Thursday, June 21, 2012

If nothing else, believe the stomach blowing

As the Jerry Sandusky trial moves into closing arguments today, we've learned that a lot of the evidence is circumstantial. There is no known physical evidence of abuse, no photographs, no fingerprints that can conclusively point to Sandusky abusing these young men.

I have believed from the beginning of the trial that Sandusky is guilty. I don't personally know anyone who thinks he is innocent. But for anyone doubting whether the victms are telling the truth, there is one detail that stands out that should change their minds--the stomach blowing.

Several of the victims testified that early on in Sandusky's grooming process, he blew on their stomachs during rough housing. This is important testimony for three reasons:

1. It's bizarre. The defense has hinted throughout the trial that all of the allegations against Sandusky are fabricated. If that were true, most of the testimony would be stereotypical parroting of what we'd expect to hear from someone making up an abuse story. But the stomach blowing is so odd and consistent in several of the victim's accounts, it has to be true.

2. It's boundary testing. Like television teenage boys who, at least on television, pretend to stretch their arms so they can put one around their date, the stomach blowing is an attempt for Sandusky to see how far he can go. Once establishing that he can get away with blowing on a boy's stomach, he can try going lower the next time. It's part of a carefully planned method that is probably the result of year's of trial and error.

3. There's no reason for it. Aside from blowing on a baby's stomach to make them laugh, I've never known anyone to have a reason to blow on another person's stomach. What's the point in doing so within the context of a normal, playful adult-child relationship?

Aside from Sandusky's character witnesses, I don't know how anyone can believe that he is not guilty. But, if nothing else changes your mind, the stomach blowing is the one detail that speaks volumes about his actions.

Monday, May 28, 2012

No Act of Ours--a documentary about how Penn State students' reacted to tragedy

Penn State graduate and documentary filmmaker Kelly Dolak is on a mission. In the aftermath of the now-infamous Jerry Sandusky scandal that erupted in November, Dolak started making regular trips to the State College area. After the charges against Sandusky were announced and the Penn State Board of Trustees removed university president Graham Spanier and football coach Joe Paterno from their posts, some of the students rioted in the streets. Although this was not representative of the student body at large, images from the riot have been replayed and dissected. The student body then came together a few days later to rally in support of the victims of sexual abuse.

Like much of the media attention that focused on Penn State, Dolak filmed the events as they unfolded. But Dolak stuck around campus after the satellite trucks pulled out to talk with the students. She captured much of the fallout and emotions that surrounded the Penn State students during those weeks and is pouring it into the documentary No Act of Ours. Though self-funded up to this point, Dolak is using the crowd-funding website Kickstarter to secure additional backing for the film, which will help pay for final production costs, including a publicist, marketing, and licensing fees. The project has a fundraising goal of $28,000 by June 15.

I spoke with Dolak this week about the film and her hopes for it. Dolak's first feature, "Postcards from Tora Bora", premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. In 2011 she produced the documentary "Our Lips Are Sealed," which is currently in festivals.

Q: You were in New Jersey when the Sandusky case broke. How quickly did you decide that you wanted to film this?

Dolak: Immediately. About an hour after I found out about it, I wanted to be down there.

Q. There are many angles that this could be told from. What made you realize that you wanted to document the student’s point of view?

Dolak: The students are thinking about this situation complexly. They were angry and wanted to protect this central father figure of Joe Paterno. To them, it was like a family member being treated badly. I think if we just sit with that and think about ‘what would we do if a member of our family was treated badly?’ we might think differently about how they reacted.

I’ve talked with students who really believe that the University stands for these high standards and some of them are let down. There’s also anger from some people who feel like the University could have done more.

Q. Have you met with any resistance to the film?

Dolak: I have encountered resistance through postings on FaceBook. Most of the conversations have been really positive, but there is a consistent backlash from some alums who feel nervous about the project. They worry that it’s critical of Paterno or the University and it’s really not. Some people feel it’s time to move on and this film might not let us.

But there are students who have told me that the media destroyed the University in 72 hours. I think it’s important to explore those feelings and give voice to what the students have to say.

Q. How much of the documentary is finished?

Dolak: I’ve shot more than 70 hours so far in seven months and have about six months to go. I’ll be following a student’s perspective as the trial moves forward and his experience being there. I’m also including interviews with lawyers, child sexual abuse survivors, and some professors.

Q. Regarding Kickstarter, have you used crowd funding before?

Dolak: I have not, but I have friends who have done Kickstarter and there have been some great successes in the film industry. I’ve backed about half a dozen projects on Kickstarter myself and it’s made me feel really good when the films have been shown in festivals and find success. You get to follow that film though that whole process, which is very cool.

Backers of No Act of Ours fall into different pledge levels and can receive recognition, signed copies of the DVD when it’s released, and exclusive updates on the project. The generosity we've received so far is truly amazing.

Q. How do you feel about everything that happened?

Dolak: I enjoyed my time at Penn State and I think it’s a great school, but I never thought that bad things couldn’t happen there. No town is immune from these things but it did surprise me. It makes me sad about how so many people’s lives have been affected.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A superhero's scar

Image provided by Alvimann

"Remember, I’m tough as the Hulk."

My tiny 5-year-old never misses an opportunity to remind me how strong he is, whether it’s carrying a heavy box or faux wrestling with me using his Hulk gloves. He leaves a trail of super hero accoutrements throughout the house, ranging from capes and books to action figures and stickers. He was Batman this past Halloween and, five months later, still dresses up to fight the bad guys he imagines lurk around our house.

But, unlike most super heroes who change their shirts to make the transformation from their mortal selves, Ryan needs only to take his off.

In the middle of his chest, where an emblazoned "S" or Spiderman logo might go, Ryan bears an 8-inch vertical scar. This scar reminds me of where Ryan was opened, four times before his third birthday, so doctors could repair his tiny heart. It reminds me of the frequent echocardiograms, holter monitors, X-rays, and daily medication that he submits to, taking it in his stride because it’s simply what he’s grown accustomed to.

It also reminds me of how fragile he is, even as he announces his superiority over the bad guys. It reminds me of his tiny size and how he is a better fit for Mighty Mouse than a bulked up comic book character.

But most importantly, it reminds me of how strong he is. Not just in the physical sense; that much is a given. Instead, I see his scar and think about the accomplishments he has already made—he has been a spokesperson for heart defect research and an inspiration for families of children with congenital heart defects. He has surprised even his doctors with his resilience and ability to weather any health crisis and come out stronger.

But then, there is also his actual lifesaving ability.

When Ryan’s father, Kirk, was 27, a routine doctor visit revealed high blood pressure. In most cases, the recommendation would simply be diet modification and exercise. But given Ryan’s medical history, Kirk’s doctor was overly cautious and recommended extra testing. Surprisingly, the tests revealed that Kirk has a heart defect along with a large aneurysm that would have burst unexpectantly within a few years. Doctors believe the aneurysm would have killed him, almost instantly, with no warning. Before Ryan was born, there was no reason to suspect that there were any cardiac problems in our family. Now, we've all been checked and Kirk is monitored closely for changes in the aneurysm.

Although Ryan knows about this, he takes it in stride as well. “Did you know I saved Daddy’s life when I was a baby?” He asks me, then, just as casually, he shifts the conversation. “Do you think I should be Batman or Spiderman when I grow up?” When I try to hug him and tell him that he’s already my Superman, he squirms and runs away. After all, there are bad guys who need to be caught.

Checking the lobster tank for bag guys. All clear!

Ryan read and approved this column, but he would like me to point out that he is now 8 and not 5.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Penn State Blue White Weekend 2012

Friday night: Blue White carnival and fireworks

Saturday afternoon: Joe Paterno statue and inside Beaver Stadium

(this guy looked just like a young Joe Paterno, even without the outfit)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Is Cabin in the Woods Over-hyped?

I do not typically like scary movies. I'm still haunted by Friday the 13th, which I saw on tape when I was about ten and VCRs were the new way to scare yourself senseless in the comfort of your own home. To this day, I can't look out a first floor window at night for fear that a crazed killer will jump up to scare me or, worse still, that he'll just be walking slowly through the yard, carrying an ax or some other instrument of death. This could be because I live in an old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere that would be a perfect setting for a horror movie. But we won't dwell on that right now or I will be up all night.

But the hype surrounding the Cabin in the Woods had me hooked. Typically, commercials for horror movies cause me to cover both my and my eight-year-old's eyes to make sure that none of the evil on the screen seeps in to our minds. But as I peeked out between my fingers at the preview for Cabin in the Woods, I caught a glimpse of Bradley Whitford. Smart, funny, former star of West Wing, Bradley Whitford. This must be a different type of horror movie, I thought. Bradley Whitford wouldn't just show up in some slasher film.

And then I kept hearing about the rave reviews--93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, three stars from Ebert. Twitter was buzzing with the "unbelievable plot twists" and "so complex, much more than a horror flick." And, finally, "You think you know what's going on, but you're totally wrong." I am a sucker for twist endings. I am still hoping to one day watch the Empire Strikes Back with someone who doesn't know the truth about Luke Skywalker's lineage. This person will be difficult to find unless he drops down out of his own space ship or he is only two years old. I am currently grooming my 8-month-old for the position.

So my husband and I went on Saturday night. I was ready to be scared senseless. I wore an oversized hoodie so I could achieve my movie-going defensive position: hood up and forward, hands tucked into the sleeves, arms folded.

The theater was packed, mostly with college students and one random guy in front of us spoking a cigarette. Clearly, he thought he was cool. Who am I to disagree?

(No spoilers follow, but if you've seen the movie, you'll know what I'm talking about.)

So the was scary, but not that scary.

Since we were in on a plot twist from the beginning, the killing seemed somewhat remote compared to other horror movies. It was certainly smarter and funnier than any other slasher films, laugh out loud funny even. But seeing some of the action unfold on a screen that Bradley Whitford was watching made it seem more like a secret military operation than a bunch of crazed lunatics.

Because of the hype surrounding the plot twists and turns, I tried to stay one-step ahead. In the beginning of the movie, I made some assumptions about what was really going on. But believing these to be too obvious, I went one, sometimes, two steps farther trying to figure out what was going on. Then it ended where I thought it would, but I had some great ideas of where they could have taken it. Contact me for Cabin in the Woods 2, okay Joss and Drew? (I know what you might be thinking if you've seen the movie, but there is always a plan for a sequel.)

Another kill-joy moment came due to my husband. This guy can pick out any celebrity voice in about five words. When the voice of the director is first heard, he leaned over and said "That's yadda yadda." He, of course, told me the real name. And it was a great name. Although it didn't provide too much of a plot twist, it was like a nice little gift to movie goers.

Several minutes later, the person behind the voice was revealed in person. Half of the audience was
audibly shocked. The other half, those under 30, had no idea who she was. I'm sure they all googled her once they left the theater.

So it was good, but I still think it was overhyped.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Kids in the car

I was prompted to write this post after reading on Lenore Skenazy's FreeRange Kids site.
Skenazy details a recent story of a mom who left her children alone in a her car for five minutes while she ran into a store. When she came out, there were policeman at her car and she is now being charged with child endangerment. There is, of course, a lot more to the story, but you can read about it over there.

The truth is, sometimes, I do it too. Only in extreme circumstances or in very safe environments. When I pick up my son from school, my 8 month old is usually asleep. She has a horribly running nose that is aggravated by cold, windy air, of which we have a lot.

Since I can pull right up to the school, I look the doors and leave her in it for the five minutes it takes me to claim my boy. The car is in my sight the whole time.

I know she’s safe, but I worry more that a nosy mom will see my baby and complain about it, to me or other moms. I don't want to be labelled as a bad mom, but sometimes it just makes more sense to do it this way.

I would never, however, leave them in front of, say, Target, while I do some shopping. That would be too risky, not so much of a bad person getting them but of the police showing up and charging me with neglect.

The very first time I left my kids in the car was an all-around disaster. As I was picking my son up from school, I got a call saying that my husband had been rushed to the hospital with a potential heart attack. My son hadn't eaten much lunch that day and was begging me to take him to Burger King, which was on the way. Since we didn't know how long we would be at the hospital, I obliged.

This antique Burger King in State College doesn't have a drive-through, believe it or not. And I was in too much of a hurry to drag in two kids, one sleeping in a carseat. So I parked in the space directly in front of the doors, locked the car from the outside, got the food, and was back out in about four minutes.

My son, who usually has to be prompted to pitch in and lend a hand, decided to unlock and open the door for me. From the inside. Which set off the car alarm. My minivan believed it was being stolen.

I thought the car probably wouldn’t start, but it fired right up when I put in the key. But the alarm still continued. We drove about a mile with the alarm blaring before it finally shut off. My son was upset and thought the police would come after us thinking we had stolen it--although really, when was the last time you saw a frazzled mom and two kids jack a Honda Odyssey while eating Burger King.

In any case, the police didn't come after us. In fact, no one really paid any attention to the crazies driving the screaming minivan. Which makes me wonder, why do we even have car alarms? They go off at inappropriate times and nobody checks on them anyway. They certainly won’t do any good even if there were kids inside who needed help, because those kids would likely hit the floor and cry from the loud noises.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The incorrect, but popular, method of bringing a child back home.

It could happen
(This photo provided by jusben)
Ryan likes to test me by running away. Like most 2-year-olds with six months experience, he's very good at it. He slinks away from my side, usually to look at something innocent like a butterfly or a blade of grass at the far end of our yard. I allow this because not doing so would stifle his independence and his natural curiosity. But, once he realizes he has some distance between us, he starts to s-t-r-e-t-c-h that distance out slowly as if there is a rubber band connecting us and he's seeing how far it will go.

I react in one of two methods. The preferred method, of course, is to firmly tell him to come back. This works once in a while, especially if I have something valuable nearby to bait him with, like gummy snacks or a bumblebee. But usually, he continues to watch me as he takes sideways steps away. Although he's good about staying on the sidewalk, there is always a chance that he will make a break for the street and I know that at that moment an 18-wheeler or a derailed train will hurtle itself down our quiet neighborhood street and strike him. Worse still, and more realistic, a passing car could recklessly hop the curb and get him. Although I realize this could happen with me standing next to him, my mother-bear mentality tells me that I would be able to stop the errant vehicle and save my boy.
But, after exhausting my attempts to get Ryan to come back, including counting to three, threatening a time-out, and using the old standard "I'm leaving, goodbye," the possibility of Ryan being struck dead forces me to rely on the second method and last resort in getting a child to come back to his mama.
I run after him.
Running, of course, is just what he wants me to do. Like most moms, I lose all credibility and authority when I run, especially when he also starts running and I end up chasing him down our block, passed the neighbor's houses and the playground crowded with teenagers across the street. I have never been much of a runner. As a high school field hockey goalie, most of my running occurred wearing large leg pads, forcing me to run with my legs somewhat apart. Fifteen years later, my husband confirms that I still run like this and likens me to Chilly Willy anytime I move faster than a light jog.
I'm convinced Ryan knows this and that's why he runs. He looks over his shoulder at me, laughing, and suddenly we've gone from Mother and Son to two crazy people running down the sidewalk sharing a good time. When I catch up to him, it's impossible to compose myself and give him the stern lecture he deserves. On a good day, I scoop him up without speaking, carry him back to the house, and plop him in his timeout chair. But most of the time, I start laughing before I get to him, which causes him to laugh harder, and we collapse to the ground together in a fit of giggles.
This is, of course, not the right way to do things. But I know that way too soon, Ryan will be able to run much faster than me. I won't be able to catch him and he won't want me to. So for now, I run.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rick Santorum is a dangerous madman, part 1

When I was pregnant, a routine ultrasound discovered a heart problem with my son. The doctors recommended an amniocentesis to look for Downs Syndrome or any other genetic problems that can be related to the heart. We wanted this information so we could get ourselves, and our healthcare providers, prepared for whatever issues our child could be facing.

If Rick Santorum has his way and eliminates amnios as an insurance-covered procedure, thousands of women would have to forgo the test, unless they are able to pay out-of-pocket. But the cost of an amnio ranges from $500-$1000, a hefty sum, especially for a pregnant woman.

In my case, the amnio confirmed that there were no genetic problems. I was relieved and focused on finding the best care for my son. Without the test, I would have spent the remainder of my pregnancy wondering what else might be wrong with my baby. Instead, I met with surgeons and made treatment decisions knowing that we already had complete knowledge of what we were dealing with.

Rick Santorum sees amniocentesis differently:

"Amniocentesis does, in fact, result more often than not in this country, in abortion." Santorum during a CBS News interview in February.


"The bottom line is that a lot of prenatal tests are done to identify deformities in utero, and the customary procedure is to encourage abortions." Santorum on Face the Nation.

The fact-checking site, PolitiFact, proved that these statements are actually false.

It's true that some women may have an abortion after receiving the results of an amnio. That's their right. But many women get the results, find out about a problem like Downs, and use the next few weeks as a time to educate themselves about what to expect. They find resources and support groups that can help. They use the time to reframe their ideas about parenthood and have a chance to mourn the loss of the child they expected while preparing to embrace their special baby.

Rick Santorum would take that away from most women because some may abort. He would punish us all to prevent other women, who may have a horrible prenatal diagnosis, from getting an abortion.

You might also be interested in reading Rick Santorum is a dangerous madman, part 2, which details how Santorum insults and alienates ethnic groups.

Rick Santorum speaking to students at Valley High School in West Des Moines, Iowa. Photo by Gage Skidmore

Sunday, March 18, 2012

How I spoiled a 60-mile car nap with a candy raid

It was only 7:00pm, just 10 minutes in an hour-long drive, and Ryan was already nodding off quietly in his car seat. To some people, mostly people without kids, a child sleeping peacefully in the backseat is a sweet picture. But to the parent of a preschooler, it’s the sign of a sleepless night and a child who is squirreling away his energy.
Photo by Paul Anderson, Morguefile

Before a child hits 3, car sleeping is so wonderful that many of us plan our day around them. When my son was younger, I believed that a car nap was worth twice as much as a nap in his crib. I took the long way to Target—the detour through quiet farm land that added five miles to the trip, but also allowed for 20 minutes of peaceful toddler slumber.

But when a kid turns 3, car naps become the enemy. A scant 10 minutes asleep in the backseat means a long night of extra drinks of water, a third or fourth reading of Brown Bear Brown Bear, every potty excuse in the world, and the likelihood of a bleary eyed child who falls asleep on the couch with a blanket over his head so he can't watch CSI: New York (okay, maybe that’s just in my house). A car nap means that Ryan impedes on my time, that brief hour before my bedtime when I can watch grown-up TV, pay bills, and catch up on email.

And that’s how I ended up at a road side quickie mart midway between Pottsville and the tiny town of Womelsdorf at 7:10, encouraging Ryan to pick out a sugar filled snack much to the bemusement of fellow travelers. Only five minutes into trip home from Nana’s house, Ryan asked for his blankie, a sure sign that sleep was imminent. The thought of him nodding off nearly brought me to tears as I considered the laundry and writing I had waiting for me at home, neither of which is conducive to a preschooler’s demands.

I tried the standard options—opening the windows to blast him with fresh air, playing “find the red car,” and putting on his favorite CD of Noggin tunes, all to no avail. He was dropping into the car sleep position—head cocked to the left and propped up by the comfortable head rest of his car seat. His quick disinterest told me that this was the time to call in the big guns, to break all the rules of parenting for the sake of keeping him awake long enough to get him to bed at a normal time.

“Do you want candy?” I asked as we pulled into the quickie mart. This couldn’t just be a quick snack, it had to last long enough to hold his interest and keep him occupied for at least half of our trip.

I fished three dollars out of my pocket, surely enough to buy a snack and, if lucky, a diet soda for mom. We paced the short four aisles of the store as I pointed out great snacks like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Big Mouth suckers. Other people in the store looked at me like I was mad as I offered Ryan Milky Ways and even ice cream cups. I was willing to take the hit on the messy car seat if it made him happy and kept him awake.

We finally settled on a bag of M&Ms, a perfect snack filled with sugar and individual pieces that had to be dug from the bottom of the bag, both tricky and time consuming for a preschooler. I even had enough left over for my soda.

As we climbed back into the car, a motorcycle pulled up next to us. The sheer excitement of this encounter alone probably would have kept Ryan awake for the rest of the trip. We made it home awake and full, both of us, as Ryan foraged out the yellow M&Ms and handed them up to me. It wasn’t the best example of parenting, but sometimes the best memories are made from breaking the rules a bit, as every time we drive by that quickie mart Ryan reminds me of the time we stopped for a whole bag of M&Ms and I’m reminded of the time I outsmarted the car nap and got a good night’s sleep.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Rick Santorum is a dangerous madman, part 2

New Yorkers—The next stop on Rick Santorum’s alienation tour

I don’t know what shocks me more—Rick Santorum’s beliefs or the fact that, as someone who needs to win over voters, he feels it’s a good idea to share his ideology, even when it trivializes and belittles whole groups of people.
I am, by no means, a political expert. But I imagine that most politicians try to encourage voters by befriending them and making nice, so-to-speak. As Santorum blazes a path of prejudice across the country, I’m surprised there is any one left who hasn’t been offended by him at some point during his campaign.
Since his feelings about women and gays are well-documented and will likely be the focus of a future blog post, I’m skipping them for now. Instead, here is a rundown of the communities who should think twice before voting for Santorum.

**UPDATE: I was barely finished this blog post when Rick Santorum gave me more material. Santorum was in Puerto Rico to campaign, but he also shared his thoughts on what Puerto Rico needs to do to become a state. Although Puerto Ricans, as a whole, are divided about where or not they even want to become a state, Santorum let them know that they need to speak English before joining the United States. "As in any other state, (Puerto Rico) should comply with this and every other federal law -- and that is that English must be the main language.”

The problem is, there is no federal law that lists English-speaking as a requirement for become a state. Perhaps this is one of Santorum’s own laws. Who knows, there could be ten more arbitary laws just waiting to hit the books if Santorum is elected.**

New Yorkers—just last week in an interview, Santorum stated that the reason he gets criticized for his value-based ideals is because of "the media, who live in the New York area. Because they don't know anybody or very few people who share those values, so they just assume the rest of the country is like them." I know plenty of New Yorkers with strong values, even ones who are in the media.
Black people—Santorum recently said that he doesn't want "to make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money." Interesting that he singled out black people as recipients of government aid since, statistically, there are more non-blacks receiving welfare. Santorum, for the record, addressed these remarks. He would like us to believe he actually said “blah” people. But he didn't, he said “black”.
Protestants—speaking to a Catholic audience in 2008, Santorum said that "Protestantism in this country, and it is a shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it." I'm not even entirely sure what that means, but it's obvious that Santorum is not a big fan of Protestants.
Muslims—when asked about profiling in November 2011, Santorum indicated the act should be done to "the folks who are most likely to be committing these crimes. If you look at -- I mean, obviously, it was -- obviously, Muslims would be -- would be someone you'd look at, absolutely."
The only people left who might vote for Santorum seems to be white, male Catholics. Sooner or later though, Santorum is sure to support a bill banning Viagra since its main purpose is to aid erections which, like contraception, is "a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be."

You might also be interested in Rick Santorum is a dangerous madman, part 1, which explains why he's stand on amniocentesis and abortion is wrong. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mama Never Told Me takes a fun stab at advice-givers

I vividly remember gazing at my newborn about two days after I delivered him when the nurse startled me by asking "Do you think you’ll have more?"
More? I thought. I haven’t even brought this one home yet so let’s see how it goes.
Author and Mom Emily Van Do understands. "As soon as I was on my way out of the hospital, I was hit with 'when's the next one?'" Van Do recalls. "I don't know if it was the pain killers or the fact that I just went through a day of labor, but I was off my game! I wasn't expecting to be confronted with such a crazy question so soon."
This question and others like it laid the groundwork for the second book in Van Do’s Mama Never Told Me series. The first book, published in 2009, revealed some of the unbelievable comments that a pregnant woman hears on a regular basis, mostly about her weight and obvious body changes. The second book covers similar ground while including comments that surprise many moms due to their almost-confrontational manner. Take, for example, the random mom we’ve all encountered on the playground who brags that her daughter spoke in full sentences at six months. Meanwhile, your own six-month old is happily making goo-goo noises.
Van Do has found a simple way to address these one-upping moms. "I mention in the book that I mostly tell people 'I am clearly an inadequate mother...'" Van Do says. "I notice that people will tend to feel almost sorry for me because it looks like I'm being so hard on myself. At the end of the day, you have to know that it's the mom who is bragging about her kid who has those insecurity issues."
In Van Do’s life, well-meaning neighbors showed up with advice based on old wives' tales (when was the last time a doctor recommended rubbing whiskey on a teething child’s gums?) and playground parents offered what can only be considered plain-old bad advice—such as "Germs are healthy for babies" while her toddler is spotted eating dirt.
Van Do slaps each of these bad-mannered comments on her pages and pairs them with quirky illustrations. The new mom in the book remains silent on every page, but we know what she’s thinking and can imagine what she—or we—might say in response to some of the crazy quotes.
Both Mama Never Told Me books are fast and fun reads for moms on both sides of the delivery room. And we can expect to see more in the series as Van Do’s acquaintances, and even perfect strangers, continue to offend and blindly advise her. But it’s all just material for the next book.

Both books in the Mama Never Told Me series are available through and Author Emily Van Do can be followed on Twitter at @mamanevertoldme.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sixteen years later, we're still debating "Ironic"

An online writing group where I hang out was discussing the meaning behind Alanis Morissette's 1996 song "Ironic" earlier today. A poll posted by Word Snooper Lexie Kahn got our attention when she asked "what irks you more: people who use 'ironic' when they simply mean coincidental or when dictionaries provide both the traditional and misused form of the word."   

This naturally prompted us writerly types to debate whether the song actually does show irony or if it simply offers examples of bad luck. The group was divided on the topic, with just about equal writers on board that the song does, in fact, show irony while others said "no way" (I should mention, though, that it’s a small group).

Take, for example, the man who was afraid to fly but ultimately met his demise in a plane crash. That sucks, but there's not much irony there. Had he been driving across the country in order to avoid taking a plane to his destination, only to have a plane crash into him in his car…now, that would've been ironic. A black fly in your chardonnay? That sucks, too, but it's not very ironic. Of course, a song about things that suck isn't very catchy and probably wasn't what Alanis Morissette was going for.

I've always been a big fan of Alanis and I consume her songs as fast as she can put them out, so I want to give her the benefit of the doubt. I like to think that she was being ironic by naming a song "Ironic" when it had no actual irony. Isn’t that ironic? Don't you think?

This totally ironic photo above is from Jeremy Wrenn.

Wash your hands, damn it!

(this article originally appeared in the February 6 issue of the Harrisburg Patriot News)
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that only two out of three people wash their hands after using the restroom.

This leaves approximately a third of the public with dirty hands. Non-hand washers spread their own germs, as well as other bacteria they pick up from bathroom surfaces, and deposit them onto doorknobs, railings, countertops, and any other surface they touch.

At least one non-hand washer was in our area recently. I know this because my 2-year-old son Ryan came down with rotavirus. The rotavirus infection causes severe diarrhea accompanied by vomiting and fever. Because of the extreme dehydration that accompanies rotavirus, more than 50,000 U.S. children are hospitalized each year.

The frustrating part is that this virus can only be spread through fecal contamination. So someone who came in contact with the infected germs, either from themselves or from an infected surface, carried the germs into a public place where Ryan picked it up.

Ryan’s father and I are meticulous, almost compulsive, about hand washing. We wash our hands after every shopping trip, every gas fill-up, every time we shake hands with someone. We wash Ryan’s hands just as frequently and sanitize the surfaces he comes in contact with at restaurants or on shopping carts. We take these precautions because Ryan was born with a severe heart defect. He has already survived two open-heart surgeries and will have at least one more.

Because of the stress already on Ryan’s body, a typical bug hits him harder than a healthy child. A common cold can last three weeks. During his recent bout with rotavirus, Ryan needed an IV and spent several hours in the emergency department. The loss of fluids and lack of appetite made him lose two pounds in just four days—almost ten percent of his body weight. All of this could have been avoided if someone had washed their hands.

The incubation period for rotavirus is 48 hours. Ryan’s limited exposure to other children allows us to make an educated guess about where he picked up the germs. Although I used antiseptic wipes on the table at a family restaurant two days before he got sick, Ryan played with the salt and pepper shakers, which were not cleaned. We also visited a zoo where Ryan touched glass displays. Either of these seemingly innocent events likely put him in contact with the rotavirus germs. Most likely, someone used a restroom, picked up feces from themselves or a surface, didn’t wash their hands, and contaminated another surface.

The CDC and the Procter and Gamble Corporation recently released a study showing that proper hand washing can reduce diarrhea-related illnesses by more than 50 percent in children under 15. This same study also proved that hand-washing drastically reduces pneumonia in children under 5.

But with such an easy solution, why are infectious diseases still spreading so quickly? Perhaps it is because some people are not spending enough time washing their hands. The CDC offers the following tips on proper hand-washing:
  • Rinse hands thoroughly and apply soap. Make sure to get the soap in all areas, especially under the nails and in the knuckles.
  • Rub hands together for at least 10-15 seconds. Children can hum a song, such as Happy Birthday, to mark the time.
  • Rinse well and dry. If you’re in a public restroom, use a paper towel to both turn off the faucet and open the door to exit. This will prevent you from picking up the germs on those surfaces.
If we all work together, we can easily prevent illnesses from spreading through our community and we can help kids like Ryan stay out of the emergency department.

State Pattys Day--keep the name change the meaning

My latest column, State Patty's Day--keep the name, change the meaning, is at Here's a preview.

State Patty's Day began innocently enough as a small group of friends celebrating St. Patrick's Day together before leaving town on spring break. They never planned, nor could they have imagined, that it would become the drinking festival that it is today.

Last year alone, the now infamous weekend was the scene of 234 arrests and 14 DUIs, according to data released by police. Just more than 100 partygoers who couldn’t hold their liquor ended up at Mount Nittany Medical Center. There was property damage, public urination and assaults. Though the majority of those arrested were from other universities, the negative publicity still fell on the Penn State community.

But this year is different. This has been a year like none other in Penn State's history. A small group of students and residents have already generated a decade’s worth of negative publicity.

Last weekend at THON, the Penn State community came a long way in restoring the pride and tradition of its name. The students were able to raise more than $10 million for the Four Diamonds Fund to help in the fight against pediatric cancer. The dancers and other participants were selfless, noble, and, well, amazing.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

THON photos--Saturday afternoon

A Wookie from the 501st meets a fan.

Still going strong around 1:00pm.

A THON display in the concourse.

Obi Wan and Darth Vader stand united against pediatric cancer.

Some of the activity tables down on the floor.

Friday, February 17, 2012

THON photos--Friday night

This is THON weekend in State College, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, that culminates it's year-long fundraising efforts with a 46-hour no sitting, no sleeping dance marathon.

All money raised though THON, more than $78 million, goes to support The Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital. The Four Diamonds Fund provides assistance to families of children with cancer and funds research to find a cure.

Don't know what THON is? Check out this page.

The 2012 THON logo high above the Bryce Jordan Center.

The men's basketball team and coach Pat Chambers lead a "We are..."

One of the first line dances of the weekend, around 7:00pm.

Check back tomorrow...better and more photos coming soon.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Other things: Co-sleeping and togetherness

I also write lots of non-Penn State material and am starting to share it here along with my PSU thoughts.

(This essay originally appeared on NPR's This I Believe via WPSU FM.)

It's a hot night and my six-year-old’s room doesn't have a fan. Since my husband has a cold and is in the guestroom, Ryan is bunking with me. Truth be told, Ryan ends up in our bed for at least a few hours most nights.

Sometimes he starts in his own room and crosses into ours after a bathroom visit. Sometimes he finds an excuse to start out with us. Scary shadows, upset tummy, a vague pain in his leg that's only cured by snuggling. Or, when he really wants to pull on our heartstrings, it's because he loves us and wants to be close. He knows all the tricks and so do we.

The funny thing is, almost all of our friends admit they also let their children into their bed on a regular basis. But this is always confessed in hushed tones with a certain amount of embarrassment. The parenting magazines and even our own pediatricians tell us not to do it. We're bombarded by experts advising us to let our children cry themselves to sleep if needed. They'll be better off in the long run.

But making children sleep alone is a uniquely Western experience. In many countries, parents invite their children to share the bed until they’re comfortable enough to sleep on their own. Those countries, and those children, turn out just fine. A British child-rearing expert recommends parents and children sleep together until the child is at least five. Her recommendation is backed by a study that shows an increase in stress hormones found in children sleep alone.

But regardless of the research or current trends, it really all comes down to what's right for our family. I could put Ryan back in his bed when he wakes up, but it would be a struggle that could last for hours and no one will get any sleep. Am I giving in? Sure, but there will come a time in the next few years when his bedroom door stays shut, probably with a sign that reads private or no parents allowed. Right now he still sees us as his heroes, as the ones who can solve most of his problems with a hug and a good book.

So I don't mind when he squeezes his 44-inch frame into our small bed and sleeps sideways, his head on my back and his legs on his dad. No one gets a perfect night's sleep, but it doesn't matter. What does matter is that he feels safe and loved.

I believe that you can't show a child too much love and that you need to do it while they let you.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A fair trial with Centre County jurors? Of course

The Attorney General's office seems to have a misguided and incorrect understanding of the residents of Centre County. In the motion requesting that an out-of-county jury be brought in for the Sandusky trial, the AG states:

"The citizens of Centre County feel a laudable and proper sense of ownership of, and participation in, the fortunes of Penn State. To ask members of that community to breakdown that alloy and insulate themselves from the institution which informs so many aspects of their lives is asking too much. It is unfair and impracticable."

I'm not sure how the AG came to this idea, but the implication is that since this is Penn State-related, a Centre County jury would find it difficult to keep their Penn State loyalties separate from their feelings towards Sandusky. I guess this could go either way--a jury might be prejudiced toward a guilty plea because of what this has already done to the University or they might feel loyalty toward Sandusky because of his football years.

I think either of these scenarios is unlikely. There is very little, if any, positive feelings toward Sandusky around town. Most people I talk to believe that he is guilty on at least some of the charges and blame him for the negative media attention to our town and for the firing of Joe Paterno.

On the other hand, I think residents of Centre County would like Jerry Sandusky to be innocent. Not just found "not guilty" but to actually be innocent. There has been so much negative publicity devoted to painting the community as a football-obsessed group of child abuse-enablers, we'd like nothing more than to find out it was all fabricated, much like the Duke lacrosse scandal.

Sadly, though, I don't expect that to be the case.

The judge's ruling on whether or not to grant the change of venire should be coming in the next few days, if not hours. I hope the judge decides to have a local jury...the alleged crimes were committed here, it's only fair that a local jury should hear the case.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Paterno statue memorial photos--part 2

I found out after I posted my first group of photos that the Beaver Stadium staff, with permission from the Paterno family, removed all the items from the statue and took them inside the stadium to dry off. I'm lucky I got these when I did, as I had been wanting to stop by for several days.

I guess this is what happens to Peachy Paterno ice cream after getting rained on and sitting outside for a few days.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Paterno Statue January 31, part 1

I stopped by the Paterno statue yesterday afternoon and was surprised to see how much it had grown. The amount of foot traffic is impressive, I probably saw about forty people come and go during the twenty minutes that I was there.

Many of the items being placed at the statue are wrapped in plastic now to protect against rain and snow. Some of the original items from last week are hard to read, but there are plenty of new ones to take their place. Many of these items are carefully constructed collages, autographed hats, and framed posters that have obviously been cherished for years. It speaks volumes about how loved Paterno is that fans are willing to part with these items.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Paterno funeral procession

Taken around 2:30 when the sun was still shining.

Crowd gets much thicker at 3:00.

Joe's hearse passed the stadium around 4:25.

Joe's family rode across campus in a football bus.

The JoePa statue after the funeral profession.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Paterno window tributes in State College

I walked around Downtown State College today to take photos of the storefront windows that are decorated for Joe.

*ndulge cupcake boutique at 206 West College had some tough words for the BOT.

Found outside New Leaf Initiative, 100 South Fraser.

Old Main Frame Shop, 136 East College

Above and below are from the side wall of the Deli, 113 Heister St.

Entrance to the Lion's Pride at 112 East College. The writing is hard to see but it says "Make an impact" and "We love & miss you, Coach"

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Paterno Statue January 22, 2012

What a horrible, emotionally draining weekend for the Penn State Family.

I went to the JoePa statue tonight around 7:00. I had resisted going all day, but when it got dark I could see the light shining from Beaver Stadium at my house. The low cloud cover made it look almost ethereal and I couldn't help but check it out.

Despite it being a damp 28 degrees, they're were a few hundred people there paying respects, surrounded by about 20 news trucks. Below are a few photos I took with more to come later.

His shirt reads: Thank you for the many great victories and the championships you helped win. For your giving dedication, and for what you helped make my University. For the white socks, the black shoes, the cheers, and the memories. Good luck and God bless.