Thursday, June 08, 2006

Paying Attention (Me, not Them)

Yesterday, I had an important business meeting to attend. I got dressed and when undecided on which of two pairs of shoes to wear, put on one of each and asked Charlie to help me pick. He’s got a pretty good eye for fashion.

“Hmm. I’d go with the black one.”

I finished getting dressed, helped feed the kids breakfast and made my way out to the car, peeling children off of me en route. Just as I was climbing in the car, I happened to notice that I still had on one black shoe and one brown shoe.

One of my favorite movies of all times is “Shawshank Redemption” and I whole heartedly agree with that one line where Morgan Freeman asks, “How often do you notice a person’s shoes?” I don’t notice other people’s shoes that often. But, if they happen to be wearing two different style shoes, you can bet your bottom dollar I’d see it. And, I’d laugh at them. It’s a good thing I happened to look down and notice that I had on two different shoes because otherwise, I’m sure someone at the important business meeting would have been laughing at me. I in turn, would have tried to play it off like this was something I had done intentionally.

Today, I had another important business meeting to attend. This time, it was in Los Angeles. Early this morning as I got ready to leave, I made sure I was wearing two of the same shoes before I took off on my 3-hour drive. It’s not very often that I have three hours of quiet time, during the day, while I am in a conscious state. I debated what I wanted to do during this drive … listen to the radio … or enjoy the blissful sounds of silence.

The little voices in my head unanimously agreed. Crickets it is.

Just as I was leaving our neighborhood, I saw a car with the license plate holder, “If You’re Not Angry, You’re Not Paying Attention!”

Except for almost leaving the house wearing two different style shoes and forgetting to close the doors and trunk on our van during my recent outing to the gym, I pride myself on my ability to pay attention. I’ve got three toddlers at home. I must pay attention. My children’s survival and my sanity depend on it. I keep the bathroom doors closed, toilet paper in a secure location, cabinets and cupboards safely latched, knives and indelible ink markers stored up high. In fact, the only time in my life that I have been accused of not paying attention is when I got kicked out of a Calculus class in college because I was chatting it up with my friend, Lorie. (In my defense – I was excited about my upcoming wedding and Lorie was the one that initiated the conversation. I know she'll disagree, but don't believe a word she says.).

I pay attention and I’m not angry. What do I have to be angry about?

I continued my drive to the freeway and noticed a group of people collecting signs that read, “Vote!” That’s when I remembered.


Yesterday was Election Day. I never miss Election Day. The only time that I’ve ever forgotten to vote was … never. Well, unless you count voting for American Idol. I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t vote for Chris Daugherty. His getting booted off the show, and the public outcry that ensued, is a prime example of why people NEED to vote. You can’t assume that everyone else is going to vote like you would - if you voted, and the person that you think should win, will win.

Reality television shows aside ... ever since I've been 18, I always vote in political elections. Even in November of 2004, when I had premature triplets in the NICU and I was recovering from my c-section and HELLP Syndrome, I made sure that I was at the polls to cast my ballot for the American President. I’ve never felt like my vote counted for much because I can count on one hand how many times “my candidate” has won an election ... but ... I'm always there. If nothing else, I like to think I'd make Susan B. Anthony proud.

I’ve noticed that I’ve been receiving a troublesome amount of “junk” mail lately. Now it made sense. Those must have been all of the candidate and proposition pamphlets they send out en masse just before an election. Since I’ve been doing the majority of my shopping online, I receive a TON of junk mail. I’ve become extremely efficient at sorting through everything and rapidly discarding anything that is neither a bill nor personal letter. Usually, I don't even look at this stuff to know ... it's junk. (Yet, I have an uncanny ability to spot valuable Pampers and 20% off Bed, Bath & Beyond Coupons.)

I’ll concede … this election snuck up and passed us … without our knowledge. A few years ago, we would read every single one of the candidate and ballot fliers that came in the mail. Charlie and I also would set aside a couple nights before Election Day, to review (with a highlighter, no less) the Ballot and Voter Information pamphlet. Those were the days when we had lots of free time on our hands. The days before we were taking care of three toddlers while simultaneously managing a house, working part-time jobs (that most weeks are more like full-time jobs), striving to keep our marriage *alive*, struggling to walk our dogs at least once a week day, and squeezing in trips to the gym whenever we can. And, for me, making attempts at keeping my journal (aka: blog) somewhat updated.

Indeed ... this election got past us.

Although I’m pretty dialed in on what’s happening in our family life … maybe I’m not paying very good attention to the “outside world”. So, I decided that with my three hours of undisturbed driving time, I was going to do something I NEVER do. I was going to intentionally listen to the news. I clicked over to NPR, the most "unbiased" news channel I can think of. Here’s a sampling of what I heard:

  • There was an earthquake in central Indonesia last month. This is the same region of the world that was crippled from the tsunami in December of 2004. This most recent catastrophe has left thousands dead, tens of thousands homeless.
  • The average salary for fire fighters, police officers, and teachers is $41K a year. I balked until I heard the average salary for a recruit in the military is less than $15K a year. You mean to tell me that people who put their life on the line for this country (because these are the guys that would be front-line) are paid a tad over $1,000 a month? Unbelievable.
  • Two of the candidates running for U.S. Congress to replace the shameful Duke Cunningham (who resigned after being found guilty in accepting over $2 million dollars in bribes) spent more than $6 million dollars on their campaigns. A democratic gubernatorial candidate, Steve Westly (former Ebay executive) spent over $30 million dollars of his own money on the campaign. He lost to Phil Angelides. I'm not sure how much Phil spent ...
  • Proposition 82 which would have funded preschools was defeated. Voters didn’t like the price tag of $2.1 billion dollars on taxes that would be levied on couples that made more than $800K a year (or, $400K a year on an individual). I’m sure that there are downsides to this Proposition, but it certainly sounds good, doesn’t it? Apparently there are 14,000 4-year olds in this State that don’t have access to preschool. Considering there are studies showing that children who attend preschool are more likely to be successful in LIFE (the actual act of living, not to be confused with the board game), this makes me sad. Without sounding too much like John Lennon, IMAGINE if just some of the money that politicians in California are using to fund their primary election campaigns (heck, we haven't even gotten in to the GENERAL ELECTION, that's where the big $$$ is going to be spent) were funneled in to preschools. Or, if some of this money could be applied to an increase in wages for military ... teachers ... or those in public service. Yeah. I know there’s more to it. There always is. But just imagine.
  • Women who have fled from the Ukraine to Turkey for employment, are being kidnapped and sold in to the sex slavery market. Most of these women are between the ages of 16 and 19. My heart breaks thinking of what these young women are going through. I don't know what to do to help them - or where to even start. This segment of the news made me think about the NBC Dateline “To Catch A Predator” series. The sheer number of vermin slithering around and preying on children is horrific. This "Predator" series has made us 1) stop watching so much TV because it is terribly disturbing, and 2) vow to never allow our children their own personal computers with internet access. When they are old enough to go on the computer ... we'll be monitoring it. CONSTANTLY.
  • Counterfeit drugs are being brought in to this country and sold in pharmacies. These fake drugs have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of people around the world. Unfortunately, the vermin that produce these drugs are really good and as a result, they are indistinguishable from “real” medication to a consumer. (Does this mean that we all need to carry around portable mass-spectrometers every time we go to the apothecary? YES. The alternative is ... never get sick. Or, have penile dysfunction.)
  • As of today, there are 2,484 confirmed US casualties in the Iraq Coalition.

I crossed county lines, lost NPR, and picked up a rap station. After straining to understand the lyrics for all of 15-seconds … and feeling thoroughly grossed out by what I heard in that short period of time … I flipped over to a Mexican radio station. My Spanish isn’t very good … but I was able to understand “Happy, Day, and Good-bye.” I don’t know what exactly they were singing about but I got a major hankering for chips, salsa and an ice-cold Corona. I hear disco and I feel like dancing. I hear a Mariachi band and I feel like eating. (Am I alone in this phenomenon??)

Giving up on the radio, I returned to my sounds of silence and started checking out all of the road signs. It appears that the California Lottery is up to $56 million dollars. On a huge billboard, the question was posed: “What would YOU do if you won?” After thinking of what I’d just heard on NPR, sadly, $56 million wouldn’t be nearly enough to do all the things I would want to do.

Here we worked so hard to bring children in to our lives and I'm wondering what kind of world have we brought them in to? The world was a much better place when I was a child. Wasn’t it? Actually ... when I was a child, the Vietnam War was in full swing. And when my mother was a child ... Hitler was in the midst of committing some of the worst human atrocities in history. Come to think of it ... in the history of mankind, there have always been wars and fighting, and just plain evil.

I was alone with these thoughts RUNNING through my head the rest of my drive to Los Angeles. These same thoughts were on my mind during the majority of my important business meeting, and for the duration of my entirely quiet, 3-hour drive back. As soon as I arrived home this afternoon, I picked up our babies and I covered them in kisses. When I tucked them in to bed tonight, we said our evening prayers. I then looked at these precious little children, with clean souls and I prayed so hard that they always find love in the world. That they always seek out and find the good in mankind. That they are not discouraged or swayed by negativity. That they are always safe in body AND spirit from harm. That they never go out of the house wearing two different shoes … and that they never listen to crap rap.

The reason that Charlie and I had children is because we are optimists and we believe in the future. We know that one person can do terrible things … or wonderful things.

Today, I tried really hard to pay attention. I did pay attention and I’m not angry. If I was angry – that would be more negativity - and really, what would it accomplish? Rather, I feel more compelled than ever to raise our children the best we possibly can … to fill their lives with love … to teach them to see the good in the world … and to always be honest and kind. Raising our children with these goals are the best way that we can see, to make a positive contribution to society. But the question remains ... what more can we do?


  1. Jen, you are an amazing woman. I love your perspective and the way you think things through and I truly do wish you lived closer because we could do mighty things together.


  2. you said penile.

    (in beavis and butthead voice)

  3. Jenna-
    Ok... love this post...but... we got kicked out of Calculus class not because we were talking about wedding plans (that was Physics class) but because Dr. Martin said, "Homogenous." You turned around and said, "he said HOMO," and we both started laughing.... LOL! Those were pretty crazy days! Who would ever think that after all of these years that our children are only 2 weeks apart! We are so blessed! Miss you guys!

  4. It's funny how things can just slip by us when we are so busy with the things that demand our immediate attention! I enjoyed this post and agree with you - I had kids also because I believe in the goodness of people, and although we can't controll the choices our children will make throughout their lives, we can teach them as best we can to help them make good choices, and to see the good that is in the world.

  5. OMG.
    1) We DO get NPR here in LA. It is channel 89.9 KCRW. I am a huge fan!
    2) I didn't know there was someone else who craved chips and salsa after hearing mariachi music!!! I thought I was alone in the world, until now...
    3) Shawshank--one of my fav movies of all time!!!
    4) WHY in the WORLD did you not call me for lunch while in LA?! Girlfriend, although I would have been bummed not to meet the trio, it would have been an honor to meet you!!! Maybe I'll email you my phone number for next time!!! Btw, I know of a great hole-in-the-wall Mexican place up mariachi music though.

  6. Michelle in OR6/9/06, 12:48 PM

    I really agree with you and admire your spirit and perspective on life, the world, and having children. Your children are VERY blessed to have you as a mother. I hope and pray every day that my son will also grow up to find joy and love and never let the cares of the world damper his energy. Keep up the great mothering and insightful writing!