Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Biggest Boob

I was supposed to be blogging about Banned Books Week today (which I am, if you’ll just bear with me) but first: a word about boobs.

Actually, “boobies.”

Don’t you just love ‘em? I do. I love mine. When I was in my early thirties, they fed my children. They linked us in a way which was more profound and emotional and visceral than I could have anticipated. They imprinted me as “mother” in a way that even pregnancy and childbirth did not, and stripped me of all the various credentials I had worked so hard to amass up to that point, reducing me to one, all-important thing: caregiver.

Which is the greatest thing anyone can be, whether one is a parent or a loving friend; a breast feeder or a formula feeder; man or woman; biological parent or adoptive. For me, it took those boobies to firmly establish what’s important in life, and I am so grateful for them.

I’m also grateful, every year, when I take those boobies off to the scanner and receive the diagnosis: healthy. I’m so grateful mammography exists, so grateful that because of the strides made in research and technology, a diagnosis of “breast cancer” is no longer the death sentence it was back in my mother’s day.

That is, if you catch it early. Which is why raising awareness about breast health and early detection is just as important as hurling millions of dollars toward lab research. Which is why what’s going on at Medomak High School in Waldoboro, Maine is so upsetting.

You know those rubbery Live Strong bracelets? Well, there’s a bracelet being sold to raise money and awareness for breast cancer, and it is stamped with the words “I (heart) Boobies.” Attention getting, don’t you think?

At Medomak High School, Principal Harold Wilson has been suspending kids who wear the bracelets to school and refuse to take them off. He says the bracelets are “disruptive to the education process” and violate the school’s guidelines against wearing sexually provocative attire.

Dude, in the eye of the beholder. Just because you can’t see breast cancer awareness bracelets without thinking of sex, doesn’t mean your student body isn’t more enlightened.

Yes, kids, you’re right: some adults are idiots. Please, don’t grow up to be like them. Please keep reading and informing yourselves, so that, unlike Harold Wilson, you’ll know that a Federal judge in Pennsylvania has already ruled that students are within their rights to wear these quiet little rubber bracelets, and forcing them to take them off violates their constitutional right to free speech.

Harold, do you really want to spend the taxpayers’ money in Bangor defending your policy when the Maine Civil Liberties Union challenges it in court? Because you know that’s gonna happen.

Which leads me (yes, I’m finally getting around to Banned Books Week) to all this squeamishness about breasts and body parts. And I was reminded of one of my favorite and most recently “challenged” books, The Accidental Adventures of India McAllister, by my friend, Charlotte Agell.

This delightful middle-grade book has been challenged by school districts around the country for a variety of reasons, one of which includes issues surrounding the discussion of breast cancer. The protagonist, India, has a mom who, in addition to being an artist, is a breast cancer survivor. She has had a mastectomy. But before her surgery, she made a plaster cast of her breast … not unlike the plaster casts some women make of their hugely rounded bellies in the final stage of pregnancy … which now adorns the living room wall in India’s house.

India remarks that this is a bit of a curiosity to her friends who visit, but she shrugs it off as just another body part. What if her mom had made a plaster cast of her nose? Odd, perhaps. But no biggie.

The pre-pubescent India approaches breasts with innocence. Free of all the sexual connotations they summon in the adult world (think Harold Wilson) they are mere facts of life, something all mammals share. She breezes past the plaster cast in her living room without a thought, without an agenda, but acknowledging that her beloved mother dodged a bullet when she had her breast removed.

India is not unlike those brave teens in Waldoboro who are refusing to remove their bracelets and willing to face suspension. They don’t have some twisted, prurient preoccupation with breasts. They’re not wearing the bracelets to be difficult: they have friends and relatives who have either died from or are dealing with breast cancer. They bought the bracelets as an act of solidarity with them.

The sexualized, lewd and vulgar view of breasts seems to be the realm of the adults. Who fear words. Like “boobies.” Yes, indeed, a molotov cocktail thrown into the order of an unruffled day at Medomak High. Which, ironically, is in an uproar at this point, because the principal felt compelled to make such a stink about it. Talk about “disruptive to the education process.”

Which makes you wonder if Principal Harold Wilson might not be the biggest boob of all.

Note: several days following this post, the Superintendent of Schools in Waldoboro ruled that students at Medomak High School could wear the "I (heart) Boobies" bracelets. All those who had been suspended would have their suspensions removed from their records. This ruling was in no part related to this blog post, but was most likely related to the power of common sense.

September 24th – October 1, 2011 is national Banned Books Week.

The Bangor Book Festival will be held just as Banned Books Week concludes: September 30th – October 1st. I’ll be participating in a panel on banned and challenged books with authors Charlotte Agell, Carrie Jones and Kelly McClymer at 9:00 a.m. in the Bangor Public Library Story Room, at 145 Harlow Street, Bangor, Maine.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Adonis versus Herb

Like many of my friends, I have a high school senior living in my house … which I guess tells you a lot about the year I’m in for. Exciting, bittersweet, stressful. Fraught.

I know this stage is no picnic for the kids, either. Especially when the adults circle, with their inevitable questions about Life After High School.

At a gathering of families recently, we honed in on one particularly vulnerable member of the youth pack. She’s applying to college and has fixated on a single school. Despite our chorus of dire warnings about the need to have a list of “safeties,” she was adamant.

“What’s wrong with falling in love?” she demanded. “I mean, do people have safety husbands? Do they say, ‘I really love this guy, but if he doesn’t work out, these other three dudes would be fine.’” That caught us up short.

“Don’t think of applying to college like choosing a spouse,” offered one sage adult. “It’s more like … choosing a prom date. Marriage is forever but the prom is just one night.”

“Oooh, prom,” crooned one mother in the group to another. “Does your son know who he’s taking?”

“Prom is in May,” I commented, even though she wasn’t speaking to me. She shrugged.

“Never too early to lock up that date. Girls start shopping for their dresses in January.”

It was the first moment in my life when I actually thought I might drop to my knees and begin pounding the earth with my fists, wailing, “No no no! Don’t make me think about this! Not now, not ever, but especially not in September!”

I remember my own proms. For most of high school, I had the same boyfriend, so finding a date was a non-issue. Until my senior year, when the boyfriend went off to college and we broke up and I was untethered and prom-dateless.

That’s when I focused on … we’ll call him “Adonis” … for prom. He was sort of a friend but mostly a crush, and I really really really hoped he would ask me. He was the slim drummer in the band, a tan, varsity tennis player, and very cute. As the season for asking drew near (in the spring, by the way, none of this 10-months-ahead-of-time nonsense) I remember the phone ringing one afternoon, and a nervous male voice on the other end.

It was Herb. A guy I was friendly with, but didn’t know very well. A generally acknowledged “nice” guy who didn’t cause heads to turn when he entered a room. Herb was a solid citizen; he even stood low to ground. He exuded a sense of gravity.

He politely asked me to accompany him to the prom.

Reader, I tell you and I know this does not reflect well upon me: I turned him down. Not only that. Surprise pried frankness from my lips. I told him there was this other guy (I did not mention Adonis’s name) I really wanted to go with and he hadn’t asked me yet, so …

Yuck. Yuck yuck yuck and fie on the teenage me. As the mother of a teenage son I now loathe and detest all girls who reject perfectly nice boys for prom. I loathe my teenage self who didn’t have the sense to not tell poor Herb she was holding out for someone else. But as it turns out, I got what was coming to me …

Adonis asked me. Wonder of wonders, right? I was beside myself with excitement, and planned a pre-prom party at my house. Meanwhile, Herb went on a juggernaut of asking. Somehow, it got out that girls were turning him down left and right (I learned I was #3 on the list) and people started taking bets. Not only on who would be next in line, but how many he’d ultimately ask and who would finally say yes.

To his credit … to his great credit, actually … Herb got into the spirit of the thing, and when #9, Alison, accepted his offer, he made sure everyone knew. On the day during lunch when he strode to the ticket table to buy his prom “bid,” every student in the cafeteria rose and gave him a standing ovation. Herb bowed and waved.

Herb and Alison came to my pre-prom party and at prom sat at the same table as me and Adonis. Who, incidentally, spent most of the evening at another table, talking to a few of his tennis buddies. Who bought me flowers that clashed with my dress. Who barely spoke with me, let alone dance. For some reason, Adonis had had a change of heart about attending prom with me, and made no effort to conceal it. I had a miserable time.

Meanwhile, Herb was the man. Alison had the most beautiful wrist corsage in the room, and she and Herb danced every dance. I watched as he pulled her chair out for her, brought her punch from the drinks table, told her that she looked great. Let me tell you, #3 was feeling pretty jealous of #9 that night.

I guess this is all a long and tortured way of saying … I don’t know … what we think we want may not necessarily be the best thing for us? In life, go with substance, not flash? Don’t overlook those Safety Husbands, because they are true gold?

Maybe it’s just this: be open. Be open to all possibilities, and people. Because life surprises you.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Dumping the Dude

On Facebook, I’ve been reading reams of posts from friends who dropped their children off at college this week. They are all such nice parents.

“Tell me how you all handle this! I miss her,” writes one.

“Have I adequately prepared him for what lies ahead?” muses another.

“She’s happy; but this is so hard for me,” says another.

“Wow. That’s the fastest move-in I’ve ever seen,” said Josh. My son’s roommate. After we heaved his belongings into their cell-like double in just under 23 minutes.

“We’re on our way to a wedding,” I explained to him, as my husband and I wrestled his dorm mattress (which had been suspiciously, stickily, adhered to a piece of plywood on the bed frame) into a sheath designed to deter bed bugs. Josh the Roommate, an affable fellow from Brooklyn, New York, had a few packages of cookies opened on his desk. He had arrived earlier and fully expected his roommate’s family from Maine to linger and visit a bit. Help unpack. Have a cookie.


“You’re good with the sheets, right?” I asked my son, a.k.a. The Dude, once the bed bug cover was on. My eyes darted over the pile of stuff on the floor. Fridge, computer, duffel filled with clothes, microwave … good to go. A few things required assembly, but I figured even if Josh didn’t have a screwdriver someone in their suite would …

“Sure,” The Dude replied easily. Outside, it was a steamy 88 degrees, but inside the dark, dank room, it was a cave-like 68. Awesome, I thought. No need to stop off at Rite Aid for a fan. His dorm last year was air-conditioned. Not so this 70s-era heap of bricks and mortar, which resembled an air raid shelter.

Ah, last year. Freshman year. Orientation and all the fanfare and nerves and excitement of Move In Day. When dozens of upperclass volunteers wearing big smiles and Cardinal red tee shirts met us at the curb and carried our boxes into his airy, spanking clean dorm room. Where we took pictures of him and his roommate standing awkwardly together, arms folded tightly across their chests. Where I hungered for other freshmen parents to chat with, console with, confide in. Where we left, reluctantly, after hours of goodbyes and programming designed to make it all easier.

What a difference a year makes.

Instead of the silent, achingly nervous teenager we dropped off last year, we were delivering a young man who was glad to be “home.” As we drove him to the office where he’d pick up his room key, he rolled down the car window, hoping to catch a glimpse of people he knew. He had already registered for all his courses, already RSVP’d to three parties for the following weekend, already lined up an on-campus job interview, already knew his practice schedule for Ultimate Frisbee and a play he was in …

He was happy and busy and self-sufficient and we were free. Free to simply stand back and be happy for him, no worries. Free to hit the road and get to the rehearsal dinner on time, because he wouldn’t miss us as he and Josh set up their stuff in the abysmal room they were so thrilled to share.

After the wedding and the long drive back to Maine, I poked my head into The Dude’s now-empty childhood bedroom. The dog was curled up on his bed, which he had made up before we had departed days earlier. I wouldn’t call it neat, exactly, but it was tidy enough, and his books were back on the shelves and his bank statements and other mail were carefully stacked on his desk. He knew that would matter to me, that his room wasn’t left in a mess, and that’s when I felt the clutch in the throat. I called the dog out, and closed the door.

We’ll see The Dude again in about six weeks. But who’s counting?

For other posts re. The Dude, see 6/13/11 and 5/3/10.