A Letter to Mrs. Obama from an American Parent

| Comments (0)

Dear Mrs. Obama:

A friend was kind enough to send me a copy of a letter you wrote to America’s parents, written, it appears, when you were busy hosting visitors from China as your husband celebrated “China’s rise,” and in the aftermath of the terrible shootings in Tucson.  Your letter, as you may recall, was written to instruct us parents to be tolerant and to teach tolerance to our children, suggesting that if we had done this, we might have prevented the Tucson shooting.

I know the past few months have been very busy for you, what with entertaining foreign dignitaries, hosting the White House Super Bowl party, taking vacations, traveling across the country for the Tucson memorial/Obama-campaign-launch event, teaching parents to prevent mass murders with tolerance, and gaining access as part of a large group of politicians to the ICU to visit Tucson-shooting victim Congresswoman Giffords.  I’m still wondering how a large group of non-family-member politicians gained that access; most hospitals are pretty stringent about ICU patient visitations.  I also don’t remember you and your husband being quite so passionate and involved when more than 40 people were shot, 13 murdered, at Fort Hood by a radical religiously-motivated shooter back in November, 2009.  But I do remember talk of tolerance; guess we parents didn’t do our job to prevent the tragedy in Tucson.

You, however, do not rest.  In your tireless efforts to make us, as your husband described, “better,” you have now taken it upon yourself to help influence and control the portion sizes served by America’s restaurants.  I believe I speak for many other American parents, who, like me, eat quite frequently in America’s restaurants and love nothing more than receiving enormous portions of food and bringing enormous boxes of leftovers home afterwards to satisfy the enormous appetites of growing active kids.  With all due respect, you need not suggest that we offer them something more in keeping with your list of preferred foods, because what and how we feed our kids is our decision, not yours.

Also our decision, and one of the most personal as a parent, is the decision to breastfeed – another issue you have taken upon yourself to promote.  I know it has been years since you were faced with that decision, and I don’t care to know what you decided, but I would imagine you know of women, who, for whatever reason, either could not or would not engage in this activity.  What is never addressed in regard to this topic is that it can be far more difficult and far greater a commitment than many women realize.  In answer to your related claim that breastfeeding prevents obesity, while plenty of scientific evidence confirms the benefs of breastfeeding on brain development, I have seen nothing linking it to long-term obesity prevention (and I have a feeling you haven’t either). 

So with all due respect, Mrs. Obama, as one of the millions of American parents you are addressing en masse with your letters, your speeches and your alleged scientific conclusions, I have done just fine on my own feeding my kids; monitoring their portions of restaurant food; and, as is my right as an American (an American who has always been proud of my country), teaching them the core values of my choice.  Indeed I know I speak for myself and millions of other American parents, when I say that we were doing just fine in this mission, long before we ever even heard of you and your husband.

I thus think your time might be better spent, not lecturing American parents on what we must do to ensure our progeny and their beliefs meet your and your husband’s particular expectations, but to concentrate instead on your own daughters.  I know nothing about your children (apart from the private information you shared about their BMI scores), and that is how it should be.  Your children and their BMI scores are, and should be, no concern of mine, and you, a self-appointed representative of the government, need not bother yourself with concerns about my children, either.

Balloon Boy Saga

| Comments (0)

October 20, 2009 | Comments

I am no fan of reality TV. Wait. Strike that. I do watch the Food Network’s cooking competitions and I admit to following Dancing with the Stars with my daughter. But I steer clear of anything that follows subjects into bathrooms, promotes vicious mind games, or records intimate and embarrassing moments, all designed not only to titillate a voyeuristic public, but also to dangle the possibility that a participant’s bathroom performance will lead to superstardom.

Despite my attempts at isolation, I remember the night I first spotted a commercial for one of those “traditional” bathroom-wallowing-type reality shows, that indicated children were now being trotted out in front of the cameras to cry, eat bugs and entrails, and/or have tantrums for the entertainment of the entire population of the United States.

Thus was born my rant that has since become all too familiar to those who know me: My hope is that someday when these kids come of age, they will sue the daylights out of their parents, the networks and the production companies that exploited them on television without their consent.

Well, last Friday, reality TV collided with publicity stunt collided with child exploitation, when a hysterical media reported that a 6-year-old was thought to be flying thousands of feet above Colorado in an experimental helium balloon. Emergency personnel rose to full alert, the military was called in, Denver Airport suspended full operation, and America watched and waited.

Hours later, the balloon floated back to earth, empty. Hours after that, the boy was found hiding in his home, allegedly terrified of punishment for setting the balloon free. Hours after that, the boy stated on national television that it was all done “for the show.” Minutes later, law enforcement kicked in. Hours after that, we learned that mom and dad, veterans of reality TV, were seeking a new gig. And, well, now with such words as “hoax” and “child protective services” flying about, things aren’t looking all that rosy for mom and dad.

Those who spent that afternoon worrying about this boy have since learned that the child apparently cut his teeth on reality TV. He was paraded repeatedly by media-hungry parents before the cameras of “Wife Swap,” YouTube, and now virtually every media outlet in the country, all “for the show,” all for an alleged parental stab at a reality show. In an odd karmic twist — and much to dad’s shock, I’m sure – the boy has now emerged the poster child for reality-TV child exploitation.

And I say, let the lawsuits begin.

Betsy Siino | Comments

Harry’s Back

| Comments (0)

July 16, 2009 | Comments

Last night my son and I attended an opening-night screening of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth installment of the legendary series much beloved by our family and just about every other family we know. We wanted to see it before all those other families started talking about it.

Now from the perspective of the morning after, I can’t stop thinking about what I saw last night – the true sign that a film has gotten under my skin. I’m sorry to say I didn’t feel this way after the previous installment — Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — (the film, not the book, of course). That time around the film makers sacrificed worthy in-depth attention to the fascinating new adult characters brought into the fold for an increased focus on the kids’ silly crushes and flirtations. How lovely that this time around they have acknowledged my disappointment and gotten everyone back on track.

With Half-Blood Prince, the film makers knew just where and how to focus the lens, capturing the perfect tenor of dark beauty and foreboding in preparation for the devastating events that we who love this story know are waiting up ahead in installment seven. The actors do all they can to take us there, as well. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) remain perfectly focused throughout, isolating themselves somewhat from their fellow students, as they take the swords that have been thrust into their hands for the singular, diametrically opposed, missions they must undertake. Even our beloved Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), his hand mysteriously burned and damaged, sheds his customary levity, when he warns the students he welcomes back for the new school year that “every day, every hour, this very minute, perhaps, dark forces attempt to penetrate this castle’s walls.”

Because I am how I am, I can’t help but make the connections and reflexively assume that somehow Dumbledore is also speaking to us beyond the darkness of that theater. I can’t help but imagine that Harry’s singular purpose mirrors the challenges that are facing those of us who happen to believe that in our own magical time, every day, every hour, dark forces are attempting to penetrate the walls of our castle, as well.

Back when the fifth Harry Potter book – Order of the Phoenix – was released, my idealistic young son was one of the millions of kids who grabbed the book still warm from the presses and devoured every word. As he neared the end he suddenly slammed it shut and threw it on the kitchen table, proclaiming he hated Harry Potter, he hated this book, he hated all the books, and he would never read them again. As Harry fans have no doubt guessed, he had reached the sad and shocking moment in that book when we lost someone near and dear, and he was not going to stand for it.

Recognizing the need for immediate intervention to ensure my son would not indeed abandon Harry, whose destiny was still two books away, I asked my own near and dear what he thought these fictional events and his very genuine reaction to them might mean. Think about what this story is, I said. Fundamentally what is it about? As each book was becoming progressively darker, more dangerous and complex, together we determined that when all was said and done, it would culminate in the ultimate battle between good and evil. And, unfortunately, I told him, I think we have to assume that these characters, these people we have grown to love so much…well, not all of them are going to survive the battle. But they would be fighting the good fight, so they would not die in vain. My son understood. He picked up the book, and he kept reading. So did I. And when I read it, I can readily think of my country’s own good fights and her own good people who have never hesitated to answer her call.

Whether found in personal musings on citizens and country, or within the pages of a well-loved book, the message of good and evil resonates, because yes, both do exist in our world, and there is no shame in acknowledging that. In fact, there is safety and security in acknowledging it.  Those of us who love Harry’s story view it as a series meant to be read, re-read and read again. I am now plowing through the books again, this time with my young daughter, knowing that very soon we will be arriving at that same shocking moment of devastating loss in book five.  We will soon thus be having that same talk I had with her brother not all that long ago, that same exploration of good and evil, courage and sacrifice, pain and loss. And she will understand just as her brother did, for it is in our DNA to understand. And it is in our DNA to be forever grateful to those who keep us safe from the dark forces we hear at this very minute rumbling outside our castle walls.

Betsy Siino | Comments