Patience Please



If other drivers knew the names I was calling them from inside the safety of my car, windows closed, they might take offense. When I am pressed for time or fighting with my child or otherwise “in a mood,” I get extremely impatient with drivers who are too slow, too hesitant to take their turn at a four-way stop, or otherwise what I deem to be clueless. I’m just lucky my kids did not start out life calling everyone else idiots.

No matter how hard I try, the virtue of patience seems to elude me. I’m fine when things are going well. When I’m happy and/or not in a hurry, I am a model of politeness and kindness. “Here. Let me take that shopping cart back in the store,” I might offer the lady in the parking lot. That jogger poised to cross my path? Sure. After you! I will brush off the cashier’s mistake, the driver who fails to use his turn signal, the store clerk taking her sweet time chatting with a customer.

But when I am under stress, watch out. I will huff, roll my eyes, mutter and otherwise look like a bull right before it’s let out into the rodeo ring. Sometimes I will let a hapless stranger really have it. Afterwards, I feel ashamed of myself for losing my cool – yet again.

At home it’s the same story. In the morning when my kids first come downstairs, I tend to be friendly and helpful, fixing them breakfast and even smiling at them. But as soon as I discover they have forgotten to do something they need for school that day or that we are running late, I will snap at them. Often, as I find myself haranguing them for their irresponsibility, I want to stop, but I just can’t seem to hold my tongue.

When my youngest child was learning to use the toilet, I started to use the encouragement, “Take your time.” Whether we were in the comfort of home or in a public restroom, no matter what the circumstance, I forced myself to repeat that phrase over and over. The last thing I wanted to do was discourage my child by trying to hustle her through the process. So saying “Take your time” became a sort of mantra I used to keep myself calm.

I guess patience is something we all lose from time to time. But maybe if I train myself to repeat that mantra in my head when I am feeling rushed and stressed, I will find the patience to be a kinder, gentler person to family, friends and strangers.



Brexit Vote Shows Electoral Ignorance



The day after Britons voted to forgo their long-standing membership in the European Union, Google noted a record number of hits from the UK for the terms “Brexit” and “European Union.” In other words, untold numbers of UK citizens voted on something about which they knew little or nothing. I can just picture these Brits slapping their foreheads and crying, “Blimey! I didn’t mean to vote for that.”

Not so fast, you smug Americans. As the U.S. lurches toward a presidential election this fall, we should take the Brexit vote as a cautionary tale. The fact is that many Americans vote with a similar level of ignorance. It’s the reason incumbents, even when they are horrible, keep getting re-elected. “Oh, yeah. I’ve heard of that guy,” say voters to themselves and then fill in the oval by his name.

With this in mind, I have a few suggestions for voters on how NOT to choose whom to vote for in the upcoming election.

  1. Don’t use physical appearance as a gauge for how good a candidate is. If attractiveness were that important for a politician, we would be voting for George Clooney,  Adam Levine, or Angelina Jolie. It’s not Donald Trump’s horrid fake tan or laughable hairpiece I object to. It’s just about every word that comes out of his mouth.
  2. Don’t decide on the worthiness of a candidate based upon what his or her opponent says about them. Trump can call Hillary Clinton “Lyin’ Hillary” all day long; that doesn’t make it so. It’s true that Trump name-called his way to the Republican nomination. Now that the actual presidency is at stake, let’s use other sources to determine whether a candidate is qualified or not.
  3. Don’t pay as much attention to what candidates say as what they do and have done in the past. Politicians are going to tailor their message to get the maximum number of votes. While their vision for the future is relevant, it’s also important to consider whether they have the credentials to lead the country.
  4. Don’t watch political commercials on TV. They are some of the most manipulative methods of obtaining votes. Don’t forget it was advertising that talked you into buying that overpriced product that sits gathering dust in the back of your garage.
  5. Don’t stay home on November 8. You cannot assume that your vote won’t make a difference to the outcome of this important election.

In short, don’t Brexit this one. Read newspapers and news magazines. Become informed. Then exercise one of your most fundamental rights and vote.

Too Much of a Good Thing



I’m standing in the grocery store aisle pondering the Triscuits. There are so many varieties: reduced fat, hint of salt, cracked pepper, balsamic vinegar and basil, roasted garlic, rosemary and olive oil. The list goes on and on. I have a hard time finding plain old “original” Triscuits. The same is true in every other aisle of the giant supermarket. Every potential variety of a food product is on display for my choosing. It’s just too much.

In America, we are blessed with plenty. The cornucopia we haul out to decorate our table each Thanksgiving is a symbol of the promise our country has held for more than 200 years. We have such a high standard of living here that it’s easy to take things for granted: our highway systems, cars, advanced technology, household conveniences such as washers and dryers, dishwashers and the like. And while by no means are all Americans flush with cash, most of us go to bed with our bellies full each night.

The question is, why are so many people unhappy? I understand the unhappiness of a family living in poverty, having utilities cut off and not knowing how they are going to afford rent this month. In fact, a recent study by Princeton University showed that earning at least $75,000 a year helped raise a person’s day to day happiness. Above that, however, the happiness level did not really go up.

I think many of us have so much that we have come to see it as the norm. Our blessings cease to be noted, and we just assume the right to be a two-car family with a house in the suburbs, new Nike sneaks, and an iPhone for everyone.

I was chatting with my daughter the other day, and I said I had an idea for the title of a book: Ungrateful. It would be about a rich, discontented American. She reminded me that a book has already been written on that subject: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. A novel about the dysfunction of an upper middle class family, its title hints at the paradox that may be at the heart of our discontents.

Maybe the downside of our freedom is that we have too many choices. In our parents’ day, roles and expectations were much more proscribed. Nowadays, we are given free rein to be whoever we want to be. Such freedom can lead to insecurity and the sense that maybe we should be doing something else with our lives.

It is up to each of us to learn how to narrow down the choices in our lives, give of our time, money, and talent, and above all be grateful for all we have. These actions may be the key to our own happiness.


Pitfalls of the Sharing Economy


Uber_Protest_Portland_(15655460313)Advances in technology have enabled start-ups such as Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb to provide convenient alternatives to some established businesses. Being able to request and pay for a ride on one’s smartphone, for example, has made Uber a household name. Similarly, via Airbnb, homeowners looking to make a little extra cash can provide accommodations for travelers who want a more affordable option to a pricey hotel.

The innovations, however, do not come without problems. In the case of the ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft, the taxi industry has begun to put pressure on local governments to impose regulations on these services similar to the ones to which taxi companies are subject. They argue that the expense of criminal background checks, taxes, and licensing fees puts them at a disadvantage vis a vis these new ride-sharing companies.

I see their point. It does seem unfair to regulate taxi services to a much greater degree. And I certainly think increasing safety requirements on Uber and Lyft would benefit customers. But there is a crucial difference between the two kinds of companies. Taxi drivers work a specified number of hours in company-owned cars. Uber and Lyft drivers are primarily individuals who want to make some extra money in their free time by driving customers when it’s convenient for them. As such, it would be hard to find enough drivers willing to go through onerous procedures just to work part time for these ride-sharing companies.

Uber and Lyft have already left the market in cities that have imposed greater restrictions on them, to the disadvantage of customers looking for a more convenient and often more comfortable option to taxis. Maybe the answer is to unburden taxi companies from some of the fees they are required to pay rather than add them to Uber and Lyft.

The issues in home and apartment sharing are a bit different. It may seem like homeowners should have the right to rent out rooms, apartments, or even homes to anyone they want. Many Airbnb hosts say that renting out their space helps them make ends meet in a shaky economy.

Yet in certain neighborhoods, residents complain that there are far too many rentals and that renters are often noisy and inconsiderate, strewing the neighborhood with trash and giving the area the feel of a rowdy fraternity house. In the Streeterville area of Chicago, for instance, many buildings are owned by outsiders looking to make money by constantly renting out all the units.

I would not be happy if I lived in a neighborhood that was constantly filled with strangers coming and going. It would not feel like much of a neighborhood, and I would worry about my family’s safety. And once again, there is the fairness issue for hotels and inns, which are required by law to have certain safety features and to pay hospitality taxes. I think it’s fair to limit Airbnb rentals to hosts who actually reside in the home they are renting – and to limit the number of times a space can be rented out to visitors.

Innovations in goods and services are a great thing. We benefit by new companies thinking outside the box and offering different methods of delivering them. But we need to be careful about safety and fair competition as we incorporate them into our economy.


The Elephant in the Room



The Republicans, party of the Elephant, have been trying mightily to ignore the elephant in the room. After the horrific shooting of more than 100 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, they were quick to seize on the assailant’s Muslim affiliation and proclamation of solidarity with the terrorist group ISIS.

Any talk of homophobia or easy access to firearms was quickly shunted aside as conservatives pounced on Omar Mateen’s declaration and the consequent approval leaders of ISIS gave to the heinous act after the fact. Sen. John McCain even went so far as to accuse the Obama administration of being responsible for the shooting because of its policies in the Middle East. (Just when I was feeling a little bit sorry for poor McCain being vilified by his fellow “Republican” Donald Trump for being a loser who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam.)

All this despite CIA director John Brennan’s statement that the CIA has seen no sign that Mateen had any contact with any terrorist group.

So instead of trying to have a meaningful conversation about the proliferation of guns in American society and the easy access to them despite warning signs (Mateen was on the FBI’s watch list.), we have Republicans stoking the flames of fear and anti-Muslim sentiment in order to deflect from the real issue.

To their credit, Democrats in the Senate called Republicans out on their hypocrisy with a filibuster in which they demanded action on gun control. Similarly, in the House of Representatives, Rep. Jim Fines was one of many who walked out after the obligatory moment of silence for the Orlando shooting victims, arguing that such moments of silence really represent silence on the issue of guns in America.

You can only ignore the elephant in the room for so long before it just takes up too much space to ignore. My hope is that this is what is finally happening in our government and in our society when it comes to guns.

Not So Great Expectations



This morning my 14-year-old daughter made a slightly inappropriate remark, and I laughed. Instead of enjoying my appreciation for her humor, she narrowed her eyes at me and said,”Last time I said that, you yelled at me.” It made me sad to realize that she had expected me to yell at her.

Don’t get me wrong. The levels of teenage sass that sometimes emerge from her mouth are not pleasing. But the larger issue is that we have developed a dynamic in which I expect her to be nasty, and she expects to be chastised for her comments. This dynamic is very common in families, in which parents and various children develop roles in their interactions with each other.

Some expectations can be good. Studies have shown that when teachers are told a group of students is extremely intelligent, their high expectations of the students lead to higher achievement than in classes where students are perceived as limited learners. The same is true for parents. If we expect hard work, good manners, and appropriate speech from our children, they are more likely to rise to our expectations.

Yet expectations can set up cycles of dysfunction in a family. The family “black sheep,” for example, regularly gets into trouble because s/he is expected to be a screwup. Once the pattern is established, it can be hard to break.

It’s true that I have different expectations of my four children. I assume one of them will usually be responsible while another will usually be irresponsible. I assume that one’s snide comments are meant in good fun while another’s are meant to inflict damage. I must even confess to a bit of a sexist attitude wherein I find off-color and potty humor, as well as swearing, much more offensive coming from one of my girls than from my boys.

I guess that recognizing my bias is the first step toward changing my expectations for each of my children. So while I remain committed to high expectations for their behavior at home and in school,  I need to practice another virtue in order to maintain a close, loving relationship with each child: acceptance.

Respecting Women Is Not Optional



While the source of the above quote is a matter of debate, the meaning seems to be clear. When it comes to seducing women, the easiest method is to get them drunk. Fortunately, this idea has met with disfavor in recent times. There is a greater awareness of date rape and an unwillingness to wink at the idea of “taking advantage” of a woman.

Yet on college campuses, there is still much predatory behavior. Certainly the judge in the Brock Turner rape case didn’t seem to “get it” when he sentenced Turner to only six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious young woman on the Stanford University campus. The victim had attended the same fraternity party as had Turner before she ended up behind a dumpster being violated by him.

I remember attending parties at a certain fraternity at the University of Illinois back in the Dark Ages and noticing that the guys in the house never seemed to come downstairs until we girls had had time to down a few beers or cups of Everclear punch, a noxious substance that would put moonshine to shame. We girls chuckled about how the guys were just trying to get us liquored up. We didn’t really take it seriously. But now I see such practices from a different vantage point.

Last week there was a news report that a recent female high school graduate had to be rushed to the hospital because she suffered from alcohol poisoning after attending a fraternity party during freshman orientation at the University of Texas. Apparently, numerous frats host these gatherings and lure 18-year-old girls who may never have been away from home before to overindulge in alcohol at them. This strikes me as a matter of questionable judgment at best.

We need to eliminate the damaging and outdated notion that men are hunters on the prowl and women are their prey. We need to stop blaming women for drinking or wearing short skirts or acting seductive as a reason for men to attack them. We need to stop impugning the reputation of rape victims in order to let men off the hook for perpetrating violence against them.

I doubt Brock Turner would have been convicted if two eye witnesses had not seen the assault and come to the rescue of the victim. If his actions had occurred inside the fraternity house or his dorm room, the incident would have turned into a futile exercise of he said/she said.

Our culture needs to demand respect for all human beings, male and female. We should stop excusing behavior on the basis that someone was under the influence of alcohol. Until we do, incidents such as the one at Stanford will continue to occur and young women’s lives will be forever damaged.

Boxing: Not the Greatest



Stories about the recent death of boxing heavyweight champion Muhammed Ali have focused on his athleticism, his larger than life persona, and his social activism. But not much attention has been paid to the severely diminished life he led due to his time in the ring. Ali suffered with Parkinson’s Disease for over 30 years, and experts believe that repeated hits to the head likely caused the disease.

Over the decades, there have been some movements to ban the sport of boxing. No one can deny that boxing is a brutal sport, but many people cite other contact sports such as football as being equally, if not more, likely to cause harm to the athletes involved. As the mother of a football player, I must admit that recent studies on CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) make me worry about my son’s involvement in the sport.

However, there is a major difference between the sports. Football requires blocking and tackling as part of the strategy to move the ball (or prevent its movement) down the field. Indeed, in many sports, there is the potential for serious injury due to bodies and heads colliding. But in boxing, the whole point of the sport is to knock one’s opponent out. If two men did to each other at the local bar what boxers do in the ring, there would be assault charges.

I realize that there are rules of engagement in boxing and that there is an art to the sport. I know that great boxers require hard work and discipline to be good at their sport. But at the end of the day, what they are doing is beating the crap out of each other.

The other thing I object to about boxing is that the boxing world is not regulated in the way other professional sports are. The vast majority of boxers come from impoverished circumstances and are ripe for exploitation. For every Cinderella Man, there are many more boxers who make little to no money for the brutal beatings they take on a regular basis.

The popularity of boxing reminds us that human beings can be bloodthirsty. Watch a crowd at a match, and you will see an ugly part of human nature that I don’t feel we should be encouraging. In her essay for The New York Review of Books, Joyce Carol Oates describes boxing as “the most spectacularly and pointedly cruel sport.” I would have to say I wholeheartedly agree.

There Oughta Be a Law


peter_sagal_and_riding_motorcycleA common generalization holds that political conservatives favor personal responsibility over big government while liberals support more of a “nanny state.” In reality, however, people are more nuanced. My father, for example, who was a lifelong Democrat, refused to wear a seatbelt while driving, even after it became mandatory in the state of Illinois. He was a big proponent of personal responsibility.

Both the federal and local governments have numerous laws and regulations designed to keep people safe. Certain drugs are illegal, others are available only with a doctor’s prescription, and yet others are considered safe enough to be sold over the counter. The Food and Drug Administration requires labeling on food. The Surgeon General’s warning features prominently on cigarette packages.

There are safety standards for clothing, furniture, toys, automobiles, air transportation, building materials – and the list goes on. Certainly there are those who argue that many of these regulations are overkill. And in recent years, there has been a push to legalize heretofore illegal substances such as marijuana. Furthermore, some recent laws have struck citizens as being downright silly, such as banning large soda sales in New York City.

Many safety regulations vary by state and municipality. Motorcycle and bike helmet laws, for instance, are not uniform nationwide. About 20 states have mandatory helmet laws  for motorcycles and for children riding bicycles. On this blog I have bemoaned the fact that Illinois is not one of them, and consequently, I have had to battle my children over the need to wear a helmet while riding their bikes.

It seems to make sense that parents should have the right to make that decision for their children. And if I don’t want to wear my seatbelt while in a car, isn’t that my business? Well, not quite.

Years ago, a friend of mine and I were discussing the issue of mandatory seatbelt use. She was staunchly in favor of laws requiring it because her own mother had been severely injured in a car accident due to not wearing her seatbelt. Because of the severity of her injuries, my friend’s mother was confined to a wheelchair and the burden of caring for her  had fallen to my friend.

Therein lies the problem. We assume that when individuals decide not to take certain precautions, they are only potentially hurting themselves. But as their loved ones and as a society, the rest of us ultimately bear the responsibility for their folly. The financial and social costs of drug use, smoking, gun violence, and accidents due to negligent behavior are high and are paid for by all of us, whether in the form of higher insurance premiums or higher taxes.

In an interdependent society, the choices we make affect many more people than just ourselves. That is why I think it’s important for the government to pass common sense laws and regulations designed to keep us safe.