Gold Medal Summer (aka: Let the Games Begin)

Olympic Rings

That magical time is upon us again. Every four years, we gather around our television sets to boooo our opponents, to pump our fists in the air and cheer on our favorites. USA! USA! 

No, I’m not referring to the Democratic or Republican National Conventions. Although the presidential election political circus is in high gear around this time, too.

summer games video game 80sTonight is the opening ceremony for the XXXI Summer Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Hooray! Hurrah! My kids and I plan to celebrate American-style by sitting around the television with slices of gourmet veggie pizza, commenting on the arrival of the olympic athletes and wondering where in the world countries like Tuvalu, Nauru, and Bhutan are located. Then we will ooh and aah at what’s sure to be a colorful, dizzying display of music and dancing of Brasilian Carnaval proportions.

Then finally, someone will ceremoniously light the ancient torch (insert more ooohs and aaahs), fireworks will explode overhead, and the games will officially kick off.

Rio Olympics racing runners track

I enjoy just about every sport in the Summer Games, except maybe wrestling. It’s so much fun to admire the displays of strength, speed, and grace as divers and gymnasts flip through the air, sprinters race like the wind, and soccer teams battle it out on the field. They are not only athletes – they are the elite, the amazing, the best of the best. The ones who spent hours every day training to bring home gold medals while the rest of us struggled to jog a mile on the treadmill a couple of times a week.

Our family’s favorite sport to watch during the Olympic Games is women’s artistic gymnastics. This is in part due to my 14yo daughter, the former gymnast. She once trained and competed at a level close to these elite Olympians, and still has the bulky shoulders to prove it. Some days, she is wistful, missing those chalk dust days in the gym, swinging and tumbling with her gymnastics teammates. But then she remembers how much work, commitment, and dedication it took to compete at such a level, and she is once again content to relax and cheer on Simone Biles and the rest of our national gymnastics team.

Rio Olympics 2016 Simone Biles gymnastics leap

Wherever you are in the world, I hope that you are able to gather somewhere with friends or family and cheer on your favorite country as they run, swim, tumble, and jump in the ultimate sports competition. May our athletes make it through without getting bitten by Zika-carrying mosquitoes. And may they continue to inspire the rest of us to get off our couches and into the gym, even if our greatest competition is against ourselves. Have some pizza, on me. And – LET THE GAMES BEGIN!

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Goliath Sucks (Or Does He?)

slingshot weaponOkay, two things. First of all, this theme was not exactly my idea. I was inspired by reading the blog post of this really funny…er, I mean, bitter blogger. But I thought it was worth stealing…er, borrowing. Second of all, this is definitely not a post about sheep. Although sheep are kind of a part of this blog post, I generally don’t pay much attention to them, because sheep are not very bright, follow the crowd waaaay too much, and make me feel kinda bored and sleepy after a while.

This is a story about a shepherd. And a giant.

Veggie Tales Dave and the Giant Pickle

Veggie Tales – Dave and the Giant Pickle

What’s that? You already know the story of David and Goliath? It was already drilled into your head via Bible-memorization-games-for-candy and Veggie Tales and Sunday School songs that get stuck in your head? (…and one little stone went into the sling and the sling went round and round. And round and round and round and round and round and round and round…). Well good, then I don’t need to fill you in.

The whole David and Goliath theme is kind of overdone. With good reason, of course. Perhaps it is within our human nature to desire to see the bully taken down by the underdog. To see good triumph over evil. To see the Israelites defeat the Big Bad Philistines. And so the theme appears again and again in literature, in cinema, in art. The weak, powerless kids defeat the Fratellis and score a pirate ship full of gold treasure. The newb wizard defeats He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named again and again. The abused little girl uses her wits to bring down her mean principal and turn her school into a safe and happy place. Hooray for the Davids! Boo to the Goliaths! Goliath sucks.

Not only do we like to apply the David and Goliath theme to the world of fantasy, but to our real lives, as well. We support the Davids who fight against cruel dictators, against tyranny and injustice. The braver among us aim to be Davids, too (although hopefully not in the way he abandoned his responsibilities, aka sheep, in his determination to go to battle). We gather our stones and swing around our slingshots, eager to bring down the Goliaths in our lives. Because the Goliaths must die, so that good and right may triumph, right?

David vs. Big Bad GoliathBut wait. Who was Goliath, anyway? Why was he there with the Philistine army? What did he do that made our hero, David, want to bring him down with a stone? Clearly, he must have been on the bad side. The wrong side. The side of evil. Okay, well here’s the deal: The Israelites (Team David) were at war with the Philistines (Team Goliath). Why? Because apparently, God told the Israelites that they were destined to own the land where the Philistines lived. Therefore, the Israelites had to go to war and forcibly remove the Philistines (including Goliath) from their land.

Manifest Destiny, anyone?

Basically, Goliath was like the Native American warrior hero of his time, fighting to keep the European settlers from killing his people and taking his land. Team Goliath was on the defense, fighting to save what they believed to be theirs. But they lost it. All because of a boy named David and his rocks. Yay, David.

So anyway, our hero, David killed the Big Bad Giant and won a bunch of money and a woman, and eventually went on to be a pretty cool king. And the Philistines? Well, I don’t think the Bible mentioned what happened to them. Who knows? Maybe they went on to open a bunch of casinos.

Battle of Little Big Horn Manifest Destiny

BOOM! (aka: The ‘Murican Way)

sparkler-july-4If there’s one thing we Americans like to do, it’s give the finger to the rest of the world. This tradition can be traced back to our nation’s early history, when we grew fed up with being forced to pay high taxes without being represented in the British Parliament. So those early patriots set the standard for the rest of us by dumping a boatload of tea into the Boston Harbor. Suck it, King George!

Our patriot forefathers were also fed up with having to bow down to monarchy and aristocracy. “F*$% this,” they said. “All men are created equal.” And so they signed the Declaration of Independence, which was approved by Congress on 4 July, 1776. A rebellious, in-your-face, tea-dumping, gun-toting, anti-traditionalist republic was born.

From that time forward, the 4th of July has been observed as our national Independence Day. Ironically, we celebrate this great day with…well, traditions, like cookouts and baseball games and parades filled with cub scouts and martial arts school demos and tiaraed Miss-Small-Town winners waving from convertible cars like princesses (only not princesses, because that would imply a monarchy).

There is one beloved 4th of July tradition which perhaps best sums up our American patriotic spirit – fireworks. Because what better way to celebrate our nation’s history than by blowing stuff up? The bigger, the louder, the better. Boom! Let freedom ring! Boom! With Liberty and Justice for All! Boom! ‘Murica!

Murica-This-is-How-we-do-itYes, we Americans love our fireworks. And despite the fact that 2 out of every 5 fires on the 4th of July are caused by fireworks, or that in the year 2013, hospital emergency rooms treated 11,400 people for firework-related injuries, we persist in exploding paper things filled with black powder and metal salts every year. Why? Perhaps it is in honor of the original fearless patriots, who looked into the face of tyranny and laughed. In this country, if you’re not encouraging your kids to point blazing 1200°F sparklers at each other’s faces, then you’re not raising them the American way.

I suppose that means that my family was especially patriotic, since when I grew up, we celebrated the 4th with real fireworks, like roman candles, bottle rockets, and M80s. In fact, I have very fond memories of blowing up Barbie dolls and He-Man figures with packs of firecrackers we bought off the kids of Mexican immigrant families down the hill. Okay, yes, it was totally illegal, even back then. But hey – you could say that our family was expressing our patriotic spirit by thumbing our noses at the oppressive anti-firecracker laws. Suck it, Cal. Health & Safety Code! This is ‘Murica!

Happy Independence Day, however you plan to celebrate!

Just to be clear, this is a completely unrelated Independence Day.

Just to be clear, this is a completely unrelated Independence Day.

Button Up! (aka: Conventional Wisdom is Not Always Wise)

cold cold cold“Button up!” millions of parents across the US will say as their children head out into the chilly November air. “Don’t forget your jacket.”

And many obedient children will pull on a jacket or sweater, even if, in fact, they feel perfectly warm without one, and run off to play. But a few kids will stare back at their parents, eyes wide with curiosity, and ask, “Why?”

Why indeed? Why do we tell children that they must wear a jacket, whether they feel cold or not? The old-school, authoritarian parents will frown at the defiance of the questioning child, and respond, “Because I said so. Now do it!” Other parents may shrug and respond, “So that you don’t catch a cold. Everyone knows that. It is conventional wisdom.” And so, the child obeys. He buttons up his sweater and leaves his curiosity behind, and then one day, gives the exact same response to his own children.

I was not that child. I was the child who continued to stare back at my parents. “How can I catch a cold from not wearing my jacket?” I asked. “A cold comes from catching a virus. Not from being cold.” I was correct, of course, however, my reward for pointing out scientific fact over obedience of so-called conventional wisdom was a good old-fashioned spanking. And so, I learned that in some cultures, blind obedience to authority is much more highly valued than intellect, curiosity, or progressive thinking.  truth or myth

It is not possible to escape conventional wisdom altogether. It is a large part of any culture for people to hold onto ideas that sound wise, or have continued throughout the ages, despite a lack of empirical evidence to support them. Kind of like truthiness. And for those of us who tend to be progressive, out-of-the-box thinkers, arguing against ideas of conventional wisdom is about as useful as trying to convince a crowd of people in a steakhouse to go vegetarian.

And so I keep my head down, button up, and say nothing. After all, no matter how much research I have done to prove how right my argument is, I will always be wrong. You know what they say…majority rules. Argumentum ad populum. Everyone says so; therefore, it must be true.

 

IT IS COMMON KNOWLEDGE THAT:

  • Eating sugary foods will make kids hyper.
  • Kids who don’t get spanked turn into spoiled brats.
  • You have to wait an hour after eating before swimming or you’ll get cramps and drown.
  • People with Asian ancestry are superior in math.
  • Eating foods rich in vitamin C will make your cold go away faster
  • Humpty Dumpty was an egg.
  • The Earth is flat.
  • The sun revolves around the earth

 

God bless you, Mark Twain.

God bless you, Mark Twain.

Candy: Trick or Treat?

jack o lantern brothersWe were once the creepiest house on the block. The one that the trick-or-treaters used to avoid each Halloween. Every now and then, a few brave little souls would wander unknowingly up to our front door and open their bags, hoping for candy corn or chocolate. But boy, were they in for a trick. Because instead of chocolate, our family would give out Halloween-themed Christian tracts designed just for little heathens. Just seemingly cute little comic strip pamphlets that warned about the fires of hell for all those who don’t ask Jesus into their hearts.

Devil or Jesus Halloween

Scary, I know.

The thing is, I was very young when I married, and eager to please my extremely conservative Christian husband, who was quite anti-Halloween. It was not easy for me, as I loved Halloween and all its spooky, twisted fun. I loved the slasher horror films, the haunted houses decorated with cobwebs and fake spiders. I loved getting the chills from listening to dark stories about Ouija board demon possessions and ghostly tell-tale hearts beating within the walls. And every year, I looked forward to seeing the parade of ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties coming up the front walk to beg for candy. Halloween kids silhouette

“Hooray! What imaginative costumes!” I would say, tossing mini chocolate bars in the air. “Chocolate for everyone!”

But as my now ex-husband used to say, Halloween is an evil holiday, and Christians should not participate. Didn’t I know that the Devil was hoping to buy the souls of children for a piece of candy? Didn’t I know that Halloween was chock-full of wicked pagan traditions, like Jack-o-Lanterns and bobbing for apples and divination (Which are apparently worse than the pagan traditions which many Christians follow during Christmas or Easter)?

Boo Ghost

You did what?!?

“It’s just candy,” I said. “And silly costumes. Is it really so un-Biblical to give out lollipops to little kids?” And so, as a form of compromise, we taped the lollies to those ridiculous religious pamphlets and handed them out to innocent kids. (Today, the very memory of having done that makes me want to hide my face behind a rubber mask in shame).

Later, when we had kids of our own, the strict Biblical rules for some reason ceased to apply to us, and I happily dressed up my children as superheroes and animals and the cutest little serial killers you’ve ever seen, and took them out to Trick-or-Treat. And to this day, they still love Halloween and all its deliciously evil pagan traditions. Especially the chocolate.

Sweet Candy candy candy

Candy. ‘Cause that’s the true meaning of Halloween.

What’s in a Name? (aka: African-American Naming Conventions)

A relative of mine recently announced the birth of her daughter. The baby’s name? Kalayshia. That’s Kuh-LAY-zhah. Rhymes with Malaysia. Now I know what you’re thinking, because I thought the same things. Why is there an H? Does it mean anything? Can I call her Kallie? Why can’t you give your baby a nice, “normal” name, like Sophia or Emily, so that she can succeed in life? That’s what you’re thinking, because that’s what everyone wants to ask, but of course, out of respect for the new mother, and perhaps out of fear of being labeled culturally insensitive or racist, most people just smile and say, “Oh. That’s a nice name.” You Named Her What

It’s the right thing to say. But still, the questions are there. Many non-black people are perplexed by the naming traditions of many black Americans. To be fair, there are quite a few black Americans who are puzzled by recent trends of unconventional naming, too. For decades after the abolition of slavery in the U.S., black families often gave their children traditional names like Mary, John, Richard, or Katherine; names inspired by the mainstream culture, family heritage, or the Bible. Around the early 1970’s, the civil rights movement and the rise of Afrocentrism and ethnic pride resulted in a shift toward African or African-inspired names for black children, such as Keisha, Aliyah, Khalil, and Malik. As more parents caught on to the trend and embraced the idea of expressing their cultural pride through the naming of their children, more unique names began to emerge. Parents strove to create interesting names that sounded pleasing to the ear, often by taking African, English, or French names and adding their own twists.

Today, it is not unusual to see black children with less conventional names, such as Shyreese, Jayvon, Ki’ani, or Marquel. At times, the attempts to be unique seem a little overboard, with such inventive spelling and phonetic rules that it is not easy for others to pronounce the child’s name. For example, I once met a child named Dyonjena (Pronounced Dee-ahn-gen-AY). And while I applaud these parents’ efforts to embrace the black subculture and give their children unique names, a part of me cringes. I cringe in part because of the at times outlandish spelling and the stray from phonetic rules — what may seem unique and pleasing to the ear of the parents may be seen as uneducated and laughable to the rest of society. I also cringe in part because of the research indicating that people with more African-American sounding names are less likely to be hired than people with more mainstream names. I cringe, because as if we black Americans did not already have such a strong current to swim against (the standard of beauty, the culture of poverty, mainstream language barriers), we still insist on giving our children something that may give them an additional disadvantage — an additional barrier to future success. Successful Black Woman

Perhaps I cringe for nothing. Perhaps eventually, society will fully embrace the unique naming patterns of African Americans (as well as other ethnic subcultures with non-mainstream names). Perhaps the key is not to shrug our shoulders assimilate, but to boldly push forward and force the mainstream culture to include us — kinky hair, inventive names, and all. It only took a generation of Marys, Johns, Martins, and Rubys to change the culture and end an era of legal discrimination and separation. Perhaps it will take a generation of Shyreeses, Dyonjenas, and Kalayshias to force open the remaining closed doors.

President Barack Obama success

Can Black Americans with unusual names become successful? Maybe we should ask Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, or Condoleeza Rice.