Love God. Love People.

As you can see with my other posts this past week, I’ve been rather pre-occupied with personal things.  However, my brain has been working overtime on some other issues as well and I just can’t keep them in any longer.

It’s January and January always brings intense debates about abortion.  This post is not intended to address the political aspects of the debate and honestly, I’m not even interested in talking about or debating my views on the subject.  What I am interested in is talking about the Christian perspective.

That being said, buckle your seat belts because unless you know me really well, this may turn out to be different than what you might be expecting.

I was listening to a well-known and influential pastor* a few weeks ago and somehow he started talking about abortion and how it is murder and that in the eyes of God, if you have had an abortion you are no better than the guy who shot up the elementary in Newtown, CT.  I had to stop what I was doing and replay it to make sure that was really what I was hearing.  It was.  In the end, it bothered me so much that I stopped listening and went on to delete my subscription to this particular pastor’s sermons.  To be fair though, it wasn’t because of this one instance…there have been many things leading up to this action on my part.

As the weeks went on, it bothered me more and more.  I started getting emails from other well-known and influential pastors whom I follow who were also writing about the subject.  I ended up reading a blog post, written by a woman who attended one of the aforementioned pastor’s churches.  Essentially, she said that if we were bothered by his words, we need to ask ourselves why and address that.  So, I did that (asked myself why) and this is me addressing it.

Several years ago, I read Phillip Yancey’s book, “What’s so Amazing about Grace?”  I was rocked by the opening chapter in which Yancey tells a story of a prostitute whom he invited to church.  Her response was, “Church! Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.” (pg 11).  Instead of church being a welcoming and forgiving place, this woman (who had done such unspeakable things that I cannot even write about them)  would not even consider darkening the doorway.  Let’s be clear…I know that as Christians, we are not to gloss over sin and condemning it is not categorically a bad thing.  And, I also am aware of the simplicity of Yancey’s arguments from a theological standpoint.  But, unless and until we (as believing Christians) recognize and accept that not one of us is worthy in the eyes of God, we have no right to call someone else out as a murderer (for more on this, see Matthew 7).  If I, as a self-proclaimed Christian, who believes in the healing blood of Jesus was offended enough to turn the voice of that pastor off, then what about the person who has no concept of what Jesus dying on the cross means for their life?  The consequences of those words could be eternal, in my opinion.

So, that is the “why”.  It bothers me, not because people have strong opinions about abortion — or even what those opinions are, but because they allow it to become a potential stumbling block for others.  Hear me on this:  I do not think it’s bad to have an opinion on the subject.  Nor do I think we should remain silent on the issue.  My point is this:  our words are powerful.  We must be careful in how we present the gospel to somebody who doesn’t understand it.  Instead of focusing on the sin, focus on He who died for the sin and the hope that each and every one of us has because of that tremendous sacrifice.  Not one of us has led a sinless life — and as far as I can tell, God abhors all sin, so we all are in need of grace.  Grace, for as simple as the definition is (undeserving favor), is extremely complex.  Not only do people not understand it, they have a hard time accepting it because we live in a culture that values earning everything we have.  And, I think it’s harder to extend grace for the same reasons.  But, we should extend grace because it has been extended to us….every single day for reasons that we may not even think we need it.

Several years ago, I started praying that God would break my heart for the things that break His.  (Side note:  be careful if you decide to pray this.  God will answer it and you will be heartbroken all the time).  And, my heart is broken now.  Not only for those who may have heard that message and who now want nothing to do with seeking Jesus but for those who are now second guessing Jesus — and also for the grace that I can’t seem to muster for the person who said it.  I can’t help but think that when we get into these kinds of debates and start using hateful language (even if it’s only inside our own heads) that we are getting it all wrong.  And, I have this vision of God shaking his head and saying “That’s not what I meant….”.

Finally, as I’ve been writing this, I’m increasingly aware that this isn’t just about abortion.  It’s about all of the ways that we judge others and all of the litmus tests that we place on people who call themselves Christians (or don’t).  I heard a woman recently talk about how her church family has hurt her more than anyone with regard to a personal issue.  I think it’s because we expect more from our church family.  We expect more from people who claim to follow Christ.  And, when you expect more, you hurt more when those people let you down.  But the real truth is that everyone is going to let you down because not one of us is perfect.  Only Jesus is perfect.  So, it makes sense to me that we should focus on the plank in our own eye and the Great Commandment that Jesus gave us:

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 22:34-40

Love God.  Love People.  Not just love people, but love them as yourself.  Have you ever thought about the high pedestal we tend to put ourselves on?  We are to love people THAT much. Such a simple and yet incredibly difficult commandment.    People are difficult to love when they make decisions that are contrary to your beliefs that you are so committed to!  So, when you can’t love people, it’s time to focus on loving God and remember that He loves us despite how difficult we are.  Miraculous things will begin to happen — you begin to love people, not because they are lovable but because if you truly love God, you love the people He loves.  Even when you don’t want to.

*Pastor’s name is not included because I don’t want this post or discussion to be about him or for this post to be searchable based on his name because I don’t really think that is the point.

What’s wrong with bullies?

screechThat’s what my 13 year old wants to know.  He came home in tears yesterday.  He explained what had happened at school and then asked if he could write on his blog instead of practicing the piano.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  I knew that if I was dying to get something out in writing, I would not be able to focus on anything else until I had.  Instead of relaying what happened, I’ll let you read it yourself.  This is what he had to say about the situation:

My son has dealt with his share of “bullying” through the years.  I use bullying in quotes, because a lot of it is just the result of people saying stupid things…not intending to be hurtful.  Most of it has been because of his size.  He’s small for his age — he’s always lagged about 2 years behind his peers.  He’s starting to catch up, but people have always made comments.  Even grown ups.  I remember once when he was six, I met a friend of a friend at a playgroup outing.  Jake was standing next to me and the woman asked me, “Oh, is your son three?”.   “No, I replied…he’s six”.  Her response floored me:  “Oh wow…he’s so small.  What’s wrong with him?”  She was genuinely curious to know why he was so small.  But, she obviously had no filter and I was way past worrying about people’s feelings when it came to this issue.  “Nothing”, I said.  “His ears work perfectly fine, too”.  And, that was way nicer than the “Nothing, but clearly something is wrong with you” reply that I wanted to give.  She was clearly embarrassed, and she should have been.  I hope she learned her lesson.  And, by the way, it’s not just small kids who deal with this ignorance.  I have a friend whose son looked three years old when he was one.  He didn’t walk yet and certainly didn’t talk.  And, people constantly were wondering if he was “slow”.  Contrast that with my 12 pound one-year-old who was walking and that freaked people out, too.   The point is, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover.  And, kids come in all shapes and sizes…it’s best not to try and guess how old they are.  Just ask the child, “how old are you?” and be done with it.

Truth be told, my son was pre-mature and born with a heart defect.  Both of which contribute to his small size.  But, I don’t like to use that as an excuse because it makes no difference.  Nor does it change anything.  I don’t think people should have to make excuses for how they look.  My friend who had the giant one year old didn’t say, “Well, he was full term…”  Now, when Jake was younger, he sort of had a preemie “look” about him and I would often tell people that he was 7 weeks early. When I was feeling especially feisty  I would deliberately try to make people feel stupid for their insensitive comments by telling them that he’d had 4 heart surgeries by the time he was 8 months old.   But, he’s 13 now.  He leads a normal, healthy life.  He shouldn’t have to defend his stature in that way.  It’s not like his dad and I are big people.  Part of it is his genes.  And, I maintain that it doesn’t matter and you can’t change it anyway so just let it roll off your back. And, he has done that.  Even when presented with the opportunity to take growth hormone, he declined because he was, in his words, the way God intended him to be.  (Now, in his case, the growth hormone was not because he has a deficiency…it was simply going to help him get to his adult height quicker, not give him more height.  So, this is not a commentary on people who choose that for their child).

The other contributor to the “bullying” is that he marches to the beat of his own drum.  He’s not afraid to be who he is.  He spent an entire year in a Scooby Doo costume.  When you are 6, people don’t really make a big deal out of it though.  When he was in 3rd grade, he played Wolfgang A. Whale in “A Whale of a Tale” and insisted on wearing a Mozart wig.  It was perfect for the role (and if you really know Jake, it was just perfect in general).  He continued to wear it after the play as well….once donning it for a piano recital.  It was just HIM and it was refreshing to see a kid just embrace his quirkiness.

Oh and then there’s the drama thing.  People tend to lump men who act into one category:  Gay.  Some of them are, yes.  But, take a look at some of Hollywood’s leading actors and you will see a much different picture.  George Clooney.  Sean Connery.  Brad Pitt.  Leonardo DiCaprio.  These are men who undoubtedly were teased for being gay at some point in their lives.  And, they aren’t.  But, it brings up a point that Jake himself made a couple of years ago:  Who cares?  Why is calling somebody “gay” an insult, he wondered?  It should be as benign as being heterosexual.  He’s right.

Fifth grade brought a new level of bullying (notice the quotes are gone).  Mama Bear had to go grizzly when a kid in Jake’s class started calling him a midget and gay.  It’s hate speech, plain and simple.  And, luckily, the administration handled it swiftly.  And, things seemed to tame down as he got to 6th grade and started to find his own niche.  Admittedly, he doesn’t run around with the “popular” crowd, but that doesn’t bother him. He came home last year and asked me why popular kids were (air-quotes) popular when lots of people didn’t actually like them.  Great question, right?  I still wonder that.

And now, here we are again.  Yesterday, he threw his hat across the room and said he wasn’t wearing it again.  I told him that just means the bullies win.  If you want to wear it, I told him, wear it.  Those people don’t define you. Them telling you that you look stupid does not make it so.  Don’t give them power because these are people who, if they don’t have your hat to make fun of, they will find something else.  And if they see that,even after yesterday, you are wearing it….they will move on to something else.  Bullies only attack people they perceive to be weak.  When you show them you aren’t weak, they will lose interest.  But, sometimes it takes a while.

I promised him that this won’t last forever.  I told him to focus on the people who thought the hat was cool….because when I asked him who they were, it turns out they were his friends.  He got the point.  I told him that so many kids his age are afraid to express themselves because they are desperate to “fit in” and that the truth is, when you are 13, everyone questions whether or not they fit in.  And, yes…I told him that he can’t hit someone with his backpack because even though it felt good and the kid deserved it, it’s not worth getting into trouble over.

And intellectually, he gets all that. But, he doesn’t understand why people are deliberately mean.  And, I don’t either.  It’s hard not to care about this stuff when you have a heart of gold and you genuinely like people.  It’s easy to SAY to just ignore them and let it roll off your back, but it’s often hard not to believe the things people say.

On Saturday, we were walking around DC on inauguration weekend and Jake was wearing his hat.  He got lots of positive comments from complete strangers on it.  And, at one point, we happened upon the Reverend Jessie Jackson who shook our hands and commented on the hat.  I reminded him of these things. I told him to hold his head high and be himself.

Today, I drove him to school rather than making him deal with the bus (although he was willing to).  And, I was super proud of him as he walked in to the school with that Screech hat on, not because he was being combative, but because he is okay with who he is.

He’s showing a ton of character and courage.  But, as his mom, I wish he didn’t have to.

I used to like you, Tim Tebow

It’s been several weeks since I have posted and honestly today probably isn’t the day I should be dipping my toes back in the proverbial water.  I’ve had a fever for over a week and cough so hard I nearly pee my pants.  So, I guess that can serve as a disclaimer — or a warning.

I don’t normally talk about work online, but for the purposes of this post, it helps to know what I do for a living.  I’ve been a media buyer for 20 years.  Basically, when you see a commercial on TV or hear one on the radio, somebody like me has purchased that airtime.   I’ve worked for a variety of different clients over the years, but most recently I’ve worked for a political firm.  We represent political candidates as well as political action committees (PACs).   So….those ads that you are so sick of?  Firms like mine make a living making sure those ads are on the air.   I’ve had people say some rotten things to me about what I do, but I am under no illusion that anything I do personally has any deciding factor in any election.  What I do know is that I’m good at my job and I work for a decent company run by good people.

Working in this business has made me a little cynical about…well, everything political.  It’s also taught me to take things with a grain of salt and find the humor in it all.  That’s been a survival tool on Facebook in recent weeks.  I’ve done my best to ignore things that I don’t agree with and not engage in “debates”.  I try not to post anything that will be personally offensive to anyone.  I admit that I did laugh at and share some memes that came out about binders full of women and horses and boyonets.  There are some seriously funny people out there.  I was AMAZED at how quickly this stuff hit the internet.

  • Via Imgur,
    and my personal favorite:
    Dirty Dancing quote used in Binders Full of Women meme after second presidential debate (via MovieHumor/
    In my opinion, these are funny.  They poke fun at the candidates and expose how insane the whole election process has become.  And honestly, if we didn’t have a filter of snarkiness to view this all though, how would we ever survive it?
    What I don’t like is when these memes become personal.  They attack people for their beliefs and make assumptions about people based on their party affiliation.   And, they are usually wrong.  We all have a story that shapes our world view.  I became accustomed to just ignoring this stuff.  And, then last night this started showing up on my FB feed in various forms:
    I will be voting early today — for President Obama — but it won’t be because I don’t have a job.  It’ll be because I damn near killed myself working my ass of during this election season and I’m taking a few days off to try and recover from pneumonia.  Yeah, that’s me taking it a little more personally than I should.  And, you might be sitting there wondering about that sense of humor that I was talking about earlier.  I just don’t find this funny.  I find it mean and offensive.  And not true.  And, it’s honestly the first thing that has made me spitting mad during the last several weeks.
    You vote for your guy and I’ll vote for mine.  But, for the love of the America that our Founding Fathers fought for and dreamed of, don’t be a jerk.
    *Yes, I realize that @thetimmytebow is a parody account.  If I have to explain the title, you aren’t going to get it anyway.

My message to Pepco in the wake of the DC Derecho

The storm hit around 10:30 on Friday night.  Our power in Bethesda went out almost immediately.  Hundreds of thousands were without power and it looked like a tornado had gone through many areas.  We all knew that it would be a few days before the power was restored.  Pepco released a statement saying the conservative estimation on total restoration was Friday at 11pm.

If you look back at previous posts of mine and in my Twitter feed, you’ll see that I initially supported you in this crisis.  I moved here only 2 years ago and I have resisted being a Pepco hater just because the cool kids do.  I’ve lived through multiple day outages in other states.  I get that infra-structure is an issue — an expensive one that people don’t want to pay for.  I am married to a guy that has made a career out of managing crisis communications.  I know that there are some things that just can’t be controlled.  I also know that there are things that can be controlled.  One of those things is messaging.  Since I happen to know a little bit about communications, I’ll offer you some unsolicited advice and perspective from the standpoint of somebody that tends to stay unbiased in these situations and is still without power.  I’m not convinced that you will read, listen or even care what I have to say, but one of the purposes of this blog is for me to express myself and at this point  it’s therapy for me.

I could just limit my feedback to a Twitter post and say what many others say:  “@PepcoConnect, you suck”.  I actually do think you suck, but I’m going to tell you why.  And, it will take WAY more than 140 characters because A) I can be long-winded and B) there are way too many things wrong with how this has played out.

But, first I’m going to preface it with the fact that I know that there are thousands of people working hard to restore power to everyone.  I know that they are sweating it out in unbearable conditions to do their jobs.  I know that many of them are without power themselves.  I know that many of them have traveled thousands of miles to get here.  I know that they missed the 4th of July with their families.  I believe that those people truly care about their jobs and the people they are serving.  I thank them from the bottom of my heart and I appreciate their hard work and dedication.

The things I take issue with come from within the organization.

  1. You took to the airwaves immediately, pledging to work around the clock to restore power.  Your self imposed deadline of Friday at 11pm was “conservative”, but that was when you had reasonable confidence that the entire system would be restored.  The fatal flaw here was giving a definitive deadline.  It would have been much better to say, “we estimate that we’ll have XX% of the system up” by (a certain date), acknowledging that there would be cases that would take more time.  You should have been conservative with that XX% number instead of the timeline because……..
  2. On Wednesday, you sent out a self-congratulatory press release saying that you had beat your deadline by 2 days and that 90% of the system was back online by Wednesday.  You referred to the “pockets” that were still not restored without much explanation.  I’m here to tell you that those “pockets” are actual people.  And, you should have referred to them with more empathy.  You also should have avoided patting yourself on the back until 100% were back up.  I think that it would have been fine to say that 90% were back up 2 days before the deadline….but, only if you followed it up with, “but that’s not good enough for us because not everyone is and here’s the step by step plan with how we are proceeding…”  Instead, you are promising robo-calls to the individual customers that remain without power.  And, speaking of robo-calls……
  3. I received one of those.  On Tuesday.  It said that our house should have had power restored and I was instructed to press #1 if it was, #2 if it wasn’t and #3 if it was blinking on and off.  Stupidest robo-call ever because I wasn’t home to know.  And, upon my arrival home to check, it wasn’t.  And the tree that was down on a live wire three doors down was still there.  At this point, I tweeted my frustration and was immediately answered by Pepco that they were sorry and I should call again.  My husband did call and he was told crews were on the scene.  Not true. I was at the house.  No crews were on the scene.  Also, they told him that our situation required “special equipment”.  Apparently, that is code for “you aren’t on the priority list…simmer down now”.  If it is the case, here’s an idea:  when the crews are on-site and determine that special equipment is needed, leave a notice for the affected customers that says, “We’ve been here.  We’ve assessed the situation and have determined that your problem will require specialized equipment”.  How hard would that be?  Not hard.  Meanwhile, the Pepco app showed that many of the outages in my neighborhood had been resolved.  And, speaking of the outage map…….
  4. It’s a piece of garbage.  It gives no real information.  It says outages are resolved when they aren’t.  It says crews have been assigned one day and then unassigned the next.  It is conveniently updated in the middle of the night.  I was up until midnight last night.  When I went to bed, it said crews were assigned and our resolution date was Friday at 11pm.  This morning at 7am, the crews had been unassigned and the status had changed to Sunday at 11pm.
  5. The story in Bethesda seems to be that Pepco won’t touch the lines until the trees are removed, which is Montgomery County’s job.  Montgomery County says they won’t remove the trees until the power is dealt with.  Here’s the deal:  Montgomery County is huge.  Trees were down on power lines all over the county.  How could this be a “Bethesda” issue?  Pepco and MoCo appear to be in a pissing match, with weary customers and constituents caught in the middle. If I had to take sides, I’m going with the county.  Why would they alienate one of the most affluent areas (read: voters) in the area?  Speaking of affluent…..
  6. Relatively speaking, we are not.  And, most of our neighbors aren’t either (whether they want to admit it or not).  We are all people who live in this area for different reasons.  But, because we have a Bethesda address, that is the perception.  I’m not going to argue that it doesn’t take more money to live here.  It does.  And yes, by many people’s standards we are affluent.  Again, I would not classify my family that way, but I’m certainly not asking for sympathy.  But, the sinister side of me (I know, it’s shocking that I have a sinister side) begins to wonder about the “priority” system in restoring power.  I get that hospitals, nursing homes and businesses are going to have priority.  But now, as I look at the outage map in MoCo and see that the majority of the outages are in Potomac, Bethesda and Chevy Chase, I start to think that maybe decisions are being made based on socio-economics.  Are we at the bottom of the list because somebody decided that we have the means to find other accommodations?  I know the fact that extreme SE DC is also without power blows a hole in that theory….but my sinister side can find an equally disturbing scenario — that those on the other end of the proverbial spectrum are less likely to make enough noise for the media to notice.  And speaking of the media……
  7. I just saw some neighbors of mine on CNN.  Your communications plan has failed when CNN has people on the air saying that their power is still out, trees are still down on lines, they call you 10 times a day and “Pepco won’t respond”.  Regardless of whether or not you have or have not responded, when CNN says you haven’t, you haven’t.

I have so much more to say, but I have other things to do.  Like fill my car for the third time this week (I normally do it once) because I’m staying in Alexandria and driving my son to camp, which is closer to my house than Alexandria.  I have to call the boarding facility to see if my dog can stay there another couple of days.  I need to buy groceries for my friends, who graciously offered their house to us while they are out of town on vacation.  And, since they arrive home tomorrow, I have to figure out where we will stay next.  I have to go to my house, which is over 100 degrees inside to pack my son for a 3 week vacation to his grandparents house (where mercifully, he will have A/C and doting grandparents instead of a crabby mother).  Oh, and I need to try and get some work done.  I’m a contract employee, paid by the hour, so I don’t have the luxury of taking paid leave.  But, I’ve already lost a good 3 hours a day to this situation, so on top of all of the money that this outage is costing me, I’m also taking a hit to my paycheck.  And, the company I work for has lost my productivity.

Adding insult to injury, I received our electric bill in my email today.

Seriously, Pepco — get it together.

6th grade awards ceremony — or — OMG, I just seriously quoted George W. Bush

Today is the last day of school.  Actually, they haven’t actually done any work for the last couple of days, so it’s the last day they’ll watch movies all day.  This morning was the awards assembly.  As I sat there watching, I was an insecure 12 year old all over again.  And as the awards were being handed out, I remembered what it was like to wonder if you’re going to get an award and how it felt when you didn’t get the award you wanted.  And, as the kids cheered for each other (some more loudly than others), I remember how the dread of wondering if my peers would clap for me actually drowned out the elation of hearing my name called.  I always understood the academic awards.  They are based on performance in the classroom.  So, not getting an award for honor roll was my own deal, because I was perfectly capable (and believe me, I felt the sting of it when I didn’t get to wear a gold cord during graduation).  But, I remember wondering who the heck decided that so-and-so was the best citizen or the most enthusiastic or the hardest worker or the most dedicated.  And how on earth anyone can really display EVERY ONE OF THOSE traits in order to get the highest honor of all for Overall Achievement.

I also never understood the 100% Attendance Award.  What exactly is the achievement?  You didn’t get sick?  Or you did get sick, but you came to school anyway?  Believe me, I get the purpose of teaching children to be prompt and for school to be a priority because when they get to college and into the workforce, they need to have this core value.  But, it seems to me that the award would be most useful if it was given to kids who were not ever tardy instead of disqualifying them for being sick — and staying home, like they SHOULD DO when they are sick.  As this award was being handed out today, I made a comment that I hated this award.  The mom next to me agreed and said that she once knew somebody that was so desperate to have her child get that award that she sent the child to school with lice.  What core value is that instilling?

Perhaps I’m extra-sensitive about this subject because of my own son’s health issues.  It’s nearly impossible for him to never miss a day of school.  And, the award puts me on the defensive.  I really need to let it go.

As I watched, I decided that being the parent of a middle-schooler might actually be more stressful than being a middle-schooler, at least in this instance.  From where I was sitting, I felt more anxiety coming the from parents than from the kids.  As parents, we are carrying around the baggage from our own experiences as well as feeling anxious for our kids as we literally watch them pack their own proverbial bags.  We want our kids to do well — or more specifically, be recognized for doing well.

As I sat there and listened to the murmurings around me, I was a little amused by the whispered gasps of “I can’t believe (insert their child’s name here) didn’t get that award!”  and “she will be devastated if she doesn’t get (that specific) award” and “I can’t believe (so-and-so) got that award”.  And, the relief and pride when they did get *that award*.   And, the disappointment when they didn’t.

And yes…I will admit, I felt it.  I knew which award my son wanted, even though he hadn’t told me.  I watched him puff up and get excited as that specific teacher approached the podium to announce their choice for “most outstanding” in that particular class.  And, I watched him deflate a little when it was not his name that was called.  As a mother, your heart hurts when your child’s does.

From an adult perspective we all know (or we should realize) that the awards are subjective.  They don’t define who our children are.  They don’t define who they aren’t.  And the certainly don’t define who we are as their parents.  That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be bursting with pride when they are recognized for being outstanding at something specific.  Of course we should!  But, we should also realize that there are lots of kids who also would have been deserving of that same distinction.  Because the truth is that despite our best efforts, none of us is outstanding all the time.  Not even the kids who get the overall achievement award (just ask the kids who get bullied by those same kids).

The life lessons lay in how we deal with these types of situations.  If we are the recipient of the award, do we let it go to our heads?  If we got a citizenship award, are we going to rethink how we might treat others when the people who dole out the awards are not looking?  If we got the overall achievement award, are we going to step up our game and really take the award seriously and show everyone that they picked the right person?

If we don’t get the award, are we bitter?  Do we say “that person didn’t deserve it” as a way of making ourselves feel better?  Or do we simply realize that not everyone can get the award and not let it define us?

As parents, it’s a difficult line to walk — we don’t want to play them down, thereby devaluing the awards; but we also don’t want to put too much value in them, thereby deflating our kid’s confidence when they aren’t picked.  Instead we have to encourage them to try hard, do their best and maybe they’ll be recognized next time.  Or maybe they won’t.  That’s pretty much how life is anyway, right?  As nice as they are to get, none of these awards actually determine our success in life.  George W. Bush summed it up perfectly when he said this to a graduating class at Yale:

“To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say well done. And to the C students, I say you, too, can be president of the United States.”

Read that again.  Take it in.  It’s likely the only time I’ll quote GWB.

As my son was walking by me to go to his class he stopped for a second.  I said, “I’m sorry you didn’t get the _____ award”.  With a smile, he responded, “that’s okay.  I’m happy ______ got it.  He deserves it”.

And just like that, I was more proud of my kid than I ever would have been if he had a piece of paper saying he was outstanding at _____________.

First Day of 6th Grade – August 29, 2011

Last day of 6th Grade – June 12, 2012

Death by Caffeine

A couple of weeks ago, I was taking some kids in our carpool home and they were talking about how their moms make them eat breakfast every day (seriously, kids today are so abused). One girl said that she will usually just have an energy drink or two and I caught my 12-year old looking at me in the rear view mirror in horror. You see, I have pretty much forbidden caffeine consumption by my son. He has a Tetralogy of Fallot — a congenital heart defect — and while it has been “repaired” and doesn’t really have any physical restrictions, his heart still works differently than a normal heart. You can read more about Tetralogy of Fallot here, but the bottom line is that he still has a leaky pulmonary valve, which causes his heart’s right pumping chamber to have to pump a little harder than it otherwise would to pump more blood – both the backward-flowing leaked blood and the incoming blood from the heart’s right upper chamber. Imagine if you only worked out your right bicep muscle — it would become significantly larger than the left. That’s the same thing that can happen to the heart. Over time, the extra work can cause the pumping chamber to enlarge significantly and could lead to heart failure. It’s something we monitor annually, so the likelihood of it happening to Jake is slim, but there may come a day when that pulmonary valve has to be replaced. What does that have to do with caffeine? Caffeine elevates your heart rate and blood pressure, which also cause the heart to have to work harder than it normally does. I see no reason to make Jake’s heart work even harder, so that’s why I have been pretty adamant about the issue.

Enter energy drinks. And middle school. Energy drinks are marketed toward young people. Young people are easily swayed by marketing. And, peer pressure. Middle schoolers like to tease other middle schoolers, saying things like “oh, your Mommy doesn’t want you to drink caffeine” and other nonsense. Twelve year olds don’t generally worry about their mortality because they are 12. They also start to worry more about what their friends think than what their parents say. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Last December, Anais Delilah Fournie, a 14 year old girl in Maryland died after drinking 2 energy drinks. My understanding is that she didn’t drink them back to back — it was within a 24 hour period of time. Even so, those two drinks caused caffeine toxicity which basically overloaded her heart and it began to beat irregularly (cardiac arrhythmia). And, she died. Of a heart attack. At age 14. Here’s a clip from Anderson Cooper:

Let’s talk about Caffeine toxicity. Toxicity refers to a degree of being toxic. Toxic = poison. As parents of young children, I imagine most of us taught our kids about Mr. Yuk — and locked away anything that might be remotely poisonous so that our kids would not get into them. Many of us may have even called that number on the Mr. Yuk sticker. I know I did at least once. We diligently follow the recommended dosing chart that our pediatricians give us to determine how much Tylenol we can safely give our kids based on their weight.

So, why on earth — now that they are older are we letting them put poison into their bodies? Is it that we aren’t educated about the dangers of large amounts of caffeine? Do we not know the caffeine content in these drinks? Do we not know what “safe” levels of caffeine consumption are? Are we convinced that they are safe because they are available to buy? Or are we unaware that our kids are drinking them?

As a parent, I call BS on “not knowing”. The facts are available to anyone who looks for them. Granted, we have learned some of this the hard way. When these drinks first began to come on the market, we did not have the knowledge that we do now. But, we do now. And, this is the United States of America and we have a 24 hour news cycle and internet access and smartphones and we just don’t have an excuse not to know. And, if you still don’t know, here are some facts:

  • A recent report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) shows that energy drinks pose potentially serious health risks. The report found that between 2005 – 2009, the number of emergency room (ER) visits due to energy drinks increased ten-fold from 1,128 to 13,114 visits.
  • 30 to 50 percent of adolescents report consuming energy drinks (in other words, that glossy advertising targeting young people works).
  • According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, adolescents should not consume more than 100mg of caffeine daily. One 16oz can of Monster contains 160mg of caffeine, which is equivalent to almost 5 cans of soda. However, this caffeine level does not account for caffeine from additives, like guarana, or ingredients with stimulating properties, like taurine and ginseng, which most energy drinks also contain. In other words, it’s impossible to know just how much caffeine is in those drinks. The labels reflect the MINIMUM amount of caffeine.
  • Consuming large quantities of caffeine can have serious health consequences, including caffeine toxicity, stroke, anxiety, arrhythmia, and in some cases death. Young people are especially susceptible to suffering adverse effects because energy drinks market to youth, their bodies are not accustomed to caffeine, and energy drinks contain high levels of caffeine and stimulating additives that may interact when used in combination.
  • The FDA has the authority to regulate caffeine levels in soft drinks to .02 percent or less of the product – about 71mg in a 12oz soda. The agency also has the authority to regulate additives in beverages to ensure they are safe for their intended use and when used in combination with other ingredients.
  • Most energy drinks are currently marketed as dietary supplements, therefore they do not need to establish evidence of their products’ safety or adhere to a limit on the level of caffeine. At the same time, many energy drinks come in single-use containers ranging from 8oz to 32oz and are marketed like beverages. Rockstar Energy Drink’s website says, “enjoy this fully refreshing lightly carbonated beverage.”

Responsibility #1 is on the part of parents. We need to educate ourselves. And, then we need to educate our kids. If we teach our kids to wear a seat belt and that smoking is bad for them and that they shouldn’t drink and drive, then we need to take this just as seriously (and while we’re at it, we need to tell them not to text and drive, but that’s another post entirely).

Then, we need to put pressure on the FDA to regulate these products. As stated in the Anderson Cooper clip, moms have power. Write a letter to the FDA, contact your representative — let them know that you are aware and you want regulation on these drinks. Don’t know the address? Here ya go:

The Honorable Margaret Hamburg
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
10903 Hampshire Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20093

Don’t know who your representative is? You can find out here: Who is my Representative? There is also contact information for each of them once you’ve put your information into the search fields.

Don’t know what to say? Read this letter from Dick Durbin (D-IL). It’s full of good information and lays out exactly what lawmakers are asking of the FDA (and incidentally, most of the facts I listed above were taken from this press release).

And, if you’re reading this and still thinking, what is the big deal? Put yourself in Wendy’s shoes. She lost her daughter in a tragic turn of events that could have been prevented. You don’t want to ever be there. I promise. And, if you’ve read this post, you can’t claim you didn’t know.