout of Obamacare.

17.President Obama: Thank you for breaking with eight years of W’s “Cowboy Diplomacy” to show the world that we are capable of talking and negotiating our way to a more peaceful world. Thank you also for being tough enough to stand up to warmongers who love to try to settle scores with bombs, yet failed to learn from the Iraq and Afghanistan examples that getting in is a lot easier than getting out.

18.I regret the coming conclusion to PBS’s Downton Abbey, but am grateful for the modern-day Austen void this society drama has filled.

19.Red wine: You’ll be on this list every year, you angel/devil, you.

20.The Boston Marathon bombing was tragic, frightening and a terrible blow to the assumed security of community events, but it taught the nation a couple of critical lessons: don’t assume Islamic terrorists are brown-skinned folks from distant lands and most of all, DON’T mess with the Boston PD.

21.Pope Francis: Like I said I am an atheist, but I am a huge fan of the compassion, good sense and humility you’ve unleashed on the Vatican thus far. There may be hope for a modern, relevant Catholic Church yet. I still can’t believe you made it through the Conclave given your radical ideas about poverty and tolerance, but I’m glad you did.

22.Not a fan of Edward Snowden, but I’m grateful for the public conversations about privacy and surveillance his shenanigans invited. It can easily be argued that we would not be having them otherwise.

23.Paul Krugman: For keeping Keynesian economics alive and mainstream and for standing up to destructive austerians and “deficit scolds” on the regular. Your brilliance, approachability and determination demonstrate why they don’t hand out Nobel Prizes to just anybody.

24.I thank the National Federation of Press Women for seeing fit to bestow my second first place national writing award in four years. The fact that my 2013 prize was for last year’s work on this very blog makes the victory that much sweeter. This page is me.

25.I am grateful for my diverse, eclectic neighborhood of Rogers Park, and the multi-faceted benefits of lakefront living.

26.Zipcar: Thanks to your affordable membership prices and pickup location plentifulness, I don’t miss vehicle ownership one whit and shall never purchase an automobile again.

27.I don’t know whose decision at CNN it was to allow Newt Gingrinch to assault the airwaves on a weekday basis, but thank you. I now have a place to channel my sweaty hate whilst running on the treadmill.

28.Much love to PK and his painful, awful craniofacial massage techniques that have helped the Great Migraine Crisis of 2012 seem like a distant memory.

29.Wendy Davis: Your June, 11-hour filibuster badassery in the Texas Senate may not have killed the State’s assault on abortion rights, but your honey badger determination announced a new leader for women’s issues – and spiked sales of pink sneakers.

30.Last but not least, I am grateful that I have been given another year on this planet upon which to reflect.

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When Pigskins Fly (September 10, 2013)

Although I am stereotypically “girly” with regard my personal grooming and hygiene, I’ve always been, by society’s standards, one of the boys. An inherently competitive nature yielded a natural gravitation toward traditionally male-dominated activities: schoolyard rugby, tree climbing, baseball and skateboarding. I was the proud owner of a toy car and truck collection that was the subject of neighborhood envy, until tragically, I left them behind in a Wisconsin park after a family reunion. I was inconsolable for days.

My sister and I don’t owe our mentally challenged, neglectful parents much, but one thing I’ve always appreciated was their lack of adherence to traditional gender roles. My mother was our family’s primary breadwinner for most of my childhood, while my father played the role of stay at home dad. Beyond the unconventional modeling they provided (because it still was in the mid-1980s), the gender neutrality carried over into the way they raised us. Jenny and I played with Barbie dolls and Cabbage Patch Kids, and wore dresses on notable church holidays. But we also had Transformers and GI Joe figures. My father aggressively coached my younger sister’s t-ball and basketball teams, while I was encouraged to participate in any and all sports that caught my fancy: soccer, bowling, cross country, volleyball and more.

My younger sister Jenny spent half of her formative years in the emergency room, usually the result of injuries incurred during raucous horseplay. Ours were not helicopter parents. I sprained my arm once during a serious game of Monkey in the Middle gone terribly wrong. My folks took us to my father’s softball game, and then to a bar where I slept across two chairs while clutching my injured appendage, before we finally made our way to an ER.

Bored Saturday nights at home could typically find my sister and I having competitive kicking fights (a Me Decade precursor to MMA) or WWF wrestling with our father. During joyrides down steep alleyways found in our Portage Park, Chicago neighborhood, my dad encouraged us to sit in the passenger seat window, legs dangling outside the vehicle, so we could enjoy the rises and falls amusement park-style.

The point is, we were not coddled little girls and both Jenny and I grew up knowing very well how to take a hit. Our mother Gloria was a registered nurse so we were also usually up to speed on the latest in first aid treatments.

So I suppose it’s only natural that I grew into a woman who finds strenuous workouts exhilarating. It must be a feature of this competitive legacy that found me drunkenly destroying sawhorses situated along Clark Street in 2008, the last time the Chicago Cubs broke my heart. And I must conclude it is that ongoing gladiator spirit that has me leaping across my living room, alternating between pain and ecstasy, with each play of an NFL football game.

This facet of my personality has elicited mixed results from romantic partners. I’ve been accused of “trying to be a man” by more conservative mates, threatened by my temperament’s refusal to remain in the prescribed box. Conversely, my ex-husband Eddie dried my tears after failed Cubs playoff runs, and once pulled the car over on a side street in the Ravenswood neighborhood so I could jump out and angrily kick over another sawhorse (see: 2008 outburst above). My current love actually conducted my fantasy football league draft for me last year when I was in class and unable to participate. Apparently I put the fear of God in him (we’re both atheists, but you know what I mean) because his roommate reported that he practically had to breathe into a paper bag for fear of saddling me with mediocrity.

My favorite way of identifying that someone might be relating supposed facts in error is to query, “Wanna bet?!” It’s an unconscious reflex, and those who know and love me best report that it’s a surefire tell that I’m probably right. Therefore, no, they don’t “wanna bet.” For the less experienced, you’ve been warned. I have won Amtrak beer car funds and other semi-fabulous prizes in this manner.

I guess the point is I don’t do demure well. Life is not a spectator sport and nothing worth having is “won” by sitting on the sidelines or waiting patiently for your turn. Girls aren’t told this often enough in my humble opinion.

Though I can be equal parts loving and cuddly, I am aggressive. I chase. I get knocked down, I lose and I lick my wounds for a bit. Then I get up, dust off and go right back on the field. That’s the way I raised, but moreover it’s who I am, the same Becky who got sent to the principal’s office in first grade for smacking the much bigger Jimmy Liberto in the face after he scraped my arm with a protractor (note: the principal took one look at my angry, red little mug and after I entered my plea of self-defense, he dismissed me without prejudice). I like that I’m no shrinking violet. I love that as children, my sister’s enemies well knew that messing with her meant messing with me. I am no less a woman for being strong.

And I’ll consider changing when pigskins fly.

What the 1980s Toy Industry Teaches the 2014 Gun Lobby (August 31, 2014)

Replica_Uzi

I was two years old in 1980, young enough to experience everything the Me Decade had to offer across the full spectrum of childhood – toddler to pre-teen. As a 36 year-old adult, I remain imprinted by the decade’s pop culture (punk, pop and yuppie), politics (regrettably, I voted for Reagan in the first grade mock election at Pilgrim Lutheran School) and material goods.

As pertains to the latter category, as someone who spanned the ages of two to 12 across the 1980s, I feel qualified to comment on the era’s unofficial status as the Golden Era of Toys. My younger sister and I pined for the first editions of many of the greats that live on today: Nintendo, My Little Pony, Transformers, Strawberry Shortcake and more. Toys R Us was the most magical land this side of Chuck E. Cheese, and it was possible to love Cabbage Patch Kids and Garbage Pail Kids at the same time without a hint of irony

It was also possible to get hurt. Before the 1990s phenomena of helicopter parenting emerged, leaving no edge unblunted for Little Johnny and Jane, the Slinkys were made of metal. Earnest efforts could be and were made by the mischievous to unwind and turn them into long, thin saws. Children across the nation pulled Big Wheel emergency breaks while riding downhill at top speed, sometimes producing a gnarly spin effect that just as often launched you into a hard surface. And the day wasn’t really complete until you’d given your sister vertigo from the comfort of the family hallway, atop the Sit ‘N Spin.

Of course we know what happened. Parents got tired of the same nausea, cuts and head injuries and complained to manufacturers. The toys became safer. Goodbye Big Wheel parking break, hello hard plastic Slinky. Not quite as fun as the former models, but the great thing about kids is that if you give them a year or two they become a new demographic. Generation X was full of goth ennui by the time it noticed its cousins no longer swallowed little green army men.

I’m using a juvenile parallel to make a larger point, but the comparison is no joke. If rules and regulations pertaining to the manufacture, sale and usage of toys can evolve in response to a threat to children, why as we so dangerously and resolutely opposed to following suit with guns? In 1992, toy versions became required to have an orange plug or be entirely brightly colored to signify them as such. But we continue to allow the real thing to kill and otherwise scar our youngest Americans.

By now we’ve all had time to absorb the story. A 9 year-old in pigtails accidentally kills her weapons instructor while wielding an Uzi at the appallingly named Arizona attraction, Bullets and Burgers. While this tragic vignette has grabbed a multitude of headlines, it is far from an unusual occurrence. According to a July 2013 New York Daily News report:

“In the almost seven months since Adam Lanza’s demented slaughter of 20 Sandy Hook Elementary first-graders and six adults, at least 40 more children age 12 and under have died from accidental shootings across the United States, according to data compiled by the Daily News.

Those numbers do not include children killed by adults. Add those tragedies in, and about 120 innocents ages 12 and under have been killed by guns since Newtown.”

Despite the proliferation of child psychological terror and death by the collective relaxing of gun limits (literal and culturally), it never seems to be enough to shake the zombified Second Amendment zealots out of their trance. And you can always count on the cynical, heartless and tone deaf NRA to know just what to say. In the aftermath of the Arizona tragedy, RT.comreports, “Powerful US gun lobby, National Rifle Association, took the opportunity to present on social media ways children can ‘have fun at the shooting range’ following the horrific accidental killing of a shooting instructor by a 9-year-old girl in Arizona.”

At some point, as the 80s evolved into the 1990s, parents, manufacturers and lawmakers came together to decide that the safety of our youngest citizens was worth supporting. That’s right. Business, Congress and people working together for a common cause, a just cause. Toys didn’t suddenly become the stuff of black market trade, and no one lost their Constitutional right to play. The materials ad features just changed a little bit. It was logical.

How did we get here? How did we get to fourth graders being taught to view the handling of a semiautomatic weapon and the consumption of a hamburger with equal casualness? We won’t let our grown children show up for job interviews without us, but we’ll let the babies wield Uzis? And before you Internet trolls start your work, advocating for everyday common sense such as keeping weapons of war from the arms of kids, is no threat to your freedom.

It’s broken. It’s sick. And for the sake of our children, the limitless reach of guns has got to stop.