Our Mad, Mad World

Remember when social media used to be fun, a place to share photos of your kids, family vacations, and gatherings with friends? There is still some of that, but mostly it has turned into a cesspool of anger, darkness, and hate. Because of social media, I almost didn’t visit my mother recently, and I made the difficult decision to defriend my oldest son on Facebook. Needless to say, all of this has left me feeling pretty low.

Of course the disagreements started with politics. Almost everything these days does. I have no issue with people who have political opinions and affiliations different than my own. I do, however, take issue with conspiracy theories, promoting racist propaganda, and flat-out rudeness and disrespect.

Until the death of George Floyd and the resulting protests, not once in my life did I hear my mother use racist words or see her behave in racist ways. Nor was she anywhere near inclined to discuss or even pay attention to politics. Growing up and until about four years ago, the only thing I knew about her politically was that she was a registered Democrat.

Then came retirement, a new set of friends after moving to a different state, a sudden interest in Fox News, a pandemic, and a lot of time on her hands. What started as benign political posts on Facebook progressed into anti-Democrat rhetoric and vague conspiracy theories. So her political affiliations were changing and she believed some crazy stuff, I reasoned. But when she started sharing far-right racist propaganda, I became alarmed.

At first I ignored it, sticking to our agreed-upon deal of not commenting on each other’s political posts. This was actually at her insistence, as I could not care less if someone with a contrary opinion comments on my posts, as long as they are civil about it. But when in one day she posted six race-inciting memes, I felt I had to address it.

I did so privately. She completely denied that her posts were racist, and challenged me to explain how they were. When I told her that if I had to educate her about why they were racist, there was no point, she said it was I that needed to be educated, and went on a hate-filled rants against Democrats, Black Lives Matters protesters, and more. I was so upset and alarmed by her anger and extremist language that I made an excuse as to why I couldn’t visit the next day, as planned, then sought to calm down with a walk and chat with a friend.

The chat with my friend was also alarming. She shared with me her own angst regarding her daughter, who is an open follower of a conspiracy theory group called QAnon. Followers believe that the United States is controlled by a deep state of satan worshipping pedaphiles, mostly Democrats and Hollywood personalities, and that Donald Trump was sent to save the world from them.  The daughter recently was fired from her job after a coworker alerted  the company about her verbally abusive, racist posts, which they deemed as not being in alignment with company values. She is suing the company.

The conversation with my friend raised alarms, though. Based on what she had told me, and my own online research after our conversation, I thought back to things my mother had said and posted, plus an odd private message she sent to me by mistake. The puzzle pieces began to fit together, and the realization that my mother, and some of her friends, are likely followers of this conspiracy group dawned. I texted her and told her what I suspected. She neither confirmed nor denied it.

A week later came the issue with my son. A couple months back, he challenged me to not post about politics for a day. I accepted the challenge and raised him a week. The week off was so refreshing, that to this day I have barely shared one political opinion, article, or meme on Facebook. Not that I’m not paying attention. I am. But it has felt good to focus on sharing mostly positive things, and I have been grateful to my son ever since for the challenge.

However, something really upset me recently related to politics, so I shared an article about it, hoping to inform others who might not be paying attention.  My son’s comments in response, not just to my post but to others’ comments, were so rude and disrespectful, got so personal, that I removed one of them, defriended him, and then texted to tell him why. He responded with even ruder and more disrespectful remarks. I can only hope, and this is a sad statement, that he was drunk that night.

This wasn’t the first time my son has been rude and disrespectful in his Facebook comments. Friends have pointed this out to me and one suggested last year that I block him. He is my son, so of course I didn’t want to go there, but I finally reached my breaking point. I will not tolerate verbal abuse or incivility, especially from my own children. Still, I cannot believe it has come to this.

I did end up visiting my mother, for one night instead of three as originally planned. We didn’t discuss our disagreement, and enjoyed time together on the beach, her patio, and with neighbors. But the residue was there between us, as it is for so many family members and friends during these divisive times, the most divisive that I have personally experienced.

My son and I haven’t communicated since our last texts, a little over a week ago. He lives in another state, an almost three-hour plane ride. I know this pandemic has been tough on him. His work hours were reduced, making it necessary for him to dip into savings, and when that ran out into his retirement account. He is feeling isolated and lonely, as he’s never been able to make the kind of close friends he had back home since moving. In retrospect, I could have just blocked him temporarily and let my anger cool down.

I long for civility, for a world in which we can agree to respectfully disagree. I fear we may never live in such a world again. The rhetoric and division over the past four years has stirred a pot. The sledge from the bottom has risen to the top. If only we could skim it off and throw it in the trash. Instead, some feed off it, while others view it with disgust.

I have never believed in extremes, not in health and exercise habits, financial practices, risk-taking, rules, organizations, politics, or anything.  Extremes concern me because they speak to fanaticism. This, in my view, is a dark and dangerous place to reside. This is what I told my mother, that I felt sad she was so focused on the anger, hate, and darkness on all sides.

Nowadays, it is easy to forget that there is still much light, love, and beauty in the world. But it does exist. I was reminded of this today when I was loading my groceries into the car. An old man pushing his cart nearby called out, “Look, a double rainbow.” I looked up, and there it was. It gave me hope, not just the rainbow, but that the old man noticed and thought to share it with me.


God Gave Me Grandma

Some might call this post mother bashing. I prefer to view it as praising the women in my life who I believe God sent to compensate for my mother. Growing up with her was tough. I could blame it on her youth; she was 18 was I was born. Or on what I later found out was a mother, my grandmother, who beat her when she was little for no apparent reason, this according to an aunt who witnessed the abuse (my mother has no memory of it). Or I could impose no blame at all and simply say it was what it was, and she is who she is.

I think I’ll go with that.

My mother wasn’t the type to say I love you or offer any form of physical or verbal affection. In fact, she went out of her way to criticize me at every turn. She seemed to be in a chronic state of rage, which as a child frightened me, likely due to the indignity and stress of being married to a serial philanderer, my stepfather. Not only was she unkind, often she was downright mean and verbally abusive. I won’t go into the details because that would be a book. There’s no point to it anyway, because God gave me Grandma.

My paternal grandmother offered me the unconditional love, kindness, and care that my mother could not. Growing up, I spent countless weekends at her house after my parents divorced. Her home was a sanctuary where I could spend hours relaxing, being myself, and being loved for exactly who I was. She taught me things like, “Always pay yourself first, even if it’s a dollar.” And, “Never gossip about people’s marriages – we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors.” Often, she would place her hands gently on either side of my head, look me in the eyes, smile, and tell me how wonderful I was. On Saturday nights she let me stay up late with her to watch Love Boat and Fantasy Island, a routine that I cherished.

I thought I would die when I started losing her to Alzheimer’s. Though even at the disease’s worst, my grandma never once became nasty or mean, as some people do. Her true nature was so sweet and good, not even the deterioration of her brain could change it.

When Alzheimer’s completely took Grandma, God gave me Cynthia.

Cynthia was one of my bosses at a new job. Another sweet, kind woman who seemed to accept me unconditionally. It became known around the office, almost a joke, that I could do no wrong in Cynthia’s eyes, and that no one had better say one negative word about me in her presence. To this day, I don’t know why she cares for me in this way. True, I worked hard, and I adore her back, but it truly was as if God knew what he had taken from me and sought to replace it. Though I moved on to another job years ago, Cynthia remains one of my most cherished friends.

God also gave me Nancy. For over 20 years, she has loved me unconditionally, though my friendship with her does have its ups and downs. She’s tough sometimes, like my mother, but never unkind or abusive, and she always has my best interests at heart. I trust Nancy completely. She knows I’m not perfect, she knows my secrets, but she doesn’t judge and she loves and accepts me as I am, flaws and all.

God gave me three amazing women who have loved me unconditionally, valued me for who I am, and made me feel worthy and special just for being me. These women have lifted me up, taught me, and helped me become the woman I am. Thrice blessed, I am so grateful to them and for them.

As for my mother, since she and my stepfather divorced after 27 years of marital hell, she has mellowed. Once, she even apologized for the way she treated me growing up. She is my only mother. I love her despite everything and I forgive her. I understand now that she suffers from low self-esteem and a low sense of self-worth. But I haven’t forgotten. I am always on guard with her. I have to be. Sometimes she still gets a dig or two in, and I have to strive to not be triggered. She can’t help it, it’s who she is. We all are who we are. I have chosen to follow the examples of Grandma, Cynthia, and Nancy and accept her anyway.

I’d love to hear, who has God given you?

To School or Not to School?

Even as COVID-19 cases in the United States are rising, in many states exorbitantly, the President and like-minded governors are putting pressure on, and in some cases ordering, schools to open for in-person learning in the fall. For some school districts, this means opening in just a few weeks, as many states begin their school year in early August.

In making the argument, the President cited countries like Germany, Denmark, and Norway as examples of schools being opened with no problems. Except there is a problem with this example, a huge one: COVID cases in Germany hover around 298, 10 in Denmark, and 11 in Norway. Currently, the U.S. has confirmed around 3.5 million cases overall, 133,666 deaths, and on July 11 alone more than 70,000 people tested positive – and these are just the cases that are confirmed.

There are valid arguments for re-opening schools for in-person learning, including that distance learning is not as effective, that many students’ mental and emotional well-being is negatively impacted by not being in school, and that parents who must work outside of the home either won’t be able to go back or have no choice and cannot leave their young children alone all day.

My son’s school sent out a survey last week that asked three questions: 1. What grade is your child going into? 2. What mode of instruction do you prefer, in-person or distance learning? 3. Do you have a need for after school care? I knew what I wanted to check for question number 2, but my son is 13 and I felt it important to give him an opportunity to weigh in on his own education. To my surprise, and relief, he chose distance learning. I was surprised because he has a lot of friends, and so naturally I thought he would choose in-person so he could see them every day again. Turns out the idea of having to wear a mask for six hours straight, social distance, and adhere to other strict guidelines outweighed the joy of seeing friends. Fortunately, his Catholic School successfully pivoted to online learning in record time (as I would expect for tuition of over $6,000 per year), and my son did well with it. I know this is not the case for millions of schools and children.

Those of us who are able to telecommute from home, and therefore continue to earn a salary and work safely, whose children’s schools did a good job of distance learning, whose kids had no issues with distance learning, whose children are older and self-sufficient learners, and who don’t have children with special needs cannot fully fathom how difficult this pandemic has been for so many families. I try to remember this, even as everything in me screams no to sending America’s children back to brick and mortar schools, that our politicians are sacrificing our children’s, their teachers’, and families’ health and very lives in an effort to get back to “normal.”

What will “normal” look like? There will be masks, desks spread out, possibly plexiglass partitions at each desk. Perhaps staggered schedules. Maybe a blend of online and in-person learning.

Photo courtesy of The New York Times

But what happens when one elementary school teacher or one student tests positive for COVID? All of the students in that class will need to quarantine for 14 days, as will everyone who came in contact with the teacher and students. What if one high school teacher or student tests positive? Then will 150 or so students, their families, and everyone else they came in contact with have to quarantine? What if the lunch staff or a maintenance person or the principal tests positive? What if there is a massive outbreak that effectively shuts the school down and teachers and students are too sick to pivot quickly again to distance learning?

There are too many “what ifs”, too many unknown variables, no way to prepare for every single possible scenario. This virus changes week-to-week, day-to-day, and we have zero way of knowing how the situation will continue to evolve.

The only way to ensure that learning continues uninterrupted as safely as possible is for schools to offer distance learning only. This means that some parents may not be able to go back to work, longer and extended unemployment benefits, additional stimulus packages, extended grace periods on student loans, rents, mortgages, and the economy will continue to lag. All of the things the President and like-minded governors do not want to see, hear about, or support.

I don’t know what is the best answer. I only know that we are in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic with no end in sight, and there is no way my child will be a sacrificial lamb for a government that doesn’t seem to care if he lives or dies.