Tuesday, March 5, 2013


I'm not certain now's the best time to sit and try to organize my thoughts, because they are emotional and volatile to say the least.

In 2009, I graduated from college. About a week after the ceremony my dad got laid off from his job. It was completely unexpected and we were, as a family, in no way prepared. Things in our house were incredibly tense. My dad places a lot of value on having and maintaining a job. Something hardwired into him from his childhood. When he lost his job he was obviously depressed, which translates very quickly for him into anger. He was unemployed for several months before he was offered a job he was not enthusiastic about. He has been with that job until today.

When he went back to work his schedule was very demanding. The company who hired him are based out of Brazil with offices in Miami. He traveled constantly to trade shows, to Florida, and to the headquarters. When he was home he was sequestered in his office. The expectations were high and the pay was not. My mom took a second job. All of this reorganized my priorities. I stopped looking for jobs and internships out of state.

My younger brother is 22, now. He has Down syndrome. He is low functioning, by which I mean he operates mentally and emotionally at approximately a second or third grade level.

My brother is my world.

When all of these things began to shift I knew I couldn't leave because he needs a lot of support around the house. My job teaching left me with a schedule that reflected his, home in the mornings and mid afternoons. I wasn't asked to do this, it wasn't some great burden. If my parents had tried to bring someone from outside the family in to assist him, I very likely would have thrown a fit. I don't trust other people with my brother.

It's very difficult explaining my relationship with him to people who do not have siblings with special needs. Growing up I wasn't alone, the way an only child is, but I didn't have the kind of social support structures the way children with siblings do. My closeness with my brother is based more out of a parent/child interaction and it always has been, even though we are only four years apart. When he was a baby I assured my mom she wouldn't need to worry about teaching him anything. That it was my job.

The structure of our home life, following my dad beginning his new job, had a deep impact on my brother, something we would only come to realize almost a year down the road. My mom was working long hours. My dad was inaccessible when he was home and when he was gone, he would be traveling for weeks. My brother does not have the capacity to express his feelings verbally. He couldn't say he was mad or confused or upset. Slowly over the year he retreated into himself. He started talking to himself more and more. He abandoned activities he enjoyed. He started displaying signs of depression. It was incredibly frightening for me. I watched my brother disappear and felt powerless.

It got progressively worse.

He would collapse on the floor and have crying fits without any obvious reason for a trigger. He would go days without speaking to anyone. He started losing control over bodily functions. Sometimes he would sit in his room and just scream.

The preschool classroom I taught in was within the Directed Teaching program. This was the school's terminology for self-contained special education. Self-contained denotes that the students I was working with had limited to no contact with other classrooms. All of my students were identified as being on the Autistic spectrum and were low functioning. For preschoolers it was a long day. They were with me for almost six hours and we worked heavily on language. Most of my students were nonverbal and highly behavioral. In the three years I taught at the school I sustained several injuries, including a broken nose from one of my students. It's shocking how strong a five year old can be when they are frustrated with you.

At some point my coping mechanism developed into being in teacher mode constantly. Whether at work or at home with my brother. There wasn't a separation any longer. I think this significantly altered our relationship and even harmed it in many ways.

I ran away.

Or at least, I still worry that's what I did. I was angry all the time, tired, and emotionally blank. When a girl from college looking for a roommate offered me an opportunity to leave, I did. I quit my job, took what I could, and relocated here. I still feel guilty. I still question whether my actions benefited either of us.

When I left, my mom left one of her jobs, so that she could be available to care for him. Today my dad was laid off again. I'm scared of what this means for them, for him, for me. Likely my parents will sell their house. My dad wants to return to the South for better housing prices. This kind of upheaval will cause my brother an incredible amount of distress. My mom is already frantic about it. I feel responsible, even though logically I know I'm not the cause. In the wake of my own inability to find reliable and permanent work, I find myself wondering tonight more than ever if I made the worst kind of mistake for leaving in the first place.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Pro Tip: Just Say No

I'm not a parent and don't have plans on being one for at least another five years, if not more. But I've been working in some capacity with children my whole life. From babysitting, to summer camps, to teaching, to the museum educational programming I'm invested in now. Childcare has always come naturally to me, for whatever reason. As a result, I've had the opportunity to observe a lot of parents in the act, as it were. And I'm beginning to think Gen X-ers are raising a bunch of assholes.

I was blessed to have great parents. Very involved, they had high expectations of me without being overbearing, and I maintain a really close relationship with both of them. In fact, when I talk about the level of closeness my mom and I have, I think it wigs people out sometimes. For example: in college I called my mom the first time I got crazy hung over to brag. She is also usually aware of who I'm having sex with. This is just how we are. She's the single most nonjudgmental, supportive person in my life and I adore her. My dad doesn't know these things, because both my mom and I know he would probably die of shock, but we are still close. He's an old world Southern gentleman, no joke, and I get my sense of humor from him. Sarcasm was a form of affection in our house. He also openly and unconditionally loves his family. They are great parents and even better models for the kind of parent I would like to be. Which is NOT AT ALL like the kinds of parents I deal with on a daily basis.

Currently, the bulk of Gen X are in their mid thirties to forties. Prime parenting ages. As I cannot relate to what it was like developing your identity in the seventies and eighties, I don't know what happened to them as a generation to decide when they became parents that their children would rule the house. Were they all just really repressed? I have no clue. I lived through a certain amount of helicopter parenting as a child and even a bit into high school, but I have never at any point in my professional dealings with children thought that it was wrong to use the word "No."

This trend started years ago, but it has really taken a hold of modern parenting. "No" apparently stifles children, creates barriers, and makes them have sad feelings. When I was teaching preschool we had whole seminars on replacement words for "No." The kinds of examples they would give were as follows:

If you observe a child engaging in an inappropriate or dangerous activity stop them and ask, "Are you making a good choice?"


A "good choice." Seriously? Of course they aren't and of course they know that. Asking them to pause and reflect doesn't actually accomplish anything. In the 13 years of my life that I have been working in some form of childcare I have learned that most kids don't have the capacity to sustain self awareness until they are well and truly removed from whatever stimulus has caused their reaction. So using your best neutral tone and politely asking a child if their "choices" are "good" will rarely cause them to stop running frantically around a room slapping people for attention.

And yet, day after day, I witness parents who refuse to tell their children no. Currently my weekends are booked up with the infotainment business of hosting birthday parties in a museum. I can't tell you the number of times I have witnessed children blow up at their parents just to watch them kowtow to unnecessary demands. I have lost count of how often I've watched a kid scream, I WANT MY PRESENTS NOW!

There are like...a ton of gifs from The Orphan on tumblr.

And they are then given the presents as a reward for this behavior. Maybe to their parents they don't see this as a cause and effect relationship, that they are continually teaching their children to freak out and throw a vase every time they want something. But they are. In a thousand little ways these children are learning that the only way to get what you want is to frighten everyone around you. Manipulate the situation through fear and aggression to achieve your goal.

Sometimes fear and aggression aren't even necessary. Those are for the kids with less skill. Being quietly manipulative will still get you whatever you want. Cry. Whisper that you hate your parents for being so mean. That works too, apparently.

My mother tells a story from when I was four years old, I came into the kitchen to ask for some kind of treat. I was told no. I continually asked, pouted, and wheedled until she told me to leave the room because the answer was still no. I left with a cry of, "I hate you!" My aunt had been present for this and she got emotional on my mother's behalf, asking her how she could resist giving in. My mom shrugged it off and said, "She's four. She's going to forget she said that in an hour and come ask me again."

Whether I forgot or not, the fact remains, kids don't actually dissolve under the word no. Their worlds don't unravel and they don't actually hate you. Kids need structure. They need to understand what is expected of them and what isn't. Its a part of socialization. Otherwise you've got a band of sociopaths that you're raising who believe their relationships with other humans are based off a series of manipulations. They quantify a person's usefulness by whether or not they can be controlled. Maybe I'm overstating things, but I do also have a 22 year old cousin now who goes around my aunt's house punching holes in walls and threatening her whenever she tries to deny him things, which is incredibly rare as it is.

Say "No" to your kids. They deserve an active parent.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Stupid Cupid: The Prologue

In July 2011, I went to San Diego Comic Con for the first time. This is also (currently) the only time I've been, but I have every intention of returning once a trip like that is financially available to me. I spent about half a year preparing for SDCC. It was a big fucking deal. I lost weight for it and everything. It became a running joke between my friend and I that we were going husband hunting. Of course, after the fact, this is an even bigger joke to us, but at the time she and I had some rocky relationships under our collective belt and it seemed like hanging out at Nerdvana would at least give us a level playing field of knowing a guy would reciprocate on our interests.

We didn't find any husbands.

This was for the best.

But it did mark the turning point of a mental corner for me. I spent a good deal of my time in college avoiding guys for a plethora of bad touch reasons. After I graduated, I rationalized that by living at home with my parents and working full time as a preschool teacher I had no opportunity to meet men. Not that I was continuing a prosperous tradition at that point.

Going to Comic Con made me feel more confident and comfortable with myself, which is the most unexpected side effect of that event. Between having guys approach me at the convention to having off duty military personnel offer to by me drinks at night, it was like having an out of body experience.

When I got home I had this moment of zen where I thought, yes. Yes. I am ready for internet dating.

I'll let you draw conclusions about what site I ultimately chose. Going by context clues you know I a) Don't have any money to throw around on something like this b) Am probably socially awkward and c) The title of this post.

I have been on many dates now. I have seen and heard things. Things you would not believe, because you have to reassure yourself that not only can people like this NOT exist, but there would have had to have been warning signs before I agreed to give them my phone number. You would be so wrong. Granted not all my dates were awkward, gross, terrifying or a combination of the three. But a significant portion of them were.

When I first joined the site I made the fatal mistake of being so very earnest in my profile. Every little idiosyncratic interest was put on display. I made a total of seven Legend of Zelda references in the "About Me" section. There was nothing left to the imagination. I let my freak flag fly.

Which worked.

I got about twelve messages within the first hour of being on the site. This is pretty standard for women, as I understand it now. In fact, I could have filled out my profile using nothing but meaningless stream of consciousness, so long as I had a picture up. Dudes do not really care what you write. Sure, most of them would quickly scan the body of my profile and point out things I said. Many of them got excited, even, over my nerd girling. Too excited. But I wouldn't come to realize this until I began frequently running into a particular personality type over and over again.

Internet dating has the kind of mental highs and lows that come from having a stranger decide to "date" you based on a series of preconceived notions. Its chaotic, absurd, awkward as hell, and sometimes scary, but oh so necessary as a modern tool for meeting people and, in my case, pushing forward into adulthood. Because it causes you to think about what you really want and how to graciously tell people to never call you again. And, again in my case, being okay with being called a bitch when you realize after meeting in person that you aren't interested in someone. It toughened me up and gave me perspective, something I frequently need more of. More than anything though, it gave me so much to laugh about.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Ramon's Having a Party and You're Invited

It is March first, which means we are T-minus sixteen days away from America's favorite drinking holiday after Thanksgiving, Cinco de Mayo, Christmas, New Years, the Super Bowl, and Thirsty Thursday. I'm focusing on this, as opposed to the fact that the first is also when I pay all my bills and cry many hot, little tears into my pillow when no one's home to hear my antics. A year ago, at this time, I was working for a major retailer as a bridge job to fill hours and keep my head above water. I have no idea, seeing as they were one of the two to lay me off last month, if I need to maintain a sense of store loyalty and not use their name. So I will just leave some hints and say they sell clothes and are Macy's.

Saint Patrick's Day last year was a rare treat, as I was working that day. The store location I was at was advantageously positioned to have revelers from the parade wander in and out throughout the day. The store opens at 10 am and it was around 10:02 when I spotted my first drunk on the floor. The insanely mild weather, coupled with it being St. Pat's, meant that people were out in droves and going rather buck wild for this usually staid Midwestern hub.

You could predict the number of bodily fluids that were going to end up across the store. That seemed a given by lunch. There was even a certain expectation in terms of increased business on green items. There was one thing I was completely unprepared for.

The second floor men's room.

It would be generous to say that our cleaning crew was horrible at their jobs. I used to calculate if I could go a six hour shift without peeing. I knew past that I would eventually need to, but I could usually ride out that shorter shift. And that's the women's bathroom. Not to say that women are innately cleaner, but yes that's exactly what I'm trying to say. I spent four years at a (heavy emphasis on the first word) liberal arts college where we had co-ed bathrooms. Boys do some sick ass shit in the bathroom. Therefore, using my powers of deduction, I know if the women's room is a hover zone, then the men's room has to be a nightmare.

Its after my lunch break, I have a long haul till close, a man has already screamed threats at me, and I am trapped behind the register selling everything from ugly green t-shirts to ugly green pants. Suddenly, a woman shoots to my side and very furtively gestures for me to lean in close. I resist her suggestion. She whisper!yells that her son just tried to use the bathroom on my floor and she believes there are people having sex in there.

Now, when she said "people" my brain understood immediately this implied more than two. If it was two, she probably would have said, "There's a couple having sex in there." Either way, I'm not breaking that up, because I get paid minimum wage. I need a title and at least a three dollar increase before I start leading the charge on this situation. Having no other recourse, I smiled and thanked her for the information and told her security and a manager would be here immediately to deal with it. A word about our security guy: he was a fresh faced air-force drop out with some brassy red hair. You make him uncomfortable and he will blush.

Because I cannot be satisfied with simply the knowledge that a sex party is being broken up, I lurk my way over to the hall where the bathrooms are and lie in wait folding t-shirts. First, our reluctant security guy enters and breaks the whole thing up. There's a lot of cursing and shuffling noises. And then proceeds a conga line out in to the store. Three guys and two girls. Rowdy, drunk, and presumably unsatisfied. What they were doing must not have been too salacious, since no one called the police, but they were eventually shunted out of the building.

I was left in a daze trying to figure out who initially made the suggestion of "Hey, let's all hook up right now. And also, we should do it in the men's room of this store. Because everything in this hallway smells like dookies and I am into that." Also, the third guy...was he involved or like a spotter? Was he giving tips? Waiting for his opening? What is your purpose guy number three??? Finally, and most importantly, did neither of the two chicks go, "Hey, all women's restrooms in major department stores have fainting couches in them for some reason, we should go in there so as to not have to touch cheeks to any of these mysterious surfaces."

As I pondered these questions, out loud, my co-worker told me an even more insidious story. Or as she put it, "Gurl, that is not even the worst thing to happen in them stalls." She told me that a few months prior, staff would have to regularly check the men's room for flyers. These would be posted inside all the stalls and read, "RAMON'S HAVING A PARTY. TUESDAY 5-7." Along with pulling down the signs, they would then have to be aware that day of potential foot traffic into the men's room. As she tells me this, a second co-worker sweetly asks at this juncture, "What kind of party?"

I obviously can't say for certain the above picture is from one of Ramon's Parties, but I don't want to be told I'm wrong either.