Friday, April 11, 2014

Conservatives need Compassion about Illegal Immigrants

New York Times photo of migrants crossing the Rio Grande
Liberals often accuse conservatives of heartlessness. Why are we so selfish; don't we want to help  the downtrodden?

If conservatives value initiative (and ever want to win elections), we must prove our compassion by recognizing the presence and humanity of undocumented immigrants. And we need law and policy to absorb and ultimately accept the ones with a sincere desire to become citizens.

The pathos of desperate people spending life savings to endure hunger and hardship to come to the United States touched me when I saw a front-page story in the New York Times. It describes the dangerous and arduous trek from Central American countries undertaken by mostly women and children seeking to remedy poverty and hopelessness faced by accident of birth.

They leave countries that offer no jobs or futures, trusting their passage to "coyote" guides. These become paid captors who herd their charges through risky by-ways, sometimes running through drainage pipes, dashing among grasses, crowding into compartments in trucks and, as described in the article, boarded onto rafts. They know only that in America, with asylum, they might fill the lowest jobs available, those generally unwanted by citizens with English skills and greater education--dishwashers, laborers, baby-sitters, house-cleaners. This vulnerable hoard constitutes the most tenacious, hardy and dedicated of the many who suffer in poverty-ridden nations led by corrupt governments.

"In Mexican border cities like Reynosa, just across the river," writes immigration reporter Julia Preston, "migrants have become easy prey for Mexican drug cartels that have seized control of the human smuggling business, heightening perils for illegal crossers and security risks for the United States."

Among those who forded the Rio Grande to be interviewed by the journalist were "a Guatemalan mother carrying a toddler with a baby bottle, another with an infant wrapped in blankets. A 9-year-old girl said she was traveling by herself, hoping to rejoin her mother and two brothers in Louisiana." The child had only a "telephone number on a scrap of paper" tying her to  family.

One traveler said he'd been "kidnapped for two weeks while Mexican smugglers extorted $10,000 from his frantic family in Honduras." A former El Salvadoran soldier, 29, fled, leaving his wife and children, after a gang sought to kill him in retribution for an arrest. A 19-year-old whose brother was murdered in the bed next to him considered the travails of  journeying to America a safer option than remaining.

Why don't they follow immigration protocols and come legally? We in America assume that government bureaucracy may be inefficient, but not corrupt. But people who desperately want to support their families by moving to the United States often live where corruption reigns. I know of cases where anxious would-be emigrants submitted paperwork  that was "lost" until they produced bribe money--repeatedly, for officials at every level. And then, once their money was gone, their paperwork became "lost" once and for all. How can honest, eager workers gain legal admission to the US if their governments won't even let them apply?

For this we need bigger fences, more patrols and huge detention centers that use taxpayer dollars to return long-time US residents back to hopeless situations? On the other hand, wide open borders would mean an unmanageable influx of immigrants, saturating the labor market and straining infrastructure. There must be a compassionate middle ground that discourages illegal entry but acknowledges the plight of people who are here.

 Entering the United States without proper paperwork is not a felony; it's not a
New York Times photo of migrants awaiting processing
misdemeanor; it's a lesser class of offense called an "infraction." And yet people discovered without documentation are imprisoned for weeks or months and more without trial.

I am aware of several cases of families with US-born children, separated as parents were deported simply because they lacked proper paperwork. I know of a case where an undocumented worker, stopped for a burned-out tail light on his borrowed car, landed in the Tacoma detention center, imprisoned for almost a year and then returned to El Salvador because he couldn't raise the $9,000 needed for a  lawyer.

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free!" The inscription by Emma Lazarus at the base of the Statue of Liberty begins to ring hollow when  so much rhetoric and effort goes to spurning those risking their lives so that they and their families may simply breathe free.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Shocking Data about Suspended Black Preschoolers

Tell me what's wrong with this sentence from an Associated Press article I found in The Seattle Times today: "Data to be released Friday by the Education Department's civil-rights arm finds that black children represent about 18 percent of children enrolled in preschool programs in schools, but almost half of the students are suspended more than once."

If you said it's wrong that black children are suspended extremely disproportionately to their percentages in preschool, well, the research certainly shows something's wrong somewhere.

If you thought the statistic might be questionable because of the way information was collected, you're simply a skeptic.

If, like me, you started screaming because the word "data," which is plural, was used as a singular, well, join a club of losers.  We who cannot tolerate heinous errors in grammar and punctuation are an elite group, destined to ongoing angst, as the culture posits (TV pundits), paints (signs and billboards) and publishes (print and online).

The journalists who wrote the article, Jesse J. Holland and Kimberly Hefling, repeat their egregious misuse of "data:"

"The data shows the disparities starting in the youngest of children."
"Overall, the data shows that black students of all ages are suspended and expelled at a rate that's three times higher than that of white children."
"The data doesn't explain why the disparities exist or why the students were suspended."
"The data shows nearly 5,000 preschoolers suspended once" out of one million children in public preschool programs nationally. (Half of those were suspended more than once.)

And Attorney General Eric Holder added, "Every data point represents a life impacted and a future potentially diverted or derailed."

The article quotes a variety of experts speculating about the source of the disparity, and doesn't refer further to the data. While it may be acceptable to say "the data," much better writing would call them simply "data" without inserting "the" first. Removing the extraneous "the" before "data" would alleviate the tendency to consider "data" singular. By the way, the singular of "data" is "datum."

What do we make of these data? Several quoted experts offered ideas. Daniel Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies for the Civil Rights Project at UCLA (my alma mater), suggests additional services would address bad behavior better than removal of problem children. "Almost none of these kids are kids that wouldn't be better off with some support from educators." He asserted that suspended children can't link their behavior to its consequence: "Kids just don't understand why they can't go to school."

No comment on those statements, but the issue of handling extremely problematic behavior remains.  Further research on the suspensions and expulsions might define categories of behaviors (by kids and others in the classroom) associated with such drastic responses. Once events that typically lead to suspensions are discovered, educators can design interventions to prevent or derail them.

One reason for the disparity mentioned in the article is that "get tough suspension and arrest policies in schools" start black kids on a "school-to-prison pipeline." But why are black children the only minorities affected? Hispanic/Latino students, who are 29 percent of preschool population, comprise just 25% of suspensions. Asians are 4% of preschoolers, and make up 1% of suspensions.  Even students of "two or more races," comprising 4% of preschoolers, produce just 3% of suspensions. Given these figures, is racism a useful explanation, or is the disparity linked to more specific aspects of transgressions?

One transgression I cannot overlook is misuse of singular versus plural. The gym teacher who, at the end of stretching, tells us to "roll up slowly, one vertebrae at a time," the realtor who cites his "single most important criteria," and the stargazer pointing out the "once-in-a-decade phenomena" share a special niche in "Eats Shoots and Leaves" hell, a crowded place since it's shared with apostrophe abusers.

I should mention that Associated Press has corrected its grammatical errors in its link for this story today. Counteracting that advance is the Seattle Times link. The print version carries the headline, "More black than white preschoolers suspended." The online story puts the lie to the canard that Seattlites are most literate by adding, " shows."  Aarrggh!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

"Ban Bossy" Campaign: Anti-Feminist but Worthwhile for Another Reason?

The "Ban Bossy" campaign and video, sponsored by Lifetime and Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In" organization, tries to encourage young women toward leadership with the bizarre assumption that girls nix their aspirations because their friends call them "bossy."

After forty years of feminist culture, this is absurd. Kids call each other plenty of cruel names, and bossy is a mild one.  And girls surpass boys in school, creating a widening "college gap" causing concern that men will be left behind.

Even weirder than thinking "bossy" stops girls is that highly-admired women like former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Girl Scouts CEO Maria Chavez and Arianna Huffington (none of whom succumbed to the "b-word") consider it a threat. Another "Ban Bossy" endorser is Beyoncé, known to use distinctly non-feminist sex appeal to enhance her singing talents. "John Smith" from Los Angeles commented in the Daily Mail, "All she does is shake her rear in her underwear yet she is the mouthpiece for telling girls how to be?" Montana governor Steve Bullock is also a spokeshuman, with the quote, "Today's bossy girls are tomorrow's leaders,." suggesting bossiness as a prerequisite to high position. Still, if a campaign promotes considerate speech, then Brava.

After all, "bossy" is an objectionable epithet whether applied to a female or a male. Bossy people impose their wills on others. Bossy people don't consider or respect others' points of view. Bossy people take the position that they're, well, the boss, making you the subordinate. Maybe individuals should ban bossy not because it might cause some girl to quit grad school someday--but because name-calling is rude.

Part of the contention is that "boys don't get called bossy," because when they exert themselves over others, it's called "leadership." No, it's called "bullying," and there's even a government website to fight it. A 2010 summit was called by the Department of Education, and the Obamas hosted a 2011 White House Conference on Bullying Prevention.

This silly "Ban Bossy" campaign is actually anti-feminist, because it implies that women's own decisions and desires aren't good enough.

Feminism honors women's freely-made choices. And for the most part, mothers place their families over their careers. Brain research showing that women's hard-wiring inclines them differently from men has been compiled by accomplished women like Melissa Hines and Louann Brizendine. But the only acceptable definition of achievement for Lean In ladies is high rank in the male-dominated, public sphere, not serving in more private spheres caring for others. In other words, "leading" many is good. "Helping" a few is...disappointing.

"Ban Bossy"-ites work on the anti-woman assumption that monetarily remunerative, visible positions of authority are superior to raising and educating one's own children, or traditionally female careers like teaching, nursing and childcare. That's why they're so desperate to push girls their way.

There's nothing lesser about women "leaning out" of the competitive workplace or positions of leadership. And after earning more diplomas than men, there's no reason why they'd suddenly stop dead in their career tracks due to name-calling that never stopped them before. It's ridiculous to suggest that women comprise 5% of CEOs and 17% of Congress (as Sandberg complains in an ABC network interview) because the rest of them were thwarted by childhood insults.

Instead, many highly-educated women are doing exactly what they want to do--working awhile, and then leaving competitive careers to nurture and enjoy their children's development. Or, they may pick jobs compatible with their interests, which could even be those brain studies predict. At the same time, more colleges and companies actively seek out women for fields where they're under-represented.

It's been a long time since Betty Fredan, but some people can't accept that sexism's passé and the Mad Men milieu is history. I've spent far too much time writing this, because ultimately the "Ban Bossy" campaign is merely a feel-good party for its supporters, and of little consequence to anyone else.

Sandberg's pressure just makes girls who aspire to traditionally female occupations or raising a family feel badly; they're wasting their potentials. The program could even backfire, causing young women inclined traditionally to scotch desired careers because they're afraid of being called "weak," "brainwashed," or "victim." Too bad girls aren't taught pride in who they are, instead of relentless indoctrination in the same old male standards underlying "Ban Bossy" beliefs.

It took me a couple of days to finish this post, and in the interim everyone and her sister has jumped on the "Ban 'Ban Bossy'" bandwagon. Nearly every blogger and columnist can find something to dislike about it, from its snooty position of privilege to its arrogant aim to change girls' careers. Writers think Beyoncé is a poor role model and that the campaign gives name-callers power. The whole thing seems like a vanity project for powerful women feeling guilty and unworthy that they made it. The effort reflects, to use my husband's term, the "Do-something Disease" run amok.  "Ban Bossy" is co-sponsored by the Girl Scouts (I'm a former member and leader), a group now floundering for something to sell beyond surgary snacks.

So I'm going to soften my stance, and reiterate that any effort to eliminate rudeness and infuse interchange with respect deserves support. Yes, ban "bossy" --and "idiot" and "stupid" and the panoply of crass epithets kids call each other.  Adults shouldn't get stuck on  whether girls ultimately choose leadership or jobs more in the background, but rather on the politeness and caring with which they encounter others every day.

Monday, March 3, 2014

"Frozen" Wins Oscars, Captivates...Looking back on my Mixed Review

The Best Animated Picture Oscar for Disney's "Frozen" is just the sweet icing for a movie I reviewed as lightly enjoyable but bearing subtle dubious messages, a puzzling plot and some scenes too scary for little kids.

 Giving the film a mixed review brought some nasty comments inconsistent with the gentle innocence one prefers to associate with "Frozen" fans. Among these are my darling neighbors and their friends, who regularly belt out the film's Best Song winner "Let It Go" together while carpooling to school. My neighbors saw "Frozen" five times and contributed to its $1 billion in sales, making it second-highest money-earner for the year behind "Iron Man 3."

Some of the comments I received on my less-than-raving review thoughtfully considered the psychological torment of a sister who completely shuts out her sibling despite continued begging for contact. Others thought I was slime for daring to question any aspect of a film they adore. "Frozen"'s popularity might simply convey that even with a weird plot and scary scenes, girls crave imaginative films that create bonds with their friends.

When my neighbors sing "Let it Go," they don't notice the perplexing message underlying Elsa unleashing her dangerous ice-creation powers--but it's still there. When someone has a destructive or harmful proclivity, is it really better to "let it go," or harness and redirect it? Elsa's exuberant expression of her freezing curse could spur viewers' "letting go" other destructive urges, like anger. It's doubtful kids understand a "soul spiraling in frozen fractals" but when it comes to tantrums, they might readily hear "Turn away and slam the door! I don't care what they're going to say--Let the storm rage on!"

But who's thinking about that? Caring parents, perhaps?

John Travolta's embarrassing botched introduction of Idina Menzel at the Oscars before she sang "Let It Go" is probably the most savored storm since the film's release. Clearly unnerved, Travolta called the Broadway star "the wick-ed-ly talented, one and only Adele Dazeem," unleashing a flurry of hilarious tweets that finally let adults squeeze some fun out of the film. Even folks who avoided the Academy Awards are chuckling from the ubiquitous loop online of Travolta's fail.

Though "Frozen" has its own fails, clearly the movie-going public disagreed with my take on it, or chose to ignore anything deeper than that first soft layer in the snow-pack. Better for families to go to Disney movies, and girls to giggle together munching popcorn in theaters than withdraw to the increasingly common physical isolation of video games and online relationships. I was surprised to see one of my "Frozen"-boosting neighbors engaged in a computer game where teen avatars are manipulated within a room by youngsters scattered around the world. These characters have fake money to spend on beauty products and clothes, certainly legitimate interests of 12-year-olds, but the platform on which they interact is pitifully disconnected from any real contact.

Theater movies provide an event, a shared experience that in themselves have value for participants. Beyond that, though, messages conveyed onscreen do matter. "Frozen" offers good ones with the dubious, such as younger Princess Anna's loyalty to her sister despite repeated spurning, and Queen Elsa's misguided withdrawal from Anna under the guise of dutiful obedience to her deceased parents' command. In this film, messages are mixed and muddled, which probably mutes their negative impact on the girls crooning "Let It Go" in the car on their way to school.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

President Obama and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers: Puttin' on a Happy Face

I watched the POTUS' State of the Union Address from Honolulu. It was 4 pm, stormy and windy outside, and my husband was taking notes on the back of a discarded print-out of a dated news story. I leafed through a coffee table photo book of Hawaiian surf icons and made wisecracks at the well-delivered platitudes of our president during the applause that more than 80 times erupted from admirers in the House chambers.

I was impressed at the obviously well-rehearsed delivery. And wasn't it nice to hear unrelenting good news? He said the deficit was reduced by $2.5 trillion dollars! How wonderful, and how did that happen? The sequester...oh wait, our president says everyone agrees the sequester was "a really bad idea."

Pres. Obama says "the biggest driver of our long-term debt is the rising cost of health care for an aging population." And of course Obamacare adds to that coverage for stuff people don't necessarily want or need, while spending millions of tax dollars to cajole reluctant, healthy younger people to sign up. Advertising doesn't affect the debt much, I guess. But perhaps his never-mentioned $787 billion Stimulus Package might have?

Our president had a long wish-list of items to accomplish. "High Quality" preschool for all. "Redesigning America's high schools." Incentives for companies to hire the long-term unemployed. "A chance for every responsible homeowner in America to save $3,000 by refinancing at today's rates." A national minimum wage of $10.10."Tax credits, grants and better loans" for college students. Rewarding colleges for offering programs that lead to jobs. Why do I doubt whether any of these things should be a national responsibility rather than a state or local concern?

Teasers from the White House before the speech suggested bold moves by the President with a "telephone and a pen." No phone or pen earned mention in his speech, and his only pledge was to use his executive powers to work around the legislative process. That sounds pretty ominous, dodging the people's representatives.

Didn't our Founders limit the federal government to activities only an overarching power can accomplish, like defending our country, crushing terrorists, maintaining interstate highways and regulating immigration? Instead, I hear our President has a plan for every corner of life, and seemingly a commission, strategy or executive order to enact it. Just as the iconic character "Julia" benefited from government largesse from birth to death, if the State of the Union can be believed, no phase of our lives will escape the warm butter of Obama's soothing protection.

Unless we become successful and earn a lot of money, and then we face closed loopholes and more expensive prescriptions. I was relieved that Pres. Obama omitted the term "income inequality" from his speech. "Income Inequality" is the new code for last year's reviled "1%," the new bon mot of the politics of envy. Thankfully, we were spared the redistribution of wealth; could that be related to the president's reported $20 million advance for his memoirs?

Pres. Obama sure sounded polished. He paused expectantly for applause. He lilted in a perfect, practiced cadence with occasional 'hood inflection. He acknowledged the camera and nodded to his imported "example people." He seemed confident, with only a minor flub with "My IRA." I still don't know if it's pronounced "Myra" or separately, "My IRA."

Cathy McMorris Rodgers, getting to know you
Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who I've met several times, is as sweet as she seemed, though not nearly as syrupy. She had a tough job as Republican "responder" to the POTUS' pronouncements. Without knowing the content of his speech, she needed to appear on top of things in words written in advance. Instead of labeling her talk as "response," it should have been called "Alternative view," because her real charge wasn't answering the Pres, but offering the GOP as the viable and welcoming alternative to Obama's Democratic advertisement. Rep. McMorris Rogers successfully showed  Republicans as salt of the earth, hard-working and earnest. And not much more, because the positions she offered were vague enough to sound compatible with the president's.

Both Obama and McMorris Rodgers want immigration reform and closed borders. They both want more jobs and economic responsibility without debt. They both want health care, but Republicans disdain Obamacare restrictions. Hers was not a response to Obama's content but rather an introduction--a youthful, feminine face for a party many identify with wealthy, out-of-touch, old white guys. If you wanted a response to the President, you had to go to post-event commentary by Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz (who seemed to me surprisingly on target).

Truth be known, the whole thing was a yawn unless you're already a politico. How many viewers watched the entire State of the Union Speech without interruption? Don't know but ratings show the 2014 event with the lowest number of viewers since 2000, 33.3 million people. Second lowest was last year's speech, with 33.5 million. Clearly, folks are losing interest, which parallels the President's favorability ratings. By contrast, the Super Bowl this Sunday is expected to break all records, including last year's high of 111.3 million viewers.

Admittedly, during the State of the Union, I took a phone call and missed a bit. Someone with me had his eyes closed at one point. Was there anything new or shocking or worth tweeting other than the sheer predictability of the event?

Pundits manufactured their comments, as expected, and until elections later this year, we can look forward to the same old, same old. In the meantime, I'm heading to the beach..

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Placenta...with some Fava Beans and a Nice Chianti...

"She lived in Portland, and ate her placenta, with some fava beans and a nice Chianti...szz-szz-szz-szz!"

Sounds even more disgusting than eating her liver with the same accompaniments. But wait, this is not cannibalism, it's...reality! The State of Oregon has actually passed a law that explicitly approves mothers' taking their fresh placentas with them when they leave the hospital.  Oregon Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer introduced the notion in HB 2612, which passed 56-0 and took effect January 1.

Now you can do what you want with your placenta, and Portland doula Raeben Nolan's company, Tree of Life Placenta Services, will happily transform the meaty organ into tortilla soup, lasagna or, when dried and ground, little placenta pills. An article from the Los Angeles Times shows Amanda Englund, "who prepares women's placentas for consumption" and also makes them into wall art.

Raeben Nolan at work on a placenta
Beth Plymale, who paid Tree of Life $250 for a package of services including supplements made in her kitchen from her son's placenta, appears in a Portland news video swallowing a capsule with a healthy swig of water from a mason jar. For her money she also got some Tincture of Placenta for use "later in life, maybe menopause, when she feels the need for a hormone boost." As an $80 option, Nolan will make you some Miyeok Guk Soup, traditional Korean post-partum fare, though usually made with seaweed.

Only one study, in anthropology from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2013, researched benefits, side-effects or drawbacks from "placentophagy," the term for consuming placenta. Most of the study's 189 "overwhelmingly white, married, college-educated" mothers had their steamed placentas made into pills, after home-births. Seventy-six percent of the survey respondents had a "very positive" experience, though 57% reported negative side-effects, mainly lack of appeal, unpleasant burping and headaches. The researchers now hope to document placenta nutritional contents and their effects.

Placentophagy is fast becoming cool. Las Vegas reality star Holly Madison blogged that she
planned to encapsulate her placenta so she might optimize her recovery. Mad Men's January Jones gobbled her own placenta pills, saying, "it's not witch-crafty or anything! I suggest it to all moms!" Kim Kardashian, before the arrival of little North West, considered whether to consume her placenta to gasps and cheers at a family dinner with the Jenners (on ETOnline video).  Raeben Nolan thinks eating her own placenta after her daughter's birth prevented the post-partum depression that followed her previous delivery, but New York Times blogger Nancy Redd found her placenta capsules caused "tabloid-worthy meltdown" that disappeared when she quit eating them.

Placentas have a rich history in folklore. Cambodians bury them to protect the child's soul. The Navajo and Maori of New Zealand also bury them, while The Kwakiutyl tribe of the Northwest would put a girl's placenta near the tide line so she'll be good at digging clams. Boys' placentas were left out to be eaten by crows, which they thought brought foresight and wisdom.

Amanda Englund with a placenta print suitable for framing
I will confess: I was a placental explorer. Giving birth to my third child in 1992 in Los Angeles, I requested that my placenta be available, and my obstetrician gave me a tour of it, if you will. While my son was being weighed and all the other stuff hospitals do, she explained its wondrous functions as we examined it. That's how I know that its inside is magically pearlescent, offering an unseen rainbow of metallic colors to the developing baby. The side facing the mother's body is a dark-red color, plain and steak-like. My husband grimaced at my interest and wouldn't watch, but when seeing it I was filled with awe and gratitude, already overcome by the miracle of my child's entry into the world and now doubly amazed at the astounding home that sheltered him. I declined the obstetrician's offer to take it home.

I had no inclination to eat, bury or plant my son's placenta, and I'm skeptical of a state law that explicitly authorizes hospitals to send mothers off with them. Given absence of data supporting ingesting placenta, and the circumstances of its removal and then subsequent transport, I doubt the wisdom of encouraging placentophagy. Certainly this is something that might be addressed on a case-by-case basis; there's enough controversy about the benefits of supplements of all sorts to warrant screening of vulnerable new moms who would blithely seethe their placentas for soup in expectation of health benefits.

But now in Oregon, as one blogger noted, your doula might well ask, "And would you like placenta with that?"

Monday, January 13, 2014

Mazel tov! Wedding Show Fun (Just add 50%)

Well, my son proposed to his girlfriend after four years together. He's 21 and she's 24, so I suppose it's to be expected, and his bride is wonderful...but that my youngest child should be the first of my three to wed is as bizarre to me as the fact that I can no longer claim to be 25.

So today my son and I went to our first Wedding Show.

If you believe the entrepreneurial spirit is clipped by this slow economy, you're wrong; economic malaise heightens competition. And in our state of Washington, same-sex marriage has been legal for a year, bringing a new market of locals and customers from out of state to a burgeoning crop of vendors seeking their share.

In addition, weddings entice families to splurge, with the justification that it's a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. Two studies found that vendors charge significantly more when the same event is called a "wedding" versus a "family party." Photographers, party gear rental companies, caterers and musicians all add a surreptitious surcharge just because they can. Potential profit drew all sorts of businesses to rent booths at the Seattle Convention Center, and their presence spurred brides and their emotional moms to shell out $17 each to enter.

Which my son and I did today. What did we find? Long rows of colorfully-decorated booths with brochure-thrusting attendants. Tables of samples of cakes. Performers plucking harps or repeating soppy standards on violins. A fashion show of wedding gowns and tuxedos, punctuated by choreographed jazzy interludes of groomsmen cavorting with brides in matching black fedoras. A section filled with wedding dresses to try on. None of the gowns I saw, in the entire showroom floor and hundreds of feet of racks, had any type of sleeve, and the vast majority were low cut and strapless.

The chaos was oppressive, like sitting in traffic while everyone's honking. The cacophony of musicians and boom boxes blaring from booths, the voices of hustling vendors, the squeals of delight and disgust melded to a headache-inducing mélange, visually amplified by ubiquitous bouquets of orange, magenta and lime. Each product played into the romantic ideal with its own twist. One invitation company imbued its papers with seeds so its recycling would flower. One decorator created an arch of old books, rentable for about $900. A party goods company offered rustic cedar tables, mismatched tableware and mason jar glasses. Travel agents peddled Eco-honeymoons and photo-booth purveyors snapped freebie samples of passersby borrowing feather boas.

I discovered my son likes purple and white floral arrangements. That he doesn't want a
photo booth, and he'd like a friend to take pictures. Being kosher, all the caterers with their fake hors d'oeurve platters couldn't lure us, and venues like an old castle, an inn on Hood Canal and a barn won't be replacing our synagogue. What we learned is that too many unnecessary options distort the focus of weddings from the spiritual toward the material, and that false requirements can cause couples to spend on accoutrements ultimately forgotten except when paying off credit cards.

One's definition of a "perfect wedding" can be elastic. I recall my own wedding planning, so entranced by my future husband that I didn't assert any preferences, borrowing a dress I'd never seen and letting him choose our wedding rings, simply because nothing really mattered at the time, except that I marry him. In about two weeks, we will celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary. I remember many aspects of our wedding, but not the menu, not the table decorations (generously executed entirely by friends) and certainly not the honeymoon, which we skipped in favor of the Jewish tradition of "sheva bruchos," seven nights of celebrations hosted by friends and family. The most costly wedding expenses were the most forgettable, and the most important were irreplaceable and come without price.

The Wedding Show was fun and informative, but my son and I agree we've been there,
done that, and his gentle-spirited bride has been spared its chaos. My son and his fiancee have plenty of decisions to make, but religious precedence removes much of that pressure, and keeps them focused on the centerpiece of their life together.