“R” You Kidding Me?

This morning, I was sitting out on my front porch, just watching the world go by, when I noticed two developmentally disabled people greet each other on the sidewalk.

“What’s up, Retard”?

“Not much, my Retard.”

“You heard from that Retard, Bobby lately?”

“Retard, please. That Retard owes me money. Next time I see that Retard, he better pay me.”

I was intrigued by the commentary, so I yelled out “Hello there, Retards! Nice day we’re having.” Instead of an exchange of pleasantries, I was met with hostility and disapproval.

YOU cannot call us Retards.”

“Why? It sounds to me as if you mean it in a fellowship sort of manner.” I was quite perplexed.

The younger disabled young man advised me that Retard is a term of endearment in the developmentally disabled community, and therefore, may only be used by other developmentally disabled people. If I, a non-disabled person use the word Retard, I would be prejudiced toward a group of people.

“But the word still means the same thing”, I stated. “The word Retard is defined as a person who is less advanced in mental, physical, or social development than is usual for one’s age. It can also be used to offensively describe something that is foolish or stupid, right?”

The young man stood there in contemplation of my question. He looked up at the sky, then down at the ground. Up at the sky, then down at the ground. He rubbed his chin and furrowed his brows. “By using the word Retard, we, the developmentally disabled, take away its power. We make it our own. We’ve turned it on its head and made it a positive word showing our camaraderie.”

“So then, what you’re saying is all the people who worked tirelessly to pass the American’s with Disabilities Act are okay with this. All the disabled people who endured or continue to be discriminated against, institutionalized, labeled and considered less than a person are happy to be addressed as Retard? It is pretty amazing that with all the years of people throwing the word Retard around to describe things that are clearly screwed up, dim-witted, wrong or socially unacceptable, you’ve managed to take control of a word that has a life of its own by only allowing other disabled people to use it? Wow. That would be impressive if it wasn’t so Retarded.”

“Look around you, fellas. This is a very diverse neighborhood. Italian neighbors to the left, Jewish neighbors to the right and Asian neighbors up the block. I have never heard them address each other with How’s it goin’ WOP, What’s up Kike or Good Evening Gook.”

“Think about this for maybe a moment, my disabled friends. When you call each other Retard, people WILL think less of you. When you call yourself a Retard, don’t get mad when people treat you like one.”

*Feel free to insert another word in place of the “R”….

Smells like Teen Drama

Last week, my eldest daughter texted me asking for a ride home from the bus stop. The bus stop is half a block. Was someone bullying her? Was she hurt? I asked for an explanation and the only response I received was a plea for my arrival. I decided to walk, just in case there was a bully. I wanted to make my presence known if I needed to get in somebody’s face, of course, only if necessary. Much to my surprise and relief, she was just crying. Then, she walked right past me, no acknowledgement whatsoever.

“Hey, mom’s here” I say as I trail her down the sidewalk. “Just like you asked. What’s wrong?”

“Just never mind”.

Okay. So I am begged to come literally 200 yards meet the bus and I’m greeted with a “Never Mind” and tears. What is a mother supposed to do with that? Probably not what I did. I chose the old follow and nag tactic. It went something like this:

“Why did you ask me to come down here and pick you up if you’re not going to tell me what’s wrong? I’m your mother. You should want to talk to me. Why don’t you talk to me? You know, I would give anything to be able to talk to MY mother. One day, you’re going to want to talk to me and you know what? I won’t be here because I’ll be DEAD. That’s right. DEAD. And you’ll be crying I want to talk to my mother but it will be too late, because I’m DEAD! Really? You’re ignoring me? I can’t believe this. You better stop walking right now and turn around and answer me, young lady. Why won’t you tell me what’s wrong with you?”

Then, I closed my eyes and opened my arms, expecting a crying teenager to run into them for comfort. Arms still extended, I opened one eye and then the other. To my dismay, there stood a teenage girl staring at me and trying her best to wish that we had already arrived at my DEAD scenario.

Apparently, motherhood has different stages. I laugh because I know this. I cry because I swore I would never allow my children to think of me as I did of my mom when I was a teen. Was mom on my top 10 list of favorite people? Not even in the ballpark. Did I love her? Yes, well. Yes.

And so it goes. I must learn patience and the art of teenage space. Eventually, she did come around and I think I gave her some pretty good advice. Will she follow it? Probably not, but that’s okay. I realize that part of growing up is actually giving them to space to do so, knowing when to offer up those arms to hug them and knowing when to just trail behind and keep my mouth shut. I’m going to try it…someday.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Holiday Gift Giving

Each year, my husband attends an event on the Saturday before Christmas. This sacred occasion is called “Man Day”. I have been told that Man Day is held annually as a day of camaraderie where all the men can shop together for their wives. My husband swears that the support of his man friends is helpful when choosing the perfect gift for me. Apparently, he and his buddies have been searching for this perfect gift for 17 years because I have yet to see it.

Man Day traditionally begins at Hooter’s where the men gather to chart their shopping strategy. My husband and twenty of his closest friends, insist that the wings at Hooter’s will sustain them for the virtual lifetime of shopping they must endure. Several hours (and several beers) later, they strike out in search of that present. I have intelligence from a reliable source (a Man Day participant that I bullied into confession) that last year, they never left Hooter’s. However, I am told, first stop is the mall, followed by a local jeweler who sets up a full bar so the men can shop and shake off the holiday gift giving jitters. The pressure must be unbearable…

Christmas morning, I open my gift, smile, let out a sigh and say thank you. Excuse me, but does this man live in the same house as me? Is he even on the same planet?
I have the same conversation with Man Day spouses every year so I have decided to give gentlemen a few tips for shopping this season.

• Look in your wife’s closet. Get the right sizes and write them down. We are not all the same size as the petite 19-year-old sales girl. If you come home with an XS and your wife is an XL, it’s not a compliment and you’re in trouble.

• Scarves suck, unless they are from Hermes (and chances are you don’t even know what that is).

• Don’t buy us shoes. It’s the equivalent of us trying to buy you a car. You will probably buy what you like and we will end up with a pair of clear heeled hooker pumps with ankle straps.

• Nobody wears a size small in under garments except nubile young girls. You aren’t married to her, you certainly don’t know her and I’m assuming prison is not for you. If your wife or girlfriend happens to wear a size small, screw her.

• You can’t go wrong at Tiffany’s. That little blue box contains the antidote to whatever ails her. Let me help you: http://www.tiffany.com.

• Stay away from appliances. My ex-husband once gave me a shop vac.
My EX-Husband.

• Spa certificates are welcomed. A nice, strong masseuse to work out those kinks would be great since you always fall asleep after the first rub.

• Don’t tell her to go out and pick it herself. That’s just lazy and we don’t consider that a “real” gift. We’ll take it, but it won’t count.

• Ask her girlfriends. They are your gift-giving Yoda’s.

• Don’t take your “Man Day” friends’ advice. They are as clueless as you.

Most of all, if she says “Don’t get me anything this year”, GET HER SOMETHING!

Ladies, even though they don’t always get it right (or even get in the ballpark) I will leave you with this nugget of wisdom:

After complaining about a gift I received one year, I was given the best advice ever. My friend, who my children affectionately call Aunt John, laughed out loud when I told him of the pearl earring offering. The last thing I would ever wear is pearl earrings, but that’s what I found under the tree. He said to me “Sistah, if your man can go to a jewelry store and pick out exactly what you would love without your help, you’ve got bigger problems because he’s gay”.

Good luck out there!

You think you know, but you have no idea

I was on a flight not too long ago that connected through Newark. For late evening flights, I always book a window seat so I can turn away, cover my head and have some quiet. Coming down the aisle, I spot the 4 year old and his mother. Of course, they settle in next to me. This little one was immediately interested in me. Mother tells him to leave the nice lady alone, but he has other plans. About 30 minutes in to the flight, I have a little boy on my lap watching Nick Jr. while his mother sleeps. Turns out, they were on their way home from her mother’s funeral and she was overcome with emotion and exhaustion, a horrible combination. Her gratitude was almost embarrassing.
The moral of this story? Don’t be an asshole.
I have no data to back this up, but I’m going to put this out there and suggest that 99% of people traveling with children are not doing so because they enjoy it. I’m guessing it’s out of necessity. I also have news for you. Even if you are on a flight to Orlando, those parents aren’t happy either. They just want to get from point A to B in one piece without too much collateral damage. If you have children, had children or have parents, then you should get this. Kids are like Murphy’s Law; if something can go wrong, it usually does. As an innocent bystander, you can roll your eyes or try to help.
For those of you getting to know me, you have probably determined that I have a pretty good sense of humor. It has been sharpened over the last 14 years since becoming a mom. It just doesn’t pay to be tense. You learn to move through the world at a different pace, seeing things differently, deciphering what is truly important. Unless you move to Mars (and I cannot prove or deny there are no Martian children), expect to deal with adolescents. Some of you need to remember this when you act “put out” by the presence of a youngster. You were probably no picnic for your parents either. I might also add that after the past 17 days of babyish behavior on behalf of our government, I would welcome a conversation with a kid any day. At least it’s truthful.
My youngest child is autistic. By far, he has been the best teacher of priorities, life, love and happiness. Because of him, I don’t take shit from anybody. I have become a fierce protector of those who cannot protect themselves. When we board a flight, I make an announcement to fellow passengers. “This is my son. He is autistic. He loves to talk and meet new friends. If he greets you, say hello. If he asks you where you’re going, tell him. Don’t treat him like he’s not there. I will do the best I can to keep him seated, but sometimes he just needs to stretch his arms and legs. Thanks for understanding”. It really sucks that I have to announce this, but it seems to put people at ease. I’m not looking for sympathy, just a chance not to have to curse someone out for being a jerk to a little boy.
You may see a mom in the grocery store with one or more screaming children. Do you really think she wants to be there? She doesn’t need your condescending smirk as you pass. How about a pat on the shoulder and a “been there, done that”. You may see parents out to dinner, struggling with a new infant and trying to enjoy a meal. Send them a dessert instead of a glare. This shit ain’t easy. When you’re at a pool and get splashed by some sprogs, remember, you’re at a pool. You’re supposed to get wet. Don’t be a wanker.
You think you know, but you have no idea. There are parents you see every day who are silently challenged with special needs kids and regular old kids. Imagine a job that NEVER ends. Imagine a responsibility that never lessens, only increases and never allows you to slack. Let me tell you, the vast majority of parents are freakin’ awesome. We are all trying our damnedest to raise responsible adults without losing our sanity in the process. Next time you are confronted by a 2’ dervish, get a grip on yourself. You are the bigger person. Act like one.


Growing up, I remember pulling that spiral phone cord till it looked like uncooked spaghetti, to get to the farthest corner of the kitchen floor where I could sit down and talk. I was not allowed to have a phone in my room and certainly didn’t talk past 9pm. I also remember my mother picking up the extension and politely telling me to wrap it up; I’d been on long enough. It is hard to imagine that I long for those days, but I do.

Don’t get me wrong, I love technology. I think the past 20 years have been nothing short of astounding. I encourage people to get on the World Wide Web and experience whatever their desire at the touch of a button. My concern is that while everyone is busy looking down, life is passing right by.

Last week, I got a call from an old friend who was hospitalized with an injury that almost caused the loss of a hand. It was not caused by an illness, disease or unavoidable accident. This person had been texting and fell down a flight of stairs. I suppose it shouldn’t matter how something happens because the pain is no less, but come on, that is just plain stupid.

When have we all become so important that we have to announce everything we are doing, feeling or seeing at any moment in the day? I have a news flash, we’re not. You’re not the first person to get up early, work all day, come home, cook dinner, do a load of laundry, get kids ready for bed and help with homework. People have had this routine for centuries and I guarantee definitely harder than the pain of waking up in a warm bed, going to a job that doesn’t require you risk your life, cooking with food that is safe to eat, using a washing machine and putting your kids to bed in a climate controlled environment that has electricity and hot water. Is it sinking in yet? Listen, lots of people have headaches. I don’t always need to hear about yours unless it comes with a funny hangover story. Unless you are curing cancer, put the phone down, it’s just not that imperative.

We are becoming a nation obsessed with receiving information from our hands. In the process, we are missing life. Many cannot even muster an original thought, resorting to reposts from others. Could technology be making us stupid? I see that it is responsible for social retardation. Here are a few ways I’m teaching my children to bear their own thoughts and use common sense again. Play along, if you dare.

RULE 1: No technology at the table
Last week, I was out to dinner with my family. There was a family sitting in the booth next to us. They each had a device in their hands, no one was looking up and there was absolutely no interaction between them. You have to make time to teach the art of conversation. There is nothing worse than trying to talk to a kid (or a grown ass person for that matter) who cannot put together a decent sentence or look you in the eye.

RULE 2: All technology is checked at the door when friends visit
This should be a time to talk, share stories, laugh, play music and gossip. Nothing gets my goat more than seeing bathroom mirror photos of groups of girls on Instagram from sleepovers. Parents need to get a grip on this. Stay off the damn thing when you’re at a function. Again, you’re input on a cute photo is not that vital (and it’s probably just a tweet about your friend who has a headache).

RULE 3: Put it away
I have daughters and it makes me crazy when I see them walking around with their smart phones in hand. I constantly remind them that no one likes a girl that is so readily available. Where’s the mystery? Why do you want everyone to know what you’re doing all the time? Would it kill the recipient to wait 30 minutes for a response to “What’s up?” I doubt “not much” contains the antidote. No man wants a woman who answers almost before he hits Send. What does that say about her? Your life needs to be more interesting than staring in anticipation at the palm of your hand.

RULE 4: Dial the number
Never decline or cancel an invitation/appointment via technology. It requires you to hear a live response. It requires empathy. You can’t experience that with a text. Your kids will think twice about telling Grandma & Grandpa they can’t make Sunday dinner when they have to hear Grandma’s disappointment.

RULE 5: Say no
Teach your daughters not to accept a date from a text. Teach your sons to pick up the phone and call a young lady, like a gentleman. iPhones come and go, good manners are timeless.

You’re Black? No. Really? I thought you were Italian

I’m not turning on the news today because I don’t want to hear more information about the crazy man who murdered 12 people in DC. We, as a country, aren’t going to do anything about it anyway, so why all the fuss. Unfortunately, what I did read were some of the texts coming out of the crowning of Miss America. Miss 7-11, Miss Arab (pronounced A-Rab), Miss Muslim. This is Miss ‘Merica not Miss India. I hope she doesn’t read the paper for a week or so either. By then, I’m sure the short-attention-span bigots will have found someone else to attack. Meanwhile, I want to share with you my thoughts about race and how it has affected my life.
• When I was a little girl, I was riding with my mother in her Cadillac to the grocery store. We were approached in the parking lot by 2 police officers. They asked my mother for her identification. When she inquired what she had done, the reply was that she didn’t look like she should be driving a new Cadillac. She told me to be quiet. I was crying. They suggested she was part of a stolen car ring and we needed to get out of the vehicle and into the police car to be taken to the precinct for questioning. I remember the ride to the station. I was terrified. My mother was pissed. My mother called our lawyer, Leroy Vital (Google him). I remember the chief, feet up on his desk, asking my mother where a Negro lady got the cash to buy such a nice car. He said HE couldn’t afford a car like that. My mother replied that it wasn’t her fault that he was a failure. Our attorney arrived just in time to have us released just as two deputies were about to remove me from the room and away from my mother.
• My father’s sister told my father that she supposed it was okay that he married my mother, as long as they didn’t have children….
• In college, some kids were in my dorm room. I had a photo of me with my parents on my desk. I was asked why I had a picture of my dad and the moulinyan maid. I didn’t even know what that shit meant. Someone wrote “Half-breed” on our eraser board on our room door. I brought it to the attention of the RA, also warning him that when I found out who was responsible, I would be beating their ass.
• My husband and I entertained friends for dinner one evening. Our friend asked to bring along a relative who promptly told us he had to leave early before the niggers came out. Much to my dismay, our guests apologized to me, as if I was the only one who should have been insulted.
• My mother was shopping for groceries and I was standing apart from her at the meat counter. I overhear some men laughing about the nigger lady who was buying pork ribs. I was too small to respond to them, so I cried and never told my mother why.
• I was shopping in Nordstrom at Oak Brook with my mom and my Aunt Ruth Ewing. We were followed all over the store. We had a lot of bags, but so did everyone else. We were approached by security and asked to step in to a back office. My Aunt Ruth called her husband, famous investigative reporter Russ Ewing (who cracked the John Wayne Gacy case) who came down to the store with a camera crew. THAT was fun to sit back and watch.
• Walking with my girls when they were little, a lady asked if they were my daughters. My goodness. They are beautiful but look so different. Do they have the same father? My reply was Shrug: “I don’t know.”
• Not too long ago, I had a women grab her purse when I passed her grocery cart. I responded, “Bitch, please”.

For most of my life, I have floated virtually undetected through the mysterious world of white people. I have had the opportunity to observe, from an insider point of view, what makes people tick. First of all, when it comes to race relations, many white people I have encountered are passive aggressive, displaying their feelings through hostile jokes and negative commentary. I have listened to rants about Malcolm X, Al Sharpton, Muslims, Michael Vick, OJ, professional sports are too black, President Obama, The Butler, Django, Paula Deen, race mixing and the horrible effect it has on the children. It seems that all their fears manifest into these tall tales about how black people are taking over our country. Well, we only make up 13.1% of the population, and most of that is Detroit and Jackson, MS. Once it is determined that I am not in agreement with this silliness, I am quietly kicked out of the club as too risky a security breach. Consequently, my husband and I are not invited to as many parties.

My favorite of late was suggested to me that white people need civil right activists for all the wrongs done to their race. Yet, I have yet to meet someone who has actually been able to articulate any facts to substantiate this argument. Yes, it is an opinion to which everyone is entitled. Yet, we have to agree that it is pretty shitty when a young man can’t walk to the store for Skittles and iced tea and make it home alive. Shouldn’t you be able to knock on a door to ask for help after being injured in a car accident without fear of being shot 10 times? But I digress. My point is that we all should be able to admit that it is much easier to be white in the United States than any other race. As Chris Rock so eloquently put it “No white man would ever switch places with me, and I’m rich”. Quit your complaining.
Now, black folk will usually claim everybody of color. When we find out you have a trace of black in your family, you’re family. To name a few, we claim The President of The United States, Tiger Woods, The Rock, Halle Berry, Slash, Mariah Carey, Pete Wentz, Chris Humphries, Wentworth Miller, Maya Rudolph, even Carol Channing (yes, Carol Channing). White people share this same sentiment. You’re black. Here’s one that will make your head to pop off: Steve Jobs, half Syrian.
The racial objection many blacks have with white folks comes from a place of inequality and distrust. In my case, I will add low self-image. Growing up, some of the black girls thought I had better hair which, as a child, was a bone of contention. I recall seeing them make the imaginary scissor fingers at me and mouthing “after school”. Also, being “light skinned” wasn’t always my darker sisters’ invitation to befriend me. I imagine all this has something to do with being bombarded by images depicting the American beauty standard as fair skinned, stick skinny with long hair. I get it.
When someone tells you “It’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand”, they’re telling the truth. Unless you can contribute a story like the few of many I have highlighted above, you really have no idea what it’s like to be judged on a daily basis by the color of your skin. Ask ANY black man, rich or poor, when, not if, was the last time they were discriminated against or profiled. Okay, if you’re gay, you probably get this. If you’re black and gay, heaven help you. Oh wait. You’re not going to heaven. Hahahahaha. I can joke. Some of my best friends are gay. Seriously.
My parents were the ideal role models for seeing people for who they are. What I have learned from them is that no matter what your race, we are all stewards of the human race. It is your responsibility to act. Don’t let others get away with biased language or behavior- speak up and out.
Take a position against hate and take a Stand Against Racism.

Imagine what would happen if we found the strength not to tolerate intolerance. Your silence defines you.
Which will you choose?

Patriot Day

I hope everyone is reminded that today is Patriot Day, a holiday of sorts that was sadly created to remember those who were injured or perished on 9/11/2001. Many will recall where they were, what they were doing when they heard the news and how this day would change our lives forever.

Today, we mourn friends, loved ones and souls we never met because we are all Americans. We are all Americans that stick together and feel the pain when so many of our citizens are hurting, grieving and quietly reflecting. We respect one another.

Somehow, we have American citizens who didn’t get that memo. For them, today has become some sort of political soap box to see who can scream the loudest about what disagreements they have with our government. Today is the day to use graphic images of someone’s father, son and husband bloodied and dying in Benghazi. Today is the day to show the Twin Towers collapsing at the very moment thousands would die to show disdain for our current administration. Today is the day to exploit the deaths of those in the Pentagon and Flight 93. These Americans Do Not reflect the true spirit of this great country of ours. They also do not deserve any more of my attention, for it is wasted energy.

I spent the day remembering old friends, trying to recall their faces and times spent together long ago. I also found myself thinking of all Patriots of this great country that have perished at the hands of the enemy, both foreign and domestic. I thought about the souls in Oklahoma City, Yemen, US Embassies in Beirut, Kuwait, Madrid, Pakistan. So fresh in our memories is Boston. So deep in our hearts, Pearl Harbor. I remembered the souls on the flight from Lockerbie Scotland, the hotel patrons in Mumbai, my dear friend and his fellow compatriots on their way home from a peace keeping mission, only to forever leave a hole in our hearts in Newfoundland. So many, we forget.

So today is Patriot Day. Not I Want To Complain About This Country Day. Use it to remember, unite and respect those who have paid the ultimate price.


Teenagers, You’re Kidding, Right?

If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a thousand times. I can’t control my teen’s behavior. I can’t be there all the time. The usual excuse given is that kids will sneak if they want to do something bad enough. I also know that, for the most part, they are really bad at devious behaviors, and can be thwarted by a parent paying half the attention. I laugh in the face of these pompous teenagers who believe they are too smart to get caught. Child, please. I’ve watched the idiot teens next door try to hide a cooler full of alcohol, a pink cooler mind you, in the bushes behind the house. Numbskulls. I’ve heard the whispering about whose house they are all saying they are going to. Dim-wits. How about the ole “the parents are going to be home” trick. Brainless. My favorite, “I didn’t know that was going to happen”. Knot heads.
Really, it doesn’t take much to foil a dense teenager plot. All you need is to activate the Required Responsibility Gene. The RRG, as I refer to it, is the primary genetic material that makes up parenting. It is the DNA and RNA that drives you to pay attention to what your kids are doing. It is that extra little push that gets you to make a phone call to the parents’ house to determine if an adult will be present. The courage to say “No, you cannot go”. It is the guts to walk down the hall and open their bedroom door. It’s the perseverance to hire a tutor, stay up to help with that project and meet with the teacher. Without it, your kid is doomed to make mistakes and take risks that you can otherwise help them to avoid.
The RRG will often cause debilitating headaches. Other side effects may include sleeplessness, nausea, uncontrollable urges to choke someone, exhaustion, feelings of helplessness, diarrhea and sometimes confusion. Also, you may experience moments of overwhelming joy.
Let’s face it. Teenagers are dumb. Your teen needs boundaries and rules. Your teen needs consequences for good and bad behavior. Stick to them, no matter how dreadful, tiring and frightening it may seem. Remember, you’re not their friend. What grown person would want to be friends with a teenager anyway? OMG. That would be like, so gross.

The Birth of Listen Sistah

I was raised by a strong, black mother (and a great dad, but he isn’t nearly as entertaining). She was a powerful woman that everyone was drawn to for advice, care, nurturing, safety and love. My mother rarely addressed me by my name, Jessica. In fact, most of her sentences began with “Listen, Sistah…”. She was a fiercely spirited woman who was determined that I be well educated, well mannered, competitive and in charge of my life. Most of all, I learned from her that common sense is the answer to all of life’s questions. Problem is, most people don’t want to hear the truth, are in denial or have been taught to be diminutive and not speak up for themselves or others. That’s where I come in. Listen Sistah is about stating the obvious, sharing my opinion and telling you the way I see it. Just like my mom. Although this time, I won’t hear “Sistah…Ya Grounded”.