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DADT, Mission Objectives, and the Elephant in the Barracks

September 23, 2011

Rick Santorum had a good night. He didn’t spend all his time jumping up and down yelling “I’m important! Pay attention to me!” This morning, headlines bore his name and DADT shared print space with job creation and social security. Here’s what he said: “…sex and sexual preference should not be an issue in the military, period.” He’s right.*

The dramatic debate over DADT misses the point. This is about professionalism.

Our soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors are held to the highest** professional standards in almost every aspect of their lives. They are expected to be ready for duty 24/7. They are expected to meet their mission’s objectives no matter what.

The objectives are more important that whether or not a soldier is feeling well, more important that if he really likes everyone he works with, more important than if he works with someone who makes his life difficult. He is expected to be professional and get the job done. This set of expectations is one of the most important qualities of our military and its success.

I work in the Defense/Aerospace industry, my office has 9 men and 3 women, which is a better ratio than I should expect. If we hired a new engineer who made sexist comments or refused to cooperate with the ladies, my boss wouldn’t hold the women responsible. He wouldn’t say, “this the the industry we work in, get used to it.” He wouldn’t make special arrangements so that the new employee wouldn’t have to work with us. He wouldn’t tell us to not to show our knees or our elbows or our necks, because the very sight of lady skin makes the new employee uncomfortable.

But this is exactly what DADT did.

Very few professional environments tolerate sexism, racism, or homophobia the way the military does. But the bottom line is that if a soldier’s prejudices are so strong that it keeps him from doing his job, he is not meeting the military’s professionalism standards. At least, that should be the bottom line. DADT validated the excuse that something was getting in the way of the goal.

Being gay doesn’t affect a soldier’s ability to do their job. If being prejudiced does, than homophobia is putting our soldiers in unnecessary and unacceptable danger.

I understand there was a significant argument about providing appropriate military housing for gays and lesbians. Given the military’s entirely inadequate responses to sexual assault, it is an issue. But that problem is that sexism and sexual assault are tolerated. In fact, women who serve in our military are more likely to be assaulted by a fellow serviceman that killed in action.

A more appropriate question for our candidates is this: “Rape and sexual assault on women in uniform continues to go unaddressed by military policy. Should men who openly pursue heterosexual behavior be allowed to serve?”

*I hope it doesn’t come back to haunt me that I agree with Santorum on this one – very specific – little thing. I’m not even agreeing with the entire sentence, just the last part. The rest of what he said is just plain wrong.

**Except when it comes to sexism and sexual assault, see herehere, and here for recent coverage.

Let’s talk about sleep

September 20, 2011

I’m tired. I’m tired all the time. And tense, easily irritated and jumpy.

My dad, bless his heart, noticed this major change in me when I moved home. He’d come home from work, grab a little snack, and say something motivating like “Let’s go for a bike ride. Physical exercise just really improves my mood and outlook.” No joke, that’s how he’d say it. I’m pretty sure it came directly from one of those pamphlets you can pick up in the back of a Church – I find such gems of wisdom in those. Quick pause while I Google the Catholic Church’s teachings on overcoming depression. Jokes aside, both my parents were a little relieved when I announced I was pregnant, depression is even more overwhelming.

I was sleeping a lot back then. Scratch that, I was napping a lot back then. The first trimester was the worst. I was never hungry, I went from uncomfortably full to starving in no less than 30 minutes; yet everything made me sick. The paradox was the same with sleep. During the day, I would fall asleep on accident and wake up fifteen or twenty minutes later, a pattern that continued all night. I actually fell asleep on a bus full of middle school kids on the way to dinner*, prompting my coworker to coyly ask if Delta had been in town that weekend. No. He’d been in town four weeks earlier.

Insert obvious joke about what happens to the sleeping after you get married. The moral: you stop getting it. At least at the frequency you were before. Then – somehow, the process here seems contradictory – you have a baby and you really stop getting it.

When I went back to work, Baby Girl seemed to fall into a pattern pretty easily, but I was still waking up with her every four hours. I put off sleep training because I could get more sleep if she was snuggling in bed with me than if she’d be left to cry it out. When Delta was on R&R, he couldn’t stand to let her cry, even when it was just a whimper. Since I wouldn’t let her in bed with us (I had my reasons), he would take her in the morning and let me go back to sleep.

This was the most romantic thing my husband could ever do for me. More romantic than the elaborate dates he used to plan, more romantic than random text messages with love song lyrics, more romantic than the love letters I could barely read because he’d written them after lights out. An extra two hours in bed was like weeklong luxury spa retreat. It’s amazing how your perspective changes when you’re used to running on a nap cycle.

Maybe she got used to being spoiled when she was sick. Maybe it’s her giant new tooth popping out of her little munchkin-sized** jaw. Maybe she’s picking up on the emotional roller coaster I’ve been on about the upcoming move. But Baby Girl is refusing to sleep in her own bed. This will be Week Two of a very loud hostage crisis. Say what you will about friendly vs. “enhanced” interrogation tactics (sorry, I had to), sleep deprivation works on me. Her little singing seahorse works, but it only sings for 3 minutes. By three a.m. I’m thinking, “three hours of sleep is better than nothing.” But it’s not much better, because she bites (really, in her sleep) and kicks and whimpers and needs to move just the right amount every twenty minutes. Rationally, I thought I had used to sleeping next to Delta, so I would get used to sleeping cocooned around a baby. No. Not the same.

When I was in college and Facebook was a baby, there was a group called “Sleep is the new Sex.” Its officers had creative roles like “Used to do it for fifteen hours in a row,” and “Once did it right in the middle of a lecture.” If I could invent my own now, it would be “Hasn’t gotten any in over a year.”

*Captain Obvious says: “It was loud.”

**If history does repeat itself, braces are going to be the least of her junior high problems.

Roommates & Intercultural Marriage, Part I

September 16, 2011

Delta used to say that I always had one good roommate and one terrible roommate. I’ve had some great roommates. Roommates who encourage me to have a third glass of wine while we search for religious symbolism in Twilight movies. Roommates who tackled Delta and I at the same time after not seeing either of us for a whole week. Roommates who promised him I’d be drunk on my birthday.* And I’ve had some terrible roommates. Roommates who scream obscenities and leave a broken bottle of beer on the kitchen floor assuming I’ll clean it up because I’m OCD like that.** Roommates who introduce themselves to Delta’s friends in a lace tank top and boy shorts even after warnings that I’d offer Halloween imbibers a couch and then in the spirit of sleepovers invite their boyfriend to stay for the next three weeks.***

A few months after I graduated college, I found a tiny, paying-for-the-safe-neighborhood studio just four blocks south of the DC-Chevy Chase border. I had gone from a big apartment in busy Glover Park/Georgetown with two/three roommates to 400 sq feet of big windows, miniature kitchen appliances and Ikea furniture. It was a dream come true.

I thought I would never have another roommate (except Delta of course) again. Wrong. So wrong.

When I moved home, he was a few months from deploying and I was worried about my now constant fatigue and horrible PMS, I was actually six weeks pregnant. We have great timing.

When I moved home, it was home. It was my parents’ house, the room I’d shared with Rachel when we were teenagers. I started calling it ‘the apartment above the garage.’ I had my own bathroom, and since it was connected to the house with a nice little office, I had plenty of privacy. These two features became my saving grace. The only thing worse than sharing a bathroom with your new husband – boys are so gross sometimes – is sharing a bathroom with your teenage sister and brother.

When we told Delta’s parents we were planning on getting engaged, their reaction was that we would have very different expectations for marriage and family life. Fair. But my parents too – both third generation Americans – had different expectations, they both expected to make the decisions. Domestic decision-making was only a small part of what my the future in-laws meant. Slowly, little stories about his family started to unravel and reveal a very different picture of wedded bliss and child rearing than I had imagined. I came to admire their family values more and more. As the oldest child, I had responsibilities when I was growing up. My extended family is very close, especially my cousins, and we have a very strong sense of loyalty to each other. But my husband, as the oldest grandchild in his family, had much higher expectations on his shoulders. He had responsibilities to his sister, his cousins, his parents, his grandparents, and each of his aunts and uncles. His grandmother had helped to raise each of her grandchildren, moving wherever she was most needed. Raising our children would be a collective effort.

The big conversation (though I’m sure his parents didn’t realize that’s what it was) came when Delta graduated Basic Training. The three of us went to San Antonio**** to meet him, the only city in Texas I really love. His sister couldn’t leave school, so I was preparing for some very awkard silences. The first night at dinner he told his parents he’d chosen a few bases in Europe and one in Asia. The discussion that followed took me aback.

His mother could not accompany him to an OCONUS base. Delta detailed the process for getting his mother declared his dependent. “I am your dependent,” she said, “you are my son.” No, he tried to explain, we would have to get a doctor to sign a statement that you are mentally or medically unable to care for yourself and unable to make decisions for yourself.

In the Air Force, sponsor is to husband as dependent is to children; not family, children. To my in-laws, family is family, no matter the relationship.

Military wives need their sponsors’ in-person signature to lease an apartment, rent a car, open a bank account, get an change made on their ID card; no matter how capable, we are dependent in every sense of the word, even with a POA and deployment orders. When Delta left for Germany and I moved home, my in-laws were relieved. Not because they didn’t want me nearby, but because with Delta away there was no reason for me to be so far from my family – unless I wanted to pursue a Master’s degree of course.

For my parents, the ultimate goal was to release me into the world with everything I would need to be a good person and build a good life. I would be educated, kind, confident, and willing to work really hard. I would be loyal to friends and family but owe no major debts, I would be free to make my own decisions and learn from my own mistakes. It didn’t work out quite like that, but I was welcomed home with warm enthusiasm. And for the past eight months, they have been helping me raise my Baby Girl.

Delta’s mother won’t be PCSing with us, this time. But when his family visited us a few months ago, they were not shy asking about the many homes for sale in our neighborhood. I encouraged them to tell Delta we could be living in a mansion in Nebraska for half of what an average Chevy Chase apartment costs. No matter where we settle, it will have an in-law suite and at least one bedroom set aside for visiting aunts and uncles. I guess that rules out Chevy Chase apartments.

*This actually led to Delta realizing he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. Awww. More on that story some other time.

**Actually happened.

***Also actually happened.

****There are so many awkward & awesome stories from this trip.  If you ever have the chance to travel with my husband’s family, take it. Pack a pharmacy, walking shoes, and your sense of humor.

Not an exciting first

September 15, 2011

Baby Girl has been sick this week. Awful. Everyone has been warning me about teething, but she’s been perfectly fine, no crying, no biting, no pulling on her ears or at her jawbone. I was so unprepared for a virus. I should have known Baby Tailgating was too good to be true.

She was burning up (tylenol should have helped with that, but didn’t), she couldn’t nurse for more than ten minutes at a time, she couldn’t sleep unless I was rocking her (tylenol used to help her stay asleep longer,* but it didn’t). She looked at the rest of the family longingly with sad puppy eyes, she fussed when anyone else tried to give me a break and hold her.

My employer has been very supportive of the “sometimes single mom” lifestyle. I worked from home until she was almost three months old and I will work from Germany – though fewer hours – after we PCS. So this week I also worked from home. So much has changed in the last six months, let’s review:

Three-month-old (healthy) Schedule:

  • 6:00-6:30 am: nurse
  • 6:30-8:30: nap, Mama works or pays bills, make appointments, does laundry, drinks decaf, snacks, usually some combination thereof
  • 8:30-9:00: play time, Mama is distracted
  • 9:00-9:30: nurse
  • repeat until midnight, when Mama crashes into a heap and doesn’t move for six hours

Eight-month-old (sick) Schedule:

  • 6:00-6:30 am: nurse
  • 6:30-7:00: Mama tries to snuggle back to sleep, fails, change diaper
  • 7:00-7:30: Mama tries to feed herself with Baby Girl in her arms, fails, toast crumbs all over Baby Girl’s bare back and no doubt in her diaper
  • 7:30: Mama makes coffee instead. Not the good kind (that requires boiling water) but the one-cup press-a-button-kind, good enough. Baby Girl is not happy, she wants Mama to share
  • 7:35: Mama calls the office, checks email, all with Baby Girl whimpering on her chest, fail. It’s just after lunch in London and there’s a problem. Mama fixes it. Work win
  • 8:00: Mama calls the doctor (say it with me now) and the Doctor says: no more openings on the morning of – okay 10:45
  • 8:05: Baby Girl is not happy, either she wants Mama to share the phone, or she wants Mama to stop talking so she can rest
  • 8:30: Baby Girl is asleep, Mama tries to type with one hand, fails
  • 8:32: Baby Girl wakes up screaming as soon as her back hits the crib
  • 8:45-9:30: Baby Girl is calm, Mama returns to typing with one hand, rocking baby girl while balancing laptop on her knees. Emails get answered, painstakingly. Not much else is going to get done this way

As you can see, I was less productive this week. I was also exhausted. Our transition to Mama-works-from-home is going to be harder than I thought.

This is the kind of day where I get really annoyed when my roommates (read: parents) suggest, and not subtly, that any time spent in my bedroom is time spent sleeping. It’s not.

It’s spent nursing/rocking/singing/reading/praying/packing/folding/wiping/washing/laying in bed whispering “two more minutes”/laying down with one eye open and sometimes doing yoga.

This is also the kind of day where I lose control of my emotions. I hear myself thinking “one more voice is going to push me over the edge, ” and I’m not talking “of glory,” oh no. I’m talking about a Naomi-Campbell-style-burst-into-tears-and-throw-things-fit. This happened in front of my poor unsuspecting brother once, I am more careful now. I retreat into my room to cry and watch reruns and bad romcoms, which of course only serves to strengthen the roommates’ misconceptions.

But Baby Girl doesn’t judge me for joining in her chorus of sobs. She gives me a concerned look when I sob while nursing her, but not in a judging way. It’s so sweet.

*After she got shots and when she started teething, I’m not one of those “take some vitamin T” mamas, sheesh

An economy free from responsibility

September 8, 2011

Mr. Huntsman, if you’re going to run a business and create jobs, do it responsibly. Take care of your employees, take care of your community. I could consider voting for you if you would just connect the dots from your belief in science – it’s great that you use it to discredit other candidates – to environmental sustainability. Successful small business owners and entrepreneurs have higher standards for their own ethical conduct that any regulatory body requires.

Yes, America needs to invest in its own energy resources; but there is a reason we don’t let industries self-regulate:

Oops! This is a picture of Huntsman Corp in Pensacola Florida, number 80 on our 100 worst corporate polluters list from PERI.

Mr. Perry, millions of unemployed workers would accept a minimum wage job right now, but only because something is better than nothing. A family of four with two parents working full-time for minimum wage – $7.25 – is still earning $7,400 below the poverty line and still dependent on welfare programs. Eliminating the minimum wage would create poverty jobs, trapping the working poor in a cycle of dependency. It would widen our wealth gap and burden social programs. See Paul Osterman’s recent interview on creating quality jobs that will grow the economy long term.

Mr. Romney, thank you for standing up for Social Security. Thank you for reminding conservatives that we have moral responsibilities to our own. You win this round.

Also, the Economist did a great live-blog commentary. If you want a funny summary, here it is.

Paul the Republican, John the Democrat

September 6, 2011

This Sunday, I noted my last day this year to wear my favorite white/seersucker picnic skirt,* I carried my surprisingly-bright-eyed baby to church (she was a trooper yesterday), where the readings were surprisingly political.**

Romans 13:8-10

The only thing you should owe to anyone is love for one another, for to love the other person is to fulfill the law. All these: You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet, and all the other commandments that there are, are summed up in this single phrase: You must love your neighbor as yourself.*** Love can cause no harm to your neighbor, and so love is the fulfillment of the Law.

There are at least two ways to read this. A conservative would say that this does not tell us to rescue our neighbors or support them financially, only to feel compassion for them. What an easy way out. Before Paul wrote his letters, John calls the faithful out on taking the easy road:

But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:17-18)

This passage is immediately after Christianity’s most important and most quoted verse. If proximity is any indication, John’s message was for us to take this seriously.

It is not enough to empathize. Compassion is active and faith requires action.

I wanted to keep this post separate from today’s previous entry – mostly because Uncle Ron is a fiscal conservative and not a religious conservative – but they do coincide. The tension between secular cowboys and socialists also exists within the religious community. In this case, John’s readers are far more outnumbered than Democrats at a Huskers tailgate.

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*Liberals follow old Southern fashion laws too, especially sorority girls who went to school in what their husband’s fraternity brothers frequently note was south of the Mason-Dixie line.

**Maybe not that surprisingly, last week the homily was about Gospels of Prosperity and the rise of wealthy megachurches. In short: God “wants” you to use the talents he gave you to their fullest potential, not to serve yourself but others. Also, everything is political.

***Actually, the Gospels quote Jesus as saying that the most important law was the second verse of the Shema, to “love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” (Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, and Luke 10:27).

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Other Gospels also refer to Jesus’ teachings on taxes: “…Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” (Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17, Luke 20:25). This passage was used to support separation of church and state, but the intention is not just about taxes and the duties of citizens. The moral is to separate the worldly from the divine, in other words, don’t get hung up on whether or not people like you, how cool your stuff is, or how much you dislike someone else. This is the source of a major difference between Christianity and Judaism and Islam. Christianity is the only major religion gives any indication that one can keep his faith distinct from other aspects of his life (Julie Clawson wrote a wonderful article on this last week). The very idea would offend a pious Jew or Muslim, and it should offend a Christian, whether they are a Republican or a Democrat.

Cowboys and Socialists

September 6, 2011

This Saturday, a most sacred day, I dressed in head-to-toe red, applied a temporary face tattoo, put a jersey on my eight-month-old and strapped her into a carrying harness for seven hours of college football tailgating. She’s a trooper. But more on that later, this is about a unique tailgating tradition: Alpha Mama and Uncle Ron have a debate.

Uncle Ron is one of my dad’s best friends. He lives a few doors down and tailgates with us every Saturday. It should be noted that he is a true fiscal conservative, more interested in tax reduction than any other GOP talking point. Our debates have become more like a game of friendly-fire comebacks, we both know we won’t change each-others’ minds and we both know I am outnumbered in present company.

This time, all he wanted to talk about was my hero Warren Buffett’s recent tax scandal. He summarized his conservative position with the following: “We’re NOT all in this together.”

As short as American memories are, we are still trapped in the pioneer me-against-the-world mindset.

So there you have it: you either see America as a collection of competing individuals or as a community where each individual contributes to and benefits from its greater success. Even during the most unifying event my state offers – a holiday of enthusiasm, tradition and shotskis – apparently, we are all either cowboys or socialists.

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Uncle Ron and I did agree on one thing (the Texas miracle that wasn’t), illegal immigration is hindering job growth and economic mobility. We agreed that the solution is to hold employers accountable for abusing cheap and illegal labor instead of paying fair wages to American workers. Personally, I’d consider outsourcing to be in the same moral realm. Uncle Ron did not see this compromise as a Liberal win, but conservatives equate compromise with loss.