Monday, August 13, 2018

I Wonder Why No One Comes to My Book Club

I don't understand why everyone stopped coming to my book club.

I have fabulous snacks. I provide a great spread of exotic cheese and scrumptious finger foods, tiny little shrimp puffs and the traditional Southern cheese straw. There are monogrammed cocktail napkins and enough chardonnay to appease the average middle-aged housewife.

But everyone has stopped coming.

When we were deciding which book to read, Sharon suggested we read Love in the Time of Cholera. While this is indeed a love story of astonishing power, I felt it might be above the group's reading and comprehension level. I didn't want the ladies to try anything too challenging, so I handed out Dear John, by Nicholas Sparks. That one is definitely within the group's abilities. Who cares if no one has any desire to read it?

Before we got started, I passed out highlighters, a vocabulary list, and a thick packet of worksheets. Some of it was busy work (there was at least one mind-numbing, time-sucking word search), but most of it was designed to prepare them for the all-powerful, super-important, state-mandated test.

I informed them the packet must be completed before the next meeting if they wanted a good grade. Don't make me call your mother to find out why you're being belligerent, Sharon.

At the start of the meeting, I passed out a quick vocabulary test. Then everyone wrote a short synopsis of what they had just read. I made several people read theirs in front of the group.

Then, I made sure to do most of the talking, lecturing at the front of the room. I asked mundane questions about character names and general action and setting. I made sure to call on the people who didn't raise their hands, putting them on the spot. Shame is a great motivator to participation.

I brought out the points I thought the students, er... I mean book club members should know.  I made sure each person viewed the book through my values and life experience, instead of filtering it through their own thoughts, values, and reality.

What do you mean you don't know, Sharon? Didn't you read the book? This question would be easy if you had done your homework. I'm so disappointed, Sharon. Can someone who actually read the book please answer the question for Sharon?

At the end of the "discussion," after I told them what the book was really about and made sure they knew exactly what to think, I passed out bubble sheets and number two pencils for the required content retention test. I made sure there was only one "right" answer to the test questions and the required three paragraph essay.

Everyone who passed got to go to the kitchen for my fabulous snacks.

The members who didn't pass went to the living room for mandatory remediation to prepare for the retest. (That means you, Sharon. Are you even trying?).

Those who passed the retest only got half the snacks as those who passed on the first try. Those who didn't pass, well... they had to reread the book and repeat book club again next year.

And yet... not one single person appreciates my efforts. It's like they don't even enjoy reading.

Especially Sharon.

Weird, right?

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

What Happened to Summer Vacation?

It is a Tuesday morning. There are only a few short weeks of summer left before school starts. The weather is perfectly sunny today, although admittedly warm and humid. However, the neighborhood is eerily quiet.

I know there are children here. Sometimes I see them, although I only catch glimpses. I see the child across the street as he ambles from his mother's car to the front door every weekday evening. I see the window decals on my neighbors' minivans for the local school. Sometimes, during the school year, I might see a few of them waiting for the school bus to arrive. I know they are here, although I rarely see them, and when I do it is only short flashes of their presence.

This neighborhood silence frightens me. It's too quiet. As the long days of summer have been drifting by, I haven't seen the first gaggle of youngsters ride by on bicycles. I haven't seen them running past the house. I haven't heard the patter of sneakers on the sidewalk. I haven't caught sight of even a single child in the neighborhood park or roaming free in any public spaces.

They are here, but only behind closed doors.

It really isn't the silence that bothers me. It is knowing these neighborhood children are contained in structured, adult-led, indoor activities, constantly told what to do, how to act... what to think. Structured activities, while terribly convenient for busy working parents, are essentially the bane of childhood.

Overly nostalgic adults like me laud our own childhoods. Our pant suit-clad, stay-at-home mothers sent us outside so they could mop floors and watch their stories in peace. They didn't want to to see us until dinner time. My mother even told me once to "go play in traffic." With nothing better to do, we made friends, played games, and created our own adventures.

Gone are those days of barefoot abandon. There isn't the time nor the freedom for neighborhood play and backyard forts. Today, nearly every waking hour of the typical child's day is orchestrated by someone else.

Summers, evenings, and weekends, times that used to be sacred space for childhood play, have morphed into time for structured activities. Too often, when we actually witness kids playing in a park, they are garbed in matching uniforms and being instructed by adult coaches or counselors. They follow instructions, wait in orderly lines, and only play games with clear rules imposed by grown-ups.

There is little free time to explore the environment, to play with sticks, squish in mud, or lay in the grass and daydream. Today's children are exiled from nature, caged and cutoff from the natural world. Not only are they not allowed to play with the unfettered freedom of previous generations, they are also segregated from the "real world." The only social interactions they experience are with children their own age, the ones also caged in the same confining structure of modern American childhood, and even those interactions are limited to the rules and restrictions of the adult-imposed environment.

The landscape of childhood has changed drastically in just a few short decades. Today's children probably wouldn't know what to do if they weren't given clear directions (although I suspect it wouldn't take them long to figure things out). But the strict rules and ordered schedules modern children endure, would have drive me absolutely crazy as a child.

But maybe it is doing that to today's children as well.

Perhaps the carefully arranged schedules children are forced to keep are, in fact, driving them literally insane, or at the very least having a severe affect on their mental health.

Dr. Peter Gray, research professor of psychology at Boston College and author of Free to Learn, asserts a causal link between the decline in childhood play and the marked increase in childhood psychopathy, including depression, anxiety, narcissism, and suicide. He had this to say in his 2011 article published in the American Journal of Play:

Play functions as the major mean by which children (1) develop intrinsic interests and competencies; (2) learn howto make decisions, solve problems, exert self-control, and follow rules; (3) learn to regulate their emotions; (4) make friends and learn to get along with others as equals; and (5) experience joy. 

Over the last century, Western Society has made amazing, almost miraculous advancements in medicine and technology. Quality of life has improved tremendously for large portions of the world's population. Our country has also made amazing progress in destroying old prejudices of race, sexual orientation, and gender. Today, life is undeniably easier than it was for even our recent ancestors.

However, if we measure progress based on happiness and mental health, we have actually been moving steadily backwards since the 1950s. Here are just a few examples:


  • Today, approximately 2.6 million American children have diagnosed anxiety and/or depression.
  • There are currently millions of U.S. kids on prescription medication for behavioral issues and depression.
  • According to a study published this May in Pediatrics, the number of kids hospitalized for thinking about or attempting suicide has more than doubled in less than 10 years. 


Anxiety and depression often correspond to the feeling that an individual lacks control of their own lives. People who believe they have power to change their circumstances and control their own fate are less likely to experience anxiety and depression.

Children, especially those whose lives are an endless string of school, organized sports, and other planned activities, can easily feel like victims of circumstances beyond their control. These kids are  constantly being told where to go and what to do, when to eat and when to use the bathroom, when to sit and when to run. Even when they are allowed to run, they are told how far and how fast to do it. Even kids choose their own activities, they may still feel little control over how their time is spent since outside authorities are still decide how they will spend each individual minute in those activities.

Modern children have very little time for free play.

This is a serious issue.

Play deprivation can have far-reaching affects. Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist and author of the book, Balanced and Barefoot, describes the importance of childhood play and its impact on physical and emotional development.

“We are keeping [children] from attaining the very sensory input they need in order to grow into resilient and able-bodied people. They need to climb, jump, run through the woods, pick up sticks, jump in mud puddles, and fall and get hurt on occasion. These are all natural and necessary experiences that will help develop a healthy sensory system–foundational to learning and accomplishing many of life’s goals.”
Behind closed doors, in single file lines, herded from one organized activity to another, children are not given the freedom they need to develop and reach their full potential. Even when the activities are designed to give them a jump start on educational success, it may actually hinder that success. Many of the qualities that contribute to success in the adult world - like problem solving, creativity, cooperation, compromise, and a willingness to take calculated risks - are all developed on the playground, not the classroom or the sports field.

There are plenty of reasons for the lack of childhood activity in the typical American neighborhood. Working mothers, television and video games, academic pressure, fear of dangerous predators, and being reported to Child Protective Services are all factors keeping modern kids in carefully controlled and supervised environments.

It really doesn't matter why. The result is the same regardless of the reason - anxious, stressed-out kids who will grow up and struggle to find balance, motivation, and happiness. If they are never given the freedom to be well-adjusted children, they will never develop the skills necessary to be well-adjusted adults.

Children need the opportunity to grow outside of fences. They need to run too fast and be too loud. They need to scrape knees, play in the mud. They need to find their own cure for boredom and make up rules to their own games.

And that is why the neighborhood silence frightens me. I worry I won't get the chance to be the grumpy old woman who yells at the neighborhood kids to stop trampling her grass. I worry about what kinds of adults the neighborhood children I rarely see will become.

Is the world ready for what we're raising behind closed doors?

More importantly... will they be ready for the world?







Friday, July 13, 2018

This Dog is Getting Old

My dog is getting old.

I'm pretty sure he was just a puppy yesterday, but today I noticed the abundance of white hairs around his dark muzzle. He needed help jumping up on the couch, an act he isn't technically allowed to do, but knows he can get away with when my husband is at work. He walks around stiff-legged in the mornings, following on my heels as I brew the coffee, feed the cats, fill his water dish. By late morning he's able to work the stiffness free, but he moans in his sleep, resting under my feet as I type away at the computer.

Sometimes he yips in his dreams, feet twitching, and I think he imagines he is still just a puppy, too.

I know there are things in the world I should be concerned about. We are in the middle of FBI agent Peter Strzok's hearing before a joint session of the House Oversight and Judiciary committees. This is happening even as we speak (or I type, since we aren't actually in the same room. I like to imagine you and I are having a conversation, however. I do so enjoy our chats.)

And there is apparently some crisis at the border, although there are no DHS stats to prove it. (And all of my liberal friends will shout about me saying so. I might even be called ugly names.)

There's a huge anti-Trump gathering in the UK, complete with a giant inflatable Baby Trump blimp.

And hundreds of people are sick after an outbreak of the cyclospora parasite apparently linked to McDonald's. This could be the beginning of the zombie apocalypse.

I think Justin Bieber  also just gave some chick a $500,000 engagement ring.

There are plenty of super important things that should concern me.

But none of this matters.

Because my dog is getting old.

I decided years ago that I wouldn't fight old age. I wouldn't be one of those people that dyes her hair and lies about her age. I wouldn't invest hundreds of dollars in anti-wrinkle creams or plastic surgery. I was going to embrace my aging, bask in the grace of growing older, appreciate the wisdom earned through years of experience and questionable decisions.

I've mostly succeeded. I will tell you my age if you ask. I don't dye my hair. I wash my face with plain ol' soap and water (much to my teenage daughter's horror).

And though my knees often ache first thing in the morning and right before it rains, I don't care much that my body is getting older.

But what is really, REALLY hard about aging, is that everyone else is aging, too. And while I have no problem with my own gray hairs and wrinkles, it breaks my heart to see the white hairs growing around my puppy's nose. Because the hardest part about time passing is losing people you love.

It sucks that dogs have such short lives. When my last dog died, I was a young mother with small children. Buck had been my baby before my own, genetic human babies were born. His puppy picture still sits on the piano, right beside my daughter's graduation picture and the portrait of my son in his Army uniform. He has a place of honor surrounded by dozens of pictures of my human family.

Buck was an old dog, too. He was fourteen when he got sick. I spent 5 whole days camped beside him on the floor, because he would cry when I left him. I made a pallet of blankets in the spare room, crying when he did, praying he would get better. The children were forced to fend for themselves, scavenging peanut butter on toast for sustenance. They would try to share their sandwiches with the dog, confused and sad that he wouldn't lift his head to lick his favorite sticky treat from their fingertips.

I called my dad in tears, "We just had to put Buck down. I don't want to bury him here. I want to bury him at Grandma's, but I have no way to get there and I can't stand the thought of putting him in the freezer until I can." We were a one-vehicle family at the time. It was a Tuesday. My husband needed the car to get to work. Saturday was a long time to hold on to a dead dog in a cardboard box. The only solution seemed to be to slide it into the big storage freezer, but I couldn't bring myself to do it.

And Daddy came (with my mom, of course). He drove three hours to pick me and the children up, so I could bury my dog at my Grandmother's house, the place he was born and loved more than any other. He would go nuts if you asked him, "Wanna go to Grandma's?" Spinning circles, wagging his shaggy tail, barking with excitement and anticipation. When we arrived, he would run through the green grass across the yard to the back door. Once inside he would leap up onto her lap to give her kisses and get a good belly rub.

Daddy dug the hole for my dog's grave, right beside the holes he had dug for Buck's mama and daddy. A family cemetery of sorts. I was a mess of excess snot and tears and searing emotional pain.

"Kids, hold your Mama," Daddy told my children as he threw the first bits of dirt on top of the box with my dog's body inside.

When my childhood dog, Sugar died. Daddy dug that hole, too. He hugged me hard and helped me make a wooden cross out of two pieces of scrap trim he'd pulled off a job site. I wrote her name in big block letters with a fat green crayon and placed a handful of dandelions at its base.

And now, this dog is getting old.

But I don't have a Daddy to help me through this time.

And maybe that is really why this is tearing me up this morning. Is it really the dog that is getting old, or is it all of us. Will losing this dog be the thing that sends me over the edge?

There are things I should be doing. Important things. Things I should be fretting about. Big things.

But societies crumble and governments have always been corrupt.

But this dog, this one right here, he is getting old.

So y'all carry on with hand-wringing and general worry. Keep calling each other names if you have to. I think today, I'm just going to sit with the dog.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Surviving Graduation - A Commencement Speech for Moms

It is graduation season, and I’ve seen pictures of smiling graduates just about everywhere. Whether your kid is graduating from preschool or law school, as a parent, graduation is an emotional day.

I recently sat through commencement exercises for my oldest daughter. I felt a whirlwind of convoluted feelings as I watched her march across the stage in high heels to grasp her diploma. I was certainly proud, but also sadly nostalgic as I caught fleeting glimpses of the toddler who once rode my hip and pulled my hair.

Speeches are an inevitable part of any graduation ceremony, and this one had its fair share. As my shining child approached the podium to give her speech as valedictorian (Yes, I am taking this opportunity to brag), I glanced around the room at all my fellow moms, and something occurred to me.

Sure graduation is all about the kids and their accomplishments, but the mothers sitting in the audience clutching tissues and trying to hold it together have accomplished something monumental, too.

We won’t get to walk across any stages or receive any official paper acknowledgement of our accomplishment. There won’t be recognition of our hard work, because like moms throughout history, we don’t do it for the accolades.

But since we don’t get our own ceremony, I’ve written my own mom graduation speech. Because if your kid is crossing a stage in a cap and gown, you have both accomplished something great. Kudos, Moms, on a job well done.

A Mom's Graduation Speech


Welcome, friends, family, teachers, and staff. We have finally made it. It is graduation day. Today is the culmination of years of hard work. For our graduates, that hard work occurred mostly as research papers, algebra problems, and multiple choice history tests. But for most of the moms in this room, the work looked quite different.

We didn’t have to study for tests or obsess over MLA citation format. There were no formal evaluations, and it was left mostly to ourselves to obsess over our performance.

For us, the work began long before these distinguished scholars were even born. When we suffered through horrible bouts of morning sickness, obsessed about prenatal nutrition, and worried about brain development. When we pored over books about pregnancy and marveled at our growing bellies, gasping at the first butterfly flutters of movement.

If you are a birth mother, your body was wrenched and your soul twisted by childbirth. With a gush of blood and pain and unearthly love, these people entered the world, wet and wide-eyed. And we lost ourselves in those eyes and the exhaustion of hard work and little sleep. There were so many diapers and so many tears (both theirs and ours... the tears, not the diapers).

Our work took the form of judgmental stares during grocery store tantrums. We dealt with marathon nursing sessions, night terrors, croup and stomach viruses.

There were broken windows, broken bones, and broken hearts. We have hovered nearby as they learned to walk, to ride a bicycle, to fall in love.

This parenting thing was much more difficult than we expected, but also much more rewarding. While we are mostly happy that the days of dirty diapers, spelling lists, and broken curfews are over, we would trade almost anything to go back, just for a short visit, to experience the grounding weight of our babies in our arms, the sticky-faced toddler grins, even the endless questions of “Why?”

While this day is a huge and exciting beginning for our children, it is a monumental ending for us as moms. As our young people move off to college, work, or service, we are likely to find ourselves floundering, wondering what to do when there are no lunches to pack or carpools to drive.

Our kids don’t realize it yet, but our relationship is teetering on the verge of change. No longer will our children be a constant presence, even if usually behind a closed bedroom door. After they’ve drifted off to places of employment and higher education, they will become more like visitors at our dining room tables. Although, I hope they still barge through the front door without knocking, kick off their shoes in the middle of the room, and make their way to the fridge to gulp milk straight from the carton, their presence will almost startle us, shaking us out of what will inevitably become our new normal.

Because daily, since we heard that first tiny heartbeat, our lives have been knitted together forming a beautiful, if somewhat dysfunctional tapestry. Each thread woven and knotted to form the fabric of our lives as a family. It is no wonder that graduation makes mothers feel as if we are beginning to unravel.

We are standing on the cusp of a life where our presence is no longer required. We get to stand by and watch them fly, whether just across town or across the country. They are still leaving us, just as they have been leaving us in the tiniest of ways every day. Those first steps they took, wobbling into our open arms, were actually the first steps away from us. Every day they have needed us a little less.

And while this is a sad day for us moms in many ways, this is how it is meant to be. This is what we’ve been working so hard to accomplish. When mothers do their jobs well, they become almost obsolete.

So, for the graduates sitting out there getting ready to turn your tassels, be patient with us. I know its hard, but don’t meet our tears with your usual sarcastic eye roll. This is one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to do, and some of us suffered through a 36-hour childbirth to get you here.

As you turn your tassels, we’ll be cutting our apron strings. And although you’re more than ready to meet the world head on, anxious to start this next exciting chapter in your lives, we are already missing every little version of you we’ve loved through the years. The wheel keeps turning. Even when we missed our babies, we never loved the toddlers or the children or the teenagers that replaced them any less. In fact, love grows more fierce and fiery with every turning of the page.

So, to the moms out there struggling just as hard as I am, I think I know how to survive this. We have to keep looking to the future, embracing change just like we have all along. To survive this momentous milestone, we must look forward to the future through the exciting lens of their life, the one ready to burst forth in full bloom, not backwards through the lens of ours.

They have become amazing young humans, and the potential they hold is no less than it was when we heard them take that first crying breath. I am excited to see how this story progresses. I’m ready to read the sequel to what has been the most divine and exhilarating story I have ever witnessed.

Moms, we’ve arrived. And yet we really haven’t. The parenting finish line is a myth. We are mothers. That doesn’t end at graduation. Every exit is an entrance to somewhere else. And this tiny goodbye, just like all the others we’ve experienced from birth to walking to driver's licenses, may not be a goodbye at all. Maybe it is just time to turn the page and see what’s next.

But it's still okay if you want to get lost in a bottle of wine and a box of baby pictures. That is definitely my plan for later tonight.

And to my graduating daughter: Congratulations, Sweetheart. You have always amazed me, and you continue still. I love you to the moon and back.

I always will.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Forget Football. A Walk in the Woods is Way More Dangerous


Look at all this DANGER!!!
University life is dangerous. What with all the rape culture and underage binge drinking, it's a miracle anyone makes it out alive, let alone with an actual degree. A lot of the activities college students engage in is inherently risky, but some of it just won't be tolerated by university officials.

Hiking, for example.

Penn State University recently shut down its 98-year-old "Outing Club' after school administrators decided the group was "too risky" for its student body. Why? Apparently, the Outing Club goes on outings (go figure) that occasionally take students beyond the reach of cell phone towers. This put them at risk of being disconnected from the rest of the world for short periods of time.

Its hard to imagine anything more dangerous that the inability to update your Instagram. Frightening stuff.

"Student safety in any activity is our primary focus," a Penn State spokeswoman told local media.

And while this sounds like a great reason to ban a bunch of young adults from backpacking in state parks, this statement is incredibly disingenuous.

The Penn State Outing Club claims it hasn't "heard of any injuries sustained on club outings in recent years."

Meanwhile, Penn State's football program remains in place, in spite of growing concerns about the long-term effects of concussions. According to the NCAA's injury statistics, 34 percent of college football players have had one concussion, while another 30 percent have had 2 or more.

A concussion is a much more serious and dangerous injury than the sunburn and bug bites suffered by student hikers. It seems off that the football program (along with the lacrosse and rugby programs) remain intact with all of this focus on student safety.

Of course, those football players are raking in millions of dollars in cash for the Nittany Lions, so I suppose the administration will just conveniently ignore the danger of those programs.

For 98 years, the Penn State Outing Club has planned hiking, camping, and canoeing trips into the woods. I bet cell phone reception was horrific back in the 1920s, and yet students wandered off into the woods without the University so much as batting an eyelash.

But they are right. Wandering off into the woods and disconnecting from electronic media IS dangerous.

Without an electronic tether, students might actually have to separate themselves from the constant stream of thought programming delivered by "news" sources and social media. They might actually have an independent thought (GASP!) or momentarily stop seeking validation in the form of likes and retweets (Oh, the horror!).

Plus, if students spend too much time in the woods, they might learn something that isn't on the approved curriculum. For instance, creativity and efficiency. Research published by The Wilderness Society has shown that time spent outdoors, away from technology, helps boost creativity, improve focus, and aid in problem solving, as well as strengthen work efficiency.

Hiking also makes you healthier. It improves cardiovascular health, sleep quality, and muscle strength. Hiking reduces depression, stress, and anxiety. It improves mood and boosts self-confidence and creativity.

Think about it. Could there be anything more dangerous than a bunch of healthy, creative, confident, unplugged, free-thinking young adults?

This isn't about risk assessments or protecting college students like special snowflakes at all. We wouldn't want anyone sitting still and quiet and pondering the meaning of life, maybe deciding that the societal constructs we take for granted might actually be destructive.

There is absolutely nothing more dangerous.

At least for the status quo.

Even if it is the best thing that could happen to a University student.


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Fear Makes Us Do Irrational Things

Fear sometimes makes us do irrational things.

Fear isn't all bad, of course. When our human brains are functioning properly, fear is a natural instinct that helps keep us safe in dangerous situations. It prepares our bodies to physically respond for fight or flight action. A healthy amount of fear is...well, it's healthy.

However, sometimes our highly-evolved hominid nervous systems malfunction and cause irrational fear responses, blowing perceived dangers completely out of proportion.

Like when we run screaming from a room because we saw a tiny spider.

Or when we gather in droves to put an end to mass shootings in public schools.

On Saturday, people took to the streets in Washington DC (and 800 other cities) to demand stricter gun control laws in the United States.

The "March for Our Lives" was organized in response to the February 14th shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. That tragic event, where 17 people lost their lives to an armed psychopath, sparked heated debate about the safety of our schools and guns in our culture. Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas H.S., along with some major media support and the organizational skills of the Women's March, have inspired a movement.

I am impressed with how effective the voices of these young students have shaken so many voters out of complacency. Although I'm always concerned by mass marches. They tend to represent a sort of group think that probably frightens me because I've read too much dystopian teen fiction.

But they've sparked conversation. The subject of both school safety and gun violence has been the subject of social media banter, public forum discussions, and media coverage for weeks now. Voters from all over the political spectrum are expressing views and looking for solutions to the rapidly expanding epidemic of public school shootings.

From the March for Our Lives website:

...We cannot allow one more family to wait for a call or text that never comes. Our schools are unsafe. Our children and teachers are dying. We must make it our top priority to save these lives... 
...Every kid in this country now goes to school wondering if this day might be their last. We live in fear. 


Photo Credit: Mathias Wasik


How can we strap on our kids' backpacks, kiss them good-bye, and send them off to school when the threat of them being gunned down by a madman is so high?

Boarding the school bus has apparently become the equivalent of playing a dangerous game of Russian Roulette.

From the messages on the signs to the mission statement on the March's website, you can tell these kids are convinced that once they enter their schools, they are entering a war zone. With bullets flying left and right, how can we expect these kids to learn?

On their path to gun control, these kids (and the adults who are using them for political purposes) have inadvertently triggered societal panic. I have a friend whose 8 year-old son is afraid to go to school because he "might get shot." 

While it is stupid to wallow in comfortable complacency thinking, "That could never happen here," and every child lost to gun violence is a cataclysmic loss to society, the risk of experiencing a mass shooting in a local public school is a statistical anomaly.

It may be hard to believe over all of the shouting, demanding, and marching, but children do not actually "risk their lives" every day when they climb aboard those yellow school buses. They are actually at a greater risk of dying from falling down (1 in 122) or being hit by a car (1 in 611) on their way to school. They are actually three times more likely to die from choking on those disgusting school lunches (1 in 3,461) than they are of being gunned down in their classrooms (1 in 11,125).

Yet here we are...





This is what mass hysteria looks like. It's like the villagers going after the monster, only they've traded their torches and pitchforks for pithy signs with rhyming chants... and the monster, while unarguably terrifying, isn't exactly running amok.

Perhaps we are so angry and afraid because the media has been feeding the panic, stoking and fanning the flames with inappropriate enthusiasm. For them, tragedy means big ratings, especially when children are involved. The 24-hour coverage that mass shootings provoke usually leaves us glued to our screens for hours on end in a vain attempt to make sense of the horror.

The media is also guilty of feeding us inflated statistics to push an agenda and reinforce a paradigm. In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, progressive activists and media outlets repeatedly reported there had been 18 school shootings since the beginning of the year.

Horrible, right?

Except it isn't true. When we think of school shootings we think of Columbine. We think of heavily armed, masked lunatics spraying bullets as they go, gunning down innocent, unprotected children by the dozens.

The thought that this had actually happened 18 times in just under two months is enough to strike terror in any parent, teacher, student, or basic and decent human being. 

But this figure is a gross exaggeration. In an attempt to push their anti-gun agenda, Everytown for Gun Safety  inflated its numbers by including every single incident of gunfire, even if it was only in the vicinity of a school.

For example, included in the 18-shooting figure was the very first incident of the year. On January 3, a 31-year-old man parked outside a Michigan elementary school and placed a phone call to police saying he was armed and suicidal. Several hours later, he shot himself. While his suicide is indeed tragic, this hardly counts as a "school shooting"...especially considering the school had been closed for seven months.

It was shuttered and inactive. There were no teachers or students present. Not one single innocent life was at risk.

In reality, there have only been eight mass shootings in American schools...

...since 1996. 

Go ahead and read that again.

Time magazine reports that a total of 6 adults and 35 children have been killed in school shootings since 2013. That is 41 people who tragically lost their lives.

However, there are, on average, 51 annual deaths due to lightening strikes. Since most of you probably attended questionably effective public schools, I'll do the math for you.

You are more likely to be killed in a thunderstorm than a school shooting. While the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was definitely heartbreaking, it is not part of an epidemic and it is downright deceitful to call it such.

Our nation's schools do not resemble war zones. They are, in fact, incredibly safe considering their soft target "gun-free" status. According to new research from Northeastern University, "schools are safer than they were in the 90s, and school shootings are not more common than they used to be."

Here is a little visual perspective for you:



The truth is, there is no “school safety” crisis in this country. We have a gun violence problem that consists primarily of suicides, accidents, and single-victim homicides, most of which are committed with handguns, not the dreaded AR-15.

But it must be true. It must be true because large numbers of people are shaking their fists on national television. It must be true because there is so much media coverage, and general yelling, and so many small children afraid to go to school.

Fear, even when it isn't based in reality, is a powerful motivator. In this case, fear fueled by the media and organizations with an agenda, mobilized masses to demand tighter regulations on weapons they don't even understand.




So, like...yeah...let's all get together, and like...demand that the government ban something we like can't even define.

Shaping public policy with emotion rather than common sense,  no matter how strong the emotions, is just plain juvenile (So, I guess the teenagers doing the angry demanding are acting age-appropriately). But common sense isn't as marketable as passionate, sanctimonious teenagers shouting profanity and raising their fists. Common sense rarely inspires marches.

Here's the deal. Grief and anger are all understandable in the face of what happened in Parkland. These children have a right to mourn. They have a right to be angry. Anger is actually a healthy part of the grieving process.

However, surviving a tragic event doesn't magically make you a leader. It doesn't suddenly bestow magic policy-making talents. PTSD does not automatically instill wisdom or grant miraculous oracle-like understanding. You don't get special powers, although the media is likely to make you an instant celebrity (at least if your politics agree with their agenda. Don't believe they pick and choose their victims of tragedy? Have a conversation with Parkland survivor Kyle Kashuv. I wonder why he didn't make the cover of Time?)

Ask any parent of a teenager and they will tell you that teenagers have a limited ability to make rational decisions. Teenage brains have not fully developed. A study conducted by the McLean Hospital Brain Imaging Center in Boston, Massachusetts suggests that while adults can use rational decision making processes when facing emotional decisions, adolescent brains are simply not yet equipped to think them through.

There is a reason that adults get to do things like take out mortgages and vote and influence public policy. It's because we are less likely to be ruled by our emotions. We have fully developed frontal lobes and can usually approach decision-making from a place of rational thought rather than heated passion.

I understand the desire to DO SOMETHING. But it's important to approach major decisions, ones that could have long-lasting and wide-reaching effects, with caution and a level head, something these new celebrity children and their devotees seem to be lacking.

"Ban the guns" sounds like a great way to end gun violence, especially since it makes a catchy chant for D.C. marches. But like filing your income taxes, as well as most things in the adult world, it's actually much more complicated than that.

Most of the policy ideas that the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas H.S. and their fan club have proposed are vague. Most would be ineffective, and in some cases, they would be downright harmful. I guess we shouldn't be surprised, though. Public schools are too busy prepping kids for standardized tests to actually teach them critical thinking skills.

For example, raising the firearm purchase age to 21 sounds like a great idea on the surface. This would keep guns out of the hands of the irrational teenagers that are currently demanding they are rational enough to influence public policy. (oh, the irony!) But maybe...just maybe...it would have kept a gun out of the hands of the Parkland shooter, who was only 19.

But let's take a quick look at some facts and statistics.

Of the 64 mass public shootings that have occurred in the United States since 1998 (not all were in public schools), ten were committed by people under age 21. Five of those shooters were already too young to legally purchase a firearm. That means only five of those 64 gunman would have been affected by raising the purchase age.

Maybe. 

Maybe they would have been affected. It is quite likely the shooters would have obtained weapons illegally, since they weren't deterred by those pesky murder laws in the first place.

But do you know who a raised purchase age would affect? The 20 year-old frightened woman being stalked by a potential rapist . The young college student dealing with an obsessed and violent ex-boyfriend. Sorry, ladies. You're too young to defend yourselves. Better luck next year. If you're still around, that is.

Disarming law-abiding citizens, leaving them with no way to protect themselves, has life-threatening consequences.

People will still die. They just might not be the same people.

I understand the need to protect our children. They are our greatest gift, our nation's most precious asset. But radically changing the founding principles of the United States over a minimal risk is drastic, and won't keep guns out of the hands of criminals and deranged psychopaths anyway.

Before we start disarming the populace, maybe we should look at other ways to keep our children safe. Maybe improve security measures at our local schools. Invest in school-based mental health services. Let's consider placing more armed law enforcement officers and security guards on campuses. Perhaps we should try enforcing the gun-control laws already in place before we pass more.

Too much is at stake to make trendy political decisions fueled by the emotions of loud-voiced teenagers. We all want to save lives, but being well-meaning isn’t enough. Plenty of mistakes are made by well-meaning individuals who rush to act without considering all of the nuanced consequences.

This subject needs careful consideration of the long-term repercussions to both the individual and society. It should be approached with caution, examination of facts, and thoughtful deliberation.

Let's not make rash decisions just because we are afraid, or else there might be bigger things to fear.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Do Scones Really Need a Gun-Free Zone?

I was super excited when a real live bakery opened up in our small town. Before the grand opening of this local business, fresh bread and baked goods required hours of kneading, rising, and patient waiting. While totally worth the labor efforts, I am not a particularly patient person. So, the fact that warm, delicious, gluten-filled goodness was within walking distance of my home, made me giddy.

I felt like I had hit the jackpot. Suddenly, I was reaping the benefits of small town life while having almost immediate access to an amenity usually only found in some progressive urban area.

I quickly became addicted to this bakery's fresh scones. Those scones are "to die for." Warm and buttery, they came in all kinds of flavors - chocolate espresso, sweet potato ginger, cranberry walnut. Asking me to choose a favorite would be like asking a mother to choose her favorite child. I loved them all for different reasons. Typically, my favorite flavor was whichever one was in my hand.

Like any good junkie, I needed a daily fix. I began to view this cozy corner bakery as my dealer, dishing out the only thing that  could calm my intense desire for buttery scone goodness. That corner bakery was my dope peddler, and I was more than happy to dish out my hard-earned dough to purchase their deliciously flaky dough.

I am not ashamed to admit I am addicted to scones. Some people might call me nutty.

Some people might also call me a gun nut. I grew up around firearms, support the Second Amendment (Although I equally support the other amendments. "All Amendments Matter" is my motto), and am more than proficient when it comes to shooting.

I also regularly carry a firearm. Not because I think it makes me macho, or because I want to make a statement, or because I think it is a great accessory to my outfit. I carry because I want to be able to protect myself and my family. Period.

We initially moved to a small town because the low crime rate was incredibly attractive. We live in a "good" neighborhood in a statistically safe county. However, in recent months, we've seen a surge in gun crimes. A few weeks ago, a shooting occurred in the church yard right next door to our home. A few weeks before that, shots were fired at the house across the street from us, breaking our neighbor's living room window.

It has started to feel like we are caught in some inner city cross fire, only without the traffic or urban decay. I still contend, however, that we live in a "good" neighborhood. The problem is our "good" neighborhood backs up to a "bad" one and individuals are starting to cross those invisible boundaries.

Recently, two young men verbally threatened me with violence. I was simply walking in the neighborhood, minding my own business (an anomaly in a small town), and enjoying the warm weather. Two strange men crossed the street toward me, and as they approached, one yelled "BANG!"

Then the other threatened, "You're dead, Bitch."

The two of them walked past me, traveling on down the street. Both of them were doubled over, laughing hysterically at my expense.

Not my idea of fun, but I truly believe these two young people were only trying to frighten me for some twisted sadistic amusement. I am not one to take chances. That is why I carry a firearm. Luck favors the prepared, after all.

Back to the scones...

One recent Saturday, my family and I wandered up to the neighborhood bakery to stock up on some of those addictive pastries. We bought giant cookies for the girls and beautiful scones for me.

We had a pleasant exchange with the staff, smiling and making light of my very real scone problem. We talked about the weather. My husband used his teacher discount. While there, we even chatted amiably with another customer.

The whole visit was like something out of an old episode of Andy Griffith. If it had transpired in black and white, I would have been convinced we'd been lost in Mayberry. The entire encounter had been polite and charming and uncommonly neighborly. We were simply a happy family buying baked goods from a local business, coexisting in harmony and friendship and intense community. It was rather lovely.

We had been carrying our sidearms that day, because some of our other neighbors are not quite so congenial. But we had noticed another customer big time eyeing my husband's handgun while we purchased our bread products. For that patron, I suppose the sight of our weapons had somehow smashed our image of friendly, neighborhood, nuclear family.

When the bakery reopened after the weekend, there was a sign plastered to the front door.





I thought, "Well, this is new."

I couldn't help but wonder if this was in direct response to the weapons we had carried (without ill intent) into the establishment on our most recent bakery run. And because I am an individual with a rampant imagination, I worry there was a highly negative conversation after we departed with our pastries. It would have been a conversation we weren't privy to, one that painted my family as nefarious, my husband and I as monstrous and depraved. Even though we were friendly, chipper, and polite. We even held the door open for a sweet little old lady as we left and wished everyone a good day.

While I hope that the new signage had nothing to do with me or my family, I'm skeptical. The timing is just too coincidental. 

Now, to set the record straight, I sincerely respect the rights of this business owner to declare his place of business a gun free zone. Have at it. This is (at least for the time being) a free country. I'm all about freedom. If that is how you want to operate your business, if guns are so evil and scary that you don't even want to see them in the hands of good people, you have the right to make sure they never enter your bakery. (No guarantees on the ones that might be in the hands of bad people, though. Those people tend to do what they want. Signs be damned.) 

As long as you don't refuse to bake any wedding cakes, you should be good to go. 

However, I don't have to shop there. That's the great thing about freedom, right? All of us get to exercise it. And while there are many things I'm willing to lay down my life for, scones are not particularly high on the list. Even though they are incredibly tasty.

I'm not willing to disarm myself for baked goods I could theoretically make at home. Because, according to the Crime Prevention Research Center, 98.4 percent of mass shootings have occurred in gun-free zones. Meanwhile, just 1.6 percent occurring where armed citizens are allowed. So when at all possible, I'm sticking to places that care about my safety rather than how uncomfortable someone might decide to feel about the presence of a simple inanimate object.

Pelting an armed robber with healthy wholegrain breads seems ineffective. Facing violence armed with nothing but a french baguette seems comical, cartoonish in fact.

And since I'm also walking through my questionable neighborhood to get to this gun-free utopia of wholesome baked bread, the same neighborhood where I was so recently threatened by passing strangers, I don't think I can feel completely safe shopping there. 

Nope. I'll be making my own scones, feeding my own buttery, gluten-rich obsession, thank you. Because while the ones from the local bakery are admittedly delicious, and I did once describe them as "to die for," I don't really think I'm willing to do that.



Friday, February 2, 2018

Thinkers, Doers, and Free Speech - A Response to Gregory Salcido's Anti-Military Rant


California teacher and Pico-Rivera councilman, Gregory Salcido has made the news for an anti-military tirade he recently made in a public school classroom. After publicly humiliating a high school student for wearing a Marine Corps sweatshirt, Mr. Salcido went on a major rant that insulted everyone from active military members to Blue Star families to your stupid Uncle Louie.

If you haven't heard the audio recording from Mr. Salcido's classroom, it is definitely worth the listen, if for no other reason than to witness a major waste of time in an average American classroom. I won't go so far as to claim that every school teacher uses classroom time to push personal philosophies, but it is probably far more common than we want to believe.

Bullying students, insulting their families, and issuing ultimatums ("Don’t you ever freakin' bring the military into this freakin' classroom.") is not the way to make a classroom environment conducive to learning.

Plus, I'm pretty sure the military will have to come up in conversation...considering it is a HISTORY class. Call me crazy.

I will warn you that Mr. Salcido's diatribe is full of expletives and gross racial stereotyping (“We couldn’t beat the Vietnamese — they’re a bunch of people this freaking big throwing rice at us.”).

You should watch it anyway.


Since the teacher's hate-filled speech hit the internet, and the proverbial poo hit the proverbial fan, Mr Salcido has disappeared. He is understandably worried about his own safety since he literally ticked off every member of the world's finest fighting force as well as most of the American population. He poked his head up briefly to make a brief comment on social media claiming support of Free Speech.

"I want my friends, family, and students to know we are fine and we respect the rights of free expression for all individuals."

And while I agree that Mr. Salcido has a right to free speech, I'm not sure that right completely extends to what he can lawfully say in a public school classroom. And it certainly doesn't protect him from any public backlash.

But I also might add, that Mr. Salcido violated the student's free speech rights. As a teacher in the classroom, Salcido speaks on behalf of the local school district. He told the student not to wear any clothing supporting the U.S. military. That command could be interpreted as a violation of the student's First Amendment rights.

"Don’t you ever freakin' bring the military into this freakin' classroom."

That doesn't sound particularly respectful.

Personally, I think the student has a better claim to First Amendment protection than Mr. Salcido, but I am admittedly NOT an expert in the law, so take my opinion with the grain of salt it deserves.

However, there is at least one area in which I can claim expert status.

I am a Blue Star mother.

My son is a U.S. Army soldier. He is one of the dumbshits Mr. Salcido spoke about in his filthy rant.

Meanwhile, my oldest daughter, a senior in high school and top of her class, is contemplating a career in the U.S. Navy.

Not only are they two of the smartest people I know, but they are also the bravest, strongest, and most driven people I know.

Salcido told that classroom of high school students:

"If you join the military, it’s because you have no other options because you didn’t take care of business academically, because your parents didn’t love you enough to push you and you didn’t love yourself enough to push yourself…So now you’re thinking what do I do now…and your parents even encourage [joining the military] sometimes because they want to get you off of their ass.
" Why would anyone ever sign up for that… Think about the people we have over there. Your stupid uncle Louie or whatever, they’re dumb shits. They’re not like high-level thinkers. They’re not academic people. They’re not intellectual people. They’re the freaking lowest of our low."

I call bullshit, Mr. Salcido. You don't know Jack. Perhaps you need to come have a conversation with my two oldest children. You should probably also ask them if their parents love them or pushed them. You now? Just for shits and giggles.

First let me throw a few stats at you, Mr. Salcido, just to prove you're an idiot. And I'll even post it in graphic form so even a dumbass like you can understand it.

Sources: 

That's right. The United States military is actually more educated than the population it serves. And since Gregory Salcido only has a Bachelor's degree from Whittier College, I'm not sure where he gets off ranting about the lack of academics and intellectuals in the military. 

Perhaps a rant about the lack of academics and intellectuals in education would be more apropos. 

Listen up, Mr. Salcido. Here's the thing. There are a lot of "thinkers" and "academics" in the world and they sit around doing a lot of thinking without actually "doing" anything. They sit behind desks and think big thoughts. They teach classrooms full of captive students. But unless thoughts are put into action, they are worthless. 

Thinking and doing are two very different things. Our military does more than think. When the rubber meets the road and action is required, they do not hesitate to act. And that action is what has protected your right to stand up in front of a class of high school students and spew misinformation and outright lies.

My oldest son announced that he was joining the military at Thanksgiving dinner two years ago. 

It was a goal he had for years, and in the months leading up to his enlistment, he was up at dawn, hitting the gym or the track to increase his pull-up reps or decrease his run times. At night he cracked books, studying for the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) with intensity and focus. I watched that young man push himself harder, both physically and intellectually, than anyone I've ever seen stretch for a goal. 

So, Mr Salcido, you don't understand what it is to love yourself or push beyond your comfort zone toward a goal. There are just some goals you don't understand.

After my son announced his intentions to the family, one person casually asked him what he had scored on the ASVAB. When Daniel told him, this person attempted to one-up him by reporting a significantly higher personal score.

But you know what. It didn't matter. That "higher-level" thinker with the impressive ASVAB score wasn't doing anything with it. For various reasons, that person never joined the military. 

My son took a huge step and vowed to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. He took action.

Whose score mattered more?

What does it matter how well you score on a test if you never do anything with the knowledge or ability the test measures?

There are valuable characteristics that have nothing to do with intellect or education level or test scores. Action, hard-work, ambition, loyalty, integrity, perseverance, initiative, communication, and confidence just to name a few. 

These are all qualities that are valued by members of our U.S. military. And these characteristics often have far more to do with success than education level. Although, our military isn't exactly lacking in that area either (see previous graphic).

So you might want to think again when you claim our military is comprised of the "lowest of the low."  Because you're quite wrong. 

About 75% of America's 17-24 year-olds are ineligible for military service due to lack of education, obesity, and other physical problems, or criminal history. Of those eligible, only a fraction actually have the drive or the desire to serve.

Nearly one in four students fail the military entrance exam. That suggests that maybe teachers like Mr. Salcido should shut up with the personal diatribes and do what they were hired to do. Teach our kids.

The United States military is actually comprised of this country's "best and brightest." 

And just because I can't let this comment go:

“It’s a lie that our military is freakin’ bitchin’.” 
In response?

This....











Friday, January 5, 2018

Why We Hunt

Photo credit: Adventures Plus Outfitters

Just before Christmas, hunter Michael Taylor shot and killed a massive black bear here in Edgecombe County, North Carolina. At 640 pounds, this black bear weighed 150 pounds more than the average black bear. It yielded over 300 pounds of processed meat.

A kill like this is big news in a small rural county like ours. We see black bears from time to time, sometimes crossing the highway, or out in a farmer's field, or sometimes casually strolling down some small town main street. News of this monstrous black bear traveled and was even picked up by a big news outlet from Raleigh.

As pictures of the hunter and his kill plastered local papers and social media outlets, the self-righteous came out in droves to criticize this hunter (and hunters in general) and to whine and cry about how black bear lives matter. #blackbearlivesmatter #BBLM



Photo credit: Eva Shockey
It isn't unusual for hunters to receive this type of backlash. In 2014, professional hunter Eva Shockey killed another North Carolina black bear. This one was a measly 510 pounds but apparently still warranted massive repercussions, including some 5,000 death threats.

According to much of the loud and ranting public, the lives of human hunters are worth far less than the animals they harvest and eat.

I can't help but wonder how many of the individuals slinging death threats at the likes of Eva Shockey and Michael Taylor have recently enjoyed a chicken sandwich or picked up a package of hamburger from their grocer's cooler. Because if you think attacking hunters for harvesting big, cuddly, unpredictably dangerous bears is okay, while exploiting acceptable "meat" animals, often raised in inhumane and dirty conditions, is perfectly acceptable...well, there is a deeper moral issue here than I thought.

I understand that the general public doesn't understand hunting. We are so far removed from our food sources that most people have never looked their dinner in the eye (unless you've picked a crustacean out of the tank at Red Lobster). We tend to think of meat as something that comes sealed in neat little plastic and Styrofoam packages. It is easy to forget that the meat between our hamburger buns was once an actual living, breathing animal.

The thing is, if you aren't a hunter, it is difficult to explain why we hunt, and it goes far beyond meat. Words fail to describe why we get up before the crack of dawn to sit for long hours in often uncomfortable conditions to harvest game, when we could just roll on down to the local Food Lion and pick up a pack of steaks. We wouldn't even have to wear sensible shoes.

I am a hunter.

In fact, the day this bear was killed, I was hunting in another part of Edgecombe County.

I won't apologize. I won't act ashamed because you think I should. And I will proudly take pictures of the game I've been lucky enough to tag.

I hunt because I love hunting.

Not because I love killing, although that is definitely a part of hunting.

I'm lucky to have spent large portions of my life in the woods. My father started toting me along on his hunting trips as soon as I was old enough to sit on a five-gallon bucket, pink-sneakered feet swinging inches above the ground. Yearly the woods call me back. Stepping into the forest on opening day feels like coming home.

Sitting on a deer stand, I thrill at every new morning, watching the darkness turn murky gray. Hearing the first songbird chirp out a song so strong it starts up a whole chorus. There is overwhelming satisfaction in knowing that the majority of the world is missing it, tucked tight in their comfortable beds in their climate-controlled buildings waiting for the shock of the alarm clock.

Sitting alone in a tree stand, you become part of the landscape as the creatures around you either forget you are there or accept you as one of their own. And you know that everything good. There is no wasted time in the woods, whether you release on arrow, squeeze the trigger, or go home with nothing more than the experience.

I've heard people wonder why hunters can't just take pictures. Couldn't we enjoy nature and the experience of being outdoors without harming any wildlife?

Pictures are nice, but taking pictures isn't hunting.

As a photographer, you are an observer of nature. As a hunter you are a participant. Hunters are part of the drama and the dance that is life in the wild.

We are predators, but the humane sort. Nothing dies easily in the circle of life. Don't let The Lion King fool you. It's not some sunshiny musical in the wild. Animals die every minute, with or without the help of a hunter. Most lives end in violence. Whether by the jaws of a coyote, the talons of a great horned owl, the claws of a cougar, or by merciless disease and starvation. All life comes to an end. Often death caused by a human hunter is the most humane. I choose to make my kills quick and clean, something Mother Nature isn't particularly good at.

While it is true that hunting is an essential part of wildlife management, that hunters are the largest source of funding for wildlife agencies and conservation efforts, I won't use these reasons to justify why I hunt. These are just side benefits, the reasons that sound good enough to justify hunting to the uninitiated.

I hunt because I love it.

Plain and simple.

With every fiber of my being.

And I know that these are just a smattering of words that you will read on a computer screen, and they are unlikely to change one single mind. Because mere words can never explain the magic or the drive or the feeling of being alive that accompanies the hunt.

If you are a hunter, you already know. We are kindred spirits, you and I, a misunderstood minority that will continue to be spat on, hated, and threatened. The masses will try to humiliate and threaten us. They will try to outlaw the sport that we love most.

But to be honest, I feel sorry for those people. Because they have no idea of the common yet breathtaking beauty that is alive in the woods. They have no idea what it feels like to have every nerve in your body thrumming like a live wire as you line up your sights on an animal you've been waiting for your whole life.

I hunt because I am.

I am proud to be a hunter, and I'm not going to apologize for it.


Thursday, December 14, 2017

5 Ways Not to Sexually Harass Your Co-Workers at the Office Christmas Party.

'Tis the season for office holiday parties. Normally when this time of year rolls around, we don those ugly sweaters, get drunk on the company's dime, and engage in some "Dirty Santa" shenanigans.

But the times, they are achangin'.

The most sacred traditions of the holiday are in jeopardy. This year, when everyone from Harvey Weinstein to Matt Lauer to Al Franken have had their careers end in flaming wreckage after accusations of sexual assault or harassment, everyone everywhere is wondering who is next.

Many companies have decided to just do away with the holiday office party altogether. Others have watered them down so that an evening spent answering the customer service line seems more fun.

Who actually wants to hang out with their co-workers when there isn't any alcohol involved? Most of those people are the reason I drink in the first place!

The solution seems fairly clear: "Don't sexually harass your co-workers." But it may be a bit more complicated than that. The lines are still being drawn between what is acceptable social behavior and what is vile, unacceptable, and will send your ass straight into the fiery pits of Hell (aka the unemployment line care of Human Resources).

Things are fuzzy right now. I understand everyone's apprehension and confusion. Don't worry. I'm here to help. Here is the short list of Ways Not to Sexually Harass Your Co-Workers at the Office Christmas Party.

It is a short list, because time didn't allow for my 45 minute Power Point or 378-page Resource Guide. Expect those at the next business meeting.

1. Imagine your incredibly attractive co-worker is actually Doug from Accounting. You know the dude. Every company has one. Doug from Accounting is super awkward, never really knows what to do with his hands, and smells faintly of anchovies. Doug from Accounting has droopy man boobs, wears glasses that were stylish in the mid 80s, and pants that went of style before that.

Now. When you are tempted to comment on how totally hot your female co-worker is in that tight red sweater, ask yourself if you would make the same comment to Doug from Accounting. Would you tell Doug from Accounting, "Wowza! You look hot in that sweater" while staring at his moobs? No. No, you would not.

Would you instead say "Good evening, Doug from Accounting. That's a nice sweater" while maintaining eye contact. Perhaps.

Or maybe you just wouldn't comment on Doug from Accouting's sweater at all, because that's weird and you wouldn't want poor awkward Doug to feel uncomfortable or get the wrong idea about your sexual preferences. Yeah. You probably shouldn't say anything.

The bottom line? Ask yourself "Would I say that, do that, give that to, or otherwise think that about Doug from Accounting?" If the answer is no, then don't do it.

2. Drink responsibly. You aren't at a college frat party. You are an adult now and this should really go without saying.

I'm not about to suggest you shouldn't drink at all. That's the whole point of an office party, and after the year we've had, I think we all deserve to down a few (just be sure to hand over your keys and maybe call an Uber). However, if drinking tends to lead to sexual assault for you, it's time to step away from the cash bar.

If you see your attractive co-worker in the tight red sweater passed out drunk in the corner, just picture Doug from Accounting. Are you going to feel up Doug from Accounting while he's passed out in the corner?

Ladies, this one is for you, too. Having a few glasses of wine is one thing, but getting passed out drunk in the corner of the office party is never a good idea. Too many women have been groped or worse after they've had a few too many cosmos. Besides, that sort of thing isn't exactly professional, and this IS an office party. Drooling on that pretty red sweater while your co-workers watch isn't going to land you that next promotion.

And yes, I realize this is "victim blaming" so go ahead and send your hateful emails. I will continue to believe the person ultimately responsible for a woman's safety is the woman herself.

3. Limit physical contact. Handshakes are always appropriate. A hand on the shoulder might be okay, but let's keep this professional. Don't let that hand linger. Don't start rubbing. And I don't care how soft her red sweater is...

No! Don't let it drift any further south!

ABORT! ABORT!

And you should definitely NOT grab her by the you-know-what. Unless you are the President of the United States, you're definitely not getting away with that.

If you have trouble keeping your hands to yourself, just shove them in your pockets. Sure you might look awkward like Doug from Accounting, but he's never had a sexual harassment charge, has he?

4. Get rid of "Dirty Santa." I know it's just a fun office gift exchange, but playing anything called "Dirty Santa" is just begging for someone to be inappropriate. The minute someone gifts a dildo, the entire ship is going down. Even Doug from Accounting.

5. Make an early exit. Like Mama always said, "Nothing good happens after midnight." Hanging around until the wee hours of the morning while the alcohol flows is just begging for trouble. The minute someone says, "Hey, Doug from Accounting! Hold my beer while I grope this passed out chick in the red sweater," it's time to hit the road.

"Hasta la vista, co-workers. I'm off to work on my end-of-the-year reports."

Because even though sexually harassing co-workers might sound like fun, there are consequences now.

Finally.

There are consequences.