Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Start Spreading the News ... There's a Book Blogger Con 2011!

The awesome swag bag from Book Blogger Convention 2010
Sing it with me, won'tcha?

Start spreadin' the news ... I'm leaving in 268 days!
I want to be a part of it!
Book Blog-ger Con!

That's right, folks ... it is back!  According to the Book Blogger Convention blog, what was a wonderful inaugural event last year is returning for a second year.  And I clearly cannot wait. 

(I feel a little like Virginia in the classic Christmas movie.  Yes, Melissa, there will be a Book Blogger Convention in 2011!) 

I posted this on my Facebook the other day and a few of my book blogger friends seemed to have missed this announcement.  So, because I'm blog-post challenged today, I thought I would offer up the details as a public service announcement by recapping what Michelle said on the Book Blogger Convention blog (which is how I learned of the news).

The BBC reception will be held Thursday evening May 26th.

The main event will be on Friday May 27th.

For your convenience and to minimize confusion, registration will run directly through BEA (registration isn’t open yet but we’ll let you know when it is!)

I absolutely loved last year's Book Blogger Convention and am already packing my bags for next May.  (Which should be easy for me to do, since I haven't fully unpacked from BlogHer yet and there's a good chance my suitcase will still be sitting on my bedroom floor for another 8 months.) 

Make sure to subscribe to the Book Blogger Convention site and follow @bookbloggercon on Twitter!

Will I see you in the Big Apple in May?

All the wonderful peeps I met during last year's Book Blogger Convention ...
spread out on my keyboard.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Book Review (Audio): Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace With Books, Not Bombs, In Afghanistan and Pakistan

Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, In Afghanistan and Pakistan
by Greg Mortenson
published 2009
audiobook narrated by Atossa Leonni

A little more than two hours ago, we sent Betty and Boo off for their first day of school.  We take it for granted sometimes, don't we, that our kids (especially our girls) have schools to go to in the first place.  That's not the case for some parts of the world, as Stones Into Schools makes very clear.   

Even if you're like me and haven't read Greg Mortenson's first book, the best-selling Three Cups of Tea, chances are you know someone who has told you about it.  I was somewhat familiar with Mortenson's efforts from the many people who recommended Three Cups to me, which is why I picked up the follow-up book, Stones Into Schools, which apparently picks up where the first left off. 

I'm very interested in women and girls' issues, which was why this book appealed to me.  (I read it for the Women Unbound challenge.) The stories of the actual students in schools were my favorite parts of the book, although there weren't as many of those as I'd expected. Some of them are uplifting, while many of them are heartbreaking, and the devastation following the Kashmir earthquake is simply unfathomable. 

(I was looking on Greg Mortenson's websites for information on how his schools were doing as a result of the Pakistani floods, but didn't see anything.)

There is a tremendous amount of information in Stones Into Schools and for that reason alone, I'm not sure if this was my best choice for an audiobook.  (I thought the audiobook was fine in terms of Atossa Leoni's narration, the length, and the production.) For starters, there are a lot of people mentioned in this book.  (I'd imagine there would have to be, given the scope and complexity of Mortenson's work of building schools in the most remote of areas - a region which he has referred to as "the last best place," and lands where even the Afghan officials disagree on what country the very ground is part of.)  It seemed that we were meeting someone new and travelling someplace new with every chapter (or, in my case, with every new CD).

The region's history is also discussed in great detail, moreso than I would have preferred.  Someone with a strong interest in the history of the Middle East and our relations with that part of the world would probably especially enjoy this.  As I said, I wanted more stories about the girls themselves, what they were learning (we never really got much of an insight into this until briefly at the very end), how their lives were transformed because of having the school and what they wound up doing. 

There is a great deal of logistical detail too, extensive narratives and description about traversing the rough terrain and weather conditions and the lack of supplies.  Because the book goes back and forth between locales in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it was hard (not having a familiarity with the geography there) to keep track of where we were. 

One part I do have to mention, only because I could relate so well to this.  In one part of the book, Mortenson tells about the donations sent from overseas (I think in response to the Pakistan earthquake), many of which were of little use to the people in need of more basic supplies.  He relates an amusing story of the villagers receiving countless jackets of a particular well-known brand, which sells for a pretty penny here in the United States, and seeing goats attired with them on the countryside.

Maybe this would have worked better for me if I read this instead of listening to it.  Despite the flaws in the book, I came away with much appreciation and admiration for Greg Mortenson. His work (through his non-profit organization, Central Asian Initiatives) of building schools in areas where few dare to tread is incredibly admirable and he is an inspiration for truly making the world a better place and being an example to all of how one person can make a difference. 

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Sunday Salon: A Misfit Toy Among Book Bloggers (and In Life)

I'm a Misfit Toy this week in the book blogging world, it seems.  You see, this will probably be one of the few Sunday Salon posts (or any posts this week) that don't mention Mockingjay.  For reasons that I don't quite understand myself, I'm not caught up in the excitement and hoopla surrounding it. 

I read (and liked) The Hunger Games just fine, but was content to stop there.  I don't have any other explanation to offer other than, like so many other things in my life, I am apparently a Misfit Toy. 

Case in point:  My 8 year old son Boo is currently borderline obsessed with all things Looney Tunes. He can't get enough of Bugs Bunny and all the other cast of characters who I can barely name. He watches them on YouTube and on DVD.  He's watching them on YouTube as I type this post, necessitating my move into another room as to not hear Bugs' annoying and migraine-inducing to me voice. He draws his own cartoon strips and his own stories starring Bugs.

It's turning me into a looney tune because ... well, because cartoons drive me batty. Even as a kid, I never understood them and had zero interest in watching them. Why? I have no idea and no theories to offer except ... I'm a Misfit Toy. Yet, I love hearing my son's laughter to the rafters and I love watching him get so much joy out of this.

All this is to say that I seem to be hard-wired to resist things (Twilight, Twinkies, Tweety Bird) that other people in my midst love.

As such, my reading lineup this week has been a bit different than most book bloggers in my world. I started, finished, and absolutely loved The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin. This is going to be among my favorite books of 2010.  To see why, check out my review here if you missed it and are interested. 

After The Queen of Palmyra, my reading stumbled a bit.  I started A Taste of Honey, a collection of interwoven stories by Jabari Asim.  Perhaps the heavy subject matter and themes were too similar as in The Queen of Palmyra, or maybe it was the writing or too many characters being introduced at one time. Regardless, this one didn't grab me. Same with Maxine Kumin's poetry collection Where I Live: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010.  For whatever reason, I wasn't connecting with the poems.

I'm starting to get the sense that it works best for me if I follow up a strong work of fiction with a non-fiction read. It allows the fiction work to settle in my mind and by reading a nonfiction book, it provides for an easier transition (and avoidance of comparison, even subconsciously) with another novel or short story collection.

Currently, I'm in the middle of Seth Godin's Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?  As a reader of Godin's blog, Linchpin has been on my radar for awhile. (It is also the book referenced by Ron Hogan during his presentation at the Book Blogger Convention in May.)  In his newest book, Godin writes about the qualities and characteristics of linchpins - those people in every organization who are the go-to people, who are the ones who seem essential and indispensable, who don't know the meaning of the phrase "not my job."

"There used to be two teams in every workplace: management and labor. Now there's a third team, the linchpins. These people invent, lead (regardless of title), connect others, make things happen, and create order out of chaos. They figure out what to do when there's no rule book. They delight and challenge their customers and peers. They love their work, pour their best selves into it, and turn each day into a kind of art." (from the book jacket)

Godin's view is that as managers, we have the ability (and some might say the responsibility) to develop linchpins among our employees. As employees, we have the ability to develop linchpin characteristics within ourselves.

To be a Misfit Toy in the workplace, if you dare.

What is the Sunday Salon? Imagine some university library's vast reading room. It's filled with people--students and faculty and strangers who've wandered in. They're seated at great oaken desks, books piled all around them, and they're all feverishly reading and jotting notes in their leather-bound journals as they go. Later they'll mill around the open dictionaries and compare their thoughts on the afternoon's literary intake....

That's what happens at the Sunday Salon, except it's all virtual. Every Sunday the bloggers participating in that week's Salon get together--at their separate desks, in their own particular time zones--and read. And blog about their reading. And comment on one another's blogs. Think of it as an informal, weekly, mini read-a-thon, an excuse to put aside one's earthly responsibilities and fall into a good book.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Kid Konnection: Book Review of Odd Boy Out, Young Albert Einstein

Every Saturday, Julie from Booking Mama hosts a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books.  

Boo was very into biographies this summer (and still is), so when I was perusing that particular section of the children's library, I was thrilled to discover this picture book about Albert Einstein's struggles as a young boy.

Odd Boy Out: Young Albert Einstein
by Don Brown
published September 2004
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Age Range: 5 to 8

We're approaching the point (actually, we're there) with Boo where he is beginning to realize he is different than other kids.  He knows he has Asperger Syndrome, that his brain sometimes "works differently," but sometimes it is a hard concept to comprehend.  (Sometimes it is for us as adults.)   So, I tend to look for books that reinforce the idea that it is OK to be different and how to cope with "a brain that sometimes works differently than others" (as we tell him, when the subject of his differences comes up).
I usually go to the library with Betty when Boo is at his social skills group on Tuesday evenings, so this happened to be one that I chose for him. I wanted him to identify with some of Einstein's struggles mentioned in the book.  
Albert's interests aren't quite the same as those of other kids. He builds houses of cards "fourteen stories high," dislikes sports, practices the violin, and is fascinated by a compass ("He turns it, tilts it, tips it, and yet the gadget's needle always points north! What 'hidden thing' makes it work? he wonders.") 
People familiar with autism are also familiar with the claims that Einstein was autistic. Although autism isn't mentioned specifically or by name in Odd Boy Out, there are enough characteristics of the behaviors indicative to the autism spectrum to be familiar. There's his "single-minded attention" to preferred activities, his friendship ("a rare thing for Albert") with a medical student named Max Talmud that Albert's parents invited to their home, an explosive temper, the dismissal of teachers who tell him that he will "never get anywhere in life."  
The book's lesson for young kids (and adults) is that despite all these obstacles, Albert does, indeed get somewhere in life (obviously!) and that the things he thinks about become important discoveries for all of us.
"For scientists, Albert's discoveries mean the photoelectric effect, theories of relativity, and E = mc2.
For the rest of us, his ideas mean automatic door openers, television, space travel, and atomic energy.
For Albert, his work earns him a great award, the Nobel Prize.  He becomes famous, but to him fame is like the hubbub of his parents' parties, something to be ignored while he enjoys wonders and puzzlements of his own invention. 
For the world, Einstein comes to mean not fat baby, or angry child, or odd boy, but great thinker."
Something for all of us - young and old - to think about.
copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Library Loot - August 25-31

I was doing so well with my Library Loot for this week.  Really.  I only had one book in my hand, Losing Charlotte by Heather Clay.  (Yes, I know that happens to be in my already-existing piles of loot. But since the due date is coming up soon, I thought I'd check it out again and return my original copy so that I'd get a few more weeks to read this one.)

Anyway, so I was feeling very pleased with myself that I had one book.  And I was resolved to only check out one book. 

I know, who am I kidding?  I'm hopeless. 

Here's what I wound up bringing home.  Still, not as bad as last week, right?  Plus, I've gotten through one of my books from the previous pile (The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin), abandoned two others, and am moving right along with another.  So, we're in good shape. 

Come to Me: Stories, by Amy Bloom

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery (I've been wanting to read this forever)

Red Car: Stories, by Sallie Bingham

Losing Charlotte, by Heather Clay

A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You: Stories, by Amy Bloom

Where the God of Love Hangs Out, by Amy Bloom

The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2010 (I didn't realize this was out already, so I was thrilled to see it ... and of course, had to check it out)

Mrs. Somebody Somebody: Stories, by Tracy Winn (I just love that title, don't you?)

How is My Third Grader Doing In School? What to Expect and How to Help, by Jennifer Jacobson (This one looks a little more dated than I thought. It's from when we were partyin' like it was 1999, so I'm not sure how relevant this will be. I'll look at it but my guess is that it might be going back in next week's stack.) 

Have you read any of these?

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky (here on Marg's blog) any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Links I Liked

We ladies are very much in the majority with this book blogging thing, aren't we? (Anyone who was at BlogHer knows that.) But over on Dead White Guys: An Irreverent Guide to Classic Literature (one of my newest favorite blogs), Jane Doe gives us a few male book bloggers who are very much alive. And reading. 

Over at Collecting Children's Books, Peter Sieruta offers a great post ("Timeless to Me") about the timelessness of Beverly Cleary's books, starring Ramona, Beezus, and their friend Henry Huggins ... and The New York Times has an article on the appeal of YA books to adults. (Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, and one of the many wonderful people I met at BlogHer, is mentioned in this article too.)

And in New Jersey, some adults are making decisions about what young adults should be reading, as evidenced by the removal of the book Revolutionary Voices from both the high school library AND the town's public library.  The powers-that-be declared Revolutionary Voices, a multicultural queer youth anthology published in 2000, unsuitable and neglected to follow proper censorship procedures leading up to the book's removal.   Bitch Blogs has a very good post ("From the Library: Revolutionary Voices Banned, Revolutionary Readings Emerge") about this issue and how some students are hosting readings of the book.

Her Bad Mother's post ("The Monster in the Closet") should be required reading for every mother, every woman, because we have all either been in that place or known someone who has.

On the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Rachel from A Southern Fairytale explains why she still calls the Gulf of Mexico home.

And Chefdruck explains why we have the power to avoid future food recalls.

Finally, since this link roundup is filled with heavy topics, we'll end with a lighthearted one.  My new favorite animal is the zedonk, as pictured on Read Street (the Baltimore Sun blog) mainly because "zedonk" is way too much fun to say.  (And it's so dang cute!)

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Book Review: The Queen of Palmyra, by Minrose Gwin

The Queen of Palmyra
by Minrose Gwin
Harper Perennial
390 pgs.

This book had me at the first sentence.

"I need you to understand how ordinary it all was."

Yep, those ten words were all I needed. Love at first paragraph, continuing on for the next 297 pages.

I mean, that sentence tells us so much, doesn't it?  It tells the reader that narrator Florence Irene Forrest is a bit older, that she's telling us a story about something that might have happened long ago, something possibly terrible and that she survived, and something that in the time and the place it occurred seemed commonplace.  Ordinary.  Just in ten words. 

Make no mistake, though. The Queen of Palmyra isn't an ordinary novel.  It has been compared in cover blurbs to To Kill a Mockingbird, and having read both books I believe comparison is more than well-deserved.  Like its classic predecessor, The Queen of Palmyra marks author Minrose Gwin's fiction debut(she previously wrote a memoir called Wishing for Snow).

Like Harper Lee's precocious Scout, Minrose Gwin gives us a resilient, strong girl in Florence. (I'd like to think they would have been friends in a different time.) Both are coming-of-age stories set amid the racially-charged Deep South.

Rich in symbolism right down to the types of cakes (lemon, caramel, and devil's food) Florence's mother supports the family by baking, The Queen of Palmyra is the sort of book where every single word and phrase means something. There were so many passages and phrases and similes that I would have loved to have underlined and savored. (Gwin uses a lot of similes in this novel.  A lot. Normally that kind of irks me, but the rest of the writing was simply so wonderful that somehow I was able to overlook and forgive this.)

Ultimately, The Queen of Palmyra is a novel about the people we know and think we know, about secrets and about stories - the ones we are told, the ones we tell ourselves, and the ones we know to be true.

"Some stories are uneasy sleepers. They roam a dark house, gliding like silk from room to room. Touching a sleeping form here, tucking in a cover there. Maybe they will wake up on their feet and be confused as to their whereabouts. Or maybe they will unlock the front door without a sound and walk on down the street and out into the night, never to be heard from again. Because some stories can just up and leave. You don't know where they went, or whether they'll ever come back. Their leaving throws up its arms and leans forward into such an emptiness that the words rise up and say no." (pg. 155)

(Even just retyping that for this review I'm thinking, oh, wow ... now I see the layers in what initially seemed like a gorgeous and poetic piece of writing!  I am not one for re-reading books, but you can be sure that I will be re-reading this one.  It's the type of book that I want to re-read right now, an hour after finishing it.) 

Initially, I nearly dismissed this book.  I can't exactly pinpoint why ... maybe it was the cover, although I think the cover fits with the book.  Maybe it seemed too much like any other coming-of-age novel, maybe it seemed too YA when I wasn't in the mood for YA (even though I enjoy contemporary YA, don't get me wrong!), maybe it is something ridiculous like my associating Palmyra with a city in New Jersey that is known for the bridge that bears its name.

Whatever my initial reservations were, don't let them be yours.  Because once I saw this on the New Books shelf of the library, I realized that I had seen this one on many a blog that I liked.  (Yes, book bloggers were definitely responsible for my picking this book up.) Plus the description and the comparisons to To Kill a Mockingbird also sold me. Speaking of the plot, I've deliberately not been saying much about it in this review, as not to give too much away, so I'm going to take the easy way out here and use most of the book description from Harper Perennial. (I am really starting to fall in love with the Harper Perennial books.  Thank you, Beth Fish Reads.)

In the turbulent southern summer of 1963, Millwood's white population steers clear of "Shake Rag," the black section of town. Young Florence Forrest is one of the few who crosses the line. The daughter of a burial insurance salesman with dark secrets and the town's "cake lady," whose backcountry bootleg runs lead further and further away from a brutal marriage, Florence attaches herself to her grandparents' longtime maid, Zenie Johnson. Named for Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, Zenie treats the unwanted girl as just another chore, while telling her stories of the legendary queen's courage and cunning.

[Wait a minute.  If I may interject something for a second.  I didn't really get the sense that Zenie treated Florence as just another chore.  Yeah, there were times that it appeared that way, but deep down I believe that Zenie loved and cared for Florence. Given the times and the circumstances, she may not have been able to show it as demonstratively as she might have wished.  She also could have been overwhelmed.  I'm just not sure that is an accurate depiction of Zenie's character, that's all.]

The more time Florence spends in Shake Rag, the more she recognizes how completely race divides her town, and her story, far from ordinary, bears witness to the truth and brutality of her times [description clipped, as I think the rest gives too much away]. 

I loved almost everything about The Queen of Palmyra except - and this is such a minute quibble that I can't believe I am even mentioning it - for the fact that the phrase and imagery of "precious cargo" was reinforced a few too many times. If you read this, you know what I mean.  If you haven't, by all means, this is definitely not a deal breaker.  Not in the least.  And while there was a predictable turn or two in the plot, the tension and foreboding throughout the entire novel more than made up for that.  On several occasions, I found myself silently thinking no no no no, like the sound of the train that Florence marks time by as they speed by in the night.

I just keep coming back to the writing in this one. Minrose Gwin's writing is simply spectacular in this book.  It's breathtaking and lyrical.  It just shines, and in doing so, shines a light on a part of our collective history that should never, ever be forgotten.  That's one of the many reasons why I believe that The Queen of Palmyra is a book that should be taught and discussed (it would be a great book club book, I think) much in the way that To Kill a Mockingbird is.  I think that The Queen of Palmyra is just as important of a book and hopefully, that it will also be one that people will also be talking about in 2060, on the 50th anniversary of its publication. 

And hopefully, too, The Queen of Palmyra marks the first of many more novels from the incredible literary talent of Minrose Gwin.

What Other Bloggers Thought:

The Bluestocking Society
The Book Lady's Blog (this was a DNF for Rebecca)
Book, Line, and Sinker
Booking Mama
Confessions of a Real Librarian
Crazy for Books (also a DNF for Jennifer)
Dolce Bellezza
Everything Distils Into Reading
The Girl from the Ghetto
Good Books and Good Wine
Lit and Life
my books, my life

Did I miss your review?  Let me know in the comments. 

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My Kids are Going Back to School. Now Show Me the Money!

As one of her "Talent Development" classes last year, my Betty (then a 2nd grader) chose a course called "Money Savvy Kids" where she had to, among other things, create a business and write a business/marketing plan, research the characteristics of a reputable charity, and define financial terms like "interest" and "APR." (Second freaking grade, folks!) This photo was taken during a Talent Development Fair where the kids did displays and interactive exhibits about what they learned.
According to an article in our local paper, a nearby school district is proposing to pay parents for attending events like Open Houses, Back to School Nights, and Parent-Teacher Conferences at their kid's school.

This would, of course, be paid for by federal funds - thanks to our state receiving a nice chunk o' change from a competitive federal grant.  Total cost for this little incentive program is a mere $15,000. 

Hey, whatever works, right? 

Tomorrow is Back to School Night at Betty and Boo's school, which means that we learn who has what teacher, which friends are (and are not) in their class, dropping off our bags of school supplies, etc.

It's an exciting night that generally pushes my kids' already high anxiety levels up to 11.  (That's a reference to the brilliant and classic movie This is Spinal Tap for those readers - hiya, Mom! - who might not get it.) 

So, we're planning to be at Back to School Night from 4:30-6:30 p.m., and I'm sitting here wondering how much cash I could potentially earn from this.

Let's see ... two elementary school aged kids.  Two Back to School Nights.  Two Open Houses.  Two sets of Parent Teacher Conferences, twice a year.  Award assemblies.  Talent Development Fair assemblies (see photo above).  Family Reading Night.  Book Fairs. 

This could be akin to winning the lottery.  Maybe one of us can quit our job now that we have a golden opportunity to rake in the dough by doing something we would be doing anyway. 

Now, to be fair, the money that parents would "earn" by attending such activities in support of their kids' education would not be given to them directly.  No, it would be deposited into a college savings account.  So, you see, you'd be helping your kid's education by going to Back to School Nights and Parent-Teacher Conferences.

Maybe I've been mistaken all along, but I kind of thought that was kind of the point to begin with?

And you know, maybe I was thinking that showing up and taking an interest in your kid's educational endeavors was part of the deal when one decides to bring them into the world in the first place?

I know, I know.  I know there are plenty of parents who NEED such a financial incentive to pull themselves away from the likes of America Ain't Got Talent or People You Never Heard Of Dancing with Other People You've Never Heard Of.  (My Reciprocal Blog Fodder Agreement with The Husband allowed me to borrow these terms from him.) 

On a more serious note, I fully understand and recognize that not every parent has the type of proactive, flexible, supportive, family-focused employer that I have (truly), and that taking time to go to such school events or needing to address one's child's needs can have the punitive effect of a diminished paycheck.  That's wrong.  That's a crime.  That needs to be changed.  (That would be a way of investing in a child's future, thank you very much.) 

I get all that.  But isn't it kind of a sad commentary on the state of our society and the state of parenting in general when we have to even consider the idea of paying parents to attend their kid's school activities? 

Have we really gotten to the point (and I'm thinking we've been there for awhile, actually) where we need an incentive, a reward, a what's-in-it-for-me payday for everything that we do?  Even when it is the right thing to do?  The responsible thing?

We shouldn't have to spend federal dollars to pay parents to attend their kid's school events under the guise of "investing in their child's future."

Because when we need to resort to these types of bribes (and really, that's what it is, folks) in order to take our kids' education seriously and to play an active role in such, that doesn't add up to an investment in a child's future no matter how you count it.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Wordless Wednesday: Caught With the Purr-Fect Book

This week we're celebrating the first anniversary of adopting our cat, Mrs. Douglas.

Given all the books in this house, it seems like she fits into our family just feline.

(Ba-dum-bump!  I'll be here all week, folks.)

For those who are the curious cats among us, Mrs. Douglas has her paws in The Complete Peanuts Collection by the one and only Charles Schulz.  She has good taste in her humor. 

For more Wordless Wedneday photos, click here

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Forever 21

This morning finds me unsettled, jumpy, worried about things that I know are up to the fates and ultimately out of my control and that I only have the power to be proactive about.  I try very hard not to succumb to the worry, the what-if's in this life, because there is already so much of that surrounding me.

With this state came a reminder this morning, via Facebook, that today is Kristin's birthday.

Kristin, who will forever remain 21.

Kristin, who you can read about here and who I wrote about here ("Run Life Your Way", 9/29/2009).  An excerpt from that post:

At 21, Kristin Mitchell had her entire life ahead of her. 

She had a brand new college degree from Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. A family bursting with pride, with love. A wonderful job lined up with a well-known international food company.

And a boyfriend who killed her - three weeks after this photo was taken.

Three weeks.

Her entire life.

Kristin was in the process of ending the relationship when her boyfriend came to her Conshohocken, Pa. apartment. He had some possessive tendencies.

Text message from Kristin Mitchell to her boyfriend.
He would kill her just a few hours later.
The message was retrieved after her death by Kristin's father, Bill.

Kristin didn't know trying to leave him would leave him so violent, so enraged that he would stab her more than 50 times in her own kitchen. She didn't know what domestic violence experts know, that statistics show that the leaving is the most dangerous time in a relationship.

She didn't know that she was, at 21, a victim of domestic abuse.

It is because of the efforts of her friends and family, who established The Kristin Mitchell Foundation in her memory, that many more people now know what Kristin and her friends tragically did not. That dating violence is real. That it is prevalent. That there are warning signs. That there is help.

That it can and does happen on idyllic college campuses to 21 year old students whose whole lives are ahead of them.

We worry about our kids as we let go, as we send them on their way to begin their lives whether it is on an innocent playground or an idyllic college campus. We worry about  who they choose to accept into their midst.

We worry about what they don't know. 

We worry about what we, as their parents, don't know.

And even if we're not parents, we worry about what lurks, who is plotting harm, who we know (and who we don't) that has the capability to stab us 50 times, in our kitchen or randomly on the street in broad daylight. 

Sometimes, as in the tragedy that befell the Mitchell family five years ago, our greatest fears and those we didn't know were our greatest fears actually become our own personal reality show, one with reruns nonstop on every unchangeable channel of our lives. 

And then it is back to the beginning, of trying to prevent and spread awareness and educate and inform of the dangers we know are out there.  Of keeping vigil and remaining vigiliant, of keeping hold while letting go. 

My posts about Kristin's story and dating violence are among the most-read posts on this blog, according to the search term statistics.  I don't know whether that is good or bad.  All I know is that I continue to blog about her story and remember her on special days because doing so might make a difference in the life of one person and one family.  If one family doesn't have to live the nightmare of the Mitchell family, then that is all that matters.  Click here for more information about The Kristin Mitchell Foundation and the annual Kristin's Krusade event, as well as information on dating violence and domestic abuse.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Monday, August 23, 2010

When the News Hits Too Close to Home

There are times when some stories, particularly those regarding kids with special needs, hit a little too close to home. 

This is one of them. 

As some of you know, I work in the child abuse field. While I've seen and heard things that are not to be believed, my actual work has me more removed from the day-to-day horrors that my colleagues deal with 24/7.  (Literally, 24/7.  My colleagues have been roused out of bed at 3 a.m. with calls from police about a case and the need to talk with a child now.)

And as some of you know, there was some hesitation before I took this job. I can't work in this field, I told The Husband.  I just don't think I can do it. 

Unspoken were the reasons for my hesitation.  We knew what they were.  Our kids are exactly the average age (8.75) of the 1,480 kids who came through the doors last year of the organization for which I work.  Girls are most likely to be victims of abuse than boys.  People with special needs are especially vulnerable. 

So, no thank you.  Too close to home. 

Too close to home wound up being among the many reasons why I gratefully - and yes, now gladly -  accepted this offer, one that I am very happy that I did. 

One of the things that has been reinforced with this job is what I instinctively, as a parent, knew before - that as parents we can't be everywhere but we need to be vigiliant. 

But still.

But what about the times when our vigiliance doesn't work, when it fails us?

That's what happened to Kim Stagliano's daughter Bella, who is seen on videotape (allegedly) being abused on the bus by one of her special education caregivers.  Kim wrote about her family's now-in process nightmare and several other bloggers, including the always eloquent diary of a mom, have done so as well. 

Kim is known to many in the autism community as an advocate, an activist.  Kim's blog, her work, and upcoming book are fairly new to me.  (I recently learned of her book through one of my book blogging sites.)  But aside from all that, she is like so very many of us - a mom,  of three girls (all with autism).

You would think - you would think! - that the presence of videocameras on a school bus would keep our kids safe.  You would think that the presence of videocameras would be enough of a deterrent for a 24 year old special education aide to think once, twice, three times - however many times as necessary - before even contemplating the mere notion of hurting an innocent, defenseless child.  You would think that someone would have intervened.  (Say, perhaps, the bus driver?  Not in this case.  Because in this case, the bus driver was reportedly the alleged perpetrator's mom.)

My heart breaks for Kim and her family as they live the nightmare of many, many parents and many parents of children with special needs. 

They are living the story that so many of us fear.

They are living the story that is, sadly, lurking in the shadows on the doorsteps - and at the bus stops - of so many of our children's lives.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Book Review: To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf

To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf
211 pages
published 1927

Back in the winter months, a few of my favorite bloggers (Sarah (What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate), Emily (Evening All Afternoon), Frances (Nonsuch Book), and Claire (Kiss a Cloud) hosted a Woolf in Winter read-along.  To the Lighthouse was the second book in the read-along.  This is one of those reviews that have been lingering a little too long in my Drafts folder and since it's driving me a little nuts to have unreviewed books on my sidebar of the blog that I've read months ago, I thought I'd post this today ... especially since this week many bookish folks are preoccupied with a new release.  (That would be Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins.  Don't tell anyone, but I'm very much in the minority with this one and not planning to jump on the bandwagon and read this one.)

Anyway, back to To the Lighthouse.  At first, I had a difficult time with this one. It's not an easy read. From a quick glance at some other blogs participating in Woolf in Winter, I'm not completely alone in this thinking. While reading, I started questioning how much I'd actually absorbed and remembered of my English degree, because I just felt like I was missing something ... or a whole lot of something.

But as I read, I found myself adding Post-It tabs throughout the book to mark passages so beautifully written that I don't want to forget them. Like Mrs. Dalloway (the first Woolf in Winter book, and the only other one I read before this), To the Lighthouse is more about the characters and societal issues than plot. The more Woolf I read, the more this appears to be the case.

Let's deal with the plot first. There really isn't much of one, and it seems that's what is a big stumbling block for some people - admittedly, myself included. Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey are on vacation on the Isle of Skye with their passel of children and several friends. There's the suggestion from one of the children, James, that they visit the lighthouse the next day. For weather-related reasons, the trip is postponed for another time.

The genius of Woolf is her ability to take one instance and make it into an entire novel, as well as being relevant so many years later.  Even in 2010, there are many women who can identify with Mrs. Ramsey - wishing for a time when her children are older and perhaps less demanding, but simultaneously wanting to keep hold of their fleeting childhood.

"She was often ashamed of her own shabbiness. Nor was she domineering, nor was she tyrannical. It was more true about hospitals and drains and the dairy. About things like that she did feel passionately, and would, if she had had the chance, have liked to take people by the scruff of their necks and make them see. No hospital on the whole island. It was a disgrace. Milk delivered at your door in London positively brown with dirt. It should be made illegal. A model dairy and a hospital up here  - those two things she would have liked to do, herself. But how? With all these children? When they were older, then perhaps she would have time; when they were all at school.

"Oh, but she never wanted James to grow a day older! or Cam either. Those two she would have liked to keep for ever just as they were, demons of wickedness, angels of delight, never to see them grow up into long-legged monsters. When she read just now to James, 'and there were numbers of soldiers with kettledrums and trumpets,' and his eyes darkened, she thought, why should they grow up and lose all that?" (pg. 61)

And this:

"They had all their little treasures .... And so she went down and said to her husband, Why must they grow up and lose it all? Never will they be so happy again. And he was angry. Why take such a gloomy view of life? he said. It was not sensible." (pg. 62)

These 211 pages took me nearly three weeks to read, much longer than I imagined, and I nearly abandoned it several times. I think To the Lighthouse, like other of Woolf's work, is a much better reading experience when it is able to be read in chunks of time. I didn't have that luxury while reading this, and by reading in snippets, I felt as if I was getting lost.  I'm going to keep that in mind while reading The Waves and Orlando, as well as other works by Woolf. 

A few other quotes that I loved:

"Books, she thought, grew of themselves. She never had time to read them." (pg. 30)

"there is a coherence in things, a stability; something, she meant, is immune from change, and shines out (she glanced at the window with its ripple of reflected light) in the face of the flowing, the fleeting, the spectral, like a ruby; so that again tonight she had the feeling she had had once today, already, of peace, of rest. Of such moments, she thought, the thing is made that endures." (pg. 107)

The relationship between the Ramseys:

"Do say something, she thought, wishing to only hear his voice. For the shadow, the thing folding them in was beginning, she felt, to close round her again. Say anything, she begged, looking at him, as if for help. ... And what then? For she felt that he was still looking at her, but that his look had changed. He wanted something - wanted the thing she always found so difficult to give him; wanted her to tell him that she loved him. And that, no, she could not do. He found talking so much easier than she did. He could say things - she never could. So naturally it was always he that said the things, and then for some reason he would mind this suddenly, and would reproach her. A heartless woman, he called her; she never told him that she loved him. But it was not so - it was not so. It was only that she never could say what she felt." (ppg. 124-125)

"But what after all is one night? A short space, especially when the darkness dims so soon, and so soon a bird sings, a cock crows, or a faint green quickens, like a turning leaf, in the hollow of the wave. Night, however, succeeds to night. The winter holds a pack of them in store and deals them equally, evenly, with indefatigible fingers .... The autumn trees gleam in the yellow moonlight, in the light of harvest moons, the light which mellows the energy of labour, and smooths the stubble and brings the wave lapping blue to the shore." (pg.131)

Although To the Lighthouse was a bit of a tough read for me, I'm not disappointed that I read it.  I loved these passages above, and many others. 

What Other Bloggers Thought:

Erin Reads

How about you?  Have you read To the Lighthouse?  How about other works by Virginia Woolf?

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Sunday Salon: On Quantity and Quality

Recently, it occurred to me that the number of books I've abandoned has significantly diminished.  At the same time, it seems as if I'm on track to read as many books as I did last year (56) or perhaps even exceed that amount, which would be nice. 

Curious to see if my sense of the books abandoned was real or a figment of my imagination, I read through some previous blog posts. Sure enough, in 2010 I've only abandoned four books (The House on Tradd Street, The Anthologist, This One is Mine, and It's Beginning to Hurt.)

I think the combination of fewer books abandoned and loving more books that I've read says something. What exactly, I'm not sure. Perhaps it is a combination of being more cognizant of reading stuff of substance or finding (thanks to book blogs!) more quality writing than I would have otherwise.  Regardless of the reason or reasons, I like it - and I like the fact that my "favorite books of 2010" list is going to include many of the 40 books I've read thus far. (Yes, even though it is technically still summer, I'm already thinking ahead to such things.) It's been a very good year.

Likewise, it's been a very good reading week.  I started and finished Harriet Reisen's fascinating biography, Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women.  This is a true gem of a book.  It reads like a novel and kept my interest throughout every one of its 362 pages. Reisen includes so many quotes and passages from Louisa's journals and writings that it almost reads like memoir.

I'm now craving more Alcott, and have read the first short story ("The Rival Painters: A Tale of Rome") in The Early Stories of Louisa May Alcott: 1852-1860, which was part of my huge piles of Library Loot this week.

I also finished Gravity Pulls You In: Perspectives on Parenting Children on the Autism Spectrum, a collection of personal essays and poems by 33 contributors, several of whom I am proud to call friends.  You can find my review of Gravity Pulls You In here.

Finally, I am absolutely in love with my current read, The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin.  This book had me from the very first sentence (not to mention all the great reviews of this one from other book bloggers).

"I need you to understand how ordinary it all was."

In my view, those ten words comprise one of the best-written opening lines for a novel EVER.  It tells the reader so very much, doesn't it? It's going to be difficult to highlight a few passages from this one in my review because the writing is just so exquisite and breathtaking.  The Queen of Palmyra has been compared to the classic To Kill a Mockingbird, and even though I am only 65 pages into this one, so far the comparison is accurate and incredibly well-deserved. 

At first I nearly dismissed it, but then I realized it is a Harper Perennial book. Given the quality of the Harper Perennial books I've read and heard about (thanks to Beth Fish Reads featuring this imprint on her blog), I immediately grabbed it when I saw it on the New Books shelf at the library. The Queen of Palmyra is an extraordinary novel, make no mistake about it, and Minrose Gwin a brilliant writer.   

Today's a gray Sunday full of rain here, which I'm kind of grateful for (all the better to curl up with a compelling book like this one). Alas, into my Sunday must fall some much-needed decluttering of several areas of the house (I can hear my mother applauding - and possibly laughing - from a state away), baking muffins and cookies (because I am on a mission for us to eat less processed food and reduce our grocery bill as much as I can), and sorting through outgrown kids' clothes in preparation for the upcoming months.

What book are you hoping to spend some time with during this Sunday?

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Book Review: Gravity Pulls You In: Perspectives on Parenting Children on the Autism Spectrum

Gravity Pulls You In:  Perspectives on Parenting Children on the Autism Spectrum
edited by Kyra Anderson and Vicki Forman
Woodbine House, 2010
201 pages

Sitting in the wicker chair next to me, the mother's weary expression mirrored my own.  We sat silently, focused on our smartphones, not making eye contact with the other parents in the waiting room but keeping a watchful eye on our boys playing with toys in a small alcove.

Her son strode over to her, moved close to her face as if he was going to give her a kiss, and bellowed for all of us in the waiting area to hear,  "I hate you!"

Oh, God, I thought, my stomach sinking, hoping that Boo wouldn't laugh or give the boy a high five or repeat the same to me.  All while feeling horrible for the mother, who was reacting calmly (although I could tell she was that certain kind of shaken that happens to those of us in such situations) and speaking in a flat tone as if this was a regular occurance. Which it most likely was, given that we were congregated together in the minutes before our sons' weekly social skills group began. 

I wanted to say something, but I didn't know what to say.

I didn't dare open my mouth, for fear of saying the wrong thing.

I wanted to say that I understood, even if the response would have been no, you can't possibly. I wanted to tell her that everything would be OK, even if that wasn't the case.   I wanted to tell her that I've been her; that at this very moment it might not seem like it, but I am her.

Even those of us who live this life are sometimes at a loss for what to do for another traveling down our road.

The mom in the waiting room with is is exactly why Gravity Pulls You In, a collection of 33 personal essays and poems about the moments that make up our lives in this strange and beautiful world of parenting children on the autism spectrum, is such an important book. I don't know this for certain, but the mom in the waiting room with me could very well be the person whom editors Kyra Anderson and Vicki Forman might have had in mind while putting this wonderfully poignant and heartfelt book together, and who the contributors might have been thinking of when deciding how to share their powerful words.

What Gravity Pulls You In does so well is to let you know that you're not alone.  You're not the only one who stands at the elevator with a colleague and thinks here we go in response to the innocuous-seeming question of, "So, how's the family?" and immediately turns the conversation to his Ivy League bound 18 year old.  You're not the only one who's kid screams at birthday parties, on sensory overload, when other kids are gleefully enjoying the noise and excitement.  You're not the only one who has gotten thrown out of baby gym classes.  Grocery stores.  A total of seven schools. 

While parents of children on the autism spectrum will find camaraderie in these stories, it is also well worth readng for others.  So often I've had comments on my blog, or in "real life," from people who say that they don't know anyone with autism, or that they've heard of Asperger's but aren't quite sure what exactly that means.  A very large part of why I write about our family's journey on this road is to give those who aren't familiar with this a glimpse into our lives, and to say through our stories and experiences that this is the mixed bag of our life: that, yes, it can be difficult and challenging, but there are some good moments too.  To give the full picture, so to speak, so that others can see that the gains our son makes are very often huge accomplishments accompanied by some huge challenges and difficult moments. 

Kyra Anderson (pictured on left) at BlogHer10, signing
copies of Gravity Pulls You In.
"These are our children," writes editor Kyra Anderson in the preface to Gravity Pulls You In. "They enlighten us, delight us, annoy us, and open our hearts to injustice, outrage, exquisite beauty, and possibility. We hope to shepherd them into lives bigger and more realized than our own. When that can't happen, we grieve, we accept, we write, and through that process, we hold on to what we cannot see that may still be on the way."  (pgs. xii and xiii)

Gravity shows its reader these moments and in doing so, gives you the gift of exhaling. Breathing out can sometimes be a foreign concept for those of us who mark time holding our breath in preparation for the next meltdown or with the latest parade of specialists making pronouncements about your two year old's development in their all-knowing, my word is Gospel way.  Gravity gives you words that make you realize that others understand, others have come through this OK, others are living this life right now.

That's what I wanted to tell the mom in the waiting room.  I wanted to give her a copy of Gravity Pulls You In, to ask if she knew about us, if she knew that there are moms like us as close as her keyboard, a support group right there in her iPhone. I wanted to tell her that there is this entire community of moms online, writing about our kids and the horrible moments like this very ironic and horrible one right here, in the social skills therapy group waiting room.  That we get it. 

"When my son was five years old," continues Kyra in the preface. "he asked me, 'How fast is the earth spinning? How fast is it spinning through space? Not around the sun, but around itself?' At the time, I was stymied, as I often am when presented with his questions. I allowed that it must be going pretty fast....

'Gravity, Mom,' he answered for us both.  And then he thought for awhile.  'I have an idea! Gravity doesn't really pull you down, it pulls you in.  So, if you were upside down, it wouldn't pull you away from the earth, it would pull you in, toward the earth, toward its center!' 

Huh.  Gravity pulls you in. 

He's right.  It does pull you in, not just to the center of the earth, but to the center of yourself, if you let it. Things that are weighty, things that demand a closer look,a new approach, a shift in perspective, those things pull you in. Even when you are spinning, even when you are moving much more quickly than you thought was possible, even when you find yourself in territory where instincts alone don't feel like enough to complete the revolution.

The circumference of the earth at the equator is about 25,000 miles.  Every twenty-four hours, the earth travels 25,000 miles around itself through space. That means we're going more than 1,000 miles per hour.  That's fast.

And we're not falling off." 

No, we're not falling off.  We're holding on because of a force that keeps us grounded to one another, to what we believe, to our children, to possibility and to hope. 

As I wrote in this post, I was thrilled to meet Kyra Anderson and several of the other contributors to Gravity Pulls You In at BlogHer.  I've read many of their blogs for awhile now and consider them  friends.  I don't think that has clouded my thoughts and review of the book, as I think I would have loved it even if they were all strangers to me ... which I am so grateful that they are not. I also purchased the book (with a gift card given to me when I left my previous job) prior to meeting any of the contributors.

What Others Thought:

Alissa McElreath, for Literary Mama
Christine Stephan (who has an essay in the book).

Gravity Pulls You In website, including additional commentaries from the contributors and reviews from others

Shannon Des Roches Rosa interviews Kyra Anderson in this post.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Weekend Cooking: Real BlogHer Book Bloggers Eat Bookstore Quiche

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. For more information, go here.

Sometimes you get the best food imaginable in the most unexpected places. 

That's what happened two weekends ago when Florinda and I, taking a bite of the Big Apple during the recent BlogHer conference, ventured to Nolita (I think it was Nolita; my knowledge of NYC neighborhoods is pitiful) to do a little book shopping.

Oh, we indulged in some great books, all right.  But we also inhaled the most scrumptious piece of quiche I've ever eaten in my life. And it was found at McNally Jackson Books, of all places. 

I'm getting a bit ahead of myself.  Allow me to explain. 

We had planned to visit McNally Jackson on the same evening as the She Writes meetup, but we couldn't find it.  With the sun setting over the skyscrapers of New York, we headed back uptown on the subway, vowing to try again on Saturday.  We did, and we were more successful.

Already armed with book purchases from the nearby Housing Works Bookstore Cafe (an incredible place that deserves its own in-the-works post), we found our way to McNally Jackson Books  where we book-shopped some more. Realizing that we were starving but had limited time until I needed to catch my train at Penn Station, we needed a quick meal.

Fortunately, McNally Jackson has a cafe ... which is where I ate the best damn quiche in my entire life.

This quiche.  They have a vegetarian version (which I had) and a version with - help me, Florinda, was it ham?  Bacon?  Whatever it was, both versions and the side salad accompanying it were delicious and I devoured mine ... as you can tell.

(I was so hungry and so in love with this quiche that it didn't occur to me to take a photo until I was finished. And fortunately, this being New York, nobody batted an eye at my taking a photo of a half-eaten meal.)

During the rest of BlogHer, our meals were either the breakfasts and lunches provided by the Hilton as part of the conference, and our dinners were eaten late at night at the 24 hour deli across from the hotel.  Schedules, circumstances, and the lack of a trust fund prevented us from dining more extravagantly. 

A leisurely Saturday afternoon browsing downtown Manhattan independent bookstores, a good friend, a pile of books, a great little meal ... all the ingredients of an experience to savor.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Jennifer Aniston, Star of "The Switch," Should Switch Her Choice of Words

I'm starting to sound like a broken record here, but here we go again with another trumped-up celebrity cavalierly tossing around the "R" word.

You know which one I mean.

In case you don't know which celebrity I mean, I refer to the incident with Jennifer Aniston yesterday on  one of the more annoying shows ever, "Live! With Regis and Kelly."  (I'm not much of a fan of Jennifer's, Regis's, or Kelly's.) 

Apparently, Regis and a guest host, a radio station personality, were chatting up Ms. Aniston about her fashion spread in Harper's Bazaar when the following exchange reportedly took place:

"You're playing dress up!" Philbin remarked.  (Oh, the man is so witty.)

Aniston replied, "Yes, I play dress up! I do it for a living, like a re[BLEEEP!!]!"

(Hey, I kind of like my little bleeped out word there. Can't we get the FCC involved in this somehow and get the R word added as one of the words not allowed to be uttered on TV or radio?  I'm rather quite serious about this request, actually.  Just thought of it now, but why the hell not?)

Back to the (same old, same old) issue at hand. 


Let's be clear in this case:  there's no mistaking here how Ms. Aniston was using the word.  None whatsoever.  Insert any other word here and the meaning is crystal clear.

"I do it for a living, like a moron."

"I do it for a living, like a stupid person."

"I do it for a living, like an imbecile."

"I do it for a living, like a person who one might assume incorrectly has diminished or lesser mental capabilities."

Furthermore, why didn't she IMMEDIATELY apologize right there on the spot?

There's only one reason, one possible explanation, why she didn't. 

She didn't know she was wrong. 

And that, my FRIENDS (pun absolutely intended), is at the heart of the matter.  When people cavalierly toss this word around and don't realize that in the very context you are using it that it is offensive and demeaning to millions of people and their loved ones, then we have a serious problem and we always will.

I've heard the arguments, the "real" definitions of the word, the champions of the First Amendment, the people who tell people like me to lighten up and not take everything so seriously and lamenting the fact that we all have to be so politically correct all the time. I hear all that. I even understand all that. But again, this is about being respectful of others (something we sorely lack in this society) and recognizing that this is an issue to a lot of us. Yes, we all have the right to say whatever we want, whenever we want. But can we understand and can we agree that our right to say anything can - and often does- hurt the feelings of many, many people?

Why can't we do this?  Why can't those who think nothing of using this word, who fervently clutch to their right to do so, why can't there be some understanding?  Some recognition that this isn't right, that it's hurtful, that the hurt that the word causes upon hearing it is greater than the right to utter it in the first place?

Would that be such a hard thing to do?

Sadly, I think it would.

Edited to add:  Here's someone who says this better than I ever will.  Read this piece "Why the Word 'Retard' Hurts People Like Me" by John Franklin Stephens, a Special Olympics athlete from Virginia and a Special Olympics Global Messenger.  An excerpt:

So, what's wrong with "retard"? I can only tell you what it means to me and people like me when we hear it. It means that the rest of you are excluding us from your group. We are something that is not like you and something that none of you would ever want to be. We are something outside the "in" group. We are someone that is not your kind.

I want you to know that it hurts to be left out here, alone. Nothing scares me as much as feeling all alone in a world that moves so much faster than I do.

You don't mean to make me feel that way. In fact, like I say in some of my speeches, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers," and it works out OK most of the time. Still, it hurts and scares me when I am the only person with intellectual disabilities on the bus and young people start making "retard" jokes or references.

Please put yourself on that bus and fill the bus with people who are different from you. Imagine that they start making jokes using a term that describes you. It hurts and it is scary.

So why is this OK again?

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.