Why I’m Opting Out of the Holiday Rat Race This Year

This Christmas, things are going to be different. Instead of jolly holidays with presents, our family is going to experience – for the first time ever, mind you – jolly holidays with each other. I know. Crazy, right?

Come read my post over at SheKnows, and find out how you can do the same.

The Great Divide

Something’s been weighing very heavily on me, (and by the way, Hey! Thanks for hanging in! I realize I’ve been conspicuously absent over the summer) and I just gotta…

I’ve struggled to find an angle from which to attack this issue, tiptoeing deftly around themes and posts I’ve already written. I’ve struggled internally about making any declaration after having pointed fingers at myself, other women, random strangers, Target shoppers, coffee chains, and Jesus Christ himself, but the winds of change are blowing, ironically, as we speak, through my dyed brown locks.

So, how do I say this? How do I start?

We don’t love each other. We don’t. And I don’t think that’s how this life thing is supposed to work. 

I’ve been lucky enough, over the past few months, to have had the presence of mind to tear off all the layers, dig uncomfortably deeply within myself, removed enough from others to really acutely examine the modus operandi of this grand existence, and what I’ve seen, what I’ve experienced, was, in a word, humbling.

Everything I did, everything I said, every benign-appearing selfie, every move I truly made, was an outgrowth of some deep-seated insecurity, of my perceived failure as a human being, of my refusal to love myself. And once I recognized it, I began to see it in other people.

For all our ‘sharing’, we’ve become a world of insecurity, fear, and mistrust.

And it would be a disservice for me not to share that with you.

We have female pop stars attacking other pop stars, comedians shredding reality TV stars, reality TV stars biting back, a culture that glorifies indecency and appearances modified to the point that we no longer recognize who the person was in the first place, an entire culture communicating without ever meeting face-to-face. And that’s our ‘okay’.

And we judge – man, do we judge. With the Like, the Swiping Right, the tweeting, the comments, the shaming. And man, I’ve done my share. If I had a quarter for every Kanye West joke I’ve made, every reference I made to Nicki Minaj’s ass, I could most definitely get into Madame Tussauds to gaze upon their wax likenesses.

I was lucky enough this year to have some divinely concocted, handmade humble pie fed to me like the emotionally-stunted infant I was, and, let me tell you, it was delish. I was pitted face-to-face against my judgments, my perceptions of others and the world, based solely on the machinations of my own ego, solely on what I perceived to be truths, and it wasn’t pretty. What was less pretty was I was wrong on almost every account. It’s one thing to judge a woman on the basis of her Pumpkin Spice Latte, but it’s another thing entirely when you yourself have one in your hand.

Nothing aids a personal awakening more than your entire belief system overturned and dumped out in front of you, like a drawer full of socks, finding that the only way out is through. I’ve been myopic, shades of cruel beneath what I perceived (and truly believed) to be humor. From what I see of this world now, though, I was anything but funny.

What’s missing here is love. We don’t look at ourselves with love, we don’t look at each other with love, and we certainly don’t look at anyone who is different from us (which is pretty much everyone based on all the levels of division we’ve created) with any measure of affection.

This realization hit me hard, really alarmed me, not only as a person, but also as a parent. To fully embody the fact that we’re a selfish society that is destroying itself, that mocks culture and religion, community and family, and the sick and poor, was sobering. We belittle teachers and leaders, question the faithful, and only celebrate unity with the pockets of people we embrace. We tell ourselves (and each other) that the only way to handle parenthood, and life in general, is to get tanked and forget about it, load up a grocery cart with items we don’t need, or just take off. We don’t think twice about calling our kids names, ignoring our neighbors, or refusing to make room for others on the subway. And we don’t let our kids play with other children, because germs.

We’re no longer the global family in the Coke commercial. No one cares to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. Everyone’s singing their own song on their own YouTube channel. We’ve become a country of apathetic, narcissistic, materially-obsessed individuals who connect superficially (and constantly) with others for conditional love. We offer ourselves up to the world to be rated, we take everything we can get from external sources, and somehow, it’s never enough.

But why?

Because we’ve come to praise separateness, exclusivity, ourselves, and our possessions. We’ve disintegrated community into minuscule, unrecognizable pieces. We’ve become purveyors of the wrong thing.

We fail to connect with, and care for, other human beings.

Children are bullied and subjected to unspeakable cruelty, teens peck at one another relentlessly, adults sequester themselves in small circles of like-minded adults, and the elderly, instead of being respected and revered for their precious life experiences, are abused, neglected, and robbed in broad daylight.

And we see that things are so bad, yet we do little about it but poke the problems (and each other) with sticks, which only creates more division.

We live in a world where one person’s act of kindness to a mother of an infant on a plane goes viral. Think about that.

That’s not the world I want to leave for my children.

They can’t learn love if we never experience it. They can’t love themselves if we’re always looking outside. They can’t value community if we don’t participate in it. And they can’t teach their kids to love their neighbors if we don’t love them ourselves.

Through all this, and for the sake of my kids, who will inherit all the chaos and beauty of this planet, I’m learning to become a kinder, gentler Stephanie. I’m hoping that may be something this world needs, one bird learning to chirp a more melodious tune.

I invite you to join me. Maybe we can learn together.

Picture Courtesy https://pixabay.com/

Picture Courtesy https://pixabay.com/

Friendship in the ’90’s vs. Friendship Today

Remember having friends? I mean, really having friends? Those people, who came over, maybe ate dinner, or even watched a movie, with you? Or, better yet, people with whom you went out to the movies? Remember sitting around a table, laughing about your misadventures months after they happened?

I remember those people, too. And those times. Ah, how it used to be. In the good old days, if I may.

Please come by Redbook where I break down the major differences between friendship in the ’90’s and today.

And don’t forget your selfie stick.

Which Came First: Technology or Helicopter Parenting, a Guest Post by Jennifer Cowart

Jen Cowart Bio picture 1Jennifer Cowart is a 40-something wife and mother of three daughters. A former elementary educator, she is a freelance journalist, photographer and blogger. She is the winner of three New England Newspaper and Press Association Awards and a Rhode Island Press Association Award. She was a member of the 2014 Listen To Your Mother cast in Providence, RI. In 2012 she, along with her daughter, was the Rhode Island winner of the White House Kids’ State Dinner/Healthy Lunchtime Challenge contest. Her work can be found at www.cranstononline.com and www.thewholebagofchips.com .

Follow her on Facebook.


As a new parent, and through the years that have followed, I have found myself feeling cautious about earning a reputation for being a certain type of parent. Maybe it’s just me, and maybe not everyone worries much about being stereotyped, but when you read parenting magazines and blogs, it seems that there is a name and a stigma for every parenting choice and style.

There are people who breastfeed or don’t, people who work or don’t, people who co-sleep or don’t, people who practice attachment parenting (is un-attachment parenting a “thing?”) people who are ‘free-range’ parents, and people who are deemed helicopter parents. I even recently read a criticism of parenting where the writer deemed parenting a “new religion,” and not in a good way. That was a new one for me.

As parents, if we don’t walk a perfect line of balance, we’re either too laid back or too conservative, too nice and wishy-washy, or too strict and mean. You could go crazy reading about them and choosing your stance on each type, but I think ultimately every parent must make choices as to what works for them, their kids, their beliefs, and just go with it.

I’m a particular fan of the saying, “Not my circus, not my monkeys,” and although it makes me smile when I hear it, I really do believe it. You make choices, you live with those choices, and if you’re not happy, or they’re not going the way you imagined, then you adjust and make changes as you see fit. We all have our own monkeys and circuses to worry about, we don’t need to worry about what everyone else is doing. I can worry about trying not to screw up my own kids with my parenting practices, but I can’t worry about whether others will be sending their own kids to therapy down the line with theirs.

That said, I sometimes lose sleep over the helicopter parenting thing. That’s the one I worry about the most. Why? I don’t know, but I do.

Search and rescueLately,I’ve been considering the whole helicopter parenting stigma. I’ve begun to wonder if it’s something that’s been created by the amazing technology we now have, or whether it’s a parenting style that forces technology to keep up with parents’ needs.

So, which came first, the chicken or the egg?

From baby monitors that allow parents to watch their babies sleep, to preschool webcams that allow you to see your children in their classes, to college “Hi Mom!” cams that let you to watch a live web cam of particular spots on college campuses – just in case your child walks by – we can see or be connected to our children anywhere, anytime, by technology, no matter how old they are.

When I think about these advances in technology, I wonder:

Would I have wanted to have that kind of baby monitor for peace of mind? Probably.

Would it have had the potential to make me crazy, watching for anything to happen to my baby through the night? Very possibly.

Would I have wanted to spend my precious 2.5 hours of preschool time sitting at home with my coffee, glued to my computer screen, watching my kids playing at school? Probably not.

Will I be glued to the college webcam screen, hoping for a glimpse of my 18-year-old walking on the quad? I kind of hope not.

Are we able to, or even encouraged to, keep such tabs on our kids beyond our empty nests because of technology? Or, is technology answering what they see as being our needs as over-protective parents?

Which is it?

Monitor, Keyboard, and MouseWe attended a middle school Back to School Night last year, and a similar high school open house this year where we were shown how to access the online parent portal to view our child’s records (absences, grades),  but also to log on and view their assignments – upcoming tests, quizzes, essays, projects. We were strongly encouraged to log on daily to stay abreast of their work and keep on top of that work.

Is it me, or is technology fostering too much helicopter parenting? Is that technology pushing us to do more than we should for our kids? Last year, I was shocked to be so strongly encouraged to check the website daily, and I remember thinking, “Isn’t that the student’s job? I have a job. This isn’t it.” By their second year of middle school, I just assumed we’d put this sort of responsibility on the students – not the parents – and most definitely so by their first year of high school.

Maybe I’m wrong.

Maybe I’m not?

I never logged onto that parent portal during middle school. I actually lost my login information. Twice.

But here’s the thing: I knew when my child was absent, because she was here with me and I was taking care of her. That’s my job as her mother. I knew her grades, because she logged on to the student portal herself constantly to check and share them with me. And if she didn’t, I asked her how things were going and had a conversation. I got a progress report mid-quarter and a report card at the end of the quarter from the school, and saw the grades she’d earned.


When she stayed on top of the work.


That’s her job as a student.

This technology, some may say, allows us to support them along their educational paths. I could agree, but I wonder, does this technology allow us to override the conversation part of it? Are we able to parent and support our kids better from the screen than in person?

I don’t know the answer. I haven’t decided what I think about all this, but it’s definitely got me wondering.

I love technology; it allows me to work remotely and do a job I love, and stay in touch with people I love, but it also may not give our kids the tools to be responsible for themselves. It might also foster the problems colleges experience with parents unable to cut the apron springs. It might cause parents to get used to being over-connected.

I don’t know.

Do you?

Customer Disservice 2: Playing God

A few years ago, I wrote a piece called Customer Disservice, talking about everyday annoyances like phone customer service reps hanging up on you, or transferring you to nowhere, leaving you to have to call back, frustrated, multiple times. I also discussed customer service employees texting, chatting, or otherwise engaged when dealing with customers, and wondered when (or if) it would all change.

Little did I know, that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Three years later, I realize the problems consumers face are much larger, and much more potentially harmful, than they’ve ever been. In fact, I’d now give my left arm for a customer service person to be simply texting or chatting.

The first issue that sits on my chest like a lead weight is the auto industry. Safety recalls, refusal to issue recalls on equipment that can hurt or even kill you, and too-little-too-late apologies and corrective action taken after several people have died, have left a bad taste in my mouth.

Some companies get called on the carpet very publicly, being brought before Congress and dragged all over the national news. Other companies issue silent recalls, or ‘service bulletins’, that are taken care of swiftly and with little ado inside the walls of a dealership service department. In most cases, the consumer has no idea there’s anything wrong with his car. Why? Because it saves the automaker face and money.

Now, I have to admit, I had high standards before I had kids. I voted with my feet. If I felt a company wasn’t up to par servicewise, I would simply leave and find another place. After I had kids, though, I became every company’s worst nightmare. The slightest whiff of danger sent me into Mama Bear mode, and it still does. Granted, it doesn’t make me the most popular kid on the block, but if that’s what had to happen to keep my family safe, that’s the way it has to be.

One would imagine this strategy would work. You’d go in, explain that you need something, that you brought appropriate currency for an exchange, and it would become so. You’d get that thing.

No dice.

And last night, I caught a 20/20 (I always seem to catch these things) where employees from a large, well-known coffee chain admitted that they basically make their own decisions with regards to what they serve to customers.

English: Caffe Latte

English: Caffe Latte (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Overtired and cranky? You might just get decaf. Not a great tipper? How’s about an ‘F U’ written in your steamed milk instead of a heart?

Since when did customer service personnel attain the right to play God with consumers? You walk in, with your own hard-earned money, seeking an exchange for a particular product, and it’s essentially up to the person who waits on you whether or not you receive it. Or up to the mechanic who determines whether or not you ‘know anything about cars’.

I’m not just talking about big coffee chain or auto mechanic here. I’m talking about restaurants (ever hear of the old spitting-in-the-food trick, or the host/hostess telling you there are no tables when there are?), major retailers (uh oh, another security breach!), and fast food places (how many times have you driven away with something you didn’t order, or missing something you did?).

And what will people tell you? “That’s life.” and “You can’t trust anyone.” and “Well, what did you expect?”

So, is that it? Is that life? A consumer who reasonably expects to walk into a place of business and receive their chosen product, is simply not guaranteed that product? That it is up to whoever’s working that day, and their mood, to decide whether/how much you deserve it?

What ever happened to accountability? Do these people have supervisors? And do those supervisors have supervisors? When I worked in customer service, many moons ago (do I sound old yet?), we were secret shopped, we were rated based on our level of customer service, and we sure as hell were not permitted to independently determine how we would treat each individual customer.

I had many a woman pick up drapes, only to find that two were backordered, and they’d been waiting for them for months. Sometimes I got flack, sometimes they expressed their displeasure, sometimes they cancelled their entire orders. But did I go in the back and blow my nose, or wipe my ass, on the available curtains as an act of revenge? I did not. And I would not.

Today, we’ve found insects, rodents, fingers, and bodily fluids in fast food. Hidden cameras reveal employees doing unspeakable things with your food, your cars, and your merchandise, overcharging/falsifying invoices for the very thrill of it, and this is what we’ve come to expect. And it’s sad.

I’d say my customer satisfaction rate, overall, is about 60%. That means that almost half of my customer service transactions are negative. And they can cajole and bribe you into as many customer service surveys as they can jam on a receipt, but have you seen things change for the better? They’ve only gotten worse.

Oftentimes, we do find something better. We will find a store, or restaurant, or auto shop that will treat us well, but how much time, money, and aggravation must we spend to get there?

And why does no one care? I really thought things were getting bad when associates were inattentive. Now, however, it’s a completely different ballgame. You must smile, flatter, tip, not ask for too much, and basically wait and hope you will get what you paid for. You’re on constant alert of being screwed, and you waste way too much time trying, in vain, to obtain the items your family needs.

My daughter quotes an episode of Peppa Pig all the time, where Peppa was pretending to be a princess. She says, “You must bow when you speak to me.” I feel like that’s where the service industry’s got us. On our knees.

The unemployment rate is still high in this country. Why aren’t appropriate people being brought into these positions? Are those people never held accountable for their behavior? Have consumers simply given up?

I don’t know any of these answers, but knew things needed to change three years ago. They really need to change now.


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