Tag Archives: BlogHer

Why I’m Proud to Be Part of #WomensLives

womenslives_250x250_3BEleven years ago, I left the country for an event that forever changed how I viewed myself, my chosen lifelong profession of fundraising, and the world.

Along with 400 other women representing countries from Mexico to the Netherlands, I had traveled from my suburban Philadelphia home to Toronto for the Women’s Funding Network’s annual conference.

And I had no idea what the hell I, a mom of 2-year-old twins, was doing there among philanthropists and social justice leaders and political activists.  What could I possibly say in conversation with such people? What could I possibly contribute to that smart, well-regarded and esteemed group?

At 35, I had just been appointed the first-ever executive director of a small local women and girls foundation. (And it was definitely small; I was the first and only staff member.)  I hadn’t even reported to work for my first day before my brand new boss – also my board president – and I boarded a plane to Toronto and immersed ourselves in women’s issues and the world of women’s philanthropy – and got to know each other real fast, as our foundation’s small budget necessitated us sharing a hotel room.

A part-time position, my new job was the perfect balance for my desire (and, yes, my need) to work and my need to be a hands-on mommy to our toddler twins. I was so grateful for that job and the experience of working so closely on issues of importance to women and girls – and especially, for my mother who cared for my kids everyday while I worked and my mother-in-law who frequently helped on evenings and weekends.

As things do, life changes. Circumstances have a way of nudging you. Priorities shift.

I’m not in that job anymore, but I’ve stayed in the fundraising field. Those toddler twins have turned into teenagers. And the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve come to realize how vitally important it is to use our individual voices to try and make what difference we can in this world – for ourselves and for the generations to follow.

Whereas I once felt small at the global women’s conference in Toronto, one thing I’ve learned is that we all have the power to make an impact, in our own way. Opportunities present themselves to us not necessarily when we think we want them or can best handle them but when some greater force (call it fate, call it Spirit, call it nothing at all) recognizes we’re ready and gently moves us toward a braver, stronger, better self.

I’m working on paying more attention to this in my life.  In the meantime, there are a few projects that I’m involved with as a volunteer that I think will help me do that.

One is #womenslives.

According to this post from Lisa Stone of BlogHer, “the #womenslives initiative [is] a media partnership between Public Radio International (PRI) and SheKnows Media, BlogHer’s parent company.

“Together, we are combining PRI’s global hard-news reporting on women and girls from PRI’s Across Women’s Lives beat with unprecedented social outreach by voices in the SheKnows Media community, so that important coverage of women gets discovered and can make a difference,” Stone writes.

Make no mistake: these stories are important.  Only about 24% of all news subjects talk about women in any way, and only six percent of news stories highlight gender in/equality.

WomensLivesWomen’s lives are important, which is why #womenslives is important. And that’s why I’m proud to be partnering with PRI and SheKnows Media to help share stories focusing on women’s status and equal rights, education, health, economic development, climate change and other issues. I’ll be writing blog posts that connect these global stories with something that resonates on a personal level – whether it’s a reaction to the issue or connecting it with a story from my life or someone I love.

Above all, I’m hoping to spark conversations, engage you and prompt us to ask questions.

Our voices matter. All of them.

Let the conversations begin today.

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My Apology to Ron Howard, Jason Katims, and Everyone on “Parenthood”

Parenthood-Family-tree-infographic6

Dear Ron, Jason, all the writers and every member of the cast of “Parenthood”:

I’m sorry.

I owe all of you an apology.

A big one.

Back when your new show “Parenthood” premiered (how could that have been six seasons ago? seems like forever, yet not long enough) I underestimated you.

I mean, I seriously underestimated you.

I wrote in this post that I thought you were going to be yet another copycat family drama that we’d seen countless times before.

They’re all similarly formulaic. A white, upper-middle class family where everyone is more good-looking and put together than the next person. A matriarch and old-fashioned patriarch intact …a long-brewing kettle of DNA dysfunction. A family where you need a family tree cheat sheet to figure who is married to or divorced from who and who has slept with who and who wants to sleep with who. A home (usually in California) ripped from the pages of Architectural Digest where everyone eats gourmet meals together on gorgeous plates and secrets are spilled while cleaning up the mess. Tonight, the Bravermans join the mix, and they fit the bill perfectly. They are, according to the script above, right out of Central Casting.

What really irked me – and what made me skeptical, and even a little bit angry – was the inclusion of the Asperger’s storyline. It felt gratuitous. Pandering. A cheap shot. It certainly wasn’t how I felt like relaxing after work, which at that time, included a 3 hour commute every day.

Then yesterday, I heard about the Asperger’s storyline in Parenthood and thought – CUT! No freakin’ way. NO FREAKIN’ WAY I am spending an hour watching this. If I want to see a drama involving Asperger’s, I’ll watch the drama right here in my family room. Besides, I was convinced there’s no freakin’ way they will even come close to getting it. Not to mention, there’s another unmentionable aspect of this show that slams pretty close to home, so … yeah. No thank you.

I wanted no part of this show.

Of course I watched anyway. All in the name of the blog, mind you. Either way I would probably get a post out of it.

Which I did.

Max Burkholder is brilliant as Max Braverman, who in this first episode, is considered by school officials to have Asperger’s Syndrome. The frustrations over what is for others a simple fine-motor task in the classroom leading to a meltdown and biting incident (been there, done that), the brilliantly portrayed breakdown by Peter Krause and Monica Potter of the parents when the fear and uncertainty of the diagnosis sinks in while life goes on around them (that scene was particularly tough for me to watch – did that bring home the moment of diagnosis for anyone else?), the wearing the pirate costume to school each day, the missed social cues.

I thought this premiere episode had to be a fluke. How could one person’s experience get translated accurately onto the screen in such a way that could be universally felt by so many, including those who aren’t on this particular parenting journey? How were you going to keep this up, week after week after week?

That’s what I doubted. I didn’t think you could do it  – and I certainly didn’t think it could be done well. I fully expected to hate “Parenthood,” to write bitchy ranty blog posts about how you got some aspect of Asperger’s oh-so-woefully wrong. Because you didn’t know me and the Asperger’s world I knew. You didn’t live in my house.

At least not yet.

Sure, I knew that Jason had personal experience as a parent of a child with Asperger’s but as those of us in this community are fond of saying, if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.

It’s too early, I think, to say if “Parenthood” will become a groundbreaking show in this area – much as “St. Elsewhere” (my all-time favorite show, ever) was progressive in its day by having a child with autism as a central character – but I think “Parenthood” is off to a very good start. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.

Because make no mistake, I will most definitely be watching.

We’re a bunch of mama bears, those of us who have kids on the autism spectrum. Just look at all the crap you’ve gotten for Kristina’s frequent use of “buddy” as a term of endearment with Max, and how much their parenting philosophy is often criticized on the comment boards. We’re used to that from our own real-life families – people who think all we need to do is spank our kids a little more often or feed them a little less sugar and their issues will miraculously disappear.

So perhaps that was why, six seasons ago, I felt a little protective of Max Braverman – and of Adam and Kristina, too. I wanted you to do right by him, by them.

Maybe it sounds dramatic, but thinking back to 2010, perhaps I was at a point where I needed you to do right by all of us. As in, the entire autism community.

An unfair, unspoken burden, perhaps. But you know what?

You did.

For six seasons, you did exactly that and succeeded. You were our voice to others who needed to see the small big moments of our lives, how we feel when we’re overwhelmed for our kid’s future or when we don’t know how to tell a sibling what she needs to hear.

You transformed how people view people with autism. You shattered age-old stereotypes.

I didn’t trust that you could do that.

So, I’m sorry that I doubted all of you but so glad that I was wrong.

Which leaves just one more thing left to say.

Thank you.

UPDATED TO ADD:  And an additional thank you to BlogHer for featuring a version of this post on January 30. Click here to read “I Was Wrong About the Asperger’s Storyline in Parenthood.”

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making my peace with november, the month of All the Writing and Blogging Things

I would like to meet the person who decided that November would be the month when we do all the crazy-ass writing and blogging things we should have been doing the other 10 months of the year.

If you’ve spent any amount of time online, you know what I’m talking about.

NaNoWriMo. NaBloPoMo.  And whatever else is out there that’s just waiting to distract me from my regular life’s drudgery.

NaNoWriMo 2014 Participant

NaBloPoMo_November

Because, believe me, nothing in my life is more exciting than the idea of spending November writing the next bestseller and blogging every day so I can build that elusive writer’s platform. You know, accomplishing those New Years Resolutions that I set for myself (once again) on January 1.

So, you know I signed up for NaNoWriMo. AGAIN. Of course I did.

And a few minutes ago, I signed myself up for NaBloPoMo, too.

I am clearly under the influence of too many pumpkin spice lattes.

Because I can’t help myself.

The difference this year is that I’ve learned to make my peace with November, which I’ve learned to look at as a writing month. One huge, messy, kick-ass, let’s-see-what-you’re-capable-of writing month, in all its hyper-caffeinated, pumpkin-spiced glory.

Miss a few days of NaBloPoMo? So what? Fall short of 50,000 words on the manuscript?  At the end of the day (and the month) what will it really matter? Who’s going to give a shit?

Life is so full of deadlines and pressures and other obligations that the only way I can survive November online is to play along, but with a healthy dose of reality at the outset. There’s no beating myself up for whatever lofty goals of my own volition I fail to accomplish because there is no failure in November.

Because whatever happens, I’ll still be ahead of my own game because any blogging and any novel writing done in November is a good thing, right?  Whatever happens, happens.

Game on.

(As soon as I get back from grocery shopping.)

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let your Voice be heard (or, here’s to the losers)

Melissa and Lisa

Me and my longtime friend Lisa (also known as the blogging brains behind The Mixed Up Brains of Lisa Weinstein)
photo taken May 2013

“Here’s the last toast of the evening,
Here’s to those who still believe
All the losers will be winners,
All the givers shall receive
Here’s to trouble-free tomorrows,
May your sorrows all be small
Here’s to the losers,
Here’s to the losers,
Here’s to the losers
Bless them all!”

“Here’s to the Losers” – written by Jack Segal and Robert Wells, sung by Frank Sinatra

My friend Lisa and I (pictured here) go way back. I’m talking it has been 22 years now since we spent a memorable summer carpooling to our respective jobs with the American Cancer Society in Center City Philadelphia while declaring our undying love for then-Phillies catcher Darren Daulton. (Right on, fight on, Dutch!)

Lisa’s that type of friend who you can go years without seeing and then, when your cousin’s wedding brings you practically to her doorstep, you meet for breakfast in a New Jersey diner to pick up right where you left off.

Facebook helps. So does the fact that you’re both bloggers, both writing passionately about your kids, both with similar aspirations to do more with your writing, to push it further, to have it be recognized, validated.

During our breakfast this past Memorial Day weekend, it was fun to talk blogging with someone who gets this thing we do here in our little spaces on the Internet, who understands why we do it. Not everyone does.

It’s good to have writing friends like this, someone non-competitive, someone in your corner, someone cheering you on. Necessary, even.

So, when the BlogHer Voices of the Year winners were announced a few weeks ago and neither of our names were on the list, Lisa and I commiserated over Facebook.

“Just wasn’t our year,” we said. “There’s always next time!” “Onward and upward!”

It’s impossible to select everyone who submitted a post (or posts, in my case) as a Voice of the Year. We get that. People who are writers understand this is how things go. Win some, you lose some and every other feel-good cliche.

But here’s one thing I’ve learned about rejection: it’s easier if you’ve got company.

(Maybe that’s subjective. What the hell do I know anyway? All I know is that after a dead-end job search lasting more than a year and being turned down for two decent-sized writing grants that would have helped pay a coupla bills during the past few months, I know a little somethin’ somethin’ about rejection.)

Rejection’s also easier if you have friends like Lisa.

Which led to an idea.

“Send me what you submitted for the BlogHer Voices of the Year contest,” I said to Lisa via Facebook. “I’ll include it on my blog. I’m going to do a losers post.”

Lisa immediately got my humor in that comment because, well, humor at the expense of oneself is kind of what she does on her blog, The Mixed Up Brains of Lisa Weinstein.

And, since rejection is always more fun with friends, you’re invited to join us.

If you submitted a potential BlogHer Voices of the Year ’13 post that didn’t get chosen, leave a comment on this post with your link and I’ll include it in a round-up post that I’ll publish on July 25.

To start us off In the meantime, here’s Lisa’s Voices of the Year 2013 submission followed by two that I sent in.

Mom, You Moron, from The Mixed Up Brains of Lisa Weinstein

For Some, the Waiting Really Isn’t the Hardest Part  ((Melissa Firman)

What Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day Means for the Unemployed (Melissa Firman)

Your turn. Let your Voice be heard.

 

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Remembering Susan Niebur

I walked out of a meeting late Monday afternoon, paused to reflect at the way the setting sun’s rays were hitting the 10th Street Bridge here in Pittsburgh … and I knew.

Maybe it was the sun’s warmth on a February day, or how the rays seemed especially bright as they reached down, or the symbolism of a bridge for crossing over from one world to another, or some combination of all of the above. Whatever it was, somehow in my heart, at that moment I knew that Susan Niebur was gone.

It wasn’t until I got home a half hour later and saw the Facebook status from my friend Niksmom that I learned the sad news that Susan had, indeed, passed away. The Goodbye post on Susan’s blog, written by her husband, was posted not too long after I snapped this photo of the sun and the bridge and it left me heartbroken. Still does, and will for quite some time.

(It’s been driving me crazy trying to remember if it was my friend Niksmom or my friend Florinda who first introduced me to Susan during the BlogHer ’10 conference in New York a year and a half ago … and when it comes  down to it, it doesn’t really matter because that just illustrates what kind of community this is.  Whomever it was, I’ll forever be grateful.)

We were between sessions, just talking in the hall, and then there was Susan, smiling (always smiling) that bright, warm, sunny smile of hers.  As it would happen, and as often does happen at these sorts of things, Susan was the person we kept bumping into everywhere we went over those couple days.  Again, fortuitous.

“Do you know each other?” Niksmom/Florinda said. We didn’t; introductions were made. But when Niksmom/Florinda added that Susan was the blogger who wrote Toddler Planet, my eyes widened; I went into fangirl mode. Of course, I said, of course I knew Toddler Planet. I knew Susan. My God, yes.

You see, here’s the thing. There are millions of blogs. Kind of like how there are millions of stars. But like stars, some exceptional and some special ones shine so brightly that you can’t help but gravitate towards that light … just like how I did on Monday with the sun (a star itself) beaming down by the bridge.

Susan was very much that kind of person, that kind of star.

This blogging world of ours can be hard to explain to those who aren’t part of it.  This whole notion of posting the details of our lives – especially when it involves things like living with Inflammatory Breast Cancer for nearly 5 years and parenting two small children, both of which Susan did – for strangers on the Internet to read and comment on can be a bit foreign.  But that’s the stuff that Susan wrote about so courageously and heartbreakingly and bravely, and always with such grace and wisdom. And in doing so, she brought us into her world and taught us so very, very much, and we loved her (love her, present tense) so the very much more for it.

Right from the moment of her diagnosis in 2007, she taught us about inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) – the least common and most deadly form of the disease that does not present with a lump – about lymphedema and compression sleeves, about science and the sun and the moon and the stars (Susan was an honest-to-God real-life astrophysicist), about parenting in the face of true adversity, about making every single moment count, and about how awareness of breast cancer doesn’t happen via Facebook memes.

(It was that post, “In the Name of Awareness,” that she read to a captive audience at BlogHer ’10 in New York, and which was commemorated with an honorary piece of artwork, later auctioned to benefit cleanup efforts from the Gulf Coast oil spill.)

We followed her story via her posts, rejoiced when she survived cancer once, twice, three and four times. We worried when another recurrence of the cancer appeared in 2011. Prayed. Hoped. Cried. Repeat some more. Hoped fervently that when she told us a few weeks ago that she was having “a little trouble” that a little trouble was really all that it was.

Others knew Susan much better than I did, but she was that type of person who (as Florinda said) if you ever met her, you’ll never forget her and you’ll miss her.  I’d also add that you would consider her to be a friend, even if you met her ever so briefly or only knew her through her blog.

She was an extraordinary person and I feel honored to have met her and to have read her words.

“All that survives after our death are publications and people. So look carefully after the words you write, the thoughts and publications you create, and how you love others. For these are the only things that will remain.”
~ Susan Niebur

She will be always missed, always remembered, and always loved.

Many bloggers have written wonderful tributes to Susan. Here are a few of them below:

The 3 R’s Blog: “Susan and Her Story: A star that will keep on shining

Darryle Pollack: I Never Signed Up For This: “No Star Shines Brighter”

Girl w/ Pen: SCIENCE GRRL: “Thank you, Susan

Love That Max: “This week the world lost an amazing woman. Would you help honor her memory?

The Squashed Bologna: “A full moon for Susan

Stimeyland: “I Already Miss You, Susan”

Susan Niebur: Stargazer, Fighter, and Friend

BlogHer page with tributes to Susan Niebur and Rachel Moro, another blogger lost to breast cancer on Monday

Mothers in Medicine: “Listen to Susan”

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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Well, That Was an Experience.



Ferris Wheel at Wonderland Pier
Ocean City NJ boardwalk ~ July 2010
Photo taken by me.


When the BlogHer people email you to say they’ll be featuring your post on their site, all you can do is this: buckle up, get out your Teflon suit, and hold on for the ride.

Having my writing broadcast in this way is uncharted territory for me and my little blog, which had nearly 500 hits yesterday due to the BlogHer appearance. (To put it in perspective, about 40-50 folks stop by on a regular day.)  So, this is new.  Most of the time, I feel like I’m talking to myself.

I appreciate the respectful (with the exception of one troll) commentary here and on the BlogHer site, and I’m grateful for those who have shared their professional and personal experiences.

I wrote that post from a place of raw emotion (as I write most of my posts, quite honestly) and from months of seeing photos of an always smiling and obviously thriving baby girl in the arms of two loving people who I’ve known for more than 20 years. It’s really hard to think of anyone more deserving of this little girl than these two, and frankly? It’s hard to think of another couple with the strength and the love to withstand such an ordeal.  (Because, you know, this parenthood gig can get messy under the best of circumstances and you need your Teflon suit if you’re going to play in this sandbox.)

I wish every one of you who have been following this story could meet my friends and could see Baby G. with them for even five minutes.

I wish you could see the love they have, in such abundance and in such grace.

I wish Oprah could have one more encore show where she would sit down with my friends and hear their story and cry with them.

I wish you could see the large, loving, Irish Catholic family that embraced Baby G. even before she was born.

I wish you could see the community of friends, bonded since college days two decades ago, who are coming together once again (as we have sadly done in the past, also with a sad outcome) to rally around and care for one of our own. 

So I’m coming at this from that perspective – the simple one of seeing this couple’s love for this little girl and each other.  I’m not looking at laws and rights.  I’m looking at this from what’s best for a 6 month old little girl.

And knowing what I know (some of which can’t be shared publicly), it is incredibly hurtful and hard to understand how the foster care system – followed by a broken home of very young individuals – will lead to a better life than with people who have already proven their love for her, who have proven that they will walk into the fire again and again for her, for the rest of her life and theirs.

I’m not convinced – and no law will ever prove to me otherwise – that anyone else lucky enough to raise Baby G. will do the same.

“May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love.”
“Into the Fire” ~ Bruce Springsteen

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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#reverb10: December 7 – Community

Community. Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011?

This one’s easy.

This one’s for the moms who I sat with at the cool kids’ table this August at BlogHer’10.  The community I never imagined and frankly, would never have wished to be part of, but the one I am so very grateful for.

This one’s for My Velveteen Friends, The Ones Who Keep Me Real (and Grounded).

You may not be in these photos, and you may not have been with us in New York, but you most certainly were there. 

You know who you are.

And more importantly, so do I. 

The cool kids table (a.k.a. the group that gathered for lunch after the autism panel at BlogHer’10, the largest table/s in the room)


Autism panel at BlogHer’10.  

More lunch table friends.

Gathering together for our friend Kyra’s booksigning of Gravity Pulls You In.  

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo’s Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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