Definition… “Real Mom”?

This week in my composition courses, we’re talking about writing definition essays. I thought this would be an example of a definition essay. What do you think?

Are You a “Real” Mom?

Reprinted by author.

Reynolds AdOK. I can’t let it go. Both Sarah & Jane have been talking about motherhood for the past two posts, and I was going to move on to a different topic, but I just can’t do it. I can’t do it because there’s a larger issue here..and it’s not just about women.

I often wonder what it means to be a woman. If I’m not a mom, am I still a woman? Women who have lost their breasts, their ovaries, and other parts of the female anatomy–-are they still women?

Biologists would argue that two x chromosomes create a female human, and a woman is simply an adult human female, but women know that is not enough of a definition. What about people who were physically born as men but feel that they are women? What makes them women? Are they “real” women?

On the same vein…I think of motherhood, and perhaps motherhood is define. (Or is it? I’ll let the mothers hash that out…) For me, I can safely say that I am not a mom. I have no children, but I am sympathetic to the challenges of motherhood and sensitive to how women are portrayed.

This weekend, I was watching one of my favorite cooking channels and a commercial interrupted my program with some pie-baking tips. Normally, I skip the commercials, but I like pie and I like to bake, so I kept it on. Little did I know it would make me angry. The narrator of the commercial stated, “Real moms know how to make it perfect every time.” “It” referred to pie crust. So, basically, the ad stated that real moms make perfect pie crust “every time.”

What exactly is a “real mom”? Is there such thing as a “fake mom”? I suppose if I pretended to be a mom to one of my 23 nieces or nephews, that would make me a fake mom. But what about moms who don’t make the “perfect” pie crust? Are they fake moms? This commercial seems to imply that moms who can’t make perfect pie crusts “every time” are not “real moms.” So, what about my mom? Is she a “real mom”?

I grew up in a dairy-free household. My mom is allergic to dairy products and cannot stand the smell or sight of butter. Despite this, my mom is an excellent cook, and I grew up eating her dairy-free homemade pies, cookies, and other scrumptious meals. However, and I’m sorry mom, but I do not particularly like her pie crusts. I have discovered from making my own pies that butter makes all the difference.

This commercial did show the woman (Emily Lyon–“Reynolds Real Mom”) using butter, so that implies that the “perfect” pie crust contains butter, but since my mom did not use butter, and sometimes even burnt her pie crusts, does that mean she isn’t a “real mom”? Of course not!

I recognize this as hyperbole, but still, words matter–just ask Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D. Phrases like this get into our psyches and affect our attitudes. They pick at our over-crowded to-do-listed brain and undermine our self-worth–much like subtle images.

Of course, women are not the only ones being pressured to be “real.” There are plenty of YouTube videos and books about being “real men.” It doesn’t make it better, though…it makes it worse.

We put enough pressure on ourselves to be “perfect” or “real.” We don’t need to add to the pressure. Instead, we need to give each other a break. We need to accept our own and each others’ flaws and be kind. We need to be careful of the words we use because words really do matter.

~ K

Another Scare

This room is familiar…the couch, table, the comfortable seating—an attempt at making the waiting room look like a living room. It is nice, and it is comfortable. Even the lighting is soft…the fluorescent lighting replaced with tall lamps with soft lighting. Magazines dot every surface, and the TV murmurs. I play Words with Friends on my phone…anything to try to distract myself from the terrifying prospect of a cancer recurrence.

As a six-year survivor, I know the fear…the pain of surgery, chemo, radiation. I do not look forward to another bout. I do not want this, especially now with my insurance on the brink of termination…starting my own business…working only part time. The timing sucks. And yet, is there ever a good time for cancer?

The thoughts race in my mind: what if I die this time? What if it’s spread? What if they have to remove my breasts? What if… and the list starts over. A few days after my sister’s anniversary of her death, and I’m faced once again with the prospect of cancer.

I think of the mistakes I’ve made…the lapses in judgement and the bad choices: eating sugar, gaining weight, not exercising. This time, I will do it right. I’ll go back to my dietician. I’ll stop eating sugar. I’ll stop drinking. I’ll exercise. I’ll remember that this is a consequence. I’ll remember that my health is my top priority. I’ll remember to stop and think each time I put something in my mouth.

Then I recognize the stages of grief: I must be bargaining. Anger comes next: I don’t have time for this! Cancer again? It isn’t fair!

The nurse comes in and calls me into a private room… shit, shit, shit…but I remain calm and smile. “Sorry to keep you waiting,” she says. “No problem.” I smile. I’m kind, respectful. It’s not her fault I might have cancer again.

“The doctor is pretty confident he’s just seeing scar tissue, and we’d like to schedule a check-up in 6 months.”

“Sure. That works.”

“Sorry you had to wait so long.”

“It’s OK. No problem. I didn’t have much planned for today anyway.” Again, I smile. I feel the relief, but I ignore it, block it from surfacing.

I get dressed, glad to be going home, but feeling the burn of tears just behind my eyes. “Keep it together,” I whisper to myself.

The nurse meets me outside the dressing room and gives me two passes to the movies. Touched, I want to give her a hug, but don’t dare for fear of releasing the tears just beyond the surface.

“Thank you so much!” I say, and I go out to my car, bury my face in my hands and cry in relief and fear. Six months…it’s not that far away, and yet, there may be something evil growing in my tissue…something that can once again change my life.

I need to take a beat…take time to let things wash over me…let myself feel the fear, the relief, deal with the “what ifs,” and then I can move on. I will move on…at least for another six months when once again I’ll be in that tiny room, trying to be comfortable as my breasts are examined for cancer.

So You Want to Write a Book?

When I tell people that I’m an editor and writer, they tend to launch into their book writing aspirations, which I enjoy, but then they tend to end the discussion with the statement, “But I don’t know where to start.”

Yes, Lewis Carroll said, “Begin at the beginning,” but it’s not as simple as that.

Editors and agents want the beginning of a book to capture its audience from the first sentence and to entice the reader to continue to the end.

That’s a daunting task. So, of course, if thinking about this beginning, you’ll never begin. Rather than “begin at the beginning,” begin writing where your idea starts. You can figure out the beginning later.

Diana Gabaldon, a favorite writer of mine, speaks about “kernels.” These are small snapshots of characters, descriptions, images…short sentences that start an idea. From there, she develops these ideas into larger and longer texts. Sometimes, these ideas make it into the book, but sometimes, they hit the editing floor. That’s OK.

I repeat: THAT’S OK. Every thought you have about a book or a character or an idea does not have to end up in the book. It doesn’t meant it’s not valuable. It simply means that it’s not meant for the reader. Hold on to those pieces, though, because they could be useful in developing your character. [More on that later…]

The Oxford Comma

A recent article, first reported on the Quartz website, argued that a missing Oxford comma was to blame for a court’s ruling on overtime pay in Maine. The article explains that the list of duties ineligible for overtime pay was ambiguous because it was missing an Oxford comma.

An Oxford comma comes before the “and” in a list of three or more items. It is also known as the “serial comma.” I am a huge fan of the Oxford comma. It helps alleviate confusion. Yes, it takes up space, but when precise communication matters, such as in a legal document, then an Oxford comma is necessary.

Take this example into consideration:

If three children are left a considerable inheritance from their parents, then how should it be divided between them?

The inheritance is to be divided between Sue, Joe and Jack.

If the sentence read “equally between Sue, Joe and Jack,” then the missing Oxford comma might not matter. However, in this case, it is ambiguous whether or not the inheritance should be divided into equal thirds between the three children or if Sue should inherit 50% and Joe & Jack have to split the other half.

At a grammar conference I attended in the ’90s, the presenter argued this exact case (real or imagined, I never knew–but also mentioned here). Sue won this scenario because if Joe and Jack were meant to be considered separate entities, a comma would separate them, and it would be clear that the money should be divided into equal thirds.

Back to the modern case: the Main law reads as follows:

“The canning, processing, preserving,
freezing, drying, marketing, storing,
packing for shipment or distribution of:
(1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.”

As written, which activities are exempt from overtime pay?

Unsure? Well, the courts were unsure as well. The drivers argued that “packing for shipment or distribution” is one activity, and therefore, those drivers who are shipping or distributing should be paid overtime.

The dairy company, however, argued that “packing,” “shipping,” and “distributing” were all exempt from overtime pay.

The court ruled in favor of the drivers.

The headlines across the Internet claim a missing Oxford comma is to blame for the ruling; however, I argue that the problem is more than just a missing comma. The problem is in a lack of parallelism.

Parallelism basically means that words in succession should be written in the same format. In this case, all of the activities in the list should be written with an “ing” ending.

If all of those activities are to be considered separately, including “shipment or distribution,” then all of them should be written with an -ing ending. Therefore, the following would be correct:

“The canning, processing, preserving,
freezing, drying, marketing, storing,
packing, [shipping, and distributing] of:
(1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.”

That’s not what they wrote, however, and therefore, the drivers had a good point. By all means, use the Oxford comma, but take it the next step and use parallel structure, too. You never know when it might really matter. Of course, I argue language always matters.

~ @TheWittyOwl