Monday, February 8, 2021

I Want the Truth!

Preach Lt. Kaffee!

~~~

You Want Answers?

It never gets old. I've done it hundreds of times. But, it is still my favorite part of the day. 

Picking my kids up from school brings with it an energy that I badly need around 3:45pm each day. As they launch themselves into the backseat of my car under hurried pressure by the carpool monitors, they bring with them loud, joyful greetings, violent backpack drops and a couple of annoyed jabs at each other for an unintentional elbow hit. 

A few days ago, my daughter's energy was noticeably different from the moment she clicked her seatbelt. While my son was halfway through his usual onslaught of school news, I could see through the rearview mirror that my daughter wasn't quite herself. 

"What's wrong?" I asked her.

"Nothing," she responded. 

Having mastered the art of the "Mom Nag" I didn't accept that dismissal since her watery eyes and slumped shoulders were telling a completely different story. 

"Friend stuff?"

"No."

"Are you feeling sick?"

"No."

"You seem sad, are you sure you're okay?"

"Yes."

"Are you just tired?"

"Yes."

We stopped at a stoplight and I mentally reprimanded myself. 

Let it go, Sheevani! Yes, she's clearly upset about something, but maybe she just needs a minute. Give her space!

Then I remembered she had her math test that day. So much for letting it go.

"Oh! How did your math test go?" 

"Fine."

"You think you did okay?"

"Yes."

Sighhhhh. I was getting nowhere and with the rise of frustration in my chest, I decided to really let it go this time. She will tell me when she's ready... or she won't. These days her friends got most of the chatty attention via FaceTime or texts. I begrudgingly accepted her mood and asked my son to continue about the news of his day.


Code Dread

Unit, Corp, God, Country... aaaaand Consequences

~~~

About a half an hour after we arrived at home, I received an email from my daughter's teacher. The subject read, "Incident from Study Hall." A warm wave of panic made its way down my arms. I could hear the shower running upstairs. My daughter was busy washing the day off of her, no doubt scrubbing away what I was about to read. With a deep breath, I clicked on the message. 

My daughter had cheated on her math test.

The words bounced around in my vision and the phrases "meeting with the Dean" and "detention" and "disappointed in her behavior" jumped out and stung me like hot oil spattering from a pan.

I took another deep breath. I re-read the email after my heartbeat slowed and I could absorb each word.

Since she'd been having some issues with her math test, her incredibly kind teacher allowed her some extra time at the end of the day to complete her test. She was given this time during the study hall period which is where students work quietly at their desks. My girl started getting frustrated and visibly upset which prompted a couple of her friends to go over to her desk with the intention of comforting her... which led to them helping her with the test problems. When the teacher saw this, she reprimanded all three of them. 

Okay. So it wasn't a situation where she had conspired to cheat on her test. Whew... it was a relief to know my daughter wasn't a totally different person than I had known for the past 10 years. What happened was sort of... accidental cheating, but cheating nonetheless. She certainly knew she should have told her friends, "Thanks, but no thanks." 

As I let the situation settle into my consciousness, I felt a range of emotions; disappointment, worry, confusion. After I cycled through my initial reactions, I felt... anger. Anger because she had lied to me over and over again in the car and then again after we got home when I gave it one last effort to get her to open up about what was wrong. Her lies came out as effortless as reflexes... and that crushed me.

Knowing my girl and her lifelong reputation as a people-pleaser, I knew getting in trouble must have been devastating. Every conference or casual encounter with her teachers since daycare never failed to entail some comment about what a delight she is to have in class. My daughter thrives on this. In fact, the previous night was our parent-teacher conference where the same teacher who caught her cheating had clutched her chest when she expressed how much she loved our daughter. "I absolutely ADORE her," she had said. 

The hiss of the shower ceased. She was done. 

No doubt this was brutal for her, but she still lied to me repeatedly. I was experiencing both anger and sympathy, the combination of which left me with an unexpected stoicism as I climbed the stairs to confront her about what I knew. My legs were moving at a slower pace, weighed down by the realization that this was the angriest I'd ever been at my firstborn child.

"I just got an email from your teacher," I said. She was standing in the tub wrapped in her towel. Maybe I should have waited until she was dressed. 

"Oh," she said and looked down.

"Yeah," I said. We stood in silence for a few seconds. 

"She said you're going to have lunch detention next week and..."

My girl buckled at the knees and started sobbing.

"Oh NOOOOO!" she screamed. 

"Hey... heyyyy. Come here," I pulled her up and wrapped my arms around her, my shirt soaking in the dampness of her hair. 

Her cries came from deep inside her and then she started shouting into my stomach.

"I'm the worst kid! I'm so sorry! Punish me however you want, I'm terrible! I'm such a bad kid! Everyone hates me! YOU must hate me! Dad will hate me! My teacher hates me!"

I swallowed hard. She was breaking my heart, but contrary to my usual empathic ways, I felt no tears coming. I was still too mad at her for lying to me. This was uncharted territory for both of us. 

"Stop," I said gently and pulled away, "you're not a terrible kid. You made a mistake. You made a big mistake. I don't want you to think you're the worst kid, that's not true. You're a really good kid who messed up and now you're going to have to deal with what happens..."

She nodded her head and wouldn't meet my eyes. I saw the goosebumps on her arms and her kneecaps bouncing with chill. 

"Go get dressed and we'll talk about this some more... go. Oh, and no iPad for tonight and maybe the rest of the weekend, okay?"

For the next few hours, Paul and I dealt with our distressed daughter. After exchanging emails with her teacher, we understood better the next steps and discussed with her how to navigate the toughest challenge in her young life. 

"Look, I'm actually glad you're this upset, hon, " I said, "it makes me feel better that you understand just how serious this is."

"And we don't hate you, sweetie," Paul reassured her, "we love you so much, we know you, we know you're a great little girl. But when you make a mistake, you have to accept the consequences."

She was snuggled up in the crook between her dad's chest and chin when I decided to finally bring up what broke my heart the most. I'd kept it at bay until she was calm enough to hear it. 

"So, I have to say the thing I'm most upset about is how many times you lied to me today."

Her exhausted eyes looked at me with regret. 

"I mean, I asked you at least 10 times what was bothering you on the way home. I even asked specifically about your math test!"

"I know," she said softly.

"Honestly, that's the worst part of this whole thing for me. You've lost some trust with me today. That doesn't mean you can't earn it back, but knowing how many times you lied to me during that car ride home, I... I don't trust you as much as I used to," my voice was thin and strained. She was hearing me, but my hurt and anger made me continue.

"Even if you think I'll get mad, you HAVE to tell me the truth. Believe me, if I catch you lying, things will go WAY worse than if you just tell me the truth in the first place, do you understand?"

"Yes."

"Please don't lie," my eyes were closed, "please, please don't lie to me. Seriously, it's my number one rule... DO NOT LIE."

"Okay, I'm sorry, Mom."

I opened my mouth to say it again, but one more time felt repetitive. Her eyes were fixed on me and I could feel that moment - my voice, my words, my expression - was making an imprint. 

Will she lie to me again? Of course she will. But at least she knows where I stand on the matter. 


ARE WE CLEAR!? Crystal.

Watch out Colonel Jessup, Kaffee's GOT YOU!

~~~

One of the most jarring things to accept as a parent is the pace at which your kids grow. Sure, legs get longer, chubby feet elongate and the tic-tac teeth disappear... but the mental and emotional growth spurts are what keep me out of breath on a regular basis. Parenting my daughter through this experience was both draining and rewarding. For reasons that are so painfully relevant right now, I cannot think of a more important lesson than accepting consequences when you make a mistake. Hang on, I need to state that again...

ACCEPT THE CONSEQUENCES WHEN YOU MAKE A MISTAKE.

Since our children are witnessing too many adults acting in such foolish and shameful ways, I find myself pushing hard on these life lessons. Lessons which used to be so fundamental but are now being treated with suspicion and hypocritical caveats. I mean, it used to be a bad thing to lie. Remember that? Lying would actually get you in trouble. Now, we are trapped in this backslide where all the things that used to make you a bad person can often be rewarded. I have never been more motivated to fight against the normalization of lying and for fundamental ethics. 

Paul and I also made sure to dispel her of any presumption we have of perfection. We told her we expect her to make mistakes, that mistakes were a part of life. Stories were told from our own lives where we'd messed up and had to face tough consequences. 

"The most important thing is that you learn from every mistake," Paul said.

"Exactly. If you keep making the same mistakes over and over again without learning from them, that's when I'll be disappointed." I said.

My daughter was in a funk for the next couple of days, and that showed me she was on a path to regain some of the trust she'd lost. She even self-grounded herself from her iPad when I lifted the punishment. At 6:30 Monday morning, I found her sitting on her bed in tears. 

"I'm just nervous to see my teacher," she said, "and I'm nervous about the detention."

I was expecting this.

"I know, but this is what we talked about. Today you are facing the music because you were caught cheating. It will be tough, I don't blame you for being nervous. You got this."

She nodded and laid her head on my shoulder. I kissed her tear-soaked cheek before getting up to leave the room. Then, in a pure Mom Nag moment, I felt an urge.

"I'm still really hurt that you lied to me, you know. No matter how hard it is to tell the truth, please do not lie."

"Okay."

I had to say it again. Because unlike what Colonel Jessup believes, I CAN handle the truth!




Tuesday, January 12, 2021

A Love Letter to Taco Bell


I can smell this sign

~~~

"Would you like any hot or mild sauce?"

"Lots of hot sauce, please," my dad said. He paid for our entire order with a $10 bill and change left over.

"Okay sir, your order number is 44 and it will be out shortly, thank you."

"Just a second, I forgot something..." said my father with a sly glance in my direction. 

My dad looked up at the menu and gesticulated with his finger as if he was really searching for something. The cashier positioned herself in front of the register, her hand hovering over the labeled buttons. I could tell my dad was teeing up a joke, but surprisingly I couldn't guess what it was. He seemed to be stepping outside of his usual dad-joke routine. He smirked and then slowly looked at the cashier, his eyebrows raised.

"What is free?"

The cashier furrowed her brows for a moment and then chuckled. Her co-workers took secondary break from preparing food and turned their heads to look at my dad. All in unison they said:

"Smiles!"

Yeah, Taco Bell was our happy place.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A couple of mornings ago, my husband and I were adjusting our eyes and brains to the morning light and yes... as is the norm these days, we both grabbed our phones to see if we missed anything crucial overnight. After deleting the barrage of retail emails and skimming our news notifications, I heard Paul make a "huh" sound without any follow-up. "What is it?" I asked.

Turned out a columnist had written an article about Arby's... yes Arby's... and the important part it had played in his life. It was part of a childhood routine after church on Sundays and remained a constant comfort to him well into adulthood even as his career moved him to cities where a trip to Arby's required a long drive. Sure, the food wasn't anything more than mediocre, but the pleasures came from the comforts of that uncomplicated cuisine, ambience and moments with his father. Arby's just happened to be the backdrop for many of his childhood memories. 

As I stared up at our bedroom ceiling fan while Paul read the article aloud, I was transported to my own version of what this author was writing about. For me, it was Taco Bell, an absolute staple from my childhood and one that I still indulge in when I need a reminder of those simpler times. To say we were "regulars" at a few Taco Bell locations is an understatement. It was our most frequented fast food choice by far and I felt compelled to write about why we so often ran for the border. 

Brown People LOVE Mexican Food

My first job was hostessing at a Mexican restaurant in high school. Casa Lupita was a regular haunt for our family when we wanted Mexican food that was fancier than our beloved Taco Bell. A few months into my new job, a frustrated server came up to the host stand to peep the lobby and tip potential during the last couple of hours of his Saturday night shift. He did a once-over and groaned.

"You need something, Scott?" I asked while figuring out the next table in my rotation.

"I need you to not seat me another Indian table," he said half-jokingly with his voice, but un-jokingly with his everything else. 

I glanced at him and rolled my eyes and then noticed the lobby was full of my fellow brown peeps. 

"That's racist, Scott... get away from me." I retorted lightly. Our rapport had that odd air of an Indian 11th grader and a white waiter dude pushing 30, which is to say, I humored his dumb comments and he saw no flaws in his behavior. 

"What? I'm sick of getting stiffed by them!"

"Stiffed? They don't leave anything?"

"Well, no... but it's, like, 12 or 13% at the most when I usually get about 20%! Plus, they are high maintenance. Parties of at least 8 people and tons of substitutions. I work my ass off and only clear a 12% tip, it's bullshit."

Scott wasn't wrong about working his ass off. He was, by far, our best waiter. And as much as it pained me to admit, he wasn't totally off about his assessment of Indian folks who came to the restaurant. Hell, I had been part of those parties of 8 to 12 people (few families, ya know) and cringed when the parents would hound the server with a billion questions. They would ask them to double check with the kitchen about various things and a few choice aunties always looked at their plates with suspicion before raising their finger to ask the harried server, "This is vegetarian chimichanga, right?" As to the tipping practices by our parents, I had to plead ignorance since us kids were always on the opposite side of the table laughing from the sugar high of our Sprites and fried ice cream. But, speaking for my own parents and their affection for chintz, I cannot imagine they were tipping like Rockefellers. 

"Fine," I shrugged, "I'll skip you. But if they request a table your section, you're stuck with them unless you want to switch with Chantal."

"Shit... and that's another thing, they are never happy with the table!"

"Oh my GOD, I get it, you hate Indian people!" I shout-whispered into Scott's face.

His frustration softened as he looked into my eyes with regret. Perhaps it was the lack of political correctness in the 90s or the fact that I was 16... probably a combo of both, but I wasn't as mad about his bigoted rant against my people as much as I was annoyed with yet another server trying to influence my hosting duties! MY territory! 

"Well... I do love YOU!!" he said in a sing-songy voice while putting his arm around me and laying his head on my shoulder. Again, as most 30-year-olds do with teenagers. Shit, hindsight sure is creepy/creepy. 

"But seriously, why do so many Indians like Mexican food?"

"They just do, okay? I gotta go check tables." I hurried off to do my job, which did not entail explaining the inner-workings of Indian immigrant eating habits to a grumpy, racist waiter. As my eyes swept over the restaurant to assess the vacating status of the tables, his question did burrow into my brain a bit. We Indians loved Mexican food. Ugh, something else Scott was right about. My thoughts didn't delve too deep into the answer that night, I'm sure they were occupied with traumatic flashbacks to the Rachel haircut I had gotten months earlier, but now I can properly analyze the parallels between Indian folks and Mexican cuisine. 

Por Que?

After she arrived in the United States in 1974, one of the biggest complaints my mother had was with the blandness of American food. Indian grocery stores were in short supply back then, so much so that special trips had to be made over the border into Canada to find any decent Indian ingredients. When my mother gave birth to my brother in 1975, a friend of hers snuck Indian food into the hospital since my mother couldn't choke down the hospital food. Even today, my mother's eyes shine with the same relief she felt on that day when her friend opened her purse to reveal Indian flatbreads and shaak (spicy vegetable mix) still warm in Tupperware. 

"Oh god, she saved me," my mother says. 

One thing you cannot say about Indian food is that it is bland. So a lifetime of tasting bold spices doesn't just go away because you move to another country. Starting a life in a completely different land no doubt includes trying to find any comforts of the home you left while assimilating to the new world around you. Food is such an integral part of Indian culture so I'm sure it was difficult for those immigrants landing in the United States in the 1970s, their tongues longing for familiar bold spices in a sea of bland. 

For that reason, it's not difficult to understand why Mexican food appeals to Indian folks. Here's my completely unscientific analysis:

Spice

While the flavor profiles between Indian and Mexican food don't totally match, there is a lot of overlap with specific spices used in each cuisine. The majority of what you taste in Mexican food hits the same taste buds as Indian food and makes them dance. Plus, we especially love the options to bring up the heat of the food. Never did my father go to a Mexican restaurant without asking for the extra hot salsa or a side of pickled jalapeƱos to amp up his already flavorful dish. We Indians enjoy meals that we can taste long after we've left the table. 

Vegetarian options

When describing the quintessential American person, one often hears the phrase, "Oh, he/she is a real meat and potatoes type." We Indians, for the most part, embrace only half of that nutritional equation. While I did not grow up in a strictly vegetarian household, many of our Indian friends practiced vegetarianism for religious reasons. 

Mexican food is very adaptable to vegetarian options given that beans are a protein choice. Even if we didn't opt for the beans as a meat replacement, you could get a mix of spiced up veggies as filler in your fajitas, quesadillas, burritos... what have you. Mixing both veggies and protein in one dish is big in Indian cuisine. While Indians may do that with a curry or dahl, Mexicans like to do that and wrap it up in a crunchy or soft package! And again, all dishes adaptable to a meatless version. 

Full of bright flavors and vegetarian? "Done and done," says most Indians! 

Rice & Tortillas

A tortilla is like roti, naan, chapatti, etc. Rice is like... well rice. So... yeah. (I told you this was unscientific.)


Mane Taco Bell Joye Che (Yo Quiero Taco Bell in Gujurati)

Now that I've so precisely proven why Indians tend to love Mexican food... enter Taco Bell. Ah yes, Taco Bell. At the mere mention of the name I can smell and taste a very significant foodtrack of my youth (note to self, try to get "foodtrack" trending somewhere). Besides my mother's cooking, Taco Bell holds up as one of my favorite food comforts to this day.

In addition to the airtight reasons I provided above, in regards to Taco Bell, you can add another one: IT IS CHEAP and Indians are cheap AF. It's okay, I'm allowed to say this. 

Our visits were so frequent, we got to know the employees at our favorite locations. The one on Crooks Road was our "home" location, on the corner of Livernois and Maple was our "backup home" location and then the Saturday location was near Oakland Mall where my mother worked. At each Taco Bell, they knew to add extra onions to our bean burritos, make sure the tostadas weren't soggy and give my dad a side of green sauce (an elusive spicy sauce that wasn't even on the menu!!). 

We all loved it, but my dad was really our Taco Bell champ. A lover of food in general, my father was an equal opportunity employer between fine dining, chain restaurants and fast food. Every new introduction to a fast food menu was a source of excitement and usually a special trip was made to savor all the processed, salty goodness. I still remember when Taco Bell released the Gordita. My father saw the commercial and immediately said we had to try it. Off we went to our "home" location and a few minutes later my dad experienced a mix of emotions. While the actual Gordita satisfied his taste buds to the highest level, he bristled at how "expensive" it was. Paying over $3 for a single item was UNHEARD of with our usual Taco Bell orders, so he resigned himself to order his beloved Gordita only on special occasions. 

As I reflect now on those days, the thought of Taco Bell takes me back to a simpler time in my life and a time when I still had my father around. For a man who could get a overly serious about many things, Taco Bell brought him such uncomplicated joy.  More than craving an enchirito (ugh, which they took off the menu last year) or tostada, I crave those memories of my dad's frivolous giddiness while carrying a bloated bag of burritos, tacos - and if it was a special occasion - a Gordita. 

I rarely let myself enjoy Taco Bell these days, but every now and then I will indulge in all of it's cheap-ass pseudo-Mexican food glory. And I have to say, it RARELY disappoints. The flavor always comes through... and so do the memories. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

There are arguably better options out there when it comes to casual Mexican dining, but to me, Taco Bell will always win. As I find myself ascending in years, grabbing hold of those connections to my youth gets more and more elusive and slippery. Thanks to that Arby's article, I've gotten lost in the memories of Taco Bell... many of which aren't even very vivid or linear in nature, but are delightfully all-encompassing nonetheless. 

Thanks for the good times, Taco Bell... now, off to get a pricey Gordita in honor of my Dad. 

Monday, December 14, 2020

Tolerance Cap


~~~

I read her post again.

What the f*ck?

She didn't specify the dreaded name, but it was pretty clear what she was saying. In the moment, I realized the pounding in my chest and agape expression was probably a bit over the top, but it was an honest reaction. 

We had met a couple of years earlier after our daughters became fast friends at daycare. My daughter's first playdate was at her house. The whole playdate thing was a new, and frankly horrifying, concept for me. I wasn't ready to tolerate little toddler friends and... gulp... their parents, too.  Well, the first one was as pleasant an experience I could have hoped for. As our daughters played in a playroom, she and I enjoyed a fun conversation while snacking on Trader Joe's apps and iced tea she had so thoughtfully laid out on her back patio.  Eventually her husband joined us and he was just as friendly and warm.

Whew. They are cool and normal. 

Now, serveral months and numerous hangouts later, my eyes kept reading and re-reading a Facebook post that horrified me. Never in a million years would I have guessed this could even be a possibility. I mean, I suppose we had never broached certain topics - the conversation always floating on the shallow end of the mom-chat pool, but given what we had in common with values and morals as women and mothers, I really thought I knew her better. But... there it was... no doubt about it...

She was a Trump supporter. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 Over the last 5-ish years (campaign and presidency), I've grappled with my intolerance of Trump supporters. Aren't I being a hypocrite if I am not tolerant of their beliefs when I consider myself to be a very tolerant person? Shouldn't I just chalk it up to differences of opinions and move on? What does it say about me if I cannot get along with someone because they are on the opposite side of the political spectrum? Can I not disagree with someone and still respect them? 

Well, there are people with whom I disagree... and then there are Trump supporters. 

It All Started With Sarah Palin

GOTCHA! Oh that Katie Couric with her evil journalism asking a person who could be a heartbeat away from the presidency about her reading habits! The NERVE! 

Man, what a simpler time. 

Back in 2008 when Sarah Palin burst onto the scene after John McCain chose her as his running mate, we got our first taste of how low some Americans were willing to drop their standards for those in power. To me, it was the litmus test of friends with whom I really had to question their judgement. Now, I know there had been plenty of other elected officials to be horrified by before Sarah Palin, but as a casual observer of politics, it was the first time I had seen someone so obviously inept on the precipice of one of the highest posts of our government. 

My in-laws happened to be visiting when Palin made her appearance on Saturday Night Live days before the election. After she danced awkwardly next to a hugely pregnant and rapping Amy Poehler, my father-in-law said, "Oh, she's so cute, I'm ready for her to be President!" 

Sigh. That's when I realized how delicate the American psyche can be and the ease at which it can be swayed. "She's cute so who cares how uninformed she is!" Of course we all know she didn't become our Vice President but instead forged on to get lost in a sea of conservative pundits on Fox News and I think there was a reality show... honestly, I don't really know or care what Sarah Palin is doing and for that, I'm very glad. 

The Big(ot) Reveal

I knew racism wasn't over just because the country elected a Black president twice. But I didn't realize so many of my friends and acquaintances were either racist themselves or super chill about racism. 

As I wrote about in another post, racism has always been an absolute dealbreaker for me and should be a dealbreaker for any decent person. Among the ocean of reasons to disqualify him, one of the most horrifying is that Donald Trump is endorsed by the KKK. The f*cking Ku Klux Klan... a domestic terrorist organization founded on the principle that white supremacy should be the law of the land... endorses Donald Trump. Pretty sure they exclusively endorse filthy racists. Oh, and Trump has never condemned their (and many other hate groups') endorsement because the man has no standards for whoever supports him. 

The friend from the opening story would often share memes on social media touting that the cancellation of friendships based on political disagreements is the highest form of intolerance. In fact, she'd puff her chest as "the most tolerant" person since she would NEVER cut someone loose because of differences of political opinion. She'd act all high and mighty, all the while supporting a KKK-endorsed man who was enacting regulations which rolled back years of progressive policies made possible by tolerance

This woman could certainly quote Rachel McAdams from Mean Girls to me with the line, "Whyyyy are you so obsessed with me? " considering how much I've thought about her over the last few years, but I'm okay with that. I'm an analytical person who is fascinated by human behavior, hell, that is pretty much why I started this blog. 

I'd wonder how the woman I knew to be compassionate and sensible would respond to all the abhorrent things the president would do or say. I'd wonder how she'd respond to one of her 3 daughters asking, "Mom, why do you support a man who says he can grab women by the pussy?" or, "Mom, why do you like a guy who has been accused by multiple women of sexual assault?" or, "Mom, why are you on the same side as Neo-Nazis?" It didn't compute that this same woman who I knew to be a very clear feminist from our many conversations, who championed women ascending the ranks in business and sports, who was disgusted when I told her of a mother at the daycare telling me, "Oh, I don't bother explaining different races to my daughter, if someone isn't white she just assumes they are black," after said daughter had asked me why I was black and my daughter was white.... it did not compute that this friend could have displayed those beliefs and then justify her support of Donald Trump. 

On occasion, usually when I was so tired of being pissed off all the time, I'd revisit her high horse claims about being so tolerant with her friends who disagreed with her, and admittedly, I'd reevaluate my feelings and entertain the possibility that I was being too hard on her. 

The attempts of justification went like this: 

  • She's a party loyalist and it would be unthinkable to vote for the opposing party. Shit, I couldn't ever imagine voting for a Republican. 
  • She's a single or specific-issues voter. Okay, she may not love his personality, but tax cuts and/or anti-choice policies take top priority. 
So, in my softer moments, I'd give her some leeway. But then I'd see her share a Pride meme or post support about the first African American CEO of some tech company and I'd think... no bitch, you cannot have it both ways. You cannot pick and choose your progressive causes and then vote for someone who will hurt the very people you claim to support. It's like a vegan only eating plant-based foods but then slaughtering cows in her backyard. If you kill cows, you are not a vegan. If you vote for KKK-endorsed Trump, you're not an ally to any marginalized community. 

Long Division

I wish I didn't approach people with such trepidation like I do now. When I meet someone new, I try and size them up as a Trumper or Non-Trumper based on various clues. Hmmm, the thin blue line flag on their car, probably a Trumper. Oh, they shared a post about ways to slow down climate change, probably not a Trumper. I go against my instincts and judge people based on trivial clues like a poor man's Jessica Fletcher from Murder She Wrote. It's such a shitty way to be and it enrages me even more since that's exactly the type of division Donald Trump incited and thrives on - to see others as either an ally or an enemy, no in between. 

I saw numerous Trump signs around my neighborhood and Trump support from various friends over the last few months. Yeah, I was disappointed, but I refuse to treat them like my enemies. I still wave and smile at that neighbor, give them a cup of sugar if they need it... I post a heartfelt message to that friend who started her own business... I check in on that mom from school who is struggling with the pandemic. Being true to who I am is not something I can lose, so I will always lead with kindness. Now, will these friends be invited over for a fun movie night and dinner any time soon? Nope.

Their support of this man has forever tainted my view of them and over the last few years, I've learned there is a limit to my tolerance: When you show me a total disregard for fundamental values to protect the sanctity of human rights for all, I'm not going to waste my time and energy to accept your ignorance. I will not attack you or intimidate you for your beliefs, but don't expect me to respect how you vehemently defended behaviors you would never accept from your child, your boss, your partner, a customer service rep, a person in line at the grocery store, your neighbor... and yet, the most powerful person in the world gets a pass in your book. 

I struggle with feeling this way, I have to be honest. And I have been writing and re-writing this section of the post because I am so uncomfortable that I am offending those friends. But then I remind myself of all the inhumane, treasonous and un-American actions they opened the door to and I know my feelings are valid. If my words offend or hurt you, take all of that emotion and multiply it by 1000 and you'll begin to understand how I feel. Your active role in the dismantling of decency and democracy has consequences and losing some friendships is just one of them. When you decide to stand alongside the KKK, I will never unsee that. 

Currently, I am reading A Promised Land by Barack Obama and there was one part that sort of reminded me of this post on a much larger scale. When Obama had to distance himself from his reverend, Jeremiah Wright, due to the incendiary statements he had made during some of his sermons, the conversation to sever ties was torturous for the former president. While he couldn't deny what Wright had said was wrong, he was also hurting a man who had done nothing but show him kindness and support throughout his time in Chicago. When his communications director, Robert Gibbs, checked on him after the chat with Wright, Obama was distraught with guilt. The following sentence really resonated with me. He is speaking of Gibbs here:

But perhaps because he'd grown up in Alabama, he understood better than most the complications of race, religion, and family, and how good and bad, love and hate, might be hopelessly tangled in the same heart.

We are all complicated humans and nothing can be as cut and dry as we'd like sometimes. Emotions are complicated and my struggles with moving on after finding out the beliefs of those friends will probably go on for the rest of my life. If it's not a Trump supporter, it will be something else. But I do know I want to live in a world where we can treat each other with respect and kindness always... and more specifically, I want to surround myself with those who inspire me to evolve into the best version of myself... I don't have time for anyone else. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To sum up, I want to thank Donald Trump. Seriously.

Before 2016, my interest in politics was so lukewarm it may as well have been all the take-out food I've ordered during the pandemic. Even though I grew up with a self-admitted "political junkie" father and many family members who were heavily involved with civic awareness, I could never get into it. When conversations would turn to politics, I'd feel like an idiot because I had no idea what anyone was talking about.  I was a goddamn POLITICAL SCIENCE major at Michigan State University and yet... nope. Ironically, I think it was my time studying political science that turned me off to that world. Once I saw how broken the system was and that representation only went so far as a secure re-election bid, I mentally checked out. How could I trust anyone in office?

My lack of awareness wasn't anything I boasted or was proud of, but it wasn't anything I tried to change either.

That is until I saw the very fabric of our country at risk with Donald Trump as the Republican nominee and then saw how many people were totally on board with his possible presidency. Holy shit that woke me up. It roused me not only from my slumber of political laziness, but to how much apathy I had surrounding me. Friends I cherished were turning a blind eye to a very serious threat to our democracy. 

"Oh, I just don't get into politics." 

Then I realized, oh god, I was just like them. Sure, I voted every four years since 1996 (never in a midterm) and watched a debate here and there, but by no means could I count myself as an informed voter. I now know I was basking in the luxe of my privilege. 

Those days are over. I will never again opt for apathy just because my lifestyle will not be affected by a policy. There was a reason I was always a tad embarrassed about my lack of contribution to political discussions. It was the correct emotion because there is no good excuse to be ignorant about what is going on in your own country, state, county, city, town, neighborhood and backyard. 

Today I'm more aware of issues than ever before. I know a hell of a lot more about a myriad of government processes and I am hungry to learn more. I realize now that all politics start locally and that if you want change, you have to get involved. So yes, if it hadn't been for the nightmare of Donald Trump's presidency, I would never have woken my ass up to the world of politics. You cannot change what you do not know - my plan is to know everything

So yeah, thanks Don... BYEEEEEE!

Sunday, September 27, 2020

42

Freshly 42.

~~~

Self-help books have always gotten a bad reputation, at least in my television and cinematic experience. I saw Bridget Jones toss all her advice books in the trash along with her cigarettes and empty vodka bottles as a sign that she was "getting herself together." In an episode of Sex and the City, a newly separated Charlotte approaches the Self-Help aisle at Barnes and Noble (or as Carrie says in her witty narration, "the self-HELL aisle") only to see heavy-handed portrayals of depressed people reading and sobbing in the middle of the store. 

So yeah, my perception of reading a self-help book was anything but positive a couple of years ago when one was recommended to me by a friend. This friend, who I consider an incredibly bad-ass lady hero of mine, sent me a book called, "You are a Badass." We were texting about a very problematic professional relationship I was in the middle of dissolving and she suggested I read it. Since I trusted this person so much, I decided to download the book.

Since then, I've read a few self-help books and while none of them personally live up to the pull-quotes on the back covers, I have gotten at least a handful of helpful tips from each... all of which have elevated my life experience in different ways.   

Most recently, I listened to the book, "Buy Yourself the F*cking Lillies" by Tara Schuster. Of all the books I've read in the self-help/advice genre, this one was probably the most enjoyable for me personally. Tara is a huge proponent of journaling. She often cites how her bevy of journals helped her figure out a lot of the destructive patterns in her life. One of the first pieces of advice she gives early in the book is to start a practice called, "Morning Pages." This entails writing 3 pages of thoughts, word-vomit style, first thing in the morning. Keep the journal at your bedside table, she says. Wake up, get journal and write 3 single-spaced pages of whatever is on your mind. 

I could do that, I thought. That very day I picked up a cute journal from Target, put a reminder on my phone and waited until the next morning to start my journaling adventure. It's been fantastic so far and I really enjoy the freedom to get my thoughts out in any way, shape or form every single morning. It takes about 20 minutes out of my morning routine, so I get up 20 minutes earlier. Totally doable and totally worth it. 

10 days into my morning pages adventure, I celebrated my 42nd birthday. And well... I had a lot of thoughts about turning 42 that morning. I've decided to share that entry on my blog because it turned out pretty decent. Considering most of my pages have so far consisted of complaining about making school lunches, which Hamilton song is stuck in my head and a list of what I need to get done that day, I was rather pleased to have my best entry fall on my birthday. So, here it is in all its word-vomit glory... 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

9-26-2020

Ha! I almost wrote '1978' in the date. 42. I feel so lucky. My life has taken some twists and turns but I'm sure I am exactly where I'm supposed to be. It's funny, you grow up thinking the younger you are, the better life must be and yes... youth has it's benefits. But while physically you are perhaps more tolerant of indulgence whether it be with food, drinks or a more sleep-deprived way of life, emotionally you are most likely a mess. At least I was. As I wake up today having completed 42 years on this Earth, I sort of feel like I've just begun. After turning 40 a couple of years ago, a major mind shift occurred almost instantly. The theme of that mind shift being that I am the one who controls the trajectory of my life. No longer do I default to the stereotypical wife and mom narrative of "my life revolves around my family." That was the story I was sliding into, like being pulled by a tractor-beam into a large spaceship in the shape of a mini-van covered in stick figure family decals. Nope. I still had dreams and goals of my own that only I had the control to propel towards. No more fucking excuses. And I had so many excuses. In fact, I believe I had inherited the excuses trait from my dad. I love him so much, but Daddy sure could think of every excuse NOT to do something and it infuriated me as a kid. I'm sure he had his reasons, but as a kid, all I knew or saw was that my dad never wanted to take a risk or go through any inconvenience for the sake of fun or a better life. That's a short-sighted take, I know that now at the wise age of 42, but even then I knew I did not want to be like that. And what happened? I began to do just that. Finding every possible reason why my dreams were unattainable. Especially in my mid to late 30s it was so easy to say, "Well, I'm way too old now, I blew it." Even though I was doing improv and exhilarated by performing, there was an element of feeling sort of pathetic. "Am I just the older lady that everyone humors?" I really don't think I was, but it didn't stop me from letting those thoughts enter my headspace. Today, I know and more importantly, I believe what I'm capable of. There wasn't one thing that changed my mind either. Like, I didn't have a conversation or read some life-changing book. It was all me and I'm fucking proud of that. My body, mind and soul finally decided I could create the life I would be at peace with whenever I'm taking my final breath. There were small moments of clarity that would wash over me and they were inspired by other moments - hearing an interview with accomplished writers or actors, finally allowing myself to listen to people who believed in me rather than those life-doubters to whom I gave years and years of power. And most of all... I was plain exhausted. It's fucking exhausting making excuses all the time. There's some statistic that says it takes 4x more muscle power to frown than to smile. I'm not sure the actual numbers, but you get the gist. Well, it takes so much more out of you to knock yourself down under the surface of your potential than it does to bounce up and do the work. And yeah, it's fucking work and hustle and figuring out very new paths with almost no information... but the "figuring out" itself is the joy, at least for me. I'm working everyday to give my life some real meaning. Today, as a 42 year old woman, I have never felt more like myself, more sure of what I'm doing and more proud of who I am.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

OMG, Sheevani... brag much? I guess I do. I'm never going to apologize for figuring out that I'm worth something and neither should you! Just a little advice for ya... 

Sunday, September 20, 2020

All Boys Allowed, Period


Kristy just moments after her big life moment. Photo: The Babysitter's Club

~~~

It was a perfect Sunday afternoon, complete with elastic waistbands and bellies full of breakfast pastries only reserved for a lazy weekend morning. 

"Can we watch something, Mom?" my daughter asked.

"Of course! But you both have to agree. I don't want a fight."

"Babysitter's Club?" my daughter asked.

I braced for my son's whine and nasally request for an off-roading YouTube video. 

"Sure!" he exclaimed.

"Mom, will you watch with us?"

We all snuggled on the couch as my girl scrolled through the episodes. Since they had both seen the entire first season of the Netflix series, episodes were now chosen based on my kids' personal rankings. Which, thank goodness, seemed to be similar.

"Oh, Kristy's Big Day!" my son excitedly said.

"Yeah!"

The episode, which mainly focuses on the wedding of Kristy's mother, also includes a big milestone for Kristy herself - getting her first period. The moment is treated with the perfect combination of sincerity and humor and then knocks it out of the park with a display of beautiful female support. After Kristy discovers her period has arrived in the middle of her mother's wedding reception, her closest friends are right there with a pad and hugs. I was so lost in the magical girl-power of it all that the next moment felt like a poke in the eye. 

"What is going on?" my son asked.

"Huh? What do you mean?"

"That... Kristy's... what happened in the bathroom?" my son said with his index finger pointing at the screen.

My 7-year-old son wasn't following the first period storyline. Why the hell would he? I froze in the moment and could feel my knee-jerk response of "it's hard to explain" brimming at my lips when I had moment of clarity. It's not that hard to explain, after all. I mean, I wouldn't have to go into every scientific detail, but I could give some explanation. Before I could utter my off-the-cuff period lesson, my daughter interjected.

"It's a girl thing. You don't need to know." she said.

Okay, that was all I needed to kick my ass into gear. Bullshit he doesn't need to know. 

"Now wait a second, actually he should know," I started with my heart pounding and my butthole firmly clenched, "Kristy started her period. That's something that girls get around her age because their bodies are changing. It's totally natural and just means she's growing up into a woman."

He looked at me with furrowed brows and I knew there were more questions coming. I mean, let's face it, I gave a solid C minus definition.

"But what did Mary Anne give her? She said to put it on her underwear?"

Oh boy... well, can't stop now!

"Okay, so when a girl gets her period, she bleeds. Um... blood comes out of her... (unnecessary throat clear)... her vagina. So a pad is like a protective kind of towel that keeps her underwear and clothes from getting... er, bloody."

My words were echoing around my brain like a bad remix of a PM Dawn song. Towel? Did I say a pad is like a towel? That was weird. Whatever. While the wording may have been odd, I was glad that I didn't shy away from explaining a period to my son. I looked at him, his big hazel eyes darting around, absorbing what I told him. AH! I should have used "absorb" in my clunky explanation. 

"Feel free to ask me any questions, buddy." I said.

"No, that's okay," he said, "Hey rewind it! I like when Richard asks if his shirt smells like meat!"

My son flopped back down on my chest and I wrapped my arms around him. Whew, that was a moment I didn't expect to have with him for a few more... well, wait... I don't think I ever planned on having that conversation with him. How dumb.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My memories of the sex education unit I sat through in 5th grade are sparse to say the least. We watched a video showing 80s, poofy-haired girls talking about hiding their pads and tampons in their jean purses. In between the robotic delivery of poorly written dialogue, we saw animated depictions of our reproductive organs with a little cartoon egg making it's way through our fallopian tubes and so on. I do remember how that 30-minute video showed so much detail, but the word "blood" was never uttered. Instead, I believe the narrator mentioned the "shedding of tissue" or something without any animated visual aid to help us understand. 

After the projector made that flapping noise and our eyes adjusted to the lights, I remember thinking, "What the heck are pads for?" At age 10, I wasn't a believer in the notion that there "are no stupid questions," so I kept my burning query to myself. Luckily, a classmate raised her hand immediately. 

"I don't get it, what are pads and tampons for?"

The two female 5th grade teachers glanced at each other, shifted nervously and waited for the other to speak. Finally, Mrs. Freeman broke the silence. 

"Well, honey, to catch the blood."

You would have thought Freddy Krueger entered the room. We all gasped and yelped at the thought of blood coming out of our vaginas! The teachers tried to quell our horror, but it was useless, so they handed out a pamphlet and sent us out to recess. On the other side of the hallway, the boys were handed a pamphlet about boners or whatever and also sent out to recess. By the time we were in our single-file lines coming back in, there were dozens of ripped pages with illustrated pubes, breasts and dongs blowing all over the playground. That was probably the last year they let kids take the puberty pamphlets out to recess. 

I felt dread as I walked home that day... my brain heavy and confused with all the new information. One thought that was not confusing? I was terrified to get my period.

Let's Talk About Sex, (my first) Baby

My daughter will be going through the sex education unit this year. She's in 5th grade and if I'm honest, I'm excited for her to learn about her body. I feel a strong need for her to understand herself and to not be ashamed of her parts. Growing up, I never felt comfortable talking to anyone about my body. Not that I felt ashamed, per se, but it was more a belief that everything about sex or puberty shouldn't be discussed openly. 

F*ck that. I've already started the conversation a little bit with my girl. She has seen my feminine products and asked me why I need a heating pad on my abdomen sometimes. Without hesitation, I've answered her questions. Depending on her age, I would tweak the explanation, but within the last year, I've sensed her curiosity go from "what's my Mom doing" to "this will happen to me sometime soon."   

Even though my first period wasn't as traumatic as I thought it would be, I definitely did not feel comfortable talking about all the emotions of that day with anybody. So, that's what I hope to be for my daughter - the person she can come to when she sees blood on her underwear for the first time. And not only me, but Paul as well. There is no reason a father cannot help his daughter during one of the biggest transitions in her young life. While he may not be able to give any experiential advice, he can simply be there with an ear or a hug, whatever she needs... and play a very important role in cementing her acceptance of her beautiful body. 

Got Penis? 

Hey men! Chances are you know at least one woman, right? I thought so. Congratulations, you have qualified to learn about what we ladies go through. 

When I think back to my sex ed unit back in 1989, I find it a bit silly that they separated the boys and girls into different rooms. Just because you don't have the parts means you shouldn't learn about what the other gender experiences? That makes no sense to me. Both genders benefit from learning about the others' experience. If I had learned about boy parts, perhaps my penis-ignorant brain wouldn't have imagined that pubic hair grew down the entire shaft. Yeah... I was 19 before I knew a penis wasn't covered in hair from base to tip like a little Alf hanging from men's bodies. That was a big reason why I was scared to DEATH to see a real-life penis for a long time. I think I just heard my late father sigh with relief. 

Expanded education can help de-stigmatize all the changes women experience in their lives. Maybe if a girl bleeds through her pants in class, instead of being grossed out, our boys could serve up some supportive energy and dampen the humiliation for their female classmate. When a new mother is nearing the end of her maternity leave, wouldn't it be fantastic if the transition back to the office could be handled in a way that takes into consideration all of the emotions she may be going through? When a woman is experiencing a hot flash in a meeting, supportive men at that table can take note and give her space to deal all the debilitating symptoms of menopause. Acceptance and understanding by our male counterparts without judgement is the way to move forward and improve the operations of any society. Girls and women should never feel ashamed or penalized for simply going through natural lady stuff. 

From periods to pregnancy to motherhood to menopause... be in our corner, guys. 

Timing Terror

I recently figured out that I will likely be experiencing the onset of menopause at the same time my kids' will be going through their own hormonal rollercoasters with puberty. Ohhhhhh man. That realization stopped me in my tracks... literally. I was on my daily walk when I did the math and my feet stopped receiving messages from my brain since it was processing so much terrifying information. I'll be 42 in a few days, and peri-menopause can start as early as... well, tomorrow. DEEP BREATHS, SHEEVANI. 

Well, since my name isn't Marty or Doc or Biff, I have zero chance of taking a time machine to alter my history, so I have to tackle the hormonal intersection of me and my kids head on. Honestly, I think the awareness of this reality is a good thing. While I'm not sure how I will handle menopause when it arrives, I can hopefully keep in mind that we are all going through some very natural transitions that may cause some tension, bad moods, emotional tirades, physical discomfort, etc. I include Paul in this as well, not that he will be dealing with anything hormonal per se, but he will be dealing with 3 very unpredictable people for a few years. Any help you can send his way is much appreciated, please and thanks.

Since both my kids are old enough where I can remember myself at their ages, I rely heavily on my own memories from those times to guide my parenting. My mission is to approach them with understanding and empathy. I remind myself how emotional I was in junior high, how sensitive and moody I could be in my teens and so on. So often during my formative years, my feelings were dismissed and invalidated. Because of that, I feel a responsibility to apply my experiences as a guide to help my kids deal with some brutal shit. That's not to suggest that hormonal changes absolve all shitty behavior, mind you... for me or them. My hope is that keeping a constant hum of empathy in my soul will help squash some serious meltdowns over the next 10 years. Seriously... keep Paul in your thoughts.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I'm writing this post in the wake of the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her tireless work as a champion for women and gender equality is something for which I will forever be grateful. As I think about her life's work as it relates to this post, I'm not sure there's a better way to wrap up my sentiments than with her wise words:

"Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation." - Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Backslide

 

A dear friend posted this at the exact moment I needed to see it. (Thanks Kristine) 

~~~

I checked again even though I had just checked 30 seconds ago. 

"Stop," I exhaled.

My part of my heart that had healed a little bit started to ache again, and I could feel the worn down splinters re-break with every passing minute, hour and day.

I reached for my phone.

"Just let it go," I told myself.

I leaned back and closed my eyes. Goddammit. All the progress I made is slipping away... I'm giving up that power... again. I'm so mad at myself... again. But, it's just for today. Tomorrow, that power is all FUCKING MINE.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Awhile ago I wrote about needing the validation of people who have shown no genuine interest in me. I waxed poetic about how that was all in the past and how only I determine my self-worth from now on. Boy, had I been living in a paradise. While I still believe in the message of what I wrote, keeping that up is really damn hard. Especially when tested. 

I've let myself backslide and now I have to forgive myself. 

Rather than focus on the person who I am allowing to break me down (I've spent enough time and tears on said person in the last week), I'm focusing on how important it is to allow for these episodes of backslidation (new word alert) while also remembering the progress that has been made. I'm talking putting all that progress on huge-ass mental billboards in my brain so I do not let a couple acts of hurtful indifference consume my mental well-being. 

Part of my refocused energy is to nurture the relationships that bring out the best in me. As someone seeking constant evolution, I need to practice better outreach to those who have shown me nothing but support, love and healthy challenge for my entire life. Why waste my time begging for scraps from someone who has no interest in feeding me when I have a trove of incredible folks tossing me the tastiest items from their emotional kitchens? Is that a taco supreme from my cousins? GULP! Oh, look at that avocado toast from my best friend! GULP! Damn, a big bowl of coffee ice cream (that won't make me fart) from my comedy peers? GULP! I'm gonna let myself get fat with love from those who are worthy. I've wasted enough time starving myself. 

I won't be able to truly leave behind all of these hurt feelings, I know that. It's okay. And one day, I hope to have the courage to have a discussion that could help. I'm really scared though. And that's okay as well. One thing at a time. 

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If any of you are dealing with similar struggles, I'd love to chat about it! Please drop me a line or comment below. Take care of yourself and remember... rid yourself of toxic people and keep those who make you a better person. xoxo


Sunday, August 23, 2020

No Pain. No Gain. No Love?

Michael Jordan's emotional moment that inspired this post

~~~~~

"COME ON!!!!!!"

"Not so loud, Sheel! GOD!"

"Shut up! We're playing the Bulls! We have to beat them!!!"

I rolled my eyes at his retort, but fixed my eyes back on the basketball game. Truth be told, thanks to my brother I had gotten very into our "Bad Boys" and hoped they would win their first NBA championship. Through forced viewings of all Detroit Pistons games, I knew enough to know that the Chicago Bulls with superstar Michael Jordan were a huge hurdle to achieve that goal. The weight of the Eastern Conference Finals was palpable in the Desai household in the spring of 1989, and watching game 6 next to my brother was the most tense I'd ever been about a sport in my short life.

"YEAAAHHHHHH!!!"

"Well, there you have it folks, the Detroit Pistons have defeated the Chicago Bulls to take the Eastern Conference and advance to take on the Los Angeles Lakers for the championship," boomed Pat O'Brien into his CBS microphone.

Sheel was running around our living room, jumping and cheering loudly as our father entered from the back of the house.

"They won?"

"Yeah!! They won!!"

Sheel ran over and awkwardly high-fived our grinning dad. We all watched as Isaiah Thomas and John Salley engaged in sportsmen handshakes with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. 

"That's right! Take that Jordan!" Sheel roared at the television as if our chunky box RCA television set had some sort of Royal Oak to Chicago megaphone into Chicago Stadium. 

I watched as Michael Jordan hung his head and walked off the court while the announcer said how the championship had, yet again, eluded the best player in the league. Even at 10 years of age, my empathetic side swelled and I felt bad for him. Imagine being the best player in the NBA, but having to walk off a court without a chance to win the big trophy. 

Even though I was so happy for our Detroit Pistons, my mind kept going to thoughts of Michael Jordan. What would he do that night? Will he cry? Does he watch the rest of the playoffs or is it too painful? 

Sheel would go on to watch more of the post-game coverage which would include interviews with the players, including Michael Jordan, where some of my questions would have been answered. As for me, on that early June night, I went back to my room with one big question:

How does Michael Jordan deal with losing?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bull-y

I recently watched The Last Dance on Netflix and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. In an effort to get out of my nightly Gilmore Girls rut, I tuned in to the docu-series that highlighted the championship-laden era of the Chicago Bulls. The 10-episode series covered a myriad of aspects of the team all leading up to their last Larry O'Brien trophy with Michael Jordan in 1998. The series, through interviews with the notable participants, beautifully showed how each piece fit into a carefully constructed puzzle that built an unstoppable team during the 1990s. The most essential piece, of course, was in the shape of Michael Jordan. The story is very much from his perspective; the what and how of everything he has done in his career with the why simply being his passion for winning. Every old teammate who took part in The Last Dance spoke about Jordan in a very measured way, carefully choosing their words. The one constant? They all respected his drive and raw talent. 

Respect is one thing, but it was also very clear that not one of his former teammates consider him a close friend. I'm not sure any of them would even see him as a cordial acquaintance at this point. I had noticed the disconnect of that sentiment while watching all the interviews with those who were professionally closest to him, but it wasn't until the last 3 minutes of the seventh episode where the question was explicitly asked by the documentarian: 

Through the years, do you think that intensity has come at the expense of being perceived as a nice guy?  

The pause that follows and his subsequent response caught me off guard and, quite frankly, looped in my mind for a couple of days. Just as I spent time thinking about a defeated Michael Jordan that night in 1989, my empathetic side took over as I watched an older, tearful Jordan come to the realization of his unlikable reputation. That despite the fact he helped these guys achieve the highest success possible in their careers, they cannot bring themselves to LIKE him as a person. He almost seemed surprised at the question, but it also appears the question itself confirmed something he had always suspected: he cannot call his old teammates his friends. 

In his response, there wasn't a hint of defending his method as a leader; he knows how harshly he treated his teammates during those games and practices. What seemed to hurt him most was the fact that his motivation was to see them succeed alongside him. Sure he wanted to win for his own glory, but he was also doing it for them. During the last 30 seconds of the episode, Michael Jordan can only choke out that it was his mentality and the way he played the game at that time. Again, there was no apology or regret, but his words were coated with genuine hurt feelings. It was that sheer emotion, after which he announces he needs a break, that led me down a spiral of curious confusion. How could this behemoth of a man, this infamous icon with all his raw talent and success be brought to tears because he's unliked?

After my husband was finally able to get through episode 7 without falling asleep, we ended up having a long discussion about that moment. Paul expressed how he could understand how MJ felt upset that his persona was not regarded positively by those who he had boosted to greatness. He suggested, and I think he was accurate in interpreting Jordan’s feelings, that the end result should absolve the method by which he used on his teammates. I saw it differently. While yes, those guys all have multiple championships on their list of accomplishments, I can understand why they don’t feel all warm and fuzzy when discussing Michael Jordan. They won, but as many of them described in the documentary, they also had to deal with a very difficult man who verbally abused them if they didn't perform to his specific standards.

Push Push Push

Our discussion led me to other examples I had witnessed in my own life. Being a first generation Indian kid, you see a lot of  pressure-charged family dynamics within the community about achievement; education, career, wealth, family, etc. The optics of one’s life often supersedes actual happiness.

Thankfully I have just been an observer of that sort of intense pressure. Sure, my parents wanted a traditional Indian path for me; excel in school and achieve success in an approved field (medicine, engineering, law, business), but there wasn't a level of stress where I felt that if I didn't follow that exact path, my relationship with my mother or father would be in jeopardy. I've gone into that in a post about being the Imperfect Indian Daughter. What I did see in a few of my fellow peers was an almost militant display of coercion where it was very clear that if a certain path was not followed, he or she would bring shame upon themselves and the family. 

Through the years, I've seen friends of mine follow very stringent rules in order to appease a parent and, many times, avoid psychological abuse that made for very painful childhoods. To follow the rules was survival. Once I attended a memorial for a friend's mother who was notorious for treating her kids very poorly unless they did as she asked. As her kids reached the podium to make their collective speech, I was very curious how they would speak of her. Granted, they were in the throes of grief (after all, she was their mother), but after a lifetime of various degrees of psychological abuse, what would they say? Well, as they spoke, I thought their words were very true and very poignant. All of them credited her for their achievements and success, particularly in their career; that without her high standards, none of them would be where they are today. As I sat there listening to them praising the impact she had on their lives, I found myself wondering: But, was it worth all the pain?

Here is where I make the leap of connecting that mother to Michael Jordan; if the end result is a win, then the method was correct. With Jordan it was NBA Championships, with that mother it was her kids reaching lucrative careers. Based on what I know, this mother would consider her tactics as completely successful since her children achieved everything she demanded of them. And further, they should be nothing but grateful. And EVEN further, if she knew that her kids considered her to be incredibly abusive she would be shocked and hurt. "But, look at all everything you've achieved? That was MY doing!"

This led me to my next question: If the relationship had been less tumultuous, would the results have been different?

The Softer Touch

In the same episode where MJ breaks down, they cover his first retirement in 1993. For the season that followed, Scottie Pippen took over as the leader of the Bulls. Now, the stark contrast of how the same guys talk about Scottie Pippen is clear as day. They spoke about how Pippen had a softer touch and was there with comfort and encouragement. When asked how the team did during that first season without Jordan, Pippen responded without hesitation, "Great. They had nobody yelling at them, they got off plenty of shots." Without Jordan stealing the spotlight, other guys were able to shine under Pippen's leadership which made for a much happier team. But, does a happier team translate to a championship team? 

Well, unfortunately that is impossible to answer for a couple of reasons. One of which was a very tough test of the team's affection for Pippen during the 1994 Eastern Conference Semi-finals. After losing the first two games to the New York Knicks, the Bulls were trying to get back in the series. After Patrick Ewing tied game 3 with about two seconds left, the Bulls needed a surefire buzzer-beating shot to win the game and save themselves from playoff elimination. Phil Jackson gave that chance to newcomer Tony Kukoc and not Scottie Pippen, who felt insulted. In the heat of moment, Pippen chose to sit out the last seconds of the game in protest. Kukoc made the basket and the Bulls won, however, the sting of Pippen's selfish dissent hung heavy in the locker room afterwards. Bill Cartwright made a tearful speech and told Pippen directly that he had let them down. Scottie Pippen broke down and apologized and the guys accepted his apology. 

During this part of the docu-series, I was struck by how quickly the team's emotions shifted from disappointment to forgiveness and then to concern for how this incident would affect Scottie's reputation. The concern for his character could only be attributed to the love he earned from his compassionate leadership. As Steve Kerr expressed, "Scottie's one of our favorite teammates, one of our favorite people in the world."

The Bulls came together and fought hard in that series, but ultimately fell to the Knicks in 7 games. That incident certainly hinders my ability to conclude that a gentler, softer touch as a leader could propel a team to the same greatness as Jordan's methods. Plus, Jordan came out of retirement to return to the Bulls in the middle of the following season, so it's hard to say that had Pippen been given a couple more years, perhaps he could have built just as strong a team with happier guys.  

Bringing it back to the discussion about that strict mother I mentioned earlier, could she have gotten the same results from her kids with a softer touch? If there were no threat of epic meltdowns and psychological games, would her children have chosen the same fields and achieved the same amount of success? For many reasons, I cannot seek the thoughts of her kids today, but I did talk to a few friends who went through similar situations with a difficult parent. I was so fascinated to learn that they all felt their lives would be even more successful had that parent been more encouraging (these friends are all doing very well in life, by the way). Another commonality with all of the situations, including that militant nightmare mother, was that the other parent countered the negativity. For all the times they were broken down, they had the loving arms of the opposite parent to turn to. So perhaps it's all about balance? Perhaps we all need a Jordan AND Pippen in our lives to succeed?

Of course it's impossible to know what could have happened in any of these scenarios, but one thing is for sure... those Bulls sure loved Scottie Pippen and those kids have greater fondness for their gentler parent.

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I'm well aware I have made some pretty significant leaps in this post. I mean, I see Michael Jordan cry and suddenly I'm on a mission to understand how extremely strict parenting may have affected my friends?!? Ah well, my mind can be minefield of disparate connections. At least I'm not bored. 

Ultimately, I'm intrigued by people who consider themselves deserving of love and praise only based on results, that their tactics of getting what they wanted should not matter because the goal was reached. It's the psychology behind that disconnect that grabbed my mind for so many days. As an empathetic person, I can sometimes get lost in analyzing how I've treated various people in my life, so to see a display of complete disregard for that very significant part of my nature is jarring.

In watching The Last Dance and chatting with my friends, I feel like striking a balance is key to leading people. You don't want to be too soft and you don't want to be too hard. Sure, you can catch more with sugar than a stick, but sometimes a stick is necessary. Michael Jordan's tears told me that perhaps he wished he'd used the stick less and dished out more sugar if it meant winning actual love and affection from his old teammates. 

For me, I'll be using a sugary stick... or embodying a mashup called Michael Pippen or Scottie Jordan or Michie Jorppen, whatever. Knowing when and how to use each side will be the challenge, but a challenge worth taking on. 

P.S. - Do not look up sugary stick on the internet... it's dirty. #themoreyouknow