Soul Train Lessons

Hubby and I enjoy the hell out of reruns of Soul Train.

Rediscovering lost musical loves and finding new-to-us artists to hunt for, like Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, is too awesome. The clothing and dances are feasts for the eyes. Don Cornelius holding the mic a hundred yards away because his deep booming voice doesn’t need a mic, but the show totally believes in the props, is a hoot. Spotting regular dancers and keeping up with yesterday’s lingo… It’s heaven.

But we also play this game when we watch reruns of Soul Train. The Soul Train Game is to guess the year of the episode before the credits roll and reveal the answer.

Amazingly, hubby always wins — even though he was an underage kid when most of these shows aired.

You’d think I’d have the advantage; not only was I buying plenty of records and tapes, but soon I was out dancing in (and dressing to kill for) the club scene too. But no, hubby, the stay-at-home-young-pup wins.

I’d like to think it’s a matter of me over-thinking my answer (I lived in the Midwest, so how far behind were we in the fashions?). But the simple fact is, he is smarter about this stuff. I’m greatly disadvantaged because I don’t think in terms of years; I view life and history as “chapters” and “episodes,” and am hard-pressed to name dates. His knowledge of technology and historical time lines beats out my real life experience — at least in this case.

(In fact, I always turn to him to help me date any antique or vintage collectible — even clothing — because he’s so damn good at this stuff.)

But I have another point to make, another story to tell, so I’ll move along…

The other day, hubby and I were joking about the Soul Train Game, and Destiny, the 13 year old, asked us what we were talking about. Have you ever tried to explain Soul Train and American Bandstand to a teenager of today?

She couldn’t fathom the idea of kids wanting to watch a bunch of kids dance on TV, let alone that those dancing kids had groupies and fan clubs of their own.

So how could we move on to the issues of race and lip-syncing — often with a microphone from the future, with a fake short cord that wobbled about. But we did. Because that’s the kind of context geeks hubby and I are.

Honestly, I think Des understood the race issues and the faux Microphone Of The Future better than the concept of turning on the television to watch a bunch of kids dance.

I’m sure getting over this speedbump of understanding is thwarted by her preference for Goth-kid-attire; she’s not interested in finding out the latest trends in fashion.

I’m sure the fact that learning dance steps is only relatable in terms of the uncoolness of line-dancing in phy-ed — or today’s shows which emphasis professional dancers, oft paired with celebrities. Destiny’s clearly not thinking she should bust a new move on the dance floor — or that watching teens dance on TV would be the way to learn. You’d Google it, right?

I guess the basic problem here is that these shows didn’t spoon-feed you the dance steps, or break down fashion into sponsored “must haves.”  You watched, like a voyeur, identified what you wanted, and figured it out. So to kids today, the concept of watching teens dance on television is like watching a party through a window — only you’re allowed to go, so where’s the thrill?

And so I didn’t even try to get into Solid Gold or the Solid Gold dancers.

Even after she watched Soul Train with us (right after a Ru Paul’s Drag Race episode) it didn’t seem to make sense; she made it through the hour of Ru Paul, but only 20 minutes of Soul Train.

Explaining teenage dance shows to kids today is like explaining the joys of watching fuzzy YouTube clips of a kid & his light saber dancing to Star Wars to the kids of yesteryear.

We Had Joy, We Had Fun, We had Seasons In The Sun…

I’ve been listening a lot to the cable music stations — most recently to the 70’s station. Tonight, Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks came on and I found myself singing along as I had in my childhood:

We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun
‘Til the cops came along and shot us in our buns.

At this point hubby (10 years my junior, remember, and so perhaps not even born at the time I was singing along to the AM radio), turns around and calls me an affectionate slur for a mental handicap.

“Come on,” I laugh, “I was like 10 years old when this song came out.”

And I continue to sing along with the song — growing happier and louder with each opportunity to sing my childhood recollections of the verse. I was seriously clapping with glee by the end of the song. Perverse? Maybe. But it was thrilling to relive my 10 year actions and enthusiasm.

Blaming my age might seem like a weak defense, but honestly, little kid weirdness can often be attributed to very real — and very grown-up — things.

Streaking was a big thing then (at least pop culture reference wise; I never knew anyone then who had done so) and as kids, uncomfortable with the notion of naked adults, we made jokes about it. Continually.

And the song, Seasons In The Sun, was terribly depressing; it reeked of death. Another thing kids would be terribly uncomfortable with.

So we dealt with our anxieties via the mutilation (further mutilation?) of the song.

Come to think of it, so many 70’s songs were about death…

There was Wildfire and Brandy, of course (the latter of which may not have explicitly about death, but certainly there was loss). Helen Reddy’s Angie Baby used to scare the crap out of me (that swirling noise made me dizzy and is somehow mythologically tied to my experience with the floor dropping in Disney’s Haunted Mansion) — second only to Eleanor Rigby, which, with the popularity of Wings, was played far too often as far as I was concerned. (Wearing a face that she keeps in a jar by the door?! I’m old enough to understand the lyrics better now, but that only creeps me out more.)

However, in terms of raw exploitation and manipulation of emotion, there were even worse offenders.

Like Rocky (“Rocky I’ve never had a baby before, don’t know if I can do it…”) by Austin Roberts. In my mind, Rocky was from the made for TV movie, Sunshine, which was based on the real life story of Jacquelyn Marie “Lyn” Helton, a young woman who while dying journaled for her young daughter so that she’d remember her (unbearably more than ironic if this post is to be believed).

I recently discovered that Rocky was not from that film when we found the record at a thrift shoppe (and yes, I snatched it up). I don’t think I ever saw the Sunshine movie, or the television series which followed…

But maybe I did. In my mind, it was all twisted up with my Sunshine Family dolls. Dolls who suffered greatly, despite their cheerful happy hippy faces. One parent often died… Of course, it could have been worse for the children after I read Flowers In The Attic (the baby boy obviously would have been named Cory).

All of this is so depressing.

The only way to really cleanse from this is to sing along with Seasons In The Sun — my way. Go ahead and try it, you’ll understand why we sang it this way as kids.

We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun
‘Til the cops came along and shot us in our buns.

Let’s Talk Disney Princesses

About 15 years ago, I sent a letter to Disney (on behalf of my Disney stock-owning and Disney-loving daughter) demanding that they diversify their stock of Disney characters and stories.

Among other things, I suggested they make stories about adventurous mice, a la The Rescuers, who either didn’t all sound like white folk or who helped more than white children — both maybe. And I said they ought to include princesses of color in their films — and that maybe these princess didn’t have to be exclusively limited to exotic locations, like Princess Jasmine.

disney-princessesSince this letter of mine, there has been Pocahontas & Mulan, each’s ethnicity presented as exotic and distant via the pageantry of location and historical period as Jasmine. But now there’s the first black Disney princess, Princess Tiana in The Princess & The Frog.

(I know this sounds like one of those new Windows 7 commercials — but If I had any affect on The Mouse, it took 15 years to get past the corporate layers of white defenses.)

Tony Award-winning actress Anika Noni Rose is the voice of Princess Tiana and she’s excited, telling People magazine, “This feels amazing. Not only is [Tiana] the first black princess, she’s the first American princess. So, the scope and the significance is larger than people even realize.”

Apparently Rose is so excited that she’s forgotten that Pocahontas was a Native American. While the ‘princess’ title may be debatable and the treatment of Native Americans is deplorable, is Pocahontas’ status as American really questioned?

If your daughter is a Disney princess fan — and you meet the other requirements — maybe you’d like to be on The Tyra Show:

Does your little girl love Disney princesses? Is she eagerly anticipating the arrival of the first black Disney princess, Princess Tiana? Have you always wanted to take your daughter to Disney World but have never had the means? Do you have an emotional story to share?

Emmy Award Winning Talk Show is looking for deserving moms and daughters who love Disney Princesses! Daughters should be ages 7-11. Must be available Tuesday, November 17 and the following Thursday to Friday.

My kids are all past Disney princess, but my niece isn’t (and my nephew is half charmed by them, half held hostage by his older sister’s demands). But even if there weren’t Disney kids in my clan, I’d still be glad to see an African American Disney princess. Because fairy tails may not come true, but believing in the magic of them is so much easier to do when folks look and sound more like you; not to mention what this does to those with delusions of white superiority.

Stupak Amendment To Penalize & Impoverish Women & Children

One of the sins of the recently House passed health care plan is that it denies poor women access to the constitutionally protected right to abortion, thus screwing with their right to self-determination. From the National Organization for Women:

The Stupak Amendment goes far beyond the abusive Hyde Amendment, which has denied federal funding of abortion since 1976. The Stupak Amendment, if incorporated into the final version of health insurance reform legislation, will:

  • Prevent women receiving tax subsidies from using their own money to purchase private insurance that covers abortion;
  • Prevent women participating in the public health insurance exchange, administered by private insurance companies, from using 100 percent of their own money to purchase private insurance that covers abortion;
  • Prevent low-income women from accessing abortion entirely, in many cases.

If that’s all you needed to hear, then contact your representative now (and, if you’re so inclined and able, join &/or donate to NOW too).

If you need a little more convincing, I present to you bits of what I wrote last year for Poverty Blog Action Day:

Years ago, when I lived in Wisconsin, I ran a single mother support group. One of the issues that reared its ugly head was the matter of choice and poverty; specifically as it related to those receiving government assistance.

“Welfare” is a dirty word, loaded with connotations about “laziness”, “sexual promiscuity”, “race”, “stupidity” — and “evil manipulation”. As a white woman on welfare at the time I’d seen it first hand. It was horrifically ugly. …But none more offensive to me than the matter of what happens to a woman on welfare who becomes pregnant.

At that time anyway (I have not bothered to see if this still exists in Wisconsin, but *do* know that it still exists in other states), a woman on welfare usually received health insurance through the state. It was the same insurance state employees had — but with one special, dirty, caveat: women on welfare did not have the right to choice.

Women on welfare were not allowed abortion services/coverage.

State employees would have them covered, but not the poor, lazy, sexually promiscuous welfare women.

Why? Because women on welfare lack the moral fiber to make such decisions.

Further angering me, is the fact that the media, and Tommy Thompson, went on & on about how the fine people of the state of Wisconsin were tired of paying for the free-loading welfare queens. They bitched about having to pay for someone else’s brats. They bitched we didn’t work enough. But mainly they bitched about how we got filthy rich off the system, sucking at the state’s teat as we popped out more & more babies for the extra $17 a month.

OK, I can no longer swear it was exactly $17 — but I did do the math at the time and the ‘extra’ amount didn’t even cover diapers (which, by the way, are like condoms and cannot be purchased with food stamps).

But in any case, and despite ‘everyone’ wanting us off welfare, women on welfare were not allowed abortions unless they themselves came up with the $300-$700 the procedure cost. When you can’t afford what you have, how are you supposed to come up with that amount cash? From the guy? :snort: Are you serious? The whole welfare system, and the majority of our society, does not hold men accountable for such things as a woman’s pregnancy. While you debate, insist, demand and cry, the fetus grows… And your window of a safe procedure closes.

Now, if you can’t afford the abortion, imagine how well you do supporting another child.

It’s poverty by entrapment.

Just when you might see light at the end of a day care required tunnel, just when you might have thought you could turn this corner and be the next Horatio Alger story, you realize you’re back where you started. No. You’re back where you started minus 100 steps.

And ‘society’ isn’t just requiring mothers to sacrifice themselves for a new child, but to sacrifice their other children as well.

While uppity citizens like to deny the realities of what happens to a woman in this country when she ‘finds herself pregnant’ and condemn her to her scarlet letters (an ‘A’ for adultery and a ‘W’ for welfare), the fact remains that the woman who finds herself pregnant is at the mercy of their wickedness. While religious groups like to scream that they won’t pay for the ‘murder of an unborn innocent’, they do so for government workers.

Poverty is more than an economic line, it’s a barrier to choice. And what’s worse, at the root of all this evil is the false preaching & mean-spirited perpetuation of the stereotype that all poor women are dumb, loose, and morally bankrupt.

No one can pretend they do not know the realties of being pregnant here in the US. No one can feign ignorance to the ties between parenting and poverty. Yet they willingly turn their blind-eyes, let moral-deafness protect their delicate ears, and continue to abuse the poor women and families of this country.

If you don’t believe me, how about some facts from experts?

Co-authors Elizabeth Oltmans Ananat, Jonathan Gruber, Phillip Levine, and Douglas Staiger can show you the importance of the phenomenon of selection (meaning how, on average, children’s outcomes may have improved because they were more likely to be born into a household in which they were wanted) in Abortion and Selection. From the digest at the National Bureau of Economic Research:

Taken together with earlier research results, the authors’ findings suggest that the improved living circumstances experienced by children born after the legalization of abortion had a lasting impact on their lifelong prospects. Children who were “born unwanted” prior to the legalization of abortion not only grew up in more disadvantaged households, but also grew up to be more disadvantaged as adults. This conclusion is in line with a broad literature documenting the intergenerational correlation in income and showing that adverse living circumstances as a child are associated with poorer outcomes as an adult.

So, if you can’t support women and their original sin, I’ll use the cry conservatives do, “Think of the children!” — and by that, I mean the millions here, not the children-in-waiting called fetuses. You do this by admitting women — all women, including the poor — have the right to self-determination and the constitutionally protected right to abortion. These are the very things the Stupak Amendment strips away.

Defending Kate Gosselin

I’ve been trying to ignore every impulse I’ve had to blog about the Gosselins. Sure, I’ve spat at the TV and grumbled at my pc (just ask hubby for confirmation), but I’ve put off writing about them — until Catherinette, that is.

When she tweeted her dislike of Kate, I just couldn’t refuse the bait. Witnessing how so many are oblivious to the facts here drives me crazy. Crazy enough to challenge Catherinette to a duel for Kate Gosselin’s honor. (Or, baring her “honor,” at least for some understanding.) Even though I know Catherinette’s post is likely to be far more clever to read, I challenged her. (And even the entertainment value is part of the problem; it’s much easier to impart the snark than it is to look at the real issues here. Especially if those issues have something to do with you, your behaviors, your value-laden actions.) So I probably won’t “win” this duel; not only is what I have to say far less entertaining, but Catherinette has far more vocal readers than I. But like many who have doth declared a duel, I must do it in spite of winning and simply for the principal of the thing.

First of all, we, the collective “we” of society, are partly responsible for the Gosselins being on TV in the first place. Read through any publication from the past, and you’ll see that we humans have a long history of loving to vicariously follow the lives of people we don’t know. Before film, before more timely mass communication gave us the ability to herald public figures on the national or international scene, we read the local society pages & made local celebrities out of those people in our local bergs — especially those who could travel to the big cities and see the opera or buy Paris fashions.

Unusual human drama was the stuff we entertained ourselves with during our hum-drum days and nights. We consoled ourselves as “at least not having those problems,” and puffed our chests with “proof” that the rich had more dollars than sense.

quintuplets-clipping-smallThrow children into the mix — especially an unusual number of babies — and whoa, Nellie, we’re smitten. Why else do I continue to find so much evidence of the Dionne Quints?

The Dionne Quintuplets who, by the way, grew up under the intense media spotlight yet turned out normal — and by “normal,” I mean they have as adults complained about their not normal childhoods. Children everywhere complain about their parents, the lots they are born into, even without such public interest & scrutiny.

Think I’m being cold & crass? Before their complaints, we didn’t feel responsible for literally buying their story; since their complaints, we continue to buy the lives of others.

While I’ll leave it to others to debate the “who had it worse, the Dionne Quints or Jon & Kate’s + 8?” and/or the “do the plus eight have it any worse than any child actor?” I will say that most folks justify their watching and purchasing with a “Had they not our dollars, where would they be? Had they not been born a litter of five or eight, who can say where they would have ended up…”

OK, so even if you don’t agree with the choices Jon and Kate made (and I did turn down Wife Swap), to make some money off the general public interest in their über sized family of tiny tots, you must at least see how tempting such monetary gains would be when faced with the costs and work of raising such a large family. And the decision was theirs to make.

If you don’t get it, I don’t see any way to convince you. So I’ll move along.

My next point is that Jon’s a jerk.

more-husbands-self-starters-wife-would-not-have-to-be-a-crankEven without the publicity, Jon’s a poster-boy for male jerks everywhere who eschew family responsibilities. From the beginning of the show, Jon has sat back and done very little with his kids. Even less for his wife. When people say, “Kate’s a bitch,” I say, “Of course she looks like one. What woman can shoulder what she does and not look like she’s bossy?” And I don’t just mean the number of kids.

Worse than simply lazy, Jon’s a nightmare.

Jon’s passive-aggressive behavior reads off the television screen like a text book case for psych students. He doesn’t lift a finger unless he’s told to, does a half-assed job of it (if he actually does anything) — and then he stares into the camera and plays victim to millions — millions who then view Kate, the responsible party trying to get her husband to participate in his life, as mean.

It’s crazy-making and abusive. Enough to dislike him for on its own.

But then he cheats.

Looking for escape from a reality he created, he continues to paint himself the victim while he partys-on, dude.

And then he tries to leak a story about Kate’s cheating, just to make himself look, hell, I don’t know, “better” as the victim again. *sigh*

Jon says he’s not, despite his plethora of boys toys (of the mechanic, electronic, and human female varieties) and mode of recapturing-my-youth rocker garb, having a midlife crisis. Maybe he’s not. Like drugs, a midlife crisis is not required to be an asshole; but such things help.

Meanwhile, Kate, who likely has been worried about this whole thing for years now (even if not consciously), continues to try to get what she can for her kids. Jon complains about her book tours — and some of the public bitches in agreement. But really, would you have any respect for a woman who didn’t do anything to support her kids? Why is Kate blamed for wanting to use what popularity she has & leverage it into something more? I don’t have eight children, but I continually worry about feeding & providing for the kids I do have.

And when talking heads & comedians mock the Gosselins for being out & about, not home with their kids, there are distinctions to be made: Momma’s working, daddy’s an asshat.

But even if both parents are out of the home working, leaving the kids with other childcare providers, so what? Millions of us do it every single day. So these parents have a much longer commute, traveling to the far more fashionable production coasts; the same talking heads on TV do it all the time. Does anyone wonder just who is watching Stephen Colbert’s kids? Or Nicole Kidman’s?

I’m soooooo tired of people bitching about Kate when she’s been victimized and abused here.

No, she hasn’t handled everything with as much aplomb as you’d like to imagine you would. Being the sane responsible one who looks like the problem drives you crazy — and sometimes you act like it. And divorces bring out the worst in people. Even when you are trying so hard to do the right thing.

It sucks that this drama is playing out in public, especially for the kids. But dude, let’s keep some perspective here. As a kid, you’re worried about what your friends will say or think… Your friends and the kids at school, the kids in the neighborhood, at day care, your cousins, maybe. And even without such a media frenzy, all those kids would already know that your dad’s a jerk because they will have met him — or heard from some other kid who has. Seeing Daddy Dearest on TV, boozing it up with other babes only confirms what they already know. And it helps explain why your mom is tight-lipped, teary-eyed, and sometimes failing while trying to hard to hold it together.

Give her a break.

And start with a hard look at yourself. What is it that Kate brings up in your own life, about your actions/beliefs/behaviors, which you are trying so hard not to see or be responsible for?

PS In case Catherinette should mention Kate’s hair cut…

My middle child went out and got Kate’s haircut a few months ago. Did she intend to get Kate’s haircut? I can’t say; Destiny was with her biological mom that day. But the 80’s are back, baby, and asymmetrical haircuts along with it.

Besides, if Kate’s hair is anything like Destiny’s, that haircut is completely wash-and-go. Who couldn’t use that much style with eight kids, a lazy husband, a busy traveling work life, and continual media attention?

I See London, I See France, I See Lessons In Barbie’s Underpants

vintage-blue-barbie-doll-pleated-lingerieBecause my first Barbie dolls had been my aunt’s, I had a lot of the original stuff, including those (now highly collectible) palest blue whispers of chiffon pleated underpants. I remembered being struck by the incongruity of such angles — the square-ish lines of the boxy panties themselves and the triangular points of the pleats — against the round curves of plump plastic. As I slipped them over Babs’ firm flesh, I wondered what her shape would do to the shape of those panties… Miraculously, some of the pleating remained when Barbie wore them — and in fact, the pleating was fully retained once removed from the doll. These were things I was highly suspicious of.

I wondered if those puffs of pleats remained beneath Barbie’s outerwear… They weren’t really visible; Barbie did not suffer from visible panty lines either. But like that refrigerator light problem, there was no way to see-to-believe, no way to really know.

While many blame Barbie for a plethora of society’s ills, I’m not so convinced. I learned many things from Barbie, including, but not limited to, the pure impossibility of comparing myself to a doll (let alone coming up short in such a comparison).

Barbie was a doll, her movements were not only dictated & restricted by manufactured bendable knees & stiff elbows, but whatever limited movements Babs had could only be made at my whim. Her permanently arched foot did not relax when her shoes were removed, nor when she went to sleep. (This, I would learn years later as a department store sales person, was quite probably the most realistic thing about Barbie.) When I cut her hair, it did not grow back. Ever. When her leg popped-off at the hip, you could just press it firmly back into place; no blood, no guts, just the glory of fixing a problem yourself.

Barbie was not real and I knew it.

Her lack of areolas and nipples did not make me question the existence of mine. The enormous size of her breasts and their skewed proportionality did not make me question the size and proportion of my mother’s bustline, that of any other female that I knew, or my own breasts when I developed them. Barbie’s flat tummy did not make me question my plump belly or that of any other female; hers was hard unforgiving plastic, ours were flesh — as flexible, purposeful and forgiving as our arms. Our bodies existed for more than posing, for draping fabrics, for pretending. We are not dolls; we are a human.

Of course, as a child, I didn’t exactly articulate these things to myself or anyone else; these were simply the lessons of play. (Are those the ingrained messages they want to protect children from?)

OK, so Barbie’s hyper-beauty was unrealistic, so what? I had a brain. I was no more in danger from this fashion doll than boys who played smash-up with Hot Wheels cars were from driving like the world was a demotion derby they could just get up and walk away from. Kids can tell reality from pretend, especially when they have emotionally & intelligently available adults who answer questions and talk with them, not at them.

(This is not to say that Barbie, media images, etc. do not have an impact; but that’s more a matter of a collective accumulation of messages. And I’ll continue to pull at those threads.)

However — getting back to Barbie’s pleated underwear, what started all this in my mind was spotting these vintage knife pleated panties.

vintage-knife-pleated-lace-edge-green-pantiesknife-pleated-lace-edge-panties-from-the-1930s

In jadeite green and blushy-peach, they are color variations of Babs’ fancy sheer knickers!

I instantly thought of the mysteries of those angles on Barbie’s curves, of how I wondered just how real flesh would react with those pleats… Puckers & folds in your pants or beneath a slip-protected skirt, would they be there under your clothes? Or would your flesh fill them out, curves rubbing-out the angles? If they were there, what would they feel like? Would they remain when you took those panties off? Puckers & folds, those are usually considered imperfections — yet here they are, for living humans, not just dolls.

These vintage panties are beautiful little mysteries to me. And until I find a pair in my size, this is how they shall remain to me.

13 Dating & Relationship Tips You (Should Have) Learned From Your Friendships In Junior High

thursday-13

“Don’t take your partner/spouse for granted.” We hear that all the time, but what does that really mean? It means treating your lover — and other family members too — with the same respect and kindness you show your friends. (And don’t forget to demand the same in return!)

If you aren’t sure what this means, ladies, remember back to those unspoken rules you (painfully) learned in junior high. Here are 13 reminders of them (in the order they popped into my head.)

#1 Gossip and assumptions are dangerous things, often motivated by people around you who have an angle; be as suspicious of the one who brings you “news” about your romantic partner as you are of your romantic partner.

#2 While first impressions may matter, it’s more about the person than their looks. Haven’t we all a BFF, now or back in the day, who was unable to afford the latest fashion trends, had bad taste in clothes (didn’t know how to dress to impress — or didn’t care to!), had horrible skin, or some other sin or appearance but is/was the very definition of a best friend? Don’t knock a potential partner because he or she wouldn’t appear in a slick glossy magazine — you might miss the romantic best friend you’ll really have forever.

#3 Sucking up to the cool kids never works; or at least it’s a brutal thing to do to yourself. Be friendly, make yourself accessible; but glomming on or inserting yourself where you are not welcome only makes you the butt of jokes while demoralizing yourself.

#4 Make the effort to stay connected. You probably don’t need to take the call-them-everyday-after-school approach when you first meet them (that goes for texting etc. too), but you do need to put effort into the relationship. It’s not just that you call them during a crazy work week to let them know that you are alive; your call says you care to know that they are still alive.

#5 Show an interest in them. No one liked that girl who made everything all about her all the time; no one will like her now. Dates are opportunities for each to learn about the other. Don’t monopolize; take advantage of the time to learn about this new person in equal measure to allowing them to discover you. When you live together, make an effort to focus on your partner that is equal to your expectation to be paid attention to.

#6 Trust is earned, not blindly given. Actions, then as now, speak louder than words. Dating is also about spending enough time together to build trust. (And when you are in a committed relationship, your actions still speak louder than words.) Value the sacred trust of secrets and shared intimacies — and demand the same. Start with small confessions and as they are held sacred, slowly increase what you divulge. (The same is true for physical issues of proximities and intimacies — yup, that means sex! This preferably after trust has been earned in other ways.)

#7 Forgive and forget is an expression stated as a sentence, but in reality it’s multiple choice question; sometimes you can & should do both, sometimes you will choose one, and sometimes grievances are too large for either. Effort on the part of both parties is required and time will be both the test and the tell.

#8 Time heals all wounds. On Friday you were writing in your journal about Jane’s crimes, using words your parents didn’t know you knew; on Saturday you were begging to sleepover at her house. Emotions of the moment are best vented, explored, and examined overtime with a zeal equal to the intensity of your feelings. Whether it’s the multiple choice question of forgive and forget, or a matter of swallowing your own pride when you’ve been called upon to face something about yourself, time is required to digest this bitter meal. (Even when you must simply walk away from the relationship, time will heal that wound; the sooner you start, the better.)

#9 When invited somewhere, reciprocate in a timely manner. You know what happened to those girls who only went to your parties, but never invited you to theirs; to those who came to all the birthday parties, but never brought a gift; to those who waited months after sleeping over at your house to have you sleepover at their house — they got axed from the invite lists. Not only should you be mindful not to be only date taker, but remember to be a date maker too. This means suggesting plans as well as being prepared to pay for them.

#10 Be as generous as you can. Like with party invites, it’s just good manners to reciprocate gifts shared — and in a timely manner. I’m not saying that when you are given a birthday gift that you must give them a gift in return, but don’t be a taker. You may not have the means to match a person dollar for dollar, but give something. And do not think of gifts as only those objects which come wrapped in pretty packages either; gifts are also kindnesses, understandings, secrets, and intimacies shared.

#11 Share and share alike only works just so far. Remember how you didn’t want Trish to wear your favorite top — how she called you stingy & jealous too? Well, there are always things that remain solely yours, no matter how close you are to someone else. There’s no reason to give up or share every single thing — including your personal dreams, career, identity — just because you want a close relationship. If they act like Trish, remind them this is normal, healthy, and to get over themselves.

#12 Being supportive doesn’t mean you force the unwilling to talk — or have to provide the solution. There are many ways you cheered-up a friend with problems — even serious problems. Sometimes you listened; sometimes you just sat with them. Other times, you arranged distractions — cracked jokes to get them to smile, invited them over, took them to the mall, or otherwise offered ways to get them temporarily “out” of whatever was trapping them. There are a million little ways to let a person know you care and are there, ready & willing, for them to share. (Similarly, if you aren’t a big talker or sharing isn’t easy for you, be sure to respond somehow!)

#13 Have fun. What’s the point of being with someone who only brings you down? It’s one thing to ride out a tough time, be supportive through a bad circumstance; it’s another to devote yourself and your life to one who makes you miserable.

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

Whatjamacallit Wednesday: Myrtle The Turtle

My mother is the one who started it, this tradition of making up silly songs to sing to your kids. I’ve twisted it onto singing songs about my children, usually silly rhymes sung to melodies from television themes songs — like Hunter’s Boo-Bear, Meet The Boo-Bear based on The Flinstones.The kids used to love it, but then they grew older and not-so-much… I must now wait for them to grow old enough to appreciate them again.

One of Allie’s favorites was grandma’s Myrtle The Turtle who would “swim any hurdle — just to be near her Allie.” So when I found this Myrtle The Turtle, a story by Ernestine Cobern Beyer (illustrations by Mildred Gatlin Weber), inside the July 1964 issue of Wee Wisdom, I instantly thought of Allie and began singing the song. Thank goodness I was home alone flipping through the pages & singing, or… Well, let’s just say that if the kids who know the songs and presumably love me no longer can rise above my crazy singing to enjoy the special memories created by such silly songs, how can I expect the general public to?

myrtle-the-turtle
myrtle-the-turtle-2

My mom bought me this vintage copy of Wee Wisdom when we were out antiquing together because she know how much I love Great Danes. Now that I’ve found Myrtle in here, I wonder if she’ll want it back? …I myself am tempted to remove the Myrtle pages (ack!) and frame them for Allie for Christmas. Better yet, just make really high quality scans, print two great copies and frame a set for each of them… (If either one of them pop in here, all bets — and gifts — are off.)

wee-wisdom-july-1964

Cheap Thrills Thursday: Can He-Man Still Thrill The Uninitiated?

For the past several years, hubby has tried to sell his Castle of Greyskull at our rummage sales — and every time I have whined.

original-80s-castle-of-greyskull

It’s not that I’m so very protective of his childhood memories that I would second-guess what he ought to part with (and, frankly, he’s sold plenty of his original He-Man collectibles); but I wanted that castle.

It’s not that I have any childhood memories connected to He-Man or that castle either. In the 80’s I was out wearing skanky Madonna fashions — and, yes, that was far more appropriate for a young woman in her 20’s than playing with Mattel’s He-Man toys &/or watching He-Man and the Masters of the Universe; I won’t apologize for it.

But something about that plastic castle intrigued me…

Maybe it’s because I was a huge Thundarr The Barbarian fan — and we never got no stinkin’ toys. Or maybe it’s because He-Man’s castle was so much cooler than any playsets Babs had. (Other than that 1970’s Barbie Country Camper — which my BFF Heidi and I used with her cat’s kittens, filling the sink with kitten food, and driving tiny sleeping kittens up and down the block — Barbie’s toys sucked.)

Anyway, every year that hubby dragged the 1980’s Castle of Greyskull up from the basement I whined that I wanted it; but hubby wanted the money more.

I think it was his way of punishing me for my perpetual yanking his chain by calling action figures “dolls.” And once, when he asked me what I’d do with the castle, I responded that I’d put tea light candles in it and set it in the window for Halloween; that idea received a sneer.

So every year that the castle went up for sale & didn’t sell (even at $10?!), hubby returned it to the basement for the next sale. That is until this year, when my 9 year old son saw it — really saw it.

he-man-castle-of-greyskull-and-80s-action-figures

The boy had walked right past it sitting there on the lawn, and even shrugged it off when I pointed it out at previous sales. But this year, when Hunter spotted the castle, his eyes grew into the proverbial saucers, and he whispered that boy-ish “whoa” of being deeply impressed. His little boy wonder plucked my husband’s heartstrings in a way my wonder had not, and the boy ended up with the toy. Even more than that, hubby went prowling through other boxes (those set out at the rummage and others in the basement) for more of the He-Man (and other 80’s toy) stuff.

playing-with-retro-80s-toys

I don’t know who was more excited — Hunter or me. (And hubby certainly enjoyed giving Hunter, who’d never seen the He-Man cartoons, the scoop on just who was who in He-Man’s world.)

The next day, when hubby went to work, Hunter and I played with the Castle of Greyskull and the He-Man toys.

At first, my son was thrilled with the idea that I would play “boy stuff” with him. (Let’s be honest, moms, there’s a limit to how long we can push cars around — let alone make car noises that satisfy our sons; so boys too-quickly learn to play without us; and we are a bit relieved.) But…

I sat with Hunter, surrounded by He-Man folk and assorted paraphernalia. I asked which guys I could play with — and was given two of the bad guys. There was a three second pause… An awkward pause. I suddenly realized I was going to have to do battle — I, the non-violent-preaching-mom, was going to have to make my bad dudes fight his good guys. Could I do it? I don’t know for certain, but I’m pretty sure my son was thinking the same thing… And I knew I had better start playing before both of us freaked-out from the pressure.

So I started with what I thought was a logical place: I had my two guys talk to each other.

Hunter just stared at me, his He-Man action figures limp in his hands.

Nervous, I just kept going on — thinking, like I always do, that I can talk my way out of anything. Realizing I needed to put some action into my action figures, I began to make my bad guys argue about who’s idea for getting into He-Man’s lair was better — and then fight. I looked up and saw Hunter just staring at my hands making my guys wrestle and call each other stupid.

Like a television narrator I said, “Now, while they’re busy fighting, it might be a good time to capture them.” Hunter jumped in with his guy to snag one of my guys (while my second guy got away). Hunter’s capture of my guy was my personal rescue; it was no longer some lame girlie theatre performance of one. I don’t know what it really became, this playing He-Man with mom thing — at least not in Hunter’s eyes… He hasn’t invited me to play again.

hunter-and-castle-of-greyskull-and-he-man-toys

But I have hope.

Maybe we’ll even bond over Masters of the Universe DVDs and a new He-Man movie, perhaps?

Anyway, the Castle of Greyskull is indeed way cooler than any Barbie house. Instead of blow-up and other plastic furniture, sticker home decor (which has to go in the place the instruction sheet says, or else it won’t be perfect!), and vinyl window scenes, He-Man’s castle has real windows, look-outs, and functional pieces, which, while admittedly for violent purposes, make the castle fun to play with.

grr-attack-hunter-and-80s-boys-toys

In fact, just the sticker-carpet-covered trapdoor would have improved any of Bab’s residences; triple the fun factor if Barbie’s Dream House had had a dungeon. (I’m not saying what I would have done to Ken there… I’m just saying it would have been more fun.)

And I guess that’s the point about these old He-Man toys — they just looked inherently cool. I had no knowledge of He-Man, nether had my son; we didn’t even have the original toy packaging to sell us on it or the mythology. But we both just knew He-Man’s world was cool and fun to play with. Even if we need more practice at figuring out how to play it together.

looking-through-retro-he-man-castle

hunter-peeping-through-he-man-castle-door

For the first time in my life I wished I’d have been a kid in the 80’s… Well, at least they could have given us Thundarr action figures and playsets. Then I might have been better prepared to play with my son.

Then again, I think Thundarr would kick He-Man’s ass.

greyskull-castle

The Facts About Children, Sex, Predators & The Internet

Last year the Internet Safety Technical Task Force released the Enhancing Child Safety and Online Technologies, the Final Report of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force to the Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking of State Attorneys General of the United States, but I wouldn’t have heard of it if it weren’t for the recent article by Michael Castleman at Psychology Today:

Last year, the attorneys general of 49 states created the Internet Safety Technical Task Force to investigate sexual solicitation of children by molesters who troll for targets using sites popular with kids, among them, MySpace and Facebook. The 278-page report concluded that there’s no real problem.

The task force, led by Harvard researchers, looked at reams of scientific data dealing with online sexual predation and found that children and teens were rarely propositioned for sex by adults who made contact via the Internet. In the handful of cases that have been documented-and highly publicized-the researchers found that the victims, almost always older teenagers, were usually willing participants already at risk for exploitation because of family problems, substance abuse, or mental health issues.

The report concluded that MySpace and Facebook “do not appear to have increased minors’ overall risk of sexual solicitation.” The report said the biggest risk to kids using social networks was bullying by other kids.

“This study shows that online social networks are not bad neighborhoods on the Internet,” said John Cardillo, whose company tracks sex offenders. “Social networks are very much like real-world communities that are inhabited mostly by good people who are there for the right reasons.”

The bottom line is, the actual threat to children from sexual predators online is negligible.

So I’m guessing the reason I hadn’t heard of this before was that the findings, though incredibly clear, aren’t willing to be heard & accepted by the population at large. Instead of shouting from the rooftops that the internet is as safe a place as any for children, or even breathing a sign of relief, people would prefer far more salacious, fear-mongering headlines.

In truth, the actual Internet Safety Technical Task Force report says that, “Bullying and harassment, most often by peers, are the most frequent threats that minors face, both online and offline.” Which means parents should be paying a lot more attention to what their children are experiences (and dispensing) at school, with their friends, etc., than they should be about the invisible “they” known as internet boogie men.

From the report:

Much of the research based on law-enforcement cases involving Internet-related child exploitation predated the rise of social networks. This research found that cases typically involved post-pubescent youth who were aware that they were meeting an adult male for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity.

And if you think that’s only gotten worse because kids today are bombarded by internet porn, well, that’s just plain wrong too; from the report:

The Internet increases the availability of harmful, problematic and illegal content, but does not always increase minors’ exposure. Unwanted exposure to pornography does occur online, but those most likely to be exposed are those seeking it out, such as older male minors.

In other words, most kids ignore it, but those (mostly male) youths who want it go for it — just like those meeting with adults or others for sex. Because teens have sex drives, so you’d better be prepared to deal with the issue.

However, the report does not ignore the few times where child molesters have connected with youth online. It says that in the small number of cases, the internet was the first of several steps — the rest of which are no different than how “real world” hook-ups are made. So, if the sexual predator finds prey on the internet & the prey responds, the next step is telephone contact (right under their parents’ noses), followed by eventual meetings in person.

Here’s what the report suggests in terms of advice (I’ve bullet-pointed them, so they are easier to read):

Careful consideration should be given to what the data show about the actual risks to minors’ safety online and how best to address them, to constitutional rights, and to privacy and security concerns.

Parents and caregivers should:

  • educate themselves about the Internet and the ways in which their children use it, as well as about technology in general
  • explore and evaluate the effectiveness of available technological tools for their particular child and their family context, and adopt those tools as may be appropriate
  • be engaged and involved in their children’s Internet use
  • be conscious of the common risks youth face to help their children understand and navigate the technologies
  • be attentive to at-risk minors in their community and in their children’s peer group
  • and recognize when they need to seek help from others.

All of this, though, ignores the basic facts regarding child molestation: Most rapes, sexual assaults, and abuse is perpetuated by someone that the victim knows and trusts.

And I guess that’s the real reason I hadn’t heard of this report & its findings before; people still prefer to pretend they are safe at home, that the unknown danger is “other” and locked outside — or on the internet.

Cheap Thrills Thursday: Lessons In Literacy With Strawberry Shortcake

Let’s see… When this Kid Stuff Records book (copyright 1980) & record (copyright 1981) set of Strawberry Shortcake’s Day in the Country came out, I would have been 16 or so, which naturally explains why I never owned any Strawberry Shortcake stuff back in her heyday. Why the stuff seems to gravitate towards me in some sort of kitschy retro-grade, is a complete other issue — like Smurfs, for which I have no sense of nostalgia either, I do not yet know why.

strawberry-shortcake-day-in-the-country-record-book

Anywho, I grabbed this SEE the pictures HEAR the story READ the book set for about a buck, as I recall, making it another cheap thrill.

But, like most things I touch, it provokes a few questions…

Why were the pages merely black & white pictures? Were you also supposed to COLOR the illustrations?

strawberry-shortcake-record

More profoundly, I wonder what’s become of the progression of these kids’ books… When my eldest was little, the book & record sets had morphed to book & tape cassette sets, then to those (incredibly annoying) books with the computer chips that made noises (whenever you saw the icons in the text, you pressed the corresponding button for an audio clip). And now, the closest things I’ve seen are the video games which mainly use “pens” to read the words or stories (or, sometimes, have buttons much like those electronic books).

If the concept was based on the philosophy that being read to encourages children to become readers (and these book & audio sets were to assist parents who, for whatever reason, had no time to read to their children), then I think that’s been lost along the way. Lost with the interactivity — broken down into amusing “fun” and sold as “learning” yet.

As Gabriel Zaid (and translater Natasha Wimmer) so eloquently & concisely described in So Many Books, reading is a very complicated learned process involving the interpretation & integration of units of complex meaning into a cohesive whole. This is why listening to stories is so powerful — it is more natural, more easily intellectually and even emotionally digested. But once hooked on stories, a person wants to have the independence to select & enjoy on their own; they develop the love of reading.

So why add further fragmentation to the process? Why break reading down into even more chunks, such as distracting gimmicks of auditory bells & whistles? Why add other activities to it, such as pushing buttons, touching screens, using wands — removing one’s focus not only from the story as a whole but the page itself?

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Our Hidden Culture Is A Rape Culture

A new video called Our Hidden Culture was put out by Community TV Network (CTVN), a non-profit organization that empowers Chicago youth with training in video and multi-media production. (CTVN’s award-winning TV show, Hard Cover: Voices and Visions of Chicago’s Youth, airs every Monday at 5:30pm and Tuesday at 12:30pm on cable channel CAN TV 19 in Chicago; you can keep up with CTVN at YouTube too.)

In this recent video project, the youth researched the issue of rape & sexual violence and came up with the conclusion that harassment is the root of such evils and that we live in a rape culture.

For some of us, this isn’t so much “our hidden culture” as it is a known fact we suffer & slog through daily; but I applaud these young people for looking at the issue and seeing the problem for what it is.

Many of us readily blame the issues of sexual aggression in music, movies, and “the media in general” on younger people — it’s their dollar most companies seem to seek, and so, in this toxic relationship, these companies say they are just courting our youth with “the language,” “substance,” and “style” that speaks to them at the expense of us all. But it’s clear that our youth is aware of the problem — and that those who aren’t yet aware are fully capable of getting to the root of it all when asked to look at it.

Can complete denunciation & contempt for those individuals & companies who participate in our rape culture be sure to follow? I hope so.

Maybe You’re Not Juliet

When Chelsie Hightower & Mark Kanemura Dance danced to Leona Lewis’ Bleeding Love on So You Think You Can Dance (choreography by Napoleon & Tabitha D’Uma), I was mesmerized…

But the lyrics disturbed me; doubly so when the girls, my daughters, began singing it. Especially the chorus.

But I don’t care what they say
I’m in love with you
They try to pull me away
But they don’t know the truth
My heart’s crippled by the vein
That I keep on closing
You cut me open and I

Keep bleeding
Keep, keep bleeding love
I keep bleeding
I keep, keep bleeding love
Keep bleeding
Keep, keep bleeding love
You cut me open

Now, technically, according to the full song lyrics, neither the cutting nor the bleeding is real; it’s metaphorical teenage poetry expressing the pain of trusting and loving after having been hurt before by others. But…

There’s also this part:

But I don’t care what they say
I’m in love with you

Whoever “they” is, be it family or friends, why don’t you trust them?

I know it’s social acceptable — required, even — for teens to rebel. (And love songs are filled with teenaged angst & longing, even if they aren’t of the pop variety — which Bleeding Love is.) Teens aren’t supposed to trust their parents. But parents are the very same people teens have to thank for keeping them alive all these years. They don’t have an ulterior motive. They want you alive, safe & happy — even if your definitions of the latter differ greatly.

And what if it’s your friends who don’t like the guy — or girl? OK, occasionally, you have a frenemy who wants the dude (or babe) for themselves… But if you aren’t wise enough to keep away from frenemies, you probably aren’t mature enough to date (or have sex) anyways.

My point is, unless what “they” say is that you shouldn’t date or be with him is because he’s too short, or her nose is too big, or some other superficial thing, shouldn’t you at least listen to their reasoning & evaluate it for yourself?

They try to pull me away
But they don’t know the truth

Oh, you might be temped in that dramatic romantic way to believe you know more than “they” do — but really, why would “they” try to pull you away unless they saw or knew something was bad or even dangerous?

Ignoring the people who’ve known you longer, if not better than anyone else; resisting the warnings of the people who’ve cared for you, invested time and money in you, because you want to be right or play Romeo & Juliet, is not maturity. (See comments about frenemies.)

It scares me when I hear songs with lyrics like these… Hear people singing along, like it’s a mantra… Romanticizing “forbidden love” to the extent that they mistake warning signs for meddling, mistake dangers for a chance to prove themselves “right” rather than being safe.

True love doesn’t hit, soul mates don’t control or hurt you, and families & friends (the “they” sung about) don’t lie about your safety — the people who love you, family members & friends, want to like & love who you love. At the very least, they don’t want to upset you — but “they” will upset you, try to pull you away from things & people who are not good for you.

Maybe you’re not Juliet.

So maybe there’s no reason to drink from the poison cup.

~~~

This post is part of the blogathon for Hope For Healing, a wonderful event raising awareness of domestic violence & funds for supporting victims.

Twolia generously sponsored me, and you can help too! Comment, link, Tweet my posts!

And use this special link to iSearch.iGive.com to perform searches; it will raise money for HopeForHealing.Org.

Why We Vilify Single Moms

When I was in college I was a single parent. Finding myself struggling personally with the demands of continuing education and single parenting (a special needs child too yet) was challenging enough; but this was at the time that Tommy Thompson was governor & he made bashing single moms & welfare a public sport. (Yeah, some of us fought back; like the Welfare Warriors.)

It was incomprehensible how those of us left with children were not only held accountable while biological dads walked away Scott-free, but were to blame for all of society’s ills. Even those who raised children alone by design & without public assistance were vilified, a la Murphy Brown. It wasn’t just moral outrage (though that did & does exist); it wasn’t an ignorance — these were educated people saddling us with unrealistic responsibilities and ludicrous outcomes. We were being scapegoated with such an intensity that it must be hiding a deep fear of some sort… Was it simply another way to display the classic fear & hatred of “female,” or was there more?

It got me thinking: Certainly being a single parent had never been easy, but had it ever been easier? At least from a societal point of view?

A classmate & friend, another single mother herself (shout-out to Vicki Davidson, if she can hear me!), decided to investigate. What we found would later be presented at one of those extra-curricular brown-nosing events (in the history department, which didn’t help with any of our majors; but we did, I will say, impress the department staff with work that, I quote, “was at or above masters work”).

What we discovered, was that the vilification of women having (&/or raising) babies out of wedlock dated back to Victorian times. This may not surprise many who would attach such times to the origins of our currently held morality — but it wasn’t (at least entirely) Queen Victoria’s morality that had done the deed & made single mothers dirty; it was mainly a byproduct of the Industrial Revolution.

Before the Industrial Revolution, children had great value in farming; any additional mouths you have to feed come with additional, literal, farm hands. Mom, dad, older siblings still did their work as they watched the littler ones; little ones automatically observed the work and therefore received on-the-job training under the auspices of childcare. Large families meant there was no need to hire help — and mom & dad were assured someone would be there to care for them as they aged.

This, more than church-hurled slurs about paganism, is the more practical reason why when Mr. or Mrs. Farmer wandered down to the next farm for a roll in the hay, no one worried about an illegitimate child. Why fuss about Mrs. Farmer being knocked up by a neighboring farmer when it’s just more farm hands? Especially when you spotted proof of your own afternoon delight working at a neighbor’s farm. (It was not uncommon for casual acknowledgment of such situations; no rows ensued, unless someone wanted those little hands for their own farms. And it begs for some research regarding jokes about the farmer’s daughters.)

But the rapid growth of industry, including the increased mechanization of agriculture, created the first major migration away from farms to cities and changed everything.

dores-poor-of-london

Among the many problems with such rapid urbanization comes the devaluation of children. Children are not only less desirable industrial workers (especially after childhood labor reform acts), but they also become an economic drain; more mouths to feed, but no automatic work hands.

As Nicole Lemieux wrote:

From 1861 through 1885, several Acts were instituted which significantly affected the working-class mother. The first of these Acts was the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act. According to Carol Smart, in her essay “Disruptive Bodies and Unruly Sex: The Regulation of Reproduction and Sexuality in the Nineteenth Century,” this was established to deal with “rape, procuring, carnal knowledge, abortion, concealment of birth and exposing children to danger” (13). Throughout the nineteenth century, incidents of infanticide were continually on the rise, in large part because little was done to convict the guilty party. Violent acts by desperate working-class women resulted in a movement to put more emphasis on holding someone, namely the mother, responsible for these deaths came to a head with the passing of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act. As working-class women oftentimes found themselves financially challenged, they would accordingly find themselves financially unable to support their children (Smart 17). Women who gave birth to illegitimate children found themselves in a particularly questionable situation. On the one hand, if a woman kept the baby, she would likely be unable to properly provide for it; however, if she concealed her pregnancy and abandoned the child, she would be held liable, with the potential of being sentenced to hang, regardless of whether the baby was born alive or dead (Smart 16). Women who had children out of wedlock, who were unable to financially support their children had to face the difficult decision whether to keep the child or turn the infant over to another’s care, thus avoiding the repercussions of being found guilty of infanticide.

But what of the children?

Those visions you may have of beautiful Victorian cherub-children, the history which boasts of Victorian times “finally” bringing about children’s toys & a time “when children could finally be children,” these are not representative of most children. The average child in Victorian times was trapped the poverty, grime & disease of the Industrial Revolution — just as their parents were. The juxtaposition of the images isn’t graphic fantasy; there were two worlds. (Just as there were two worlds in terms of Victorian morals & sexuality; but that is for another time.)

birthday-holiday-greeting-victorian victorian-child

The wealthy children may have found themselves clean, well dressed & with plenty of playtime on their hands, but most rural children spend their time hungry & packed in one room with 3-9 siblings & their parents or working as hard as their parents to ensure the family’s survival. And those were the lucky ones. Some went to prison — yes, children went to prison for their crimes, and some were even hung for them.

12-year-old-boy-victorian-prison-record

Disease & injury at work, along with other conditions of urban poverty, did leave some children orphaned; and with no family nearby, or none willing & able to take them in, there became the street urchins of Oliver Twist tales. However, orphans were not the only urchins running the streets.

vistorian-street-children-called-street-arabsAlong with orphans, there were abandoned children & children of the homeless living on the streets. The streets were littered with trash & children (including some children who were there just trying to help their families eek out a living). These children were often called “street Arabs,” an ethnic slur for nomadic activities that weren’t understood.

To care for the orphaned & stray children, the Victorians built many large orphanages (along with lunatic asylums and infirmaries to house, if not care for, those unable to work, and workhouses).

Once built, orphanages housed more then orphaned & abandoned children. Poor mothers and fathers negotiated with institutions to place their children there temporarily, for assistance to overcome short-term family and economic crises. These children were called the “ins and outs” or “casual children” because of there frequent short stays at institutions.

As you can imagine, what with all the popular “fallen woman” & prostitution stories from this time, a large number of casual children came from single parent households. Not all single parents were unwed or even single mothers. Some single parent situations were created by deaths, of course, but it was also not that uncommon for one parent to be institutionalized, put in a dreaded workhouse, or in prison; leaving the other parent to fend for themselves and the children alone. But single mothers were among the majority of those who used the orphanages as temporary shelter for their children or abandoned them there entirely. Some even used the institutions as a sort of childcare; placing their children there while they went to work as live-in maids etc., visiting the children on days off.

Whether these buildings were public works or run by private charities, at some point people began to stand up and ask themselves, “Why am I paying to support someone else’s child?”

Great pains were taken to interrogate mothers & the children themselves to ascertain the name of the father, so that he could be held accountable. This meant financially responsible — but not in payments or support of any kind to the child or the mother herself; no, responsibility was only a matter of repaying the state or institution, or claiming the child so that the father’s household supported the child. In cases of wealthy fathers, women were sometimes paid not to name them, lest wives or potential wives would use the current morality to dismiss the marriage or diminish (shame) them socially. (This is the start of many of those fantasies of a wealthy parent who will come for a child & rescue them.)

More then simple resentment at having to part with money though, the was another moral issue: Poverty.

workhouse-womenPoverty was seen as a character defect; not a circumstance. The poor were poor because they were vagrants, drunkards, morally bankrupt prostitutes, etc., and when it came to their children it wasn’t only that no one wanted to fork over their money to feed a little hungry mouth they did not create, it was a mistrust of the irresponsibility involved.

Because it’s always been easier to vilify victims than to address the problematic social structure.

The most offensive & objectionable children the charitable organizations & social institutions served were the casual children who went back & forth between decent orphanages and “no good” poor parents. These children were commonly referred to as sources of “evil,” suggestive of their status as disease carriers & corruptors of morality (including alleged sexual knowledge), infecting the innocent & redeemable orphaned & abandoned children. It was the attitudes about these casual children which actually infected the general society with a sense of distrust about orphanages.

orphaned-street-childrenTo combat societal distrust, reformers & social workers began PR campaigns to paint all the children in orphanages as orphans and strays. This may have begun simply to improve the images of orphanages & garner funds, to distance the children themselves from the sins of their pauper parents, but in many cases the positive spin shifted to advocating legislation.

Attempts were made by so-called social reformers to do away with casual children by removing their parents from the picture, making them into situational orphans, often using legal maneuvers & legislation to prevent pauper parents from having rights to their children. Such removal of parental rights was, understandably, feared even more than being sent to the workhouses and argued against. But the legislation was pushed hard by many. One of the reformers, Florence Hill, put it this way, “Parents who have cast the burden of their children on the State should not be free to interrupt their being made good citizens, for evil purposes of their own.”

But in their quest to increase charity and government aid to children, such reformers cast the poor not only in a poor light but cast them even further away from the Victorian social body. The poor became even more disenfranchised, more vilified.

victorian_mother_and_childAnd this, my friends, is why single mothers continue to be scapegoated today. The poor continue to be judged as possessing character defects, children remain an economic drain — or “investment” if you prefer (so much money in before you might expect any return), and society doesn’t want to help with either the investment in those children or take a serious look at the very structure of society which in all actuality creates the poverty in the first place.

This is made worse for single mothers who continue (despite scientific knowledge to the contrary) to be blamed for bringing their children into this world. Ironically, the very women we blame for (further) impoverishing themselves by having children have the least access to family planning, are the most restricted regarding exercising their rights to their own bodies, and continue to be courted by religious & “moral majority” groups who judge, condemn, & ostracize them.

History repeats, continues, if we do not learn from it.