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Author: Maggie Lamond Simone

Weighing In (February Family Times)

Weighing In (February Family Times)

We have three generations of some pretty amazing women in my family.

My mother raised six children, was the middle school secretary for 20 years, and then became a certified lifeguard – which she still is, at 78 years old. She has led, and continues to lead, a productive, at times challenging, always fulfilling life. In her youth she was tall, slender, strawberry blonde, with gorgeous skin. She’s slightly shorter now, slender, with snow white hair and still-gorgeous skin. She is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever known.

She also still weighs herself every day, wonders if her arms are too flabby, if she’s thin enough, pretty enough. She has never thought her body was good enough, and at 78 she is still asking, sadly, “When am I going to stop caring?”

I’ve done many things of which I’m very proud as well. I’ve been a teacher for over a decade. I earned a black belt in karate as an adult. After quitting drinking over 25 years ago, I became the writer I always knew I could be. I married a good man and have two amazing children. At 55, I’ve led, and continue to lead, a good life.

I also tried to refuse a change in my post-cancer medication – knowing the current dose could have caused a heart attack – because I was afraid I would gain weight. I’ve struggled with body image issues my entire life; I, too, wonder when I’ll be able to stop caring.

My daughter, at 16, is a walking paradox. She is smart, funny, and compassionate, and a fearless speaker about mental health issues while struggling with the fears associated with OCD and anxiety. I’ve spent most of her life trying not to let her see me struggle, and reminding her how beautiful she is so she would never doubt it. Ironically, by continually affirming her beauty, I could have unwittingly been anchoring the importance of looks over person – the opposite of what I wanted to do. That she seems at home in her own skin, I know, is despite me rather than because of me.

My mother’s generation saw the rise of new standards of beauty through television shows, movies, magazines and advertisements. Those standards led to the introduction of both fad and lifelong diet programs, ever-changing hairstyles and fashions, trends in fitness – all encouraging the constant quest for unrealistic beauty. They continued through my generation, when idealized beauty became normal – even while remaining physically unattainable.

We’re slowly learning how unrealistic perceptions of beauty can damage a girl’s psyche – and a boy’s expectations. We’re learning that instead of only telling girls they’re beautiful – which so many of us do out of sheer habit – we should also tell them they’re smart, or funny, or good readers. They need to know they are loved for all of who they are, not just how they look. It’s challenging, I know, but words matter.

We also need to help children discern real life from fiction, which is not always easy when they’re constantly exposed to the images that bombard them on TV, tablets, computers, and cell phones. Some content creators are beginning to understand that impact and are using more realistic body types for their advertising campaigns, which will go a long way toward assuring young girls – and boys – that beauty is not tied to a body type or hair color or skin color.

Negative body image has a long, long shelf life. It dampens any joy we might feel, anything positive we achieve, preventing us from ever truly knowing happiness. Consciously or not, our body image is on our minds 24/7, and while my mom and I laugh together as we compare pant sizes and weights these days, there is always, always the underlying query – “When am I going to stop caring?”

I hope there will come a day when that question is answered for my mother, a day when she can measure her self-worth by the lives she’s impacted and the joy she’s brought, rather than an unattainable vision of how she thinks she should look. I hope there will come a day when it’s answered for me, too.

And I hope there will never come a day in my daughter’s life when the question is even asked.

An opinion (which is not fact) about news (which is fact, if it’s done correctly) in the era of Trump

An opinion (which is not fact) about news (which is fact, if it’s done correctly) in the era of Trump

I am so tired of people trying to bait me – masters though they may be – or to incite a “gotcha!” moment because of my concern for what’s happening in this country, and specifically with what’s happening to journalism. President Trump is willfully – using lies told so often they sound like truth to his followers – trying to destroy one of the only actual professions protected by the Constitution. All of the things our new president is trying to do with the country, all of his proposed policies, all of his relationships with and/or plans for China, Israel, North Korea, Russia, etc. – none of it will be clear to America without journalists. And Trump has made it clear that this is his goal.

If I read one more “mainstream media” insult or “all media are liars!” claim, my head will blow clean off my shoulders. Evidently many people do not understand what “media” encompasses, which includes television, radio, broadcast, film, newspapers, websites like BuzzFeed and TMZ and podcasts and YouTube and every single blog out there with an opinion – including this one. Let me make this claim, for those who do not understand this: This site is not news. It is opinion.

Credible news sites use professionally trained reporters, who understand and adhere to the Journalistic Code of Ethics, who quote sources and have fact-checked to their satisfaction that what they are printing is the truth. And here’s another point that gets sticky:

What they’re saying may not, in fact, be the truth. However, that doesn’t mean that what they’re reporting is not. Let me break it down, and this is hypothetical for teaching purposes:

If the leader of, for example, the Democratic Party said, “The Democratic Party did not railroad Bernie Sanders in its efforts to give Clinton the presidential nomination,” and a newspaper reported that the leader of the Democratic Party said this, IT WOULD BE THE TRUTH. The fact that he said it would be the truth. The paper is not saying that the Party did not interfere with Sanders’ campaign, which MAY OR MAY NOT be true. But the fact that the leader of the Party said it is, in fact, true. And there are those who would interpret that as biased, claiming the newspaper is siding with Clinton. Which, again, would NOT BE TRUE.

This seems to be a sticking point for many people. They may not always like what they read, but that doesn’t mean it is not true. People now have to become a little more critical in their news consumption, a little more skeptical when reading news stories that don’t quote credible sources, a little more curious about how a meme came to be going around Facebook. Memes are not news. Anyone can make a meme, the same way anyone can make a blog.

So for planning purposes, the most credible news sites, according to Business Insider, continue to be the historically most credible – New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, ABC, NBC, CBS. And local papers are often a bastion of unbiased information. The key? You might have to pay. Because it’s a business, and journalists need to eat just like everyone else. If you want free news, you go to BuzzFeed and TMZ and hope for the best. In the free department, I would recommend ProPublica, where you only hit a paywall for access to certain departments. Otherwise, I would suggest that you get, in fact, what you pay for.

President Trump has assailed the entire profession of journalism with his recent “Journalists are the most dishonest people” claim and his affection for labeling as “fake news” anything that presents him in a critical light. Are mistakes made? Yes. Journalists are human. A Time magazine reporter erred in his reporting about the MLK bust, acknowledged and apologized within a half hour. But credible news sites will not engage in overt attempts at publishing fake news – a truth that Trump is trying to convince America is a lie. If one teacher has an affair with a student, are all teachers suspect? No.

Trump is trying to erode America’s trust in journalism so that his agenda will be the only news to which we have access. He is telling us that what we’re seeing with our own eyes is not true. And when you see him and his cabinet, with your own eyes, slowly backing into a bunker someday while claiming, “This isn’t what it seems; everything is okay,” you’re going to have to choose which to believe.

The conversation

The conversation

Anyone who knows me knows I have historically eschewed politics at every possible turn. I don’t necessarily understand them, and I’m not necessarily interested in them except insofar as they tend to orchestrate the world stage.

Recent situations have compelled me to educate myself in this area – about the present, and about the past. I’ve learned much about past presidents, for instance, and the information has, in many cases, compromised the vague sense of “good” or “bad” I may have developed as an outlier all these years. My ability to keep politics even farther than arm’s length all of these years has been nothing short of impressive. And I think, maybe I don’t belong in this conversation around president-elect Trump, because I’m learning how much I don’t know about the system, its history, the possibilities. I’ve been dodging it all my life.

Then I remember I’ve also been a human all of my life, and that’s what qualifies me to be involved in this conversation. Because what I find offensive about him is not his politics – I barely know what his politics are – but his humanity. So I do belong.

And if you’re human, you belong, too.

No longer politics as usual.

No longer politics as usual.

A few of my son’s friends came over recently to pick something up, and they had not seen our house yet. My son gave them a tour, and the whole time I was thinking, “Good Lord. This house is a mess.” I was somewhat embarrassed, and a bit frustrated about the condition of the kids’ bedrooms and bathroom.

As I watched the RNC conclusion that night, a similar feeling crept in. I am embarrassed and frustrated by the state of our country and the presidential race, which is no longer about parties or contentious debate. Heck, I led my 5th-grade class in support of Nixon in a mock election; I know how it feels to be on the ultimately losing end of politics. This is not that.

“This” is the staggering number of Americans who seem to want to return America to a time when we were not, in fact, great. They want to return to a time when white males were in charge, a time when minorities and gays were allowed – encouraged, even – to be marginalized, a time when women were best found in the kitchen in full makeup with dinner cooking. They seem to want to go back to the days when violence was the answer to any given night’s saloon debate, the days when it was okay to hate because it was “us” versus “them,” and “us” was always right. The days when “them” could have been anybody.

Trump did not win the nomination based on his platform; one can logically argue the issues of a platform. He won the nomination by encouraging fear, prejudice, lies, hatred and bigotry, and there is no room for logic there. He condones – incites! – violence against those who disagree with him, and resorts to the name-calling and insult-spewing tactics of a schoolyard bully when faced with adversity.

This is no longer about Democrats vs. Republicans. We have survived that divide time and again. This is about the American people. As the great one once said, a house divided cannot stand. And with the depth of the hatred, racism and bigotry we have seen rise to the surface this year … I’m embarrassed and frustrated about the condition of our house.

The Arrogance of Youth, or how I learned to stop lying about hair color

The Arrogance of Youth, or how I learned to stop lying about hair color

Waiting for the Memorial Day Observance to begin last evening, I couldn’t help overhearing a conversation between a few elderly people a few chairs away. They were discussing the lives and accomplishments of some of their relatives, and one woman said, “I’ll never forget my niece! She lives – wait. Where does she live, dear?” she asked her husband. “Cleveland. Yes. And what’s her name again?” I sat there chuckling, thinking, what do you mean, you’ll never forget her? You’ve already forgotten her!

I was feeling the smug of youth.

It reminded me of a visit a few years back to my hometown, when I went to the local YMCA to watch my mom teach her Senior Aqua-Aerobics class. They were all in the pool as I greeted my mother. She was thrilled to show off her students – her “ladies” – to me, and me to them.

“And this is my dance instructor,” she said at one point, introducing me to a woman in her eighties in a spiffy one-piece suit holding hand weights, who was also a redhead.

“I don’t know how you did it,” my mom said, “but you two both have the exact same shade of red hair!” She turned to me. “What do you use, honey?”

I was beet red. “Mom,” I said quietly, “there are those who might think this is my natural color.” She looked at me doubtfully.

“No . . . really? Huh.” She then looked at her ladies for help, and they all smiled at me and shook their heads kindly.

Youth-smug, people. The struggle is real.

An open letter to Donald Trump, from a mom

An open letter to Donald Trump, from a mom

For seventeen years – all of their lives – I have strived to teach my children concepts I think are critical to a happy, healthy, charitable and compassionate life. Some of these concepts, like healthy self-esteem and body image, the ability to have difficult conversations, and the self-confidence to stand up for themselves and others, have been particularly challenging because I’ve had to learn them in the process.

As I sit here and read about your latest insult – comparing your wife’s picture to Mrs. Cruz? Seriously? What are you, 12? – I get the sense that you’re trying to undo all of it.

You are showing my son that to stand up to bullies can mean more – and worse – bullying. You are showing him that being insulting, degrading, condescending and threatening is a door to both economic and political success. My son, who is one of the nicest kids you’d ever want to meet, fortunately still sees you for what you are – a bigot and a bully.

You are showing my daughter that it doesn’t matter how smart she is, how hard she tries, how academically superior she may be, how athletically determined she is – if she doesn’t fit the standard definition of “beautiful,” none of those other things matter. She will not be worthwhile. My daughter, fortunately, who is one of the all-around coolest kids you’d ever want to meet, has a good support network to remind her what’s important, and still sees you for what you are – a misogynist and a bully.

You are showing both of my children that this country, founded on diversity, is instead thriving on hatred, divisiveness, misogyny, intolerance and racism. That we no longer live in the greatest country in the world because that country would not be anchored in those principles. My children, who are the future of this country, this year’s election notwithstanding, fortunately still believe in all that is good in the United States, and in fact may feel it a little more strongly than they did six months ago, when they first encountered someone trying to destroy it.

As a parent, I am asking you to stop. Stop trying to undo my parenting … because you’re wasting our time, and – thank God – you’re wasting your own.

Irony at its best

Irony at its best

I recently realized that for the last month I have not written a “Boom with a View” post about being a 50-something working mother of teens with elderly relatives because I am a 50-something (with some of the health issues that accompany this age) working mother of teens (both involved in after-school activities and neither of whom drive yet) with elderly relatives (with some of the health/mobility issues that accompany that age).

Coincidence? Perhaps. More will follow, I’m sure, as the strands of my brain unwind, slowly and surely, like a twisted telephone cord of old. In the meantime, please enjoy this random picture of one of our three cats (yes, you read that right. Three. Cats.), Lenny, when he was but a wee one. 🙂

♫ Isn’t It Romantic? ♪

♫ Isn’t It Romantic? ♪

Gather ’round, kids. Our very favorite holiday, Valentine’s Day, is fast approaching. It’s the one day we are allowed to blatantly display our love for each other, and every year Auntie Maggie takes particular delight in sharing the special story of this most romantic time.  Yes, Auntie Maggie has an issue or two.

Our story begins in Rome in the year 269 A.D. Emperor Claudius wanted to build a really big army so he could prove his manhood by having other men slaughter his enemies. Unfortunately he forgot to invent the draft, and instead just asked the guys to join with the promise that hey, it might be fun.

Much to the emperor’s chagrin, his volunteer army consisted of about zero soldiers, once again proving the theory that given the option, people would rather live. Misreading this most basic of tenets, however, Claudius determined that men were not cowards but rather, for lack of a better term, whipped. They weren’t joining his army because they didn’t want to leave their wives.

In a burst of classic male logic, he outlawed marriage, because obviously if a man couldn’t have a wife, the next best thing would be to kill people. He apparently overlooked the Golden Rule of the male psyche, i.e., if they can’t have it, they only want it more. Or actually, maybe he invented it. Who knows. I didn’t write the story. I’m just telling it.

Anyway, society was incensed at this turn of events, and an outraged young priest named Valentine continued to perform marriage ceremonies secretly until he was ultimately busted by the love police and sentenced to death for the crime of condoning marriage.

While awaiting his fate in the dungeon, he was befriended by a prison guard’s daughter who apparently was allowed to play down there. She supported his defiance of the emperor’s edict, offering encouragement and friendship. He really liked this young girl, and on the day he was scheduled to die – February 14, so the story goes – the priest left her a thank-you note and signed it, “Love from your Valentine.” Wasn’t that sweet? Then they cut off his head.

Fast forward to the 1700s, when American settlers were experiencing their first taste of the hell we affectionately refer to here as “winter.” They invented Thanksgiving for November, Christmas helped pass December, and my birthday got them through January, but what would prevent them from going nutso in February?

“Hey, I know!” someone said. “Let’s celebrate Valentine’s Day, in honor of that priest whose head was lopped off because despite the fact that he probably never had to live through it, he thought marriage was a good thing!” And that, or something like that, is how Valentine’s Day came to America. Isn’t that wonderful? I get goosebumps.

So you see? You don’t have to be hurt or lonely if you don’t have someone special to share Valentine’s Day with, or if you have someone special but he or she is too dense to buy you things. It’s okay.  Things really could be worse.

The truth of the matter is we’re celebrating the fact that a really good man lost his life in a really disgusting way because another obviously unhappy man blamed love for other not unhappy men’s lack of desire to kill. When it comes right down to it, I just don’t mind not getting flowers for that.

For everyone else, those who are happily in love with people who actually remember to buy them stuff, um, hey! Happy Valentine’s Day! Woohoo!

[icon icon=icon-heart size=14px color=#FF0000 ]


There’s No Place Like It.

There’s No Place Like It.

I want to go home.

It’s funny to type that as I sit in my chair at my desk in my office in my house, because of course, I AM home. But this home – this house where my children have grown up and this neighborhood where I walk my dog every day and this city in which I’ve lived for three decades – is not the home I’m talking about.

That home is back in time somewhere – the house I couldn’t get out of fast enough, in the neighborhood I couldn’t wait to leave, in the city from which I couldn’t flee far enough. It’s where my siblings and I – best friends one minute, sworn enemies the next, with allegiances that changed with the wind direction – formed a cohesive unit that at once bonded us against the outside world and made us chomp at the bit to get out into it. It’s where I spent the first third of my life, 18 years of memories that are fading with each passing day no matter how hard I try to hold on to them.

That “home” represents a time, challenging as it could be, that still allowed for the naïve, passionate, unquestioning hope that is unfortunately not as easily grasped anymore … or maybe just not as readily acknowledged. The time that truly is wasted on the young.

Between watching my teenagers at the start of their lives, and so many friends and family members at the end of theirs, I’ve never wanted to return to the days of my youth as desperately as I do at this moment. I don’t want a “do-over,” although certainly there are times I think that would be nice as well; no, all I want is to go back for a bit, to remember more. To feel that way again. Fortunately this moment is just that – a moment – and it will pass and my life will continue exactly where it left off, but in that moment, I’m walking in the pasture at Davis Road picking wild strawberries, or sitting in the high school library with Anne and Katie talking about tests or boys, or skating behind a shovel on the pond trying to clear it smooth, or lying in my bed listening to the Eagles’ Greatest Hits.

In that moment, at least, I am home.

Don’t let the door hit you.

Don’t let the door hit you.

Dear thyroid cancer:

You never did scare me, though you scarred me for life
Removed as you were by my surgeon’s knife
But with his skilled hands, you still didn’t mar
My precious neck which now bears your scar

You tried and you failed to make me feel sad
You weren’t even the worst that I’ve ever had.
You crept into my life with intent to disturb
And so with my clean scan, I kick you to the curb.