Average White Band.

Nineteen seventy-six was the year of the bicentennial graduate: Me.

It was also the year of The Hustle, Average White Band and the landmark song “American Pie,” which was played over and over again on the radio even though it had been released four years earlier. Disco music was on the rise, but not yet in the mainstream.

Nineteen seventy-six was also the midway mark of a decade that presented a world beyond my small-town view.

I attended a half-private, half-public high school in central Maine. The student population included day students (all white) from three surrounding small towns and boarding, or “dorm” students, as we called them, from away.

Our school also offered a fifth-year post-graduate program. The post-graduate program drew dozens of gifted athletes from the big cities. Six-foot-five black basketball stars from New York and Chicago graced our main street. They came to our school to play one more year of sports and to improve their grades before heading to college.

Our majority-white and Protestant 300-student population included black students, Puerto Rican students, one Jewish student and a student from Ethiopia who was sent to the United States to escape the 1973-74 revolution.

In the global village we call Portland, where I live now, there is nothing unusual about meeting people from all parts of the world. I work with people from Cambodia, Bosnia, Croatia, Iran and Burundi. Portland High School claims that 26 different languages are spoken and 41 different countries represented among its 1,000-member student body.

Now people move to Portland because of its diverse population. But in the mid-’70s in the middle of Maine, meeting a black person or a person from a different ethnic background was exceptionally rare and an opportunity to expand my horizons that I took full advantage of.

My first boyfriend was a Puerto Rican from New York City. Instantly, the music of Tito Puente replaced Carole King. The Hustle replaced the “slow dance.” Three-inch-high platforms replaced work boots. I bought my first blow dryer.

Instead of driving around in cars and listening to “Hotel California” and “Stairway to Heaven,” I spent my time perfecting the box step and learning how to do The Hustle. Silver Convention, Kool and the Gang, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes and Billy Preston guided me toward the light of dance, music and all things ethnic.

When I left Maine to attend Northeastern University, I assumed that the rainbow tribe I had helped build in my small town would help me continue to shine in the big-city atmosphere of Boston.

Instead, it became my fish-out-of-water phase. I was the only white person in my black studies class.

Undeterred, I somehow got myself invited to all-black parties. “Why are you here, short white girl with flaming red locks?” was what I imagined the other partygoers thought.

My teenage assumption of “we’re all one big happy diverse family” was replaced with the understanding that I had a lot to learn about being ethnic in America. For one thing, I was not ethnic.

Drawn to difference, I continued to seek out friendships with people from different backgrounds and different cultures. In the early ’80s, I became friends with a Chinese-American woman from San Francisco. She was the first person of Asian descent I had ever met.

Joni liked to remind me, when I asked questions about her family background, that she was a fifth-generation American.

“My relatives have been here longer than yours,” she would say.

As a full-grown adult, I now have a big-picture view of how groups group. Like tends to find like.

Hanging with Irish-Americans may feel familiar, but reaching beyond my clan continues to deliver a richer experience on this planet we call home.

Do The Hustle.

Written for Port City Post, Portland Press Herald, May 9, 2015

Iowa City

As we pulled up to the dorm that I hadn’t bothered to learn the name of, my heart sank.

“Is this a dorm or a jail?” I thought but did not say.

“They’ve stuck all the juvenile delinquents in your dorm,” I thought but did not say.

“I’m not leaving you here,” I said, but then denied that I did.

Eight stories of bad 1960s architecture, sitting a mile north of the stately granite buildings of the University of Iowa (known for Big 10 football and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop), this dorm did not appear in the glossy university brochure.

How will she get to school? Where is the fire escape? What if the elevator breaks down? Who will protect her from all the bad people? Why are there boys on her floor? My mind raced.

And then I learned that my daughter and I are not the same person.

“Holy crap, look at this beast,” she said.

“I’ve gotta take a picture of this,” she said.

“I’ve seen quite a few cute guys,” she said.

“It will be fine, Mom,” she said.

Why is it that, as mothers, we can send our kids halfway around the world to meaningful summer programs or send them to summer camps at the wee age of 7 without much drama, and then we bawl like babies and howl like banshees when we drop them off at college for the first time?

Why? Because it’s different. It’s the end of something and the beginning of a big fat question mark.

It doesn’t seem right to use the word “grief” to describe a minor transition like a child leaving for college, but grief is what I, and many of the mothers I know, feel.

“It’s a heartbreak,” one friend said after leaving her oldest son at a college in Florida. “I’ve never grieved like this before.”

“I woke up crying,” another mom said.

“He’s my baby,” another said.

We moved in what she had carried on the plane and then left the dreadful building that she now called home to explore the pretty campus.

In the Midwest, one goes north, south, east or west. One does not go toward the ocean or away from the Old Port. After we got lost several times (I know, it doesn’t make sense that we got lost), I said, “Just remember: If you really get lost, look to the sky. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.”

“Oh … my … God, Mom. Are you kidding me?” she said.

“Well, in a pinch it could help,” I said.

And then she looked up from her phone and said, “Wait. It rises in the east?”

In every couple, you need one rational person. In ours, that’s Frederick. After listening to me sob on the phone for a good 45 minutes, he sat down and wrote an email to his wife (me).

It said:

“Yesterday morning, driving down in the dark to the airport, I started to think about all the things that could go wrong: doesn’t like school, drop out, get bad grades, lose scholarship, get sick, hard to get there, hate roommates, it costs a jillion dollars to send her there.

“Then, I realized that the frame that ‘everything is going to go wrong’ completely misses the point of how good college is and what interesting things happen there: Things one is exposed to that you never even knew existed. Meeting good people who become friends for life, the chance to find out something that you want to do for life. Learning how to grow up and manage problems.

“For me,” he continued, “the life that I have now actually begun when I went to college, and if I had not gone to college and changed some stuff about who, what, how I am, then I would have ended up a very different person.

“The good stuff will evolve. She will definitely have some tough times, and she will have to learn how to manage some of life on her own. Which, I think, she is very capable of.” Signed, “Your loving husband.”

The next day, Target provided the therapy I needed. “Get whatever you want,” I said.

Later that day, sitting under a canopy of trees filled with cicadas, louder than any pond of peepers I have ever heard, I felt welcomed by Iowa City.

And when I asked a city worker dressed in his fluorescent orange vest if someone had dumped a piano on the sidewalk, he said, “No, they’re all over the city for people to use,” and then continued playing.

And when I walked into a shop filled with great gifts and told the store owner that I was in Iowa dropping off my daughter, she said, “If your daughter ever needs anything, just tell her to come here. I’m always here.”

Go, Hawkeyes.

Written for Port City Post, Portland Press Herald, August 21, 2015

Denial is not a river in Africa

Someone recently accused me of “fighting my age.” She cataloged my outfit from stem to stern and then said, to whom I’m not sure, “Jolene is fighting her age.”

Now, to be fair, English is not her first language. It’s possible that the meaning was lost in translation. Perhaps she meant “That outfit looks good on you!” or “You look great for your age.”

Either way, it brought out the fight in me.

“I’m not fighting my age – I accept my age,” I barked.

And, of course, anyone over a certain age will tell you that I was lying. I’m fighting my age tooth and nail. I’m holding on to the belief that I still look the same as I did 20 years ago, and I’m blaming my delusions on my parents, who are the youngest people I know.

My mom wears hot pants – well, not exactly, hot pants, but short-shorts – and she looks adorable. Granted, she probably would not choose to wear hot pants, but my dad buys them for her, along with a lot of other items that fit in tiny boxes.

He’s a romantic with a weakness for lace and is probably headed to Victoria’s Secret right now to spend our hard-earned inheritance on a new Valentine’s outfit for his bride of 60 years.

Let’s just hope he makes it home. (More on that later.)

“Age is a state of mind” – a cliché I grew up with but did not understand until I hit 50. Now I look at my baristas and wonder if they even see me.

I try to make a meaningful over-the-counter connection as I sign my unrecognizable signature on every iPad in town, but in the end, I know, all they see is another older woman ordering a 12-ounce latte. One barista (she’s wins awards for her swirls) always remembers my order and that is because, as she said, “It’s been like 12 years, right, that you’ve ordered the same thing?”

“Yeah, give me a dirty chai with an extra shot, will ya?” I replied.

Let me be clear. I do not remember their names, either, except one: Lennie. And that is because after she told me her name, I chanted “Lenny Bruce, Lenny Bruce, Lenny Bruce” as I walked to my car.

All around me, knees are crumbling, feet are failing and backs are popping. My friends, I’m sorry to report, are falling apart. So: You’re damn right I’m fighting my age.

My mother and father, both in their early 80s, have had their share of broken parts – a knee replacement, eye surgery, removal of a few things here and there – but they are still the youngest people I know.

Why? Because they do not make old noises and they still care about how they look. They buy each other presents. They sleep in the same bed with their cat on their head. They shop for cute clothes. They call each other by their pet names. They fight. They drive each other crazy. They kiss.

My dad claims he feels like a 20-year-old. My mom says that each decade gets better. Like me, they are delusional, and I now understand why: survival.

Survival, in this world of “everything is better fresh.” “Everything is better new.” “Everything is better young.” The real bummer is that you have to grow old to know that this belief is absurd. Just because we live in a younger-is-better world does not mean that we have to accept it as fact.

On Sunday, when I ask my mother what she got for Valentine’s Day, I will already know her response.

“Hmm, well, your father went to Vicky’s and bought a few things for me.”

And I will ask, “Did he make it home?”

With a chuckle she will report that yes, he did make it home this time, because he did not go with his friend John, who, on the last trip to Victoria’s Secret, left my dad there without a ride home. Tired of shopping, I guess.

My dad, not one to get too worked up about things, and without a phone of his own, sat outside Victoria’s Secret in the middle of the holiday season, until a nice young lass loaned him her phone so that he could call my brother for a ride home.

Written for Port City Post, Portland Press Herald, February 13, 2016

We the People

The following is a short and incomplete history of the lives of three Republicans and two Democrats and what they did for “we the people.”

PERCIVAL P. BAXTER

Maine’s governor from 1921 to 1924 was a Republican from Portland.

After struggling to get the state to purchase land around Mount Katahdin, he used his own money to buy parcels of property in the Mount Katahdin area and then donated those parcels to our fair state.

“Man is born to die. His works are short-lived. Buildings crumble, monuments decay, and wealth vanishes, but Katahdin in all its glory forever shall remain the mountain of the people of Maine,” said then-Gov. Baxter.

Not a fan of the Ku Klux Klan (which, at the time, was active within the ranks of his own Republican Party), Gov. Baxter described the Klan as “an insult and an affront to all Maine and the American citizens.”

MARGARET CHASE SMITH

The Maine U.S. senator from 1949 to 1973 was a Republican from Skowhegan.

In a speech titled “A Declaration of Conscience,” written for the special hearings on Wisconsin Republican Sen. Joe McCarthy’s crusade to root out communists, Smith said:

“I speak as a Republican. I speak as a woman. I speak as a United States senator. I speak as an American.”

And then she said:

“Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism – the right to criticize; the right to hold unpopular beliefs; the right to protest; the right of independent thought.”

EDMUND S. MUSKIE

Maine’s governor from 1955 to 1959 and Maine’s U.S. senator from 1959 to 1980, Muskie was a Democrat from Rumford.

Some call him the father of the modern environmental movement. He introduced the Clean Air Act of 1970, making it a national policy to protect human health by protecting the air, the water and the land.

On a roll, Muskie then introduced the Clean Water Act. The bill set a goal of ensuring that all bodies of water would be drinkable, swimmable and fishable. President Nixon vetoed the 1972 Clean Water Act, but on Oct. 18, 1972, the veto was overridden and the bill became law.

“Muskie had a truly dramatic effect on the lives of not just people alive at the time but on people who are going to live in this country, permanently, in cleaning up the waters,” George Mitchell said in an interview years later.

GEORGE J. MITCHELL

U.S. senator from Maine from 1980 to 1995, Mitchell is a Democrat originally from Waterville.

In 1998, Mitchell, after 36 hours of nonstop negotiations, led the Sinn Fein and Ulster Unionist parties to reach what has become known as the Good Friday Agreement, resulting in lasting peace in Northern Ireland.

WILLIAM S. COHEN

Maine’s 2nd District U.S. representative from 1973 to 1979 and Maine’s U.S. senator from 1979 to 1997, Cohen is a Republican originally from Bangor.

He was the first member of his party to break ranks and oppose Nixon’s position during the Watergate hearings.

He said: “I will not pass judgment on the president, personally …but that must not prevent us from living up to our responsibility to pass judgment on the conduct of our elected leaders.”

In 1978, he co-wrote the law creating the Office of the Independent Counsel – a direct result of Watergate, when the executive branch demonstrated its inability to govern itself.

Today, on this day of freedom, I’d like to thank each and all of these people for having a vision beyond their life expectancy.

I thank them for speaking up. I thank them for the mountain and the clean water and the fresh air and the truth telling. I thank them for thinking of our future and our kids’ future and our kids’ kids’ future. I thank them for adding value to our society and not just value to our pockets.

Planned Parenthood

I never identified as a middle child, even though I was. I was too busy surviving the attacks from the north (two older siblings) and the needs of the south (two younger siblings) to notice my birth order. I cared more about who got to use the car and how I could sneak my oldest sister’s boots out of the house without her noticing.

My approach to surviving a large family was to keep my head down, stay below the radar and get out any chance I could. You could find me at someone else’s house most weekends. I was the kid who would not take a hint:

“Dinner?” “Sure, I’d love to.”

I would have gladly stayed all summer at my friend Nancy’s camp on Unity Pond. I wasn’t unhappy at home – I was just happier somewhere else. New bed, new food, not my siblings, not my parents.

Novelty.

The middle, I found, was also a great place to hide. A great place to observe how others behaved. A great place to make decisions based on what has gone down before. An excellent vantage point for … “Hmmm – that didn’t look fun.” “I should probably avoid getting caught doing that.”

Being the middle child allowed me to assess the damage and plan my approach.

My parents, who I can only assume were winging it for the first two kids, continued certain parenting themes down the line of five whether they worked or not. A consistent refrain of theirs was telling the truth. We might as well have had a sign on the front door that said, “Just tell us the truth!”

Now – let’s be real. If we are honest and really do tell the truth, we should admit that no one tells the truth 100 percent of the time.

It’s not prudent. There are too many factors to consider: Will the truth hurt someone’s feelings? Will the truth make any difference in the outcome of the situation? Will I get into really big trouble?

Considering that I was getting into really big trouble anyway, I decided to give this truth-telling idea a turn. It wasn’t long after that that my parents qualified their wish by saying, “Jolene, you don’t have to tell us everything.”

They backed off from this viewpoint around the time that I asked my mother for birth control. It was a straightforward request that had nothing to do with acne. (Every teenage girl I know starts the argument for going on the pill with a complaint about pimples.) Whatever.

There was no website, chat room or online information about birth control or sexually transmitted diseases or anything related to being a sexually active teen when I was growing up. If there was a sex education class offered at my school, I don’t remember it. So, taking the risk to ask my mother for birth control was a very big deal – like starting from zero.

Today, with health classes covering everything from drug use to safe sex to sexting, a mother might be blindsided on her way home in a dark car on Brighton Avenue by her sixth-grader, who might share what she has learned in health class that day.

Words like “AIDS,” “safe” and “sex” might fill the inside of that car like little fans blocking the sound of the other words being shared by her sixth-grader. A mother might need to take a deep breath and hide her shock.

Possibly.

I remember the moment that I dared ask my mother. I walked into her bedroom one afternoon as she was making her bed and just asked. She took a deep breath and said, “Yes.”

With that hurdle completed, we then needed to make an appointment. There was no way that I was going to ask our aging family doctor for birth control. The same man who had made house calls for measles and ear infections and other childhood ailments was not, if I had anything to say about it, going to question me about my sexual activity. I had very clear skin, so that angle was out.

My mother honored my needs and made an appointment at the nearest Planned Parenthood. It was affordable, and we both knew that I would be seen by a woman.

When my own daughter started high school, I experienced all the fears that a mother feels as her girl approaches adulthood. I knew that she would not tell me everything. I knew that no matter how often I said, “Just tell me the truth,” she might not. I knew that she might need to talk to someone else. I knew that all I could do was keep the door open and suggest other options.

With this knowledge, I told my daughter that if she ever needed to talk to someone other than me, she should consider Planned Parenthood.

Hoochie-coochie, yoga and flow.

Around the ages of 7 or 8, my siblings and I started attending the Skowhegan State Fair without our parents. My father would drop us off at the front gate, give us each $5 and direct us to meet him at the harness racing track at the end of the night.

I remember wandering the midway with my sisters. I remember trying to stretch a $5 bill to pay for a couple of rides and a game in hopes of winning a stuffed animal.

During one of those trips to the Skowhegan Fair, I discovered the hoochie-coochie tent. Not a tent, exactly, but a wooden façade covered with paintings of nearly naked women and giant words that described the attraction: “EXOTIC! FAMOUS! LAVISH! GIRLS! GIRLS! GIRLS!”

Dancers in rhinestone costumes would appear every 20 or 30 minutes to entice the audience members into buying tickets. I gawked for as long as I could before being pulled away by a sibling or until those mysterious women disappeared behind fake doors.

Thus began my fascination with dance and flow.

There were no dance classes in my hometown, but I sometimes accompanied my friend – the only girl in a family of four boys – to her ballet class 30 minutes away. I would sit in the small waiting room watching girls in pink ballet costumes arrive at and depart from class and wonder, “Why not me?”

When life gives you lemons, become a cheerleader.

Making up steps to perform in front of bleachers of rowdy parents and teenagers was as close as I got to legitimate dance. And as a cheerleader, I watched hundreds of basketball games.

Before Title IX (worth noting here and not as a catalog selling exercise apparel) – “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance” – it was only boys who played basketball at our school.

I loved the pace of the game, and I loved watching players pass the ball to each other without looking where they were passing. The best players possessed an instinctual awareness of space and timing that reminded me of dance … or cheering.

All movement is meditation if you can find the flow, but what is flow?

According to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who has written several books on what makes people happy, “flow occurs when challenges match one’s skill level.

If the activity you are engaged in – say, basketball or dance – is too challenging or not challenging enough, your mind will wander away from the present and you will not experience flow.

The goal, as I understand it, is to stay with an activity long enough to find the balance between being challenged and being comfortable.

Experiencing flow is sometimes called “being in the zone.” Being in the zone is sometimes how I feel when I practice yoga. In a full-to-capacity yoga class, I am forced to go with the flow of the group or risk whacking my neighbor in the groin, for example.

Since my chance encounter with the hoochie-coochie girls, I’ve dabbled in modern dance, ballroom dance, African dance, yoga and Buti (a close cousin to hoochie-coochie but not illegal). I continue, however, to return to yoga again and again, often wondering why I ever stop. After years of craving movement for movement’s sake, I now crave the energy of the group practicing with me.

My challenge is not to think of this experience called “flow” as an escape from my life, but instead, as an investment in my future. If I can be calm, focused and in the zone at yoga, I might be, for just a minute or two, calm, focused and in the zone at work and with my family (which, in my case, are one and the same).

The Skowhegan State Fair is 197 years old. It is the oldest consecutively running agricultural fair in the nation. It still offers midway entertainment and harness racing. But if you are looking for a hoochie-coochie show, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Summer is fleeting. Enjoy it.

Originally written for Port City Post, Portland Press Herald 6/20/15

 

Three Rocks.

"Let's do the rocks."  That's what we say to each other at the dinner table when any one of the three of us (mostly me) decides we need to voice the things we are grateful for. I don't know what inspires the need to go around the table and list three things we are grateful for -- could be the humidity -- but I do know that when we do, we are more connected to each other after than before we sat down to eat. My friend, Mary Anne, gave me three rocks for my last birthday. Three rocks as a physical reminder to say, out loud, the things we are grateful for. Corny? Only if you have never experienced loss or grief or just the everyday grind of trying to stay positive and present. Themes emerge:  1. my husband's food. He, unlike me, loves to shop for food and then cook it! Every damn night. If up to me I would eat cheese and crackers, salsa and chips, and take-out Thai. 2. Having our daughter at the table with us -- she heads back to the mid-west for her last year of University too soon. 3. The ocean. 4. Being part of a family that sits down for dinner. 5. For being part of a community (we do not take this for granted). 6. For the rocks that remind us to look up from our plates and our phones.

Made in the USA & Maine, thanks to skilled immigrants

I don’t know how to make French seams or grade a pattern or use an industrial sewing machine, but I do know how to write the word “scissor” in English. So yesterday, I grabbed a pen and wrote “scissor” on an address label and stuck it to the pair of scissors being used by our new employee.

I did this because I overheard one of our experienced employees offer to help her learn English. English – not Serbo-Croatian or Farsi or Arabic or German or Russian – but English, because English is the common language of the six languages spoken in our small factory.

And then I wrote down the word “iron,” and then “table,” and then “window,” “machine” and “thread.” And then I stuck all of those labels on the appropriate objects. I did this to help move our work forward.

When I sat back down at my computer and resumed my non-manufacturing task, I remembered that I did this same thing 15 years ago for another group of employees, whose first language was Spanish. At that time, I was new to this multicultural crew and wanted to help move our work forward.

We work in an industry that no longer benefits from a ready supply of American-born skilled workers; instead, we employ highly skilled individuals who happen to have been born in other countries.

These skilled individuals may not be fluent in English when they arrive, but they already speak the language of making things. (When you grow up weaving Afghan rugs, or have spent most of your working life in a factory, you know how to use your hands.)

Making things in the United States, today, is something we all celebrate. If you make a pie from scratch, you put it on Instagram and create a hashtag for it: #imadeapie. If you make a pair of earrings, you put it on Etsy: #myearrings. If you make your bed, you put it on Facebook: #mademybed.

Today, if a business can claim that its product is made in the USA or handmade or hand-crafted or locally made, it can join the group of makers on the rise in our economy: #themaker. For believers only.

But up until the early ’90s, making things was status quo. Most things were made in the United States. Making things happened every day in every state.

Mill towns like Waterville, Skowhegan and Lewiston employed thousands of skilled workers – workers who were first-, second- and third-generation immigrants. Many spoke French as their first language. We border Canada, so I can only assume that they walked or drove or took a train to get here.

Outside of the factories, other businesses were started with the hands of skilled immigrants.

One of the largest construction companies in Maine – based in my hometown – was started by Italian immigrants. We don’t border Italy, so I can only assume they took a boat to get here. The sons of those immigrants created a prosperous business that is now run by third- and fourth-generation family members.

The first thing I tell our customers is that our product is made in the USA. We are very, very proud of that fact, but we could not do it without skilled employees, from away.

These skilled employees are now my friends and co-workers. They know where my daughter goes to school and when she’s going to be home. They know that my husband does the cooking in our family, and they make fun of me for it.

We celebrate small victories together, like making a deadline or creating a beautiful shirt. Some have developed a passion for country music. Some are rabid Patriots fans, and some celebrate Thanksgiving.

I’m honored to know their stories, to witness their transformations from “Just got here and don’t speak a lick of English” to “Just bought a house, and my son is going to college.”

We understand, without discussing it, that the world has gone a bit cuckoo and that scissors, by any other name, move our work forward.

Originally written for Port City Post, Portland Press Herald on 11/21/15

Tell me about your mother.

You are only as happy as your least-happy child. This, according to my friend, the mother of three who has been doing this mothering thing much longer than I.

Mother’s Day, not surprisingly, began as a tribute from one daughter to her mother.

In 1908, Anna Marie Jarvis honored her mom, a public health volunteer during the Civil War and a community activist, with a church memorial. White carnations were given to those whose mothers had died, and red or pink carnations were given to the mothers in attendance.

In 1910, Miss Jarvis petitioned the federal government to create a national holiday, and in 1914 Congress passed a bill establishing Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of every May.

Now you know.

The intent of the day, according to the founder, was to go to church and then write a long heartfelt letter to one’s mother.

Things went along swimmingly until about 1920, when the greeting card companies jumped on the bandwagon and started selling Mother’s Day-themed cards.

Anna Marie was not pleased. She thought that sending a greeting card instead of writing a long, heartfelt letter was just downright lazy, and she spent the next 20 years of her life trying to abolish Mother’s Day.

We know how that went.

In 2015, Americans spent approximately $671 million on Mother’s Day greeting cards. Americans spent over $20 billion on Mother’s Day in total, and the average spent, per person, was 173 buckaroos.

I can speak only for myself – but I would like to suggest that it’s not about Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day can take a hike as far as I’m concerned. Mother’s Day is just a day to remind us that we are bad children.

Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Siblings Day, Grandparents Day – they’re all fabricated holidays that make anyone without these relationships feel bad. Once you create a group and then give it a name, someone is bound to feel left out.

If you don’t have siblings, if your grandparents are gone, if you never had children or if your mother has passed … your response to these artificially established holidays will be far more complex than a Hallmark card can sum up. A day intended to remind us of our loved ones may also remind us of what was never to be or who we have lost.

My own mother, for example, grew up without a father or siblings. She was raised as an only child by her loving grandparents and her hardworking mom. Love and good food filled the void of her no-good-scoundrel-of-a-father who left when she was 2, promising to send for her and her mother when he got work. She never saw him again.

I grew up with a loving father and four siblings and feel extremely fortunate to be a mother myself; however, the moment my child was born, I became an anxious mess. The day I was discharged from Mercy Hospital, I wondered: Who would feed my child? I think we can all agree that this was not the query of a mature mother, but one of a frightened woman. My heart, I understood, was no longer my own, and that terrified me.

Being a mother ain’t easy, but sometimes it is funny.

When my daughter was in middle school, Tom took her shopping for a Mother’s Day gift.

A trip that should have taken at least an hour ended in five minutes. As I lay on the couch playing the role of the deserving mom waiting for the magnificent plant, tree, shrub or gift card to appear, the kitchen door slammed open and my daughter entered. Though tears, she cursed the man who made her shop.

I kept quiet, hoping she wouldn’t notice me.

After some yelling, they left for another try. Ten minutes later the door slammed open, again, with more yelling and more crying. Mother’s Day was off to a happy start.

My expectation were low from the beginning, but at this point in the day, I just wanted peace. To end the torture, I suggested that she just empty the dishwasher.

On Sunday, instead of expressing the proverbial “Happy Mother’s Day” greeting, I would like to suggest a new declaration.

We all began with a mother, after all. Perhaps “Tell me about your mother” would expand the holiday to include everyone.

Originally pubished in Port City Post, Portland Press Herald on May 7, 2016

Dear Mark Zuckerberg,

My parents did not raise me to take my shirt off at a bluegrass festival. They did not encourage me to skinny-dip whenever and wherever I could or to eighty-six my bra at the age of 14.

But I did all that, without their permission, because I was a teenager in the early to mid-1970s. I grew up smack dab between the sexual revolution and the feminist revolution.

None of this rebellion was accomplished because my parents were slackers. They were not. My mother hated my braless look and never knew that I went shirtless.

My parents waited up at night for all five of their kids until we were safely home. They knew our friends. They volunteered for our activities. Our presence at the dinner table was mandatory.

But preventing their children from experiencing the ’70s was like trying to prevent driftwood from drifting. The desire to blend with the mores of those times was irresistible, just as it is irresistible for teens and preteens now who want to blend with the trends of today.

With that off my chest, I’d like to offer the following:

Parents should (in my opinion) do their very best to communicate the dangers of social media. Information is power. Setting limits on the amount of time kids spend online is smart. Throw out the TV while you’re at it.

 For as long as you can, hold off on giving them a phone or a computer or anything that will carry them out to the big waves. Ground them, lock them in your attic and do whatever works to protect them from harm.

 Make them do art.

 Do all this with passion, but understand …the times they are, always, a-changin’.

Just as my parents couldn’t have possibly kept up with the rapid changes of the social revolutions of the ’60s and ’70s, neither can the parents who are raising kids today during the technical revolution.

Social media, after all, is structured to encourage secrets: If you want to create a fake profile, no problem. If you want to invite only special friends to a private online group, no problem. If you want to increase or decrease your privacy settings, knock yourself out.

Computer geniuses spend hours creating new ways for us to hide our lives from the world while, simultaneously, they’re creating new ways to expose our lives to billions.

Personally, I am a member of three “private” Facebook groups. Only the members of those groups and the 10,000-plus employees of Facebook have access to what we post. We, as users of Facebook and the other online communication sites, pass at our own risk.

I can delete my Facebook page tomorrow. I might.

Supervising minors as they establish their online personas is difficult, and when harm comes to them because of social media, it’s only natural to want to blame someone.

But blaming Facebook or its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, when kids do risky things online is like blaming The Beatles for the stupid things we did in the ’60s and ’70s. And blaming hardworking, well-intentioned parents seems misguided.

All we really can do as parents and users of these omnipresent social media sources is to educate ourselves and our children about the risks.

So …

In the spirit of non-blaming, I’d like to congratulate Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, on their exciting news: According to Mark’s personal Facebook page, they are expecting a girl sometime in the near future.

I wish you the best, Mark and Priscilla. Good luck raising a daughter during the revolution that will erupt in her times. If you have not selected a name, I’d like to suggest “Karma.” Karma Zuckerberg.

Orignally published for Port City Post, Portland Press Herald, 1/24/14