Why you shouldn’t hate on marriage

Dear Daughter,

We live in an anti-marriage culture. Often, marriage is jokingly referred to as slavery or prison. Some people truly believe it is akin to being locked up, kept from true freedom. Divorces are more common than anniversaries. And everywhere on TV, we see story lines of extramarital affairs, fighting, separation. It’s rare, in fact, to see a happily married couple on TV or in the movies.

I’m not sure how it got this way. I don’t think it’s always been like this but who knows. Some say that people have always been unhappy in their marriages, but until recent decades it wasn’t socially acceptable to get divorced, so they just “suffered” through marriage till they died. How depressing.

I know I’ve only been married for a little over a year now, so I guess I’m still a naive newlywed. But I refuse to fall into this way of thinking… that marriage is miserable, unnatural, a metaphor for bondage. I believe that God created marriage to be a blessing. I, for one, love coming home to my best friend every day. I love having a companion to hang out with all the time. I love that I can make decisions with someone rather than having to decide everything for myself.

Is marriage easy? No, not at all. But I think the challenge of it is what makes it even more special. Kind of like parenting. Nothing about parenting is simple, yet you go through the tough times, figure things out, and then cherish the good times even more. The same can be said for marriage.

I feel it’s premature to give you marriage advice, since I’m so new to it myself, and since you have a long way to go before you’ll need it! But I do encourage you now to avoid falling into the culture’s way of thinking about marriage. In fact, not only should you avoid it but you should defy it. I hope you’ll get angry like I do whenever someone “jokes” about how awful their wife is, or when you hear about yet another celebrity divorce. I hope your generation can turn around the stigma that marriage is bound for failure. Instead of focusing on the negatives of marriage, focus on the many positives, and shout those positives from the rooftops.

Strong marriages equals strong families equals less hatred, violence, crime and greed. Be the generation that understands that equation, strives to make it a reality, and therefore changes the sad state of this world.

Love,
Mom

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The two things to know about bullying

Dear Daughter,

A hot topic in the news lately is bullying, because there have been many instances (far too many) of kids committing suicide as a result of being bullied. It’s horribly tragic and such a shame. I firmly believe that this can be prevented, and that parents are the number one source of prevention. So it’s time I start talking to you about it.

First of all, I must admit that I’m perplexed as to why this is happening suddenly. Bullying is nothing new. It’s been around since the beginning of humanity. So why is it that the results of bullying are so extreme now? Is the type of bullying worse than it’s ever been? Are kids more sensitive? Or is the world just so complex now that kids simply can’t handle one more difficulty? I suppose it’s a mixture of all three.

Whatever the causes, I have two messages for you today: one is to avoid bullying with all of your might, and the second is to speak up if you’re being bullied.

There will always be kids in your class who are “different,” outsiders, not desirable to be around. You will be tempted to make fun of them because of this. Especially when all of your friends are making fun of them. But before you do, I implore you to put yourself in their shoes. Imagine if YOU were the one who was “different.” Would you want people alienating you and teasing you incessantly? Would you want to be the one sitting all by yourself at lunch? There was a time, in sixth grade, when I was the girl with no friends, and I can tell you firsthand that it’s beyond painful. It’s difficult for those kids to even wake up every day, knowing they’re about to face more and more rejection. Don’t contribute to their pain and fear.

I’m not saying you need to be best friends with that person, but I am saying you should treat him or her how you would want to be treated. At the very least, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. They might appreciate your silence, that you’re the ONE kid who leaves them alone. But it also wouldn’t hurt to take it one step further: smile at them or talk to them about something you know they’re interested in every once in a while. MAYBE even ask them to sit with you at lunch. Your friends might be appalled, but chances are good they’ll also admire your leadership and willingness to step outside the box by befriending the unfriended. Who knows, maybe your actions can change the way your entire group of friends thinks about the kid. It’s worth trying, at least.

And finally, if you’re being bullied, don’t just sit there and take it. Stand up for yourself wherever possible, show people that you are unique and that your uniqueness makes you awesome. If it gets really bad, tell us or your teachers or some other authority figure about it, in case disciplinary action needs to be taken. And find coping mechanisms, so you can focus on things other than the bullying. Bury yourself in a hobby or sport. Exercise. Invest in your relationship with God, whose immense love for you will always cancel out the hatred of the bullies.

My biggest hope is that you’ll be loved and accepted and that you will love and accept others. I hope that when the bullied kid is grown and looks back on his younger years and remembers you, he’ll think, “She was different from the others. She made my life a little easier.” Make that your goal today.

Love,
Mom

Why we always want the next best thing

Dear Daughter,

I don’t know if it’s human nature or just American nature, but it seems that, when it comes to material possessions, we’re never satisfied. We could have the nicest, most luxurious items in the world, and yet we’ll always be on the search for something even better.

This became very real to me just last night. For about a year now, I’ve been wanting a Kindle, or some other type of e-reader. It’s funny because, being a die-hard fan of pen and paper, for a long time I was against e-readers. But eventually I came to appreciate their value and once I did, I really wanted one for myself. So finally I got one, just yesterday. It’s the least expensive Kindle on the market, but still, I was ecstatic to come home to it.

Until I saw the commercial.

While in the midst of downloading books onto my new toy, a TV commercial played about the new Kindle Fire, which is a bright, flashy, touch-screeny masterpiece of awesomeness. It has all the bells and whistles you could ever want in an e-reader. I looked down at the Kindle in my hand. Suddenly its gray screen and plastic buttons seemed dull, archaic. A voice whined in my head: Man, why couldn’t I have spent just a few more bucks for the Fire?

I finally owned the one thing I’ve been wanting for so long, and still it wasn’t good enough.

This is a common way of thinking, especially nowadays when everything gets an upgrade every six months. We’re constantly made to believe we should have the newest, coolest version of whatever product we own. We’re always striving to keep up with the Joneses, to keep throwing our money at these things simply so we can say we have the biggest, best and brightest. Because somehow that determines our worth. It makes us look smart, hip, better than everyone else. Only, in reality, it makes us fools. Because it won’t be long before we’re panicking about having the next biggest, best and brightest thing. And the cycle continues.

Daughter, it would behoove you to come to terms at a young age with the fact that these kinds of material items will never satisfy you, so you might as well appreciate what you do have. I’m not saying it’s bad to have a Kindle or iPad or whatever the “it” product is for your generation. Those things in and of themselves are good, useful resources that will likely enrich your life in some way. But they should not determine your self-worth, and you should not get wrapped up in the rat race of consumerism.

Whenever you have those moments when everything you own seems to be the second-rate version, try to change your perspective. Look at the many blessings you have in your life, like your family or friends, your passions or talents. Even look at the material items you do own and appreciate how fortunate you are to have them, while so many others in the world have nothing.

Be better than everyone else not by having the hottest product on the market, but by seeing the futility in having the hottest product on the market. Escape from the bondage of marketing and consumerism, and enjoy your life, just as it is.

Love,
Mom

How not to write like an ignorant buffoon

Dear Daughter,

Today we’re going to talk about spelling and punctuation. Because I’m learning that more and more people can’t write. You’re doing fine in spelling at school, but it’s what happens in the real world—on phones, social media and even blogs—that is most concerning.

I’m not so much bothered by the fact that “you” is now more commonly seen as “u.” Or that “thanks” has been condensed to “thx.” At first, these things seemed like sacrilege, until I remembered that words evolve all the time. In college I took a course in linguistics, which is the study of language. (Yes, your mother is a tried and true Word Nerd.) In this course I learned about how language naturally changes over time. We all used to talk like they do in Pride and Prejudice, you know. We would say things like, “The emerald comestible before me is odious to the tongue” instead of saying, “I don’t like green beans.” It’s easy to think we’ve been dumbing ourselves down for years, but truly it’s just the nature of language to evolve with the rapid pace of this world. As our culture gets faster, so does our need to simplify our language. I get that.

What really irks me, however, is the carelessness. A very small percentage of the population, it would seem, knows the difference between “your” and “you’re.” The comma is either under- or over-used; no one understands its purpose, so they just throw it about willy nilly. People are ending sentences too early, or are trying to combine three or four sentences into one, without an ounce of punctuation to help guide the statement’s intent. This is not simplification, this is laziness. And it’s causing a lot of confusion. I shouldn’t have to read a paragraph three or four times to understand what it’s saying, unless what I’m reading is Shakespeare.

I’m not perfect myself; I’ve made lots of mistakes in my own writing. In fact, there may even be mistakes in this particular letter. I do, however, make a deliberate attempt to write as well as I can at each particular moment. I spend more time proofreading and revising what I write—even text messages!—than I do on the writing itself. I take that time because I want to appear somewhat intelligent. I want to offer my reader the courtesy of being able to decipher my words and intentions clearly. I don’t want to frustrate them by writing something that sounds like the stream of consciousness of a 5-year-old. Waking from slumber. At 2 a.m.

I don’t expect you or the rest of the world to be mastered wordsmiths, but I do expect a little effort. Don’t be lazy with the written word. Doing so could tarnish your reputation and could even get you into trouble. Or at the very least, it will be “revolting to the eye of your forebearer.” (That’s me.)

Love,
Mom

Why you don’t need fame to be special

Dear Daughter,

You don’t watch a ton of TV, but when you do, it’s usually tuned in to the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon. The shows on these channels are fun, wholesome entertainment for kids, but there is definitely a pattern in them that makes me uncomfortable.

In almost every single show, at least one of the main characters is famous or has some sort of extraordinary talent. For example…

iCarly: Two high school girls host a web show that has millions of followers. And the main character, Carly, can sing.

Victorious: Tory is a drop dead gorgeous singer who attends a performing arts high school called Hollywood Arts. All of her friends can sing as well.

Sonny with a Chance: Sonny is a sweet Midwestern girl who moves to L.A. to star in a variety-type TV show. She, also, can sing.

Wizards of Waverly Place: A family of wizards tries to blend in with the real world but has a lot of mishaps doing so. The main character, played by Selena Gomez, can sing.

Big Time Rush: Four guys are selected to form a boy band and try to adjust to a new life of fame and fortune. Obviously, they can sing too.

Are you noticing a pattern here? While I think it’s great that Disney and Nickelodeon are discovering and raising up young talent, I don’t like that they’re doing so at the stake of impressionable children who are led to believe they’ll only be important if they have a good voice and/or become famous.

Daughter, I’m telling you now that there is probably a one in a gazillion chance you will become famous. Even if you had an amazing voice and acting ability, it’s not as easy to rise to stardom as Disney likes to make you believe. But I do want you to know that, even though you don’t have a web show or a variety TV show or are not a wizard, you are still extraordinary. You have the imagination that most people can only dream of, you are wise beyond your years, and you have a laugh that makes my heart sing. (And I’m pretty sure it sings better than Selena Gomez does.)

You don’t need fame and fortune to make you special. You’ve already become special on your own.

Love,
Mom

How travel makes you a better person

Dear Daughter,

As you grow older, I encourage you to do a lot of one thing… travel. Most people like traveling because it’s fun, but it also builds character and maturity faster than anything can.

If you stay in the same general area all the time, you start to live in a bubble. You think the culture of that area is the same as the culture anywhere, because you’ve never gone outside of it to know any better. To you, that culture is the reality of the whole world. The result of such thinking, unfortunately, is ignorance and close-mindedness… two very unattractive traits.

But when you travel to other places—even if it’s just other states in the U.S.—your eyes are opened to the fact that geography plays a very important role in shaping one’s personality, methods, dialect, and overall view of life. You quickly realize that no one way of living is necessarily better than any other, as much as we like to think otherwise.

400 miles south of where we live, in Tennessee, people talk funny but are the most openly friendly people I’ve ever met. 800 miles east of us, in New York, people also talk funny but are the most blunt, intimidating (yet admirable) people I’ve ever met. 1,500 miles west of us, in Montana, the people are so chill and laid back it’s like they’re on another planet. And just a couple hundred miles north of us, in Michigan, the people have a genuine and equal appreciation for both work and play. (But they have goofy traffic laws.)

I’ve traveled a lot, including many trips to Europe and even the Middle East. I feel that those experiences have made me much more tolerable of people as a whole than I would be if I hadn’t gone anywhere. It’s helped me understand that everyone is raised differently, and whatever shortfalls they have (based on my own Midwestern definition of “shortfall”) exist not necessarily because they’re a bad or annoying person, it’s just because they live in a different world than I do. Knowing that makes me more likely to focus on the good in them than the bad.

Travel is also good for the soul because the act of traveling itself brings patience and adaptability. Things are very likely to go wrong when you travel, particularly in airports, and such experiences help you focus on what’s really important in life. If you think about it, not having luggage for 24 hours is a pretty minor hardship in the grand scheme of things.

So, Daughter, in the words of Horace Greely… go west, young (wo)man, and enjoy every minute of it.

Love,
Mom

Why Snooki should not win a Teen Choice Award

I posted this at my other blog today, but I thought it was appropriate for this blog too. Read on…

This morning I saw that Snooki, of the reality show Jersey Shore, is nominated for a Teen Choice Award. This bothered me for a few reasons:

1) Her name is Snooki. Must I go on, really?

2) I actually kind of like Jersey Shore, I’m ashamed to admit, but I wouldn’t want my teenager watching it!

3) All Snooki does in that show is get drunk, sleep with men, make funny noises and eat pickles. And we’re giving her an award because…

I decided to go onto the Teen Choice Award website to see what, exactly, Snooki was nominated for. (Female Variety Star.) Turns out, the only way you can see the nominees is if you register. *rolls eyes* I almost didn’t go through with it, but as is my motivation behind watching Jersey Shore in the first place, I just couldn’t turn back at that point. It asked for my email address and birth date. When I clicked “Submit,” I received the following message:

“Sorry, you don’t fit the age requirements for voting.”

Ouch. I am officially too old to vote for the Teen Choice Awards. If that’s not a wakeup call, I don’t know what is. I wouldn’t let that defeat me, though. To spite the system, I went back and used a fake birth date. (I hope the Teen Choice authorities don’t read this and arrest me.)

I finally got in, expecting to see the Twilight series dominating the list of choices. It didn’t. In fact, I was disheartened by many of the nominees. There are several categories—movies, music, TV, summer, other—and they were littered with choices that I wouldn’t consider appropriate for teens. Movies like No Strings Attached (story about friends who sleep together just for the fun of it) and Something Borrowed (girl has an affair with best friend’s fiancé). Shows like Gossip Girl (so filled with licentiousness I don’t even know where to start) and comedians like Daniel Tosh (who takes inappropriate to a whole new level). And Snooki isn’t the only Jersey Shore representative there. Her cohorts DJ Pauly D and The Situation are nominated for Best Male Variety Star, and the show itself is up for Best Reality Show.

For the first time in my life, I actually WISHED that Twilight were nominated for every award.

I know I sound like a total prude, but I’m just sad that these are the values our teens are encouraged to honor, and with awards, no less. I didn’t even know teens were watching this stuff; I thought it was only young adults who watched, to be reminded of how stupid they were when they were that age doing those things. Two things I learned today: I’m old AND I’m naive.

My daughter isn’t a teenager yet, but those years will be here before I know it. I can’t even imagine what kind of movies and TV shows she’ll be exposed to by then. And I don’t know how I’m going to handle her inevitable desire to watch them. It’s my hope that, whether she watches them or not, she’ll know the kinds of behavior that should and should not be glorified, that she’ll look at the Snookis of the world and laugh. After all, a parent’s job is not to keep kids away from garbage but to teach them that it is, in fact, garbage. This is my new mission as a mother. Wish me luck.