Advice from the World’s Greatest Mom.

Mine.

Now, with Mother’s Day on everyone’s mind you’ll be seeing, reading and hearing a lot of smack talk. “World’s best mom” gets thrown around like a chancleta in a south Florida home. But let me set the record straight.

Yo guys, I’m really happy for you, I’mma let you finish, but I have the best mom of all time. The best mom of all time!

Admittedly, it’s a difficult subject to argue. No number of “yo mamma” jokes or “your mom” come backs can ever really accurately portray the true essence of what a mother is. But despite the impossibility of this task, I am going to help you understand why I can say without question, my mom is better than yours. (Sorry I’m not sorry.)

Things my mother taught me:

Don’t waste sick days being sick. ‘Tis way better to suffer through the sniffles at work than waste a day off in bed! Man up, get your shit done, and take your next “sick” day at the beach!

If you’re gonna be bad, be good at it. When you are knowingly going to break the rules, don’t be an idiot! Think it through. Being a rebel is fun, getting caught is not.

If you want it done differently, do it yourself. My mother is one of the most helpful and dependable people you’ll ever meet! She’s happy to lend a hand and her word is worth more than cash under your mattress. But if you’re planning on being a backseat helper, you’ll quickly learn that those on the recieving end of a favor shouldn’t delegate. I learned this the hard way when after a few school lunch suggestions I was quickly promoted to chef. Want a better lunch? Make it yourself. And I did from that day forward.

Keeping with a food theme for a moment, my mother was a believer in ends, not just means. If you called in the take out, drove to the restaurant and/or signed your name on the check, you my friend should sit back and wait for the Michelan’s to arrive. He who pays, cooked!

If there is only one answer to all life’s questions it’s…orgasms. This one is always a hard one for people to believe, but it’s truer than an eastern sunrise. My mom is a steadfast believer in benefits of sex and orgasms. Can’t sleep? Have an orgasm! Feeling blue? Have an orgasm! Think you’re getting a cold? Have an orgasm and then a glass of OJ. The more the merrier.

And I’m sure you’ve heard of the Godfather. But with three daughters and no invite to join the mob the advice was slightly altered but still just as meaningful. “Take the vibrator, leave the man.”

Hangovers. This may very well be my favorite of them all. Mom’s got plenty of hangover advice but this by far takes the chocolate cake vodka shot. After a particularly long night of imbibing I woke up to an even rougher morning. I was feeling down, food was coming up and the room was still spinning. But fear not, Mom to the rescue. “Drink some water, take some tylenol and forgive yourself.”

Wanting things is a part of life. And growing up my sisters and I were no strangers to commercial desires. Pogs, clothes, light up sneakers, makeup, tamagotchis, tape records/CD players, you name it. But my mom had what is arguably the best comeback to a plea of desperation. “Mom I want (insert whatever the item of desire was this week) . “It’s good to want.” Conversation DENIED! But she was right. Wanting makes the heart grow fonder.

Blue eye shadow is for whores. This one is pretty self explanatory. Also to be noted, this little nugget of wisdom was given in front of my older sister’s best friend while she was over out house having dinner, and wearing blue eye shadow.

Now I can keep going, but surely you’re already convinced. My mom is the best. And I’m only slightly offended you implied otherwise with wellwishes and apprecitations to your own mom this Mother’s Day.

I love you, Mom.

Next Story — Things I’ve Learned So Far
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Things I’ve Learned So Far

A lot of times life is really worth putting on pants for

Another year has gone by and I officially have a new number to remember when people ask me how old I am. And please forgive me when it ineviatbly takes me a few seconds to figure out what that number is. I recently wrote “2012” on a check.

I am far from wise and even farther from having it all figured out but I’m proud to say — and I wholeheartedly believe — that through all my mistakes and missteps thus far I have learned a lot. And being that it is my special day, I am going to use this opportunity to share my lifetime of knowledge!

You only get one body. You can starve it, stuff it, tweeze it, shave it, or suck some of it out surgically, but at the end of the day it’s the only one you get. Learn to love it. You accumulate wrinkles at a much slower rate when you’re not spending your days worrying about wrinkles.

You are the oldest you’ve ever been and youngest you’ll ever be again all at the same time. No matter how old you are, I can promise there is someone who will think you’re ancient and someone will laugh at you for feeling old. You need a healthy balance of feeling old and young to get through life. Bills are due today? Saddle up, it’s time to adult. You’ve got a few hours to kill? See how long you can spin in your chair before you feel like you might puke. Never lose your childish wonder. It comes in handy when you’re googling what a 401k is.

Say “yes”. Some of the best decisions I’ve ever made were ones I initally wanted to bail on. It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone and order take out from your couch while you browse Netflix for three hours. But a lot of times life is really worth putting on pants for. The regret you feel for missing out lasts a lot longer than most of the consequences that could go along with saying “yes”.

On the other hand, don’t be afraid to say “no” either. Say it loud and proud and to anyone who isn’t nice to you, to fad diets, to anything that tries to tell you that there is something wrong with what you look like or how you act, and definitely say no to assholes who try to make you put on pants when you just want to watch Netflix. You are not required to spend your life trying to make other people happy.

People will enter and exit your life. Try not to let the fact that it didn’t last forever sully the great memories you’ve made together. If they want to go, let them. Pining should be reserved soley for car air fresheners and floor cleaner.

You are not your job. You are not the mistakes you’ve made. You are not the duct tape on the dashboard of your shitty car. You are the attitude you bring into any situation, your enthusiasm for life and your sense of humor when nothing goes as planned. Don’t get lost in the shuffle to make the most money and own the most things. Success can look like a lot of different things. Find the definition of success that makes you happiest and live it every day.

What other people think about you is none of your damn business. Seriously. If you stopped spending countless hours of your life worried about what other people may or may not be thinking about you then maybe you could have created that anti-drunk texting app you always wanted by now. And society as a whole would be a hell of a lot closer to figuring out the whole “world peace” thing.

Be proud of your accomplishments — both big and small. Some days you’re allowed to be immensely proud of yourself just for putting pants on. Maybe just don’t set the bar there everyday, but know that sometimes that’s more than enough. Cut yourself some slack. You’re doing the best you can and that’s all that you need to do. Save the mistakes and missteps for the blooper reel. You are doing a great job and you should be proud.

I’ve learned a lot more than this in the last 27 years, but that information is mostly just helpful at trivia night so I’ll spare you. And like all unsolicited advice, you can take it or leave it. But you should definitely take it. It would just be rude to turn down a gift from the birthday girl.

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Pre-Kindergarten Cop

I have always been a bit of a smart ass. Okay, who am I trying to kid? I have always been a huge smart ass. As my mother so lovingly likes to remind me, I started talking at nine-months-old and haven’t stopped since. Fortunately, over the years, I’ve learned how to use my gift of gab to my advantage. My sisters have on multiple occasions stressed the injustice that is my ability to talk myself into or out of the most precarious situations. I avoided groundings, talked down the terms of punishments, avoided certain trouble, and all while managing to come out scot-free! But my powers are not infallible.

I have been involved in four traffic stops and never once have I been able to successfully talk my way out of a ticket. I could list a bunch of reasons as to why this is the case, but honestly I’m convinced I am cursed. And it all started back in 1992.

It was early in 1992, and I was a three years old. It was a typical morning, my mother and had just dropped off my older sister at school and was on her way to take me to preschool. I was securely buckled in my booster seat but with my sister being gone I was all alone in the back. Being the independent and problem solving child that I was; I unbuckled myself and climbed over the center console of our burgundy Grand Prix to get closer to the action. And that’s when the blue and red lights started flashing. Busted.

My mom pulled over, and a minute later there was a uniformed officer at the window. Once pleasantries had been exchanged and my mother’s license and registration was obtained something out of the ordinary happened and a glimmer of hope appeared. My mother had explained to the officer that I was buckled in my booster seat but had just escaped on my own volition. The officer smiled and turned his attention toward me. Jackpot! My mother was ready for her most talkative child to charm the pants off of her very first man in uniform. Well, she was probably just hoping I’d say something cute enough to get her out of a ticket.

“Well hello there, what’s your name?”

Sitting in the passenger’s seat, I kept my eyes forward and mouth shut. His pleasantries were met with nothing but aggressive silence.

“How old are you?”

The temperature in the car dropped notably. He was getting some grade-A cold shoulder. Eyes still looking forward, I crossed my arms. My mother shot me a look that demanded answers.

He must have then realized I was not up for small talk and got down to business.

“Were you buckled in your seat?”

Finally, I’d had enough.

“My mommy told me NEVER to talk to strangers and YOU’RE a stranger!!”

My mom didn’t know whether to laugh or reprimand me. Rules are rules. And this was one rule I apparently was not willing to break even when my mother’s eyes were pleading for me to say something — anything. With his kindness spurned, the officer took my mother’s information and went back to his patrol car, promising to return shortly.

Ten minutes later we were still waiting in the car when my patience ran out. I crawled into my mom’s lap and stuck my head out the window.

“YOU’RE MAKING ME LATE FOR PRESCHOOL!”

All hopes of charming our way out of the ticket were lost. I was late and now my mother had a $155 fine to explain why. Since then I have learned there are times to follow the rules and there are time to charm the pants off strangers. But my ticket juju has never been the same. To date, I’m 0 for 4 when it comes to charming my way out of a ticket. Fingers crossed I don’t go 0 for 5!

Next Story — Today’s Vagenda
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Today’s Vagenda

Ready for the day.

6:00 am. Arise. Wrap your cardigan-sheathed hands around a mug of hot cardamom lemon water; squint into the distance from your craftsman veranda. Breathe authentically. Pick off a passing man with your bespoke porch rifle.

6:30 am. Laundry. The heather-gray linen kitchen towels from last night’s festivities need washing. Delicate cycle; honeysuckle gentle wash detergent. Head back upstairs. Roll up your husband’s body inside the flokati rug upon which it rests. Dust surrounding area with small-batch microfiber.

7:30 am. Morning e-mails. Remind the others about this weekend’s dick-burning.

8:15 am. Breakfast: coconut-ginger scones with raw wolf meat. Using the giraffe filter on Snapchat, falsely accuse a man of rape.

9:00 am. Nap.

9:18 am. Yoga while watching latest Real Housewives of New Jersey; question Jacqueline’s motives. Move the rug-swaddled corpse to a dumpster behind Whole Foods. Buy chia seeds in bulk.

11:30 am. Back home. Shower; wash face with homemade semen-cucumber scrub. Triple steam vulva. Check internet. Mob formed yet?

1:30 pm. Doctor’s appointment — ask about ‘pleasure abortions.’ Do they do group packages? Alison’s birthday is coming up.

2:55 pm. Retail therapy; there’s a sale at Michael’s. Purchase 37 mason jars. Text Jenny for her scrotum-infused kombucha recipe. Commit vehicular manocide in the parking lot. Text while driving; tell the internet mob they can stop — you’ve just killed the man you falsely accused of rape.

4:30 pm. Kill a football team.

4:45 pm. Nap.

6:30 pm. Order artisanal pizza. Abduct the delivery guy upon his arrival; make him dance for you while you work on screenplay for an all-female Saving Private Ryan.

7:30 pm. Google cyanide. Ethically harvested version available?

7:45 pm. Nag a man to death at the local bar.

9:25 pm. Deactivate bitch shield.

9:30 pm. Apply lavender oil to temples, crawl into bed. Snuggle under your hemp percale sheets; set your noise machine to “crickets+men crying.” Fall asleep censoring male speech online.

Next Story — Hey U of Chicago: I’m an academic & survivor. I use trigger warnings in my classes. Here’s why.
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Hey, University of Chicago: I am an academic. I am a survivor. I use trigger warnings in my classes. Here’s why.

From a getting-to-know-you worksheet I give to my students on the first day of class.

TW: sexual assault, stalking

Today, news broke that the University of Chicago had issued a letter to all incoming Freshmen warning that the school is not a “safe space” and that students should expect to be “challenged”. Most notably, UofC came out against the use of “trigger warnings”, brief content advisories that sometimes are placed on syllabi or lecture slides to alert students to potentially upsetting material.

Ugh.edu

Many came out in vociferous support of UofC’s stance seeing it as crucial blow for intellectual freedom, levied against an increasingly coddled, demanding Millenial student body. Education should be provocative, decriers of trigger warnings say. College professors should make you uncomfortable. If you ask for, demand, or expect to be warned about objectionable content, you are missing out on an invaluable learning opportunity, or so the logic goes. More than one political cartoon has already depicted pro-TW Millenials as whining, entitled infants in cribs of their own making.

There’s like dozens of these.

As a social psychologist and a professional academic in Chicago working for multiple universities on an at-will basis, academic and intellectual freedom is a value I am inclined to strongly support. I do believe that professors should feel free to express extreme viewpoints and present challenging material to their students in hopes of expanding their thinking and drawing out critical reflection. And as an instructor with my own classes, I often present material or ideas that some students may disagree with or vehemently dislike. Like many academics, I am dismayed when my colleagues are denied intellectual freedom, and are fired or otherwise punished for wearing political insignia, presenting challenging material, or espousing views some students object to. And as a researcher who studies and publishes articles on the psychology of open-mindedness and political tolerance, I am generally opposed to censorship.

Seriously, I believe in open-mindedness and intellectual freedom. Look at this paper I spent years on.

Trigger warnings are none of those things.

What are trigger warnings? Trigger warnings are small advisories placed before the presentation of material that people may find acutely upsetting. Sometimes they are placed in course syllabi, prior to weeks where distressing content is discussed, or on lecture slides, before the presentation of graphic or unpleasant or otherwise triggering material. The term “trigger” is a reference to trauma triggering, an experience common to people with post-traumatic stress disorder, whereby encountering a word, person, or object that is reminiscent of trauma causes a person to experience flashbacks, physical/emotional distress, or panic.

For example, if I was sexually assaulted or raped in a 2002 Kia Sportage (I wasn’t), I might feel uneasy or panicked sitting in the back of a 2002 Kia Sportage (I don’t). If I was forced to have sex that I did not want to have (I was), I might feel incredibly unhappy, shaky, and even slightly out of touch with reality when someone near me makes a joke about rape (I do). Triggers range from the graphic (rape & murder imagery, vivid gore, etc) to the banal (I have an acquaintance who is triggered by apples, because of an abuse experience involving apples), and from the common to the exceptional. For a good example of a banal and uncommon trigger, see the infamous “Trigger Warning: Breakfast” comic published anonymously to The Nib.

Triggers are not a PTSD-exclusive problem. Other mental illness symptoms can also be activated by triggers. For example, if a person is recovering from bulimia, they might feel an urge to purge after witnessing a scene from a movie in which a character throws up. A person who experiences extreme depression and suicide ideation might be incredibly distressed to read a book narrated by a suicidal character, and so on. A person’s experience of being triggered can be visible and physical, or internal and very subtle. Triggers are many and varied, and their effects are unique to each individual.

It is impossible for a professor or teacher to anticipate every student’s triggers, and frankly, I’ve never met a student who was demanding or entitled about having their specific triggers tagged in advance. What I have encountered, numerous times, are students who have a trauma history or a mental illness that involves triggers, who are only willing to gently and quietly request trigger warnings after I have made my pro-TW stance abundantly clear. These requests have always been polite and reasonable, and have never involved scrubbing my syllabus clean of challenging material.

One student asked me to warn them if I ever discussed cutting or self-harm in class, since they were a former self-harmer working on sobriety from cutting. Another student asked me to give them advanced notice if lectures in my class would touch on weight loss or calories, as they were battling an eating disorder. A student who was a recent rape survivor asked if they could sit quietly in my office with me for a moment, because they’d just been forced to confront their abuser and they were feeling shaky. Another student had anemia and asked me to warn her if I presented any gory images to the class, because she would involuntarily faint.

I have honored every request for a trigger or content warning that a student has ever given me, and I go out of my way to tag any potentially upsetting material with trigger warnings. I don’t do this because I am a beaten-down, scared shitless academic with no intellectual freedom. My students have not backed me into a corner and demanded that I keep thought-provoking content at bay. Students who disagree with me politically or philosophically (of which there are many) do not try to silence me under a deluge of TW requests. My universities have not twisted my arms, pinned me down, and affixed black TW duct tape across my mouth. That’s not how TW’s work.

I wrote this essay because a handful of tweets weren’t enough.

In the vast majority of cases, trigger warnings are adopted on an individual basis by faculty who opt into using them. A national survey by the National Coalition Against Censorship indicated that fewer than 1% of universities in this country have formal trigger warning policies. In cases where students desire trigger warnings, this desire is usually expressed in the form of a personal request from student to professor. In addition, trigger warning requests span a variety of ideological positions — they are not the sole purview of liberal Millenials. Over half of the educators surveyed by the NCAC reported providing informal warnings regarding course content of their own accord. In other words, a near majority of academics provide trigger warnings on their own anyway.

So if I, like most of my peers in academia, have not been forced by immature Millenials to wrap my course content in a comforting diaper of trigger warning bubble wrap, why do I choose to use the damn things? If you’ve read this far, you probably have some idea. So here’s your trigger warning that below I am going to briefly discuss rape and domestic violence!

— — — —

I was violently sexually assaulted while I was in graduate school, and later, I was stalked and harassed by an ex-partner. These experiences were harrowing, and left emotional and psychological wounds, as well as triggers. I am well aware of them, and know how to avoid them when I need to avoid them. However, I often challenge myself to face them head-on. Trigger warnings help me to emotionally prepare for discussions of rape, stalking, and assault, and allow me to filter out or avoid disturbing content when I’m having a particularly rough day and am not up for it. The language of triggers and trigger warnings gives me a straightforward social script I can use to communicate my trauma reactions to others.

Because I am a rape survivor with trauma triggers, I know firsthand that the experience of using trigger warnings completely contradicts the anti-TW stereotype. I am not a soft-willed, petulant baby. I am a battle-tested, iron-willed survivor who has faced far more personal horror than any anti-TW demagogue could. I do not use TW’s to “protect myself” from writing that challenges me intellectually. I read writing by people I disagree with on a daily basis, for both academic and personal enrichment; my use of trigger warnings to sometimes avoid rape- and stalking-related content is utterly irrelevant to that. And the use of trigger warnings does not make me weak. Trigger warnings empower me by allowing me to customize my reading-about-rape experience. I get to choose when and how I present myself with upsetting or triggering content. This makes it easier for me to do so regularly. And for the record, when I am faced with triggering material, I am not a trembling, weeping wreck, fuck you very much.

Of course, sharing my personal trauma experience only the scratches the surface of why I support trigger warnings. My life on earth as an academic, and as a person perceived as a woman, has left me with manifold reasons to use and celebrate TW’s. Like the (dude) professor who admitted to me that he showed the rape scene of Boy’s Don’t Cry to his sociology class, causing a student to run out of the room having a panic attack (she had recently been raped). Or the student who froze up or left the room whenever a topic relevant to their trauma came up, who stopped skipping classes once I knew their triggers and could warn them accordingly. Or the theology professor I knew, who presented his class with graphic, bloody images of what a real-life crucifixion would look like, and had a student vomit in the front of the classroom. Or the writer I know who faints at the sight of needles entering flesh, who had to take a bio 101 course where that very image was projected on a massive screen at the front of the room. Or the domestic violence victim I’m close friends with, who cannot drive through certain areas of her home city because they remind her of her assault. Or the untold scores of students in my classes who are victims of trauma or sufferers of mental illness, who will never feel safe admitting their triggers to me (because trigger warnings are so relentlessly mocked), who will be forced to suffer in silence or miss out on valuable learning opportunities (and grade points) if I lack the empathy to anticipate their needs.

How can someone call themselves an educator and not be sensitive to these incredibly common needs? How can someone be a proponent of intellectual freedom and not want to make their classroom a space where everyone feels free from emotional harm and psychological violence? How does warning a student that a lecture might touch on murder or rape make the university a less open environment? Aren’t we supposed to make our classrooms accessible to students with disabilities? Why does the University of Chicago think that discouraging students from advocating for their own mental health is a blow to the quality of their education? Do they not want mentally ill or traumatized students at all? Why are so many academics so hellbent on providing traumatizing content to students? Why are these established, comfortable Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers so threatened and scandalized by being asked to give a two-word heads-up? Do they not realize Millenials are shelling out tens of thousands of dollars for an increasingly devalued education, and that of course they want to have a little bit of influence on the quality of what they’re buying?

I am a college professor, a psychologist, a rape survivor, and a proud user of trigger warnings, and I can’t figure out the answers to those questions. I’ve read all the fuming anti-TW screeds; I’ve bashed my head against the rants and the wringing of hands and I’ve “challenged” myself to understand their outrage, but I just can’t. Most of them don’t seem to understand what trigger warnings and safe spaces even are. I want my students to feel emotionally safe so that they can take on cognitive challenges from a position of strength. That’s all. And I hope that makes the anti-TW babies cry, cry, cry.

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