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.