Fashion Backward

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Every morning my 16-year-old comes down the stairs wearing short shorts and an oversized sweatshirt or fleece pullover that makes it appear she is wearing no pants. This attire is worn irrespective of the weather and seems to be the new school “uniform.” At the risk of sounding like a crotchety old scold, I find this and many other teenage fashions mystifying, unattractive, and even a bit silly.

This morning while dropping my daughter off at the high school, I saw a girl wearing jeans with a large hole in each knee and a gigantic flannel shirt that would fit Paul Bunyan. In another context, I might have mistaken her for a panhandler. And just when I was getting used to girls wearing form-fitting leggings and tiny tops!

The new trend seems to be “working man chic.” Lumberjack shirts, chunky work boots, and ripped jeans are all very well on someone out chopping wood, pounding nails into the frame of a new home, or doing other forms of tough manual labor. But I can assure you that despite the over-sized blue work shirt my daughter wears, she is not performing any heavy duty physical tasks.

The style harks back to the Nineties grunge era, when bands like Nirvana reigned and people loved TV shows set in the rugged Pacific Northwest. I used to tease my older daughter about the ugliness of her “Kurt Cobain shirts,” as I referred to the shapeless, dull plaid flannel shirts that were a mainstay of her wardrobe. Isn’t life depressing enough, I would think to myself, without dressing like an extra in Deliverance?

Of all the styles that are popular now, though, the worst is the faded, ripped-up jeans that young women are wearing. In my day, a tear here and there in a pair of jeans was the result of many months or even years of loving wear and washing. Those rips were earned, by golly. Nowadays, girls spend beaucoup bucks on brand new jeans with dozens of meticulously made rips. The only way those rips would occur naturally would be if Freddy Krueger came through and made several swipes at them.

I must admit, though, the new styles are reminding me of my own fashion faux pas from years gone by. I too loved sporting oversized shirts and had a penchant for men’s white Calvin Klein undershirts tucked into my stone-washed, waist-high jeans. Come to think of it, I wore even more embarrassing styles – like gaucho pants! I had a pair of yellow ones that I paired with a brightly-colored, striped t-shirt. I’m pretty sure I looked liked a toucan.

I guess every generation despises the styles of the ones younger than theirs. Still, ladies, if you want your jeans ripped up, come on over and I’ll do it for free.

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Paying the Piper

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As yet another horrific act of mass murder by firearms goes by with the usual platitudes and talking points, I am coming to the realization that in many areas of needed reform, an appeal to the humanity of our leaders is sadly misplaced. So I have another angle to help persuade government leaders, institutions, and the American public: the steep cost of failing to change.

In the area of guns, a Johns Hopkins study found that gun violence costs $2.8 billion in medical costs annually. That doesn’t take into account the expense of police and other law enforcement involvement, court costs, and prison expenditures, all of which are borne by us, the taxpayers. Even the health price tag comes back on individual Americans through higher insurance premiums and taxes to pay for victims on Medicaid. The high cost of gun violence could be reduced by expanding background checks, thus keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and domestic abusers, and by requiring owners to complete training in the safe use and storage of firearms, thus preventing the many accidental gun injuries and deaths that occur each year.

Another area in desperate need of reform is policing. Unwarranted shootings of suspects are not only an abrogation of individuals’ civil rights; they become a huge expense for police departments, which must shell out millions of dollars to settle lawsuits brought by victims and their families. Guess who ends up paying those bills?

Even in the business world, the current push to deregulate business and industry can have detrimental effects on our pocketbooks. Questionable investment and banking practices, for instance, nearly brought down the entire economy in 2008. More recently, Wells Fargo Bank employees were found to have created over a million fake accounts for which their customers were charged fees. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created during the Obama Administration to prevent financial institutions from playing fast and loose with other people’s money. But now the Trump Administration has destroyed the ability of citizens to participate in class action lawsuits, the threat of which can prevent banks and other institutions from mismanagement and fraud. Maybe it’s time to go back to the days of hiding our cash under our beds.

And in the area of the environment, our EPA is looking more like the Environmental Pillaging Agency than an agent of protection. Beyond the idealistic goal of keeping our wildernesses wild and pristine, environmental damage is costing us in real dollars and cents. Unsafe drinking water and polluted air cause health problems for ordinary Americans, and those health problems cost money to treat.

So if you’re not moved by the sight of dwindling wetlands, gunshot victims, or grieving families, maybe this will spur you to action: It’s gonna cost you.

 

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

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IMG_1465One of my sisters, who loves to shop for home decor, has a pet peeve: decorative wall hangings, plaques and wooden blocks that feature sayings such as, “Be Happy,” “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,” or “Always Be Humble and Kind.” Her problem with these signs? They’re a bit bossy.

Everywhere you turn – on Facebook, in advertisements, and now even on the mantel of a friend’s home – are directives: “Live, Laugh, Love;” “Believe;” “Have Faith;” “Just Do It.” I’d never noticed the phenomenon until my sister shared her annoyance on a shopping trip one day. “I don’t need to be told what to do!” she complained, half laughing.

There is a sort of relentless cheerfulness about these signs that can grate on a curmudgeon like me (or my sis). So I’m thinking of starting a sign company with my own jaundiced take on these inspirational sayings. Here are some ideas for my new venture, Unhealthy Plaque:

  1. “Just Don’t”
  2. “Go Nuts and Give Up”
  3. “Choose Selfishness”
  4. “Be Your Worst Self”
  5. “Belittle”
  6. “Dance Like You’re on You Tube”
  7. “Always Be Hungry and Clueless”
  8. “Eat Prey, Loaf”
  9. “Find Your Blister”
  10. “Sweat It All”

And my favorite sign of all would be: “You’re Not the Boss of Me!”

Still, there’s one popular saying with which I must say I heartily agree: “Life is uncertain: Eat Dessert First!”

Disturbing Reality Behind School Dress Codes

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“That dress is too short,” my husband remarked when he saw my 16-year-old daughter modeling her selection for Homecoming. After marathon dress shopping to find something my daughter liked, I was not in the mood to put up with his remark. But I took his point.

There is a growing awareness in schools that dress codes unfairly stigmatize girls and go easy on boys. Across the country, girls and their parents have fought for the right to allow girls to wear tight leggings, spaghetti straps, and other clothes that have in the past been considered a distraction.

While I agree that it’s unfair to single out girls at school for their attire, the fact that there are so many styles for girls that could be labeled as too sexy or distracting points to an upsetting reality: In our society, females continue to be objectified and judged for their physical appearance in a way that males rarely are.

One might argue that the ubiquitous legging, which girls wear in a manner that reveals every curve of thigh and buttocks, is simply what’s in style for young women. Ditto for short skirts and other revealing clothing. But that fact begs the question: why? Why are styles for women so relentlessly geared toward sexualizing their bodies?

Men dress for comfort or success. Aside from the trend of wearing baggy pants that reveal a guy’s boxers, there are few styles for men that could be construed as too sexy or distracting. The boys at my daughter’s school wear baggy shorts and t-shirts or preppy polos and khaki shorts or “joggers.” As long as there is not an overtly violent message or a logo for a beer label on their person, boys are pretty safe from scrutiny at school.

Not so for girls, who want to look stylish and cute. They are not necessarily trying to come on to boys, but they also don’t want to dress like their mothers or grandmothers. So my daughter turns up at Homecoming in a tiny, short dress that reveals her incredibly long, muscular legs. Even I’m intimidated looking at her sometimes.

This is the dilemma girls and women face in our culture. Until we change our social norms and start to prize females more for who they are inside, we will continue to objectify their outer selves. And schools will continue to fight battles over what is appropriate dress in schools.

Less Is More

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I talk too much. Whether it’s nervous chatter in an uncomfortable social situation or getting carried away by my own story-telling, I sometimes say too much. I’ll find myself oversharing personal information or saying silly things while trying to be clever, and I’ll end up feeling embarrassed or dissatisfied with the interaction. Or I’ll monopolize a conversation and then wonder if my friend thinks I’m too self-involved.

Nowhere is my tendency to say too much more apparent and ineffectual, though, than in my interactions with my children. From the time they were little, I got into the habit of giving them lengthy explanations for everything from how Santa gets around the world in one night to why they need to brush their teeth/go to bed/not hit their brother or sister.

Over the years, my kids’ reaction to all this talking (more like haranguing sometimes) has fallen into one of two camps: either escalating the battle of wills and shouting back or completely tuning me out, like the kids in the Charlie Brown cartoons who only hear “Wah wah wah” when their teacher speaks.

When it comes to speaking and writing, often less is more. One of our most revered American literary icons, for instance, was the terse Ernest Hemingway, whose prose could be likened to a spartan cell in an ancient monastery: no frills. And who among us has not sometimes wished our pastor would share some short kernel of spiritual wisdom instead of droning on and on and repeating himself?

For my part, I am practicing the art of saying less but communicating more.

Enough said.

One Day At a Time

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IMG_1399I recently discovered that a friend’s health problems are considerably more grave than we had realized. Upon receiving the bad news, my mind immediately sprang ahead to all the difficulties, logistics, and future issues that might arise for her and for me as I tried to help her through the crisis. A mutual friend, however, said something to me that put the brakes on my fear and anxiety. She said, “I take life one day at a time. It’s all I can do.”

Breathe. “One day at a time” is, of course, the mantra of 12 step programs that aim to help people recovering from addiction. Sometimes the vista ahead is too huge and too scary. Better to keep our focus on our feet as they proceed through this one day.

Thinking about what needs to be done today and shelving most future worries is very helpful to remaining calm and focusing on the task at hand. Whether it’s a health issue, an emotional crisis, a financial complication, or simply an unforeseen wrench in our plans, taking things one step at a time can be a reassuring way of moving forward.

At the end of my stressful day, I decided to take a walk and clear my head. The grammar school around the corner from my house has a butterfly garden that was grown and is tended by the young students and faculty at the school. There was a light breeze blowing through the tall flowers and grasses as I walked the stepping stone path. No butterflies flitted through the garden, but here and there I saw fat bumblebees getting the most out of the flowers they hovered over.

Along the path I saw a sign that said “Common Milkweed.” I had read that monarch butterflies need milkweed to survive but had never seen the actual plant before. Or if I had, I did not know what to call it. Milkweed feeds monarch caterpillars and provides the right environment for monarchs to lay their eggs. I pictured the local school children cultivating the soil and gently planting the seeds for the milkweed. I saw them watering the garden under the watchful eyes of their teacher. I felt certain that while they worked in the garden, these children simply focused on the task at hand, which was to plant something that would nurture monarch butterflies.

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I will try to keep this mantra in my head and heart: “one day at a time.” I will try to keep hope alive for my friend and myself. I will take a stroll through the milkweed and just breathe.

Lake Time

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IMG_7684.JPGThis weekend finds me and my family (well, the three of us still at home) relaxing at the lake. Not the Great Lake Michigan but one of its smaller cousins that dot the landscape of western Michigan. It’s the last hurrah of summer, and it feels right to be in a place that lends itself to lazy days and grilling burgers and reading good books (for me, Anthony  Doerr’s exquisite About Grace).

Yesterday I stood at the water’s edge and let the sound of water gently lapping at the rocks lull me into a sense of peace. The sunlight glittered across the lake, and the occasional speedboat made loops in the water, pulling a skier or tuber or even a wakeboarder, who balanced with seeming ease in the waves being churned up by the boat in front.

The lake has a certain smell: slightly fishy and peaty. Dampness seeps into the screened-in porch, where I usually curl up with my book and a glass of wine. The breeze rustles the pages of the book and ruffles my hair. Even doing nothing, I work up an appetite and hungrily chow down a delicious burger cooked by my husband, the grill master.

Boats and water and sand are not my favorite things. I’m too afraid of accidents and drowning to enjoy water sports much. But the lake itself, from a safe distance, is mesmerizing. At sunset, I love nothing more than to sit on the dock and watch the sky turn pink and purple over the water.

The lake is mysterious. Even a small one is host to innumerable slimy plants and fish. When I was young, I loved catching minnows in a bucket or feeling them brush my ankles in the water. I would scare myself by holding my nose and plunging under, eyes wide open, staring into mostly black nothingness. At night, I’d dream of gliding under water searching for something, but never finding it.

It’s easy to imagine that the outside world does not exist when I am here at the lake. I plan to enjoy that illusion for as long as I can before real life draws me back into the hurly-burly.