beware of “mama grizzlies”

Regular visitors to my blog are well aware of my fear of bears, especially the ones roaming around my community looking for food. Fortunately these are black bears foraging for berries and garbage scraps, not people. I’m told, thankfully, that grizzlies don’t inhabit our area. I hope this behavior is not altered by future environmental changes, or I might have to move back to Hawaii, where bears are behind bars, in zoos. So why on earth would I be drawn to a “mama grizzly,” unless I was a baby grizzly hungry to be fed? 

Where I might have found Sarah Palin and Christine O’Donnell “curiosities,” now my gut instinct is to slowly back away from them, eyes lowered so as not to encourage their wrath. According to Lisa Miller in her recent Newsweek article “Hear Them Growl,” “A mama grizzly is a conservative woman with ‘common sense,’ as Sarah Palin puts it, someone who ‘rises up’ to protect her children when she sees them endangered by bad policies in Washington. She is fearless, and that, in combination with her femaleness, makes her scary–a new kind of political predator. She will take on any foe and, the implication is, rip him or her to shreds.” On her Facebook page, Palin asserts ‘Mama bears not only (forage) for themselves to prepare for winter, they (work) twice as hard to slay salmon for their cubs, too.’

There’s a pervading sense of “me-ism” in grass-roots politics, Palin’s brand of governing, best expressed by Nevada’s Senate candidate, Sharron Angle in June’s National Review, ‘ Don’t get between me and my cubs, or you’ve got trouble.’ On its face, the sentiment is commendable, but it seems to reflect a deeper philosophy that there is nothing Angle won’t do to preserve her family unit. The implication is that all American mothers should feel likewise. My concern is for those mothers who are “broken” financially, emotionally, physically, mentally, like my mom was. Who helps these mothers? Who helps them help their families?

It would be nice if every community had an orphanage run by Maryknoll nuns, making donations of used clothing and a surplus of powdered eggs and milk, to single mothers raising their families. My impoverished mom was fortunate to have these “angels” hovering around, helping her care for her 9 children. But these days the Catholic Church has its hands full, defending itself against allegations of pedophilia among its rank and file. And for the most part, nuns are now figments of our imagination, ghosts from a bygone era. Charitable organizations, as a whole, are finding it difficult to remain afloat during the currently depressed economy. So where do those existing on the fringes of society go to survive? 

With few exceptions, the grizzlies have been disinterested in the issues and policies that their political opponents say are good for children–despite new numbers from the census showing that rising numbers of America’s children are poor. Most of these candidates have vowed to fight to repeal President Obama’s health-care plan, for instance, and Bachmann (Minnesota’s congressional incumbent) and Haley (South Carolina’s gubernatorial candidate) have taken  special aim at CHIP, a federal program aimed at helping low-income kids get health insurance. In 2001, as a member of Nevada’s state Assembly, Angle voted no on a domestic-violence bill that would recognize restraining orders issued in other states. In 2007 Haley, a state representative, voted against a measure that would have created a kindergarten program for at-risk kids. As governor of Alaska in 2008, Palin slashed funding for Covenant House that included resources for teenage mothers. In 2009 Bachmann voted no on a bill that would give federal employees four weeks of paid parental leave.

Palin, Haley, Bachmann, Angle, and O’Donnell all declined to comment for this story. (Most grizzly candidates regard the mainstream press as the enemy.)

I agree with Angle’s friend and head of the Washoe County, Nevada GOP, Heidi Smith in that ” ‘When people don’t have jobs, they don’t have food, …There’s a loss of self-respect if you can’t provide for your family … ‘ But I’m not as comfortable with her statement that ‘The less amount of government interfering with family life, the more families can prosper,’…” Nor do I agree with Haley’s friend and president of the South Carolina Policy Council, Ashley Landess, who concurs with Smith and adds ” ‘Children are the most stable and most protected when their parents are able to provide for them,’ …” What happens to those of us, born and bred in this country, who don’t have parents to provide for us? Or whose parents can’t provide for us? Are we exported to some third world country to blend in with “our own kind,” vanishing from the collective American psyche forever?

If the grizzlies are united by an anti-establishment fury rooted in maternal concern, then it’s fair to ask what their records show they’ve done for kids. Not just their own kids–but for America’s kids, and their families as well. Even some Republicans wonder whether all the fearsome roars are merely election-year antics with little substance. ‘ ‘Mama grizzlies’ has a  catch to it, and you save your cubs–but what they’re lacking is solutions,’ says former Republican congresswoman Connie Morella. ‘They want to take their country back. Back to where?’

As the saying goes, “Be careful what you wish for.” I used to say mothers should rule the world. I guess I was looking in the mirror at the time, imagining women who share my perceptions of life and humanitarian attitude. But even more, I assumed they’d “bring more to the table,” like broader life experiences, higher education or greater aptitude for knowledge, more management skills, greater business acumen. Perhaps I was envisioning someone like Michelle Obama.

Gut instinct and common sense resolutions work in managing my household. But there are so many more layers to governing masses of people. So I’m not in alignment with whom Palin “…was soon anointing mama grizzlies… When she endorsed Arkansas congressional candidate Cecile Bledsoe on Facebook, Palin explicitly referred to her as part of a growing list of “commonsense conservative ‘mama grizzlies.’ ” I’m for environmental responsibility, but I have no clue how to proceed, no matter how much gut instinct and common sense I might muster up. So if experts advocate conserving energy, I will do my best to follow their advice. In some corner of my brain, I understand the need for “living within one’s means.” But in our household my husband balances the checkbook and pays the bills. I’ve learned that I have a low threshold for anxiety, and have difficulty wrapping my brain around mathematical calculations. Why then would I want to relinquish the government purse strings to women who are unable to manage their own home finances?

Haley, who has two children…is just the sort of pro-business, low-tax, limited-government conservative Palin loves. Her platform is focused mostly on economic issues: creating jobs and unleashing entrepreneurial energy by slashing taxes. She holds herself out as a paragon of fiscal responsibility (never mind that she and her husband have failed to pay their taxes on time in each of the past five years).

O’Donnell, too, preaches fiscal responsibility on behalf of children, but hers is a tougher case to make. According to the Wilmington, Dela., News Journal, O’Donnell defaulted on her student loans, as well as on her mortgage. Aside from running quixotic campaigns for the U.S. Senate, O’Donnell hasn’t had a real job since 2004. Meanwhile, the nonpartisan watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has filed complaints with the Delaware U.S. attorney and the Federal Election Commission, alleging that O’Donnell embezzled $20,000 in campaign funds ‘to cover her personal expenses’ and committed tax evasion by not claiming those funds as income. ‘If what you’re doing is sending someone to Washington to cut the deficit, why on earth send someone who can’t manage her own finances?’ says the former Republican governor of New Jersey Christine Todd Whitman. ‘How does that give the voters a level of confidence?

O’Donnell’s response ‘I think the fact that I have struggled financially is what makes me so sympathetic.’ reminds me of Depression-Era’s John Dillinger.

John Dillinger has gone down in history as a pseudo ‘Robin Hood’ character, a gangster with charm and style who was more idolised by the public than reviled. His life has been recounted in many movies, particularly the film-noir gangster films of the 40’s. In a case of life imitating art-imitating life, Dillinger, who is said to have modeled himself on Hollywood stars like Errol Flynn – for instance leaping over counters- was himself a character whose eventful life influenced the pictures, especially as the archetypal good-guy hood.

But the truth about Dillinger is more prosaic; that he was simply criminally intent on making as much money illegally rather than having been pre-occupied with Joe Public during the Depression years. Gunned down by the FBI while leaving a Biograph cinema, even his death has helped fuel a mythology about this good-looking, charismatic crook, who is as famous for his love life as he is for the banks he fleeced.

 I have difficulty acquiescing with other stances taken by these “mama grizzlies.” With regards to abortion, “Angle’s views are harsh: when asked by a radio interviewer in June what she’d tell a young girl who’d been raped by her father, Angle responded, ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right,’ and that the girl should turn ‘a lemon situation into lemonade.’ ” Sounds like some nonsense a Stepford Wife would utter in her fairy tale world. Tom Pritchard, president of the Minnesota Family Council has said of Bachmann, ” ‘Michele’s view is that parents are the ultimate educators and should call the shots,’ …” Meanwhile she “has voted against funding early childhood education, student-retention measures, and school modernization.” And as a state legislator, Angle “fought the conventional wisdom that kids have different learning styles. She introduced two bills that mandated the teaching of phonics, saying, ‘We need to return to the basics of education.’ According to fellow legislators, Angle refused to meet with the teachers’ union or lobbyists while she pushed the bills.” In 2005 O’Donnell complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and sued her employer, a conservative think tank, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute for $7 million alleging gender discrimination. “Yet in 1998 she appeared on cable television defending the Southern Baptist Convention’s new language commanding that wives ‘graciously submit’ to their husbands, and she has been an outspoken opponent of women in the military. Her erratic stances and statements have caused even party stalwart Karl Rove to call her ‘nutty.’

Themselves mothers, it’s understandable that these “mama grizzlies” would support positions beneficial to their households. “Angle pushed a Nevada judge to expand definitions of homeschooling to accommodate other moms like her, who sent their children to small, family run religious schools.” And Palin “a mom who sent (or sends) four kids to public schools…refused to advocate for school vouchers in Alaska and supports infusions of public money into the education system.”

‘Our schools have to be really ramped up in terms of the funding they are deserving,’ she said during the 2008 vice presidential debate. ‘Teachers need to be paid more…We have got to increase standards.’ While governor, Palin repeatedly increased education spending, and shortly before leaving office last year proposed a plan to ‘forward-fund all our school districts with more than a billion dollars.’ The only place where Palin veered to the right was in the teaching of creationism. ‘I don’t think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class,’ she said in 2008.

But while I don’t fault them for following their maternal instincts, I’d rather not sublimate mine so that theirs might become the “law of the land.” I’m not certain they’d be impartial arbitrators in determining whose maternal instincts would be most advantageous for all, under their governance. Newsweek’s writer says it best

Fundamentally, the mama-grizzly phenomenon is not really a movement or even a political term that represents a fully coherent set of ideas. It’s mostly a marketing tool, meant to draw attention to Americans’ broad dissatisfaction with the way things are. Fair enough. Many people are dissatisfied, and they want to vent and they want to change Washington. But in the wild, real mama grizzlies are known to be aggressive, irrational, and mean. The issues facing the country are complex, and bears are not.

walk backwards and avoid eye contact.. . hugmamma.

 

 

 

who i am

Girls become women; boys become men. In the beginning it seems to just happen. Females emulate their mothers; males, their fathers. Their traits become ours, seemingly by osmosis. As children we don’t stop to differentiate between good and bad characteristics. What we see becomes what we are and what we do. As we grow older and experience life outside our family, we begin to compare ourselves with others, our lives with theirs. We see what we like and don’t like about us, about them.

I think only in older age, especially if we have children, do we understand those who walked in “our shoes”, before we did, our parents. My father died when I was one, so I never knew him. My mom was my world, in good times and bad. Throughout my 50’s I gradually became aware of the legacy she left behind.

Widowed at 30, nine children to raise, my mom managed with the help of Maryknoll nuns who ran the orphanage where she worked. She was laundress, part-time cook, and part-time chaperone. She never missed a day on the job, driving an hour from our home in the city, to the orphanage in the country. As a toddler, I accompanied her, my days spent rolling around in huge crates filled with freshly laundered clothing and linens. The youngest orphans were my playmates; the older ones my babysitters. They were my family, since most of my siblings had long since left home.

My mom’s car was our “bread and butter,” as she would repeatedly remind us. It was essential to our subsistence, getting her to and from work.  There was no AAA in those days, or if there was, we were too poor to subscribe. My mom changed her own flat tires, tinkered under the hood, and faithfully had the car serviced. With a sergeant’s precision she showed us how to wash and wax the car.

We would drag out the bucket, the hose, the detergent and lots of “elbow grease.” Along with two siblings, a brother and sister who were still in school, we cleaned every inch of our two-toned blue, Dodge sedan, until it glistened under the bright, tropical sun. We often looked like wet fish, having pelted each other with water from the hose or soapy water scooped from the bucket. When we were seized by fits of laughter, my mom’s eyes would twinkle and a huge grin would emerge to temporarily smooth away the frown lines deeply imbedded above her brows.

Active in our church community, my mom served as president of 2 women’s groups. She allowed me to invite foreign students to live with us for several days or weeks, giving them an opportunity to experience life in our country. It wasn’t unusual for my mom to invite total strangers into our home, like a young, handsome, Chinese man who was selling Life magazine subscriptions. We couldn’t afford it, but my mom felt sorry and subscribed anyway. To thank her, the nice man returned with an ice cream cake, which we happily devoured. One particular Jehovah Witness was a regular visitor on Sundays. A devout Catholic, my mom still listened when others spoke of their faiths. I’m ashamed to say we children hid, hoping they would go away. My mom suffered painful arthritis as far back as I can remember. At 3 a.m. when I’d head to the kitchen for a drink of water, my mom would be pacing the floor, attempting to walk off the unrelenting ache in her knees. She’d moan heavily, sometimes crying. I was too young to be of much comfort. My mom sat in the bleachers, watching with pride as I led the crowds in cheers for our team. She sewed one-of-a-kind clothing, some “hit the mark”, others not so much. Strumming the ukulele, she’d harmonize old Hawaiian songs with me, a favorite being “Ke Kali Ne Au.”

Without realizing it, my mom was bestowing me with her strengths. A single parent, she forged a life for herself and her children as best she could. She wasn’t above accepting help, nor did she shy away from helping herself and others. While raising us, I can’t recall my mom investing in much time bemoaning her plight. She was a handsome woman who prided herself on how she styled her hair, and how she wore her makeshift dresses.

I may not mimic my mom in every way, but like her I’m a strong woman with a soft underbelly. She has instilled me with her graciousness toward others, her “funny bone,” her songbird’s voice, her sense of style, and her gourmet sensibilities. And like my mom, I have faults. While she didn’t apologize for them, I’m certain she asked God to forgive her trespasses. Like her, I pray to be pardoned for my transgressions. 

Foremost among the lessons I have gleaned from my mom’s life  is compassion, for myself and others. Because her journey was fraught with more “lows” than “highs,” it’s a wonder she lived well into her 80’s. She was plagued by health issues, family discord, and personal demons. Besides which, my mom never remarried, remaining a widow until the end. For 50+ years, she shouldered her burdens without the love and companionship of a soul mate. So if she floundered, who could stand in judgement? “For unless you have walked in someonelse’s shoes…”

who I am is owing in part, to her…hugmamma.