Monday, April 28, 2014

More of this: Doing something about it.

I'm starting a new weekly segment on here I'm calling "More of This, No More of That" where I rant and rave about two completely unrelated things that have been on my mind. I have a lot of things that bring me frustration. I have a lot of things that bring me joy. Here's my opportunity to tell you about them.

More of This: Doing something about it

The United States doesn't have an official language, but if we did, it would be complaining. We love complaining, and most of the time not doing anything to help the situation, just sit around and complain. I think it's okay to complain if you're in an unfair situation, but it's better when you're complaining turns to action. 

I was inspired by a friend of mine, Ashley Beatty-Smith, a graduate student at Ohio University who realized the need for new programs for student-parents at the University when she found herself not getting the kind of care and help she and her family felt they needed and definitely deserved. Ashley created an organization called PrOUd Parents on Campus and they have made incredible strides for student-parents for years to come.

I spoke with Ashley and asked if I could share her story. Here are her words:

The problem

"During the summer of 2012, I learned that the only family-friendly housing, The Wolfe Street Apartments were scheduled for demolition. After viewing between 15-20 different apartments and houses, we settled for an apartment that we would later learn would not fit our needs; numerous middle-of-the-night fire alarms, car alarms, all-night partying, busted beer bottles, and even the neighbors urinating down from their balcony. We chose to sign a lease to move for the third time in three years. (We have since moved, and once again have signed a lease to move for the 4th time in 4 years).

During the time of our second move, I was turned away for childcare at three different care facilities, including the OU Child Development Center. The CDC listed us at 63 on the waiting list; however, my supervisor’s daughter, who is several months younger than my own daughter, was offered a spot from the waiting list at only 5 months old. Now at 19 months old, we are still buried on the waiting list with no time frame for when we can expect care.  

Many of these factors exhausted me; I felt let down by the university I cared for so much. 

Realizing something needed to be done

The turning point for me was the moment I felt bullied by my peers in a campus dining hall with my daughter. I accepted an invitation from friends to the Nelson Dining Hall, and many of my “fellow bobcats” stared, pointed fingers, and took to Twitter to express their feelings about a baby in the dining hall. The tweets said, “Would it be rude of me to ask to borrow this girl in the dining hall’s baby for the white trash party tonight?” and “Okay teen mom parading your baby around Nelson, you’ve officially made us all uncomfortable. #awkward.” 

I felt alienated for the first time on the campus I had been proud to call home for nearly 4 years.
I started speaking with fellow classmates I had met who also had children. Their stories were the same: no housing, no childcare, and reluctance in taking their child on campus. I realized that something had to be done, not only for myself, but for all of us living under the same circumstances. I felt that we deserved equal access to resources necessary for our success.

Doing Something about it

I first approached Dr. Jenny Hall-Jones, the Dean of Students, and Dr. Susanne Dietzel, the director of the Women’s Center. Next, I approached Dr. Ryan Lombardi, Vice President for Student Affairs. Additionally, I reached out to The Post asking for their coverage of the issues. 

My goal was to raise awareness, and finally administration was aware of the issue and the community was able to engage in dialogue about this invisible, but significant, population. Around this time I was graduating and starting my graduate program in College Student Personnel, working as an academic advisor in the Allen Student Help Center.

Through my advising work I started meeting at least one or two student-parents per week who shared many of the same struggles. I started connecting them to one another, forming an unofficial support community. With the help of a fellow student-parent, I co-founded PrOUd Parents on Campus to have an official avenue of support for these students. 

I became so entrenched in each of their stories. While their struggles were all so different, the need was the same- some type of resource not offered by the university. I put together a list of these needs and started meeting regularly with Dr. Lombardi. 

Because of his support, the university has chosen a more inclusive healthcare policy that will include additional prenatal coverage; the university is actively seeking a family housing replacement; we are building a resource website including information on healthcare, housing, childcare, and support groups; we are implementing a poster campaign to combat the negative culture; and we are beginning work on a medical/parental withdrawal policy inclusive to both support partners during the birth of a child. 

Visualizing Real Change

I have felt more fulfilled by this work than anything I have done previously. I remind myself that although my time as a student here is limited with graduation just a year away, these policy changes will positively impact other students for generations to come. There are freshman students in my support group who will likely see change prior to their time ending here. And that is what keeps me going. After becoming a parent, finishing their education becomes more important than ever for these students. So it is my hope that these positive changes will empower them to continue on to the finish line."


I am so encouraged by people like Ashley who have the guts to actually do something about the real mess they found themselves dealing with. It takes nothing to complain, but it takes a lot of work, courage and heart to actually get up and do something about the problems we face. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

No More of That: Posting about the weather

In a perfect world, there would be no more posting about the weather.  

Why? Because it's boring. It makes you seem boring. You're not boring. You eat sushi! You Instagram sunsets! You, who has a family and a cute dog and really great hair, are not boring.

So follow the rule that's been around forever: Don't talk about the weather. 

And apply this rule to social media.

If it's raining outside, all it takes is someone with a mere one of the five (or six) senses to figure this out. ONE OUT OF FIVE.

I get that people aren't observant. It confuses me, but I get it. And I'm trying to grasp that not everyone remembers everything everyone said, was wearing, was with, walked by and coffee shop they frequent in a five mile radius. I get that people aren't psychotically observant like yours truly.

But the weather is so obvious

Why do we have to post the obvious? Why does anyone care?

I understand that it's nice to get on Facebook and see that other people just like you got soaked in the rain storm this afternoon. I get that you now have a knee-jerk reaction to tweet "OMG ANOTHER DAY OF COLD?!" the minute you pull up AccuWeather on your iPhone.

I get that people like to make clever little posts about the weather.

But what bothers me is usually they are not clever. 

Humor is based on real, meaningful observations. Things are funny because they're true. They're also funny because they hold the kind of truths you've never had pointed out to you before. Humor comes from being surprised. All comedians are doing in standup is calling out truths you've never noticed, but that are so true you chuckle at yourself. Posting some snarky little ditty on the fact that it's April and it's snowing is freaking trite

On the matter of it's April and it's snowing: IT. ALWAYS. SNOWS. IN. APRIL. 

Every. year. 

Sometimes it gets cold in the Spring. That's what Spring does. Spring is the 22-year-old of the four seasons, always trying to figure out what the hell it's doing with itself. 

"Three snows after the forsythia bloom" is an old wives tale, but it's almost always accurate

Snow in April does not make your state have the KOOKIEST and MOST unpredictable weather. Knock it off. That's a competition only somewhere in Tornado Alley or tsunami territory or somewhere arctic is going to win. Columbus, Ohio in all of its temperate, four-season-having splendor, is among some of the mildest, least kooky climates in the world. 

Look, I think it's kind of cute how, no matter how young or old, if a person steps outside to find flakes falling onto their nose, they inevitably have to state the obvious, "it's snowing!" It's cute! And if all of your friends live in Cleveland and you're in sunny Colorado on a beautiful day, and you're into being a ginormous ass hole, I guess it makes sense to gloatingly tweet that it's a beautiful day.

There are always cool observations about the weather. This year, parts of Ohio got just the right bit of wind and snow and cold. Snow rollers developed and my friend Julia posted a great picture of her mom trying to steal one from a park to take home. THAT kind of post is a weather one worth reading.

Post about the fact that you went on a run and saw and smelled fresh-cut spring grass for the first time since September. 

Post about the sweet older gentleman who you saw hold his umbrella over his precious wife to keep her dry in the rain. 

Post about the giant hole that windstorm left in your parent's living room roof and how surprisingly overjoyed they were because that meant insurance would be getting them the new roof they'd actually been needing for years.

But for the love of sunshine, don't just post that it's raining.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

6 Things I'll cry about on the spot

This post is inspired by an adorable girl I knew in college named Jessica who posted on Facebook a couple days ago about how sad she gets when she thinks about all the dogs who don't have homes. I read that post and immediately started crying. Not kidding. I'm holding back tears right now. It just isn't fair. They just want homes. They want nothing more than to love you unconditionally and teach you about being an optimist who a, love to eat and doesn't care if they get a big gut and b, love to chase squirrels and doesn't care if they never catch one. Oh God, now I'm crying.

I've never been a big cryer, at least not in the arms-to-the-heavens PRAISE JESUS mega-church let-there-be-light revival cryer sense.

I have a friend who hears a good song and can be filled with a spirit that manifests itself in 138 tablespoons of salty tears. She looks so cool and I am so jealous. SHE LOOKS SO COOL, but I've never been like that at all. I've always been the person who awkwardly sits next to the sobber, patting her on the back saying super-creative and wisdom-filled robotic things like, "there, there" and "don't cry."

I can count the number of people who've seen me cry on my ten fingers. I just don't like people seeing me cry. I'm an ugly crier.

This means, that when I do cry, it's out of nowhere and catches people by surprise. I've always wished I could explain it to people so they can better prepare for possible impending sob fests, but my crying muscle is a completely arbitrary and involuntary character of its own. My tears have cute little tiny raindrop-shaped brains of their own, but this is my attempt to try and explain what I've learned might trigger their appearance.

1. I've already mentioned this, but anything about dogs that don't have homes gets me every time.

My boyfriend and I were outside of Target a few weeks ago and they had shelter dogs to play with. I played with them so long the volunteers thought I was about to buy them all. We then realized that we had to go into Target to get the one thing we came in for  (plus the other $65 to spend on other cute things we didn't need) so we headed passed Target's big red balls and into the dollar spot. My boyfriend was about ten yards in front of me when he turned around to see me crying uncontrollably screaming "THEY JUST WANT A HOME!!" We had to leave the store.

The worst part is that while my boyfriend was telling the story to my parents later that night, I was in the other room crying to myself.

2. Onions

I once cut up four ten pound bags of onions into bits for thanksgiving stuffing in our church kitchen to take to the food pantry downtown. I chose this task because I'm an arrogant ass hole and I had been bragging about how onions never make me cry.

The onion particles hit my nose like the truck that delivered them to the grocery store. I didn't stop gagging and crying for hours. It was a horrible experience. I couldn't even serve the stuffing at the soup kitchen.

To this day, even the thought of that experience makes me gag-cry (which everyone knows is the worst kind of cry).

3. Dads

I'm a sucker for a loving dad. I love living in an era where Dads aren't just called to be breadwinners who sit in the living room with a Scotch after a day at the office. Dads are finally allowed to display the mushy love they've always felt for their sons and daughters publicly and it's wonderful. If I see a dad holding his daughter on his shoulders for the Princess Parade at Disney World, I start crying. I saw a dad pick up a little kokopelli stuffed doll for his kid at the Phoenix Airport last week and almost melted.

My dad has done a lot for me and we have a great relationship. He's totally awesome. But so is my mom. In fact, my mom is the one to blame for most of the reasons I cry. What isn't rational is that moms always do this kind of stuff. I just won't turn into a giant puddle on the floor when I see them do it. It's like it's just expected of them. But they should get the credit they deserve too.  It totally isn't fair and I'm really sorry that I don't cry when a mom gives her kid a hug. I really am sorry. 

4. When people go out of their way.

I cried on my 21st birthday.

I was in the middle of an attempt at following the gluten free fad and hadn't eaten cake in a good week (SO HARD, OMG). We were about to go enjoy ourselves at some of Athens, Ohio's finest establishments when my roommate brought out a big chocolate gluten-free cake with adorable decorations and candles and everything. I immediately started crying.
Here I am crying with Santa as my best friend Sarah presents my gluten free cake. I would also like to highlight my friend Brian laughing at me.
4. StoryCorps

Since 2003, people have been recording almost 45,000 stories and emotions associated with real, human lives via StoryCorps. StoryCorps is an incredible project.  The stories they feature are those of normal people. People who have been through the craziest garbage together sit down behind a microphone and they talk about it. I first heard about the Corps on NPR's Morning Edition a couple years ago and I haven't heard one yet that hasn't made me cry. There is an incredibly brilliant beauty in people sitting down and having honest, meaningful conversations.  They're just real people having real conversations about their connections and what brought them in.

If you feel like restoring your hope in humanity, here's this week's. This is the story of Collin Smith, 23, and Ernest Greene, 72. Smith was in a car accident his sophomore year of high school that left him a quadriplegic. Greene was a member of the Smiths' church and decided he was going to help him however he could. Ernest Greene became Collin Smith's helper. He did everything he could for Smith. And when Smith wanted to go to college, Greene went with him. They graduated in 2013.

People sometimes confuse my blonde hair and bubbly personality for me being a total doofus. I have spent enough time philosophizing and weighing pros and cons.  I've decided that world is already shitty enough. It's a great thing to be able to not make it suck less. My bubbly personality is the product of a lot of DECIDING to not be a grumpy downer all the time. (i.e., Less Squidward. More Spongebob.)

Reading about stories of other people who've also decided to not be selfish buttheads all the time makes me cry. There are some really amazing real-life human beings in the real, actual planet Earth world. I love reading about the incredible things that people do for one another. No fictional movie or book or television show will ever be able to capture the beautiful things that people do for each other, things we do for no further reason than the need to love and be loved.

5. A Wholesome, Happy Ending

It doesn't matter how long the story is. If I've just finished the Harry Potter series or if I've just watched this thirty second Subaru commercial. I feel for the characters and I start wailing.

I don't cry during sad parts of movies or books...or commercials. Because the world is already shitty without having to watch a movie. When something happy happens, I'm in tears because I'm just overwhelmed with a surprising joy. That's what having a good cry is all about.

Three Examples:
  • When Shadow, The Goldenest Retriever of all time, comes over that hill in Homeward Bound. (I've talked about this before)
  • The happy family ending to any episode of Parenthood. The Bravermans hold the remote that controls my tear duct dam.
  • When the all the chubby people in Wall-E land back onto Earth and find a plant and get really excited about making pizza.
Happy endings get a lot of cries. There is always something emotionally stimulating about joy and hope and peace wrapping you up in a giant fluffy happiness blanket.

Some people cry when they're angry or sad or nervous or stressed. I think I cry when I'm surprised. I like when people surprise me in a good way and my reaction is tears.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The best thing since chewing gum.

I'm starting a new weekly segment on here I'm calling "More of This, No More of That" where I rant and rave about two completely unrelated things that have been on my mind. I have a lot of things that bring me frustration. I have a lot of things that bring me joy. Here's my opportunity to tell you about them.

More of This: Not Chewing Gum

We had a school store in my high school that sold spirit wear and calendar books with our mascot on them (Go Celts) and candy. Everyday after lunch freshman year, my friends and I would grab a box of CherryHeads and a pack of gum. I chewed my way through a lot of packs of gum in high school. It might have had to do with my plan to always be ready for Jeff, the senior quarterback, who one day was going to be ready to admit to the school he was in love with me and go in for the kiss.

That kiss never happened. Unrelated (though possibly related), I can't remember the last time I bought a pack of gum. I guess it was at a Target a couple months ago. I don't really chew gum anymore. And apparently, neither does any one else.

Gum sales are down 11 percent in the last four years, and people don't really know why.

There's theories, ofcourse: the "In this Economy?!" Theory, the "Not Enough Gum Marketing" Theory, and the "Why Chew Gum When Starburst Minis Just Came Out" Theory.

My money is on the last of these. People are keeping their mouths busy with other stuff: Stuff that you don't have to squish into a torn-off corner from a magazine page when it loses it's flavor; stuff that you can swallow quickly when your aunt calls you for your monthly chat and you don't want to be smacking your gum the whole time she's chewing off your ear; stuff that you're not going to find underneath your movie theater seat (PRAISE JESUS).

That classic image of the valley girl chatting on the phone - gums blazing - is extinct.

I like this. Let's keep not chewing gum.

No More of That: The Superlativization of Everything Ever

Generation Y has an obsession with calling everything the best and the worst, the coolest, the grossest, the smelliest, the funniest, the smartest.

My generation loves hyperbole (exs. Buzzfeed, our use of the word literally all of the time) and we know that nobody is actually serious, but what happens when we actually are serious? What happens when we actually are being literal?

I've come up with some examples that don't work for superlativizing and those that do.

Examples that don't work:

  • "My mom makes the best pizza." 
    • No. Your mom probably makes a great pizza. It's probably absolutely delicious. I would likely enjoy several servings of your mom's pizza, probably several more than my fair portion. But your mom does not make the best pizza. Sorry.
  • "You're the worst."
    • The Worst?! This one is so nondescript that it's suggesting out of all places, things, people and ideas in the history of existence I am the very worst. I am the worst at existing. Ever.
  • "You have the hairiest face." 
    • For the record, no one has ever said this to me. Someone did say this to my friend. He has a beard. That doesn't mean he has the hairiest face. This girl has a pretty hairy face. And if you're getting punny, this guy has a pretty harry face. But how in the world could you possibly superlative someone's face hair above another person's face hair?
Examples that do work:
  • Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world. 
    • I think he's raced some races and somebody found he did it faster than other people. 
  • Nickelback is the worst band. 
    • Everyone knows this as a fact. Out of all bands that ever existed, Nickelback is the best at not being a good band. 
With that last bullet in mind, I understand superlatives are usually very subjective. I think golden retriever puppies are the cutest things in the world. My boyfriend thinks my buddha belly after a chipotle burrito is the most attractive thing in the world.  I think that driving on old bridges is the scariest thing I've ever had to do and some people jump off of bridges for fun. I got voted Most Outgoing in high school. I'm sure there were other people in my school who were more outgoing than me, certainly less awkward and weird. 

Even though a lot of superlative is based on opinion, I think we need to be more careful with deciding everything is the best and the worst. It starts to lose its touch! If you take a bite out of the best freaking pizza you've ever had, and you exclaim, "This is the best freaking pizza I've ever had!!!" nobody is going to believe you. Don't become the boy who cried best pizza.

So there. Let's stop superlativizing every TINIEST thing. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Busy work matters

Grade School Erin was always in those enrichment programs where they would take the bored smart kids and stick them in another classroom and make them do logic puzzles with the boxes that you’d determine whether Jenny, Johnny or James liked Baseball, Bowling or Badminton. The harder ones had a third category, sometimes fourth, where you’d have to determine whose parents were splitting up and which one had a peg leg.

I went to a great montessori preschool where we were working on things that slightly resembled multiplication right after nap time and we’d have breakout sessions after Sesame Street to determine the symbolism of Big Bird and Grover’s Friendship.*

When I got to “normal kid school” in first grade and was put into classrooms with the Great Unwashed public school kids, I acted out because it was so boring for me. A kid who grew up with working parents was used to school from morning until just before dinner. These kids cried on the first day of first grade because they had to stay all day and eat cafeteria food.

I had the same teacher for first and second grade.  My teacher’s name resembled another word for male genitalia. High school kids turn non-derogatory words to horribly offensive and disturbing messes. Having a name that sounded like a creative word for penis was asking for it, hence why she taught first grade instead of high school. This teacher was so mean. She loved all of the other kids and she hated me, probably because I already knew how to read and didn’t want to do her weird lessons. 

I would sneak out of the classroom and spend extra time in the bathroom stalls reading stolen library books. I once hid in the metal firetruck out on the playground and waited for everyone to go inside from recess before I started playing out there for an extended recess of my own. Another time I found the copy machine in a back room of the library and made several black and white copies of a picture book that I loved, with hopes to take one home to my mom and then sell the rest to other kids. My first step in becoming an entrepreneur was extinguished shortly after by my first lesson in copyright law.

In first and second grade I had a big crush on a boy named Christian. He complimented a black pair of Adidas knock offs I had (the two stripes instead of three stripes clearly showed they weren’t the real deal, but Christian didn’t mind), which meant I wore them everyday. Christian moved away to Atlanta my second grade year and broke my heart. (My first crush isn’t entirely relevant to the moral of this story. I just think it adds to the picture I’m painting of myself as an angsty eight year old who’d loved and lost and was really bored in the classroom.) 

I was in seventh grade when a kid named Devon asked me if I was one of those “really cool smart people who never did her homework but still got really good grades.” I had never really described myself like that, but I liked the way it sounded.

For a girl who tested well and was put in all of the enrichment, smart-kid, seminar classes, you’d think it had hit me sooner that doing my homework mattered. But I never really got the point. I remember getting a B in Miss Blanton’s sixth grade math class. I was so confused. I’d gotten all A’s on my tests. I talked a lot but never while she was talking and only about important things like pretending I knew things about hockey and boys and my bushy 12-year-old eyebrows (god bless ‘em). My parents asked me why I hadn’t been doing my homework and for the first time in all my life I started to realize it was all based off of a point system. They had to explain to me that you get points for doing your homework and you get points for your tests and you get points for not constantly talking about dancing with Connor Rosenbaum at the canteen then kissing him on the cheek and running away.  

I thought that was bullshit. When Devon told me it was cool how smart I was without doing my homework I wore that description like a badge of honor. I cared about my grades, and I always did the kind of homework that I took interest in, like science fair experiments where I tested different dish soaps or creating little felt and yarn Benedict Arnolds in US History class. Don’t get me wrong I was a total nerd, but I also thought it sounded so much cooler to just be plain smart, instead of the kind of person who only got good grades because they did their homework.

Here’s the thing though. Homework is a part of the point system. And it meant that my not-always-completing-everything-by-its-due-date wasn’t going to win me the points.

This isn’t a blog post about how eventually I learned to do my homework, especially in college when homework was doing the reading and you couldn’t get A’s on the tests if you only attended lecture. Eventually, I forced myself to start doing my homework, especially once things got harder at the university level.

This is a blogpost about the point system. There are always going to be things that you don’t think you need to do. You think you’ll be able to not do that extra little busy work and still get an A on the test. But that’s not how life works, really in any aspect of it.

Take relationships, for example. Relationships aren’t about just sliding by because you’ve got the smarts. In fact, it’s that busy work that makes a relationship so damn good. I scraped off my roommate's car every snowy morning this winter. My roommate lets me borrow her shoes whenever I want. It's wonderful! Extra effort is usually unnoticed, but in the end it gets you closer to that 100%. 

Other examples: Taking a couple minutes to wash out your coffee mug every now and then makes the coffee taste so much better.  Taking a minute in the morning to wash your face makes your entire mood.  Eye contact and smiles to the people you’re passing on the sidewalk makes the world less cold and crummy. Pulling $7 a month out of your bank account and giving it to something/someone else changes your entire outlook on life. Putting down your phone while you’re waiting in line for your panini to be pressed might spark a conversation with a stranger who will, one year later, become your best friend (true story!).

Doing all that extra crap is the difference between a good person and a great person, a good friend and a great friend. I like it.

I didn’t have crazy parents who wouldn’t settle for anything below a 95. They were proud of me when I put in the work and even more proud when I learned that I liked the outcome of putting in the work more. You don’t want to be one of those crazy people who can’t be proud of themselves, no matter how much work they put in it, either. Be proud of yourself, dammit! It’s all about working hard and caring about others. If you put in that extra effort, it will never go wasted. 

*Can we just talk about how nobody ever wanted to talk about Grover? He was always my favorite. He was Blue Elmo with a cooler, more masculinely sophisticated voice. Preschool Erin had taste.