Cuteness

In honor of my daughter, little T’s second birthday, here are some of the adorable things she has said and done over the past year.

This time last year, although she had said “mama” and “dada” before, she called everything including us “doggie.”

When she was still nursing and just starting to talk in full sentences, she revealed her observant nature.
T: “Daddy’s boobs are yummy.”
Me: “Daddy doesn’t have boobs. Daddy’s a guy and guys don’t have boobs. Only girls have boobs.”
T: “Guys have nipples.”
Touché

Comforting Daddy.
Daddy: “I’m getting too old for this.”
T: “Daddy’s old.”
Daddy: “Yes, Daddy’s old.”
T: “That’s okay.”

At the pediatrician’s office little T kept knocking on the inside of the exam room door before the doctor came in.
Me: “Who’s at the door ?”
T: “The doctor……Dr. Seuss!”

When Daddy accidentally set the car alarm off.
“Uh oh! The car’s barking!”

She revealed her caring, helping nature when she dropped a toy cookie into the homemade toy pictured below.

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She tried to get the lid off and on failing looked in the slot and said “Don’t worry cookie we’ll get you out!”

Demonstrating that she understands the concept but not the limitations of Siri.
(Holding a phone) “Siri, get us cereal.”

In the car, while I was lost no less.
T: “Uh oh! I can’t find it.”
Me: “Can’t find what?”
T: “I can’t find my car engine.”
Me: “Oh no, how are you going to drive your car without an engine?”
T: “That’s a good question.”

She loves the book The Last Basselope which ends with everyone saying goodbye to the Basselope then it flying away. We have another book called Wave which has no words just beautiful illustrations of a little girl’s interaction with the waves at the beach. When we get to the last page of Wave which is the little girl waving goodbye to the ocean as she leaves with her mom, little T says “Her saying ‘goodbye ocean see you another day’ …and then the ocean flew away.”

A debate (again in the car). It went something like this but much longer.
Me: ” Don’t make a big mess back there.”
T: “Mommy likes big messes!”
Me: “No, Mommy does not like big messes.”
T: “Mommy likes big messes.”
Me:” No Mommy doesn’t.”
T: “Yes, Mommy does.”
Me: “Mommy doesn’t like big messes. I hate big messes.”
T: “Daddy likes big messes.”

The day after her party at breakfast.
“No, balloon not (meaning can’t) have my spoon!”

Her absolute insistence that the below little girl is the below frog’s mommy.

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Picture from Fisher-Price Busy House Little People Play and Sound published by Publications International, Ltd.

It’s so amazing to have all this cuteness in my life I felt I needed to share it with you, even though this is only a tiny fraction of it. I’m sure I’ll think of more adorable examples as soon as I publish this but I hope it brought a smile to your face.

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A Few of Mom’s Favorite Things

So, I haven’t posted in a while. I do however have some ideas, none of which I’ve really gotten started on. But its okay because I did come up with a verse of a mom version of A Few of My Favorite Things while cleaning the kitchen. I have to give credit to my husband for helping. Feel free to add more verses.

Big hugs and kisses
And freshly washed dishes.

Tickling wee toes
And peeing with the door closed.

Nap time is here, no more kid’s songs to sing.
These are a few of my favorite things.

When the dogs bark.
When the screams start.
When nap time has passed.

I simply remember that bedtime is near
And then I’ll be free at last!

(This is just meant to be fun and silly. I don’t want any scolding from those who think parenting should be constant joyous rainbows).

What Disney Characters Want

I’ve been debating whether to write this post as I know there are quite a few similar posts out there but I felt its information that as many Disney guests as possible need to hear. Visiting Disney theme parks is a lot of fun and meeting the famous Disney characters is a favorite activity for many children and adults alike. Having worked in Walt Disney World entertainment for seven years, I’ve seen plenty of the good and the bad. My experience is from Disney World so there might be some procedural differences in other parks but I’d be surprised if a lot of it’s not the same for all the Disney theme parks. Also, of course I can’t speak for every single character performer but this information is based on my own experience as well as many conversations with other performers. Without further ado here are some tips from a former performer to make character meet and greets go smoothly and be more enjoyable for you and the character.

The biggest most important thing Disney characters want is the same thing most everyone in the service industry and really everywhere wants. And that’s simply to be treated with respect. I hope most of you are thinking “duh” (or whatever the current head smacking slang is) but you’d be surprised how many people don’t show basic human decency while at a theme park. It’s pretty simple. Be polite and don’t crowd, grab, hit, kick, step on, pull at, pick up, poke, jab or grope any part of a character. Contrary to popular belief characters can be physically injured by your actions and even if something doesn’t hurt that doesn’t mean it’s not annoying and rude. Also, don’t encourage or allow your children to do any of the things on that long list either. Most characters aren’t going to care much if a two-year-old hits them because they know kids that young don’t know any better but they aren’t going to be happy if that toddler’s parents don’t intervene or worse look on and laugh or encourage the bad behavior. (Is hitting, pulling, poking etc things you want to teach your child anyways)? Don’t make inappropriate comments about a characters tight or revealing apparel. They will not think you are witty or cute, they’ve probably heard it 10 times that day. The first thing I listed in the don’ts was “crowd” which I think many people don’t think about. Characters are there to be hugged but when you’re approaching a character, particularly in a large group or family try to give them a little personal space unless your hugging or posing for a picture. I think I only heard one mother ever say “don’t crowd him” (referring to Friar Tuck) and I wanted to hug her, I was so happy. My next point is less important as it is really unintentional and characters are very used to it but characters are often touched in uncomfortable ways or handled roughly by very nice people with the best of intentions. It’s nice to be mindful of where your placing your hands during photo and hugs, the characters anatomy doesn’t always line up with the performers. Usually higher up on the back or resting on their shoulder are safe places to put your hands. Also, remember many performers are very petite. It’s common for larger framed (mostly men) to get excited and playfully rough house a little. Just remember a 5ft 85lbs girl probably does not want to be bear hugged by a 6ft 200lbs man. Most characters will take these unintentional small things in stride but it’s nice if you keep them in mind.

Now that we’re treating characters with respect, which I hope is a given to most of you, let’s treat them each like the character they are. Performers work hard to bring a character to life and give people some magic and joy (at least if they’re doing it right). So go ahead and scratch Pluto behind the ear and tell him he’s a good boy. Bow to princesses. Salute Captain Hook. Feel free to ask simple, easy to answer, appropriate questions that are in character to answer (yes or no questions are great). Do not ask the performer questions about themselves. Nothing is more annoying than hearing “are you hot in there?” (Yes). “Are you a boy or a girl? Where do you see out of?” (Doesn’t matter). Always talk to the character and not the performer. They will not think you’re clever for figuring them out or for knowing some bit of information you heard from your friend who was on the college program. They will however appreciate their hard work in staying in character being recognized by you treating them exactly how you would the character you see in front of you. (Except don’t kick villains or anything).

Here’s a scenario many of you may be familiar with: you’ve waited an hour to see the Mouse himself and upon getting to the front of the line your child screams and cries in utter terror. I know that is beyond frustrating but please don’t just drop your wailing kid up there by Mickey so you can get a picture. As my husband pointed out childhood memories are preferable to childhood trauma.  So what can you do? I recommend trying to see a character with a shorter line to test things out before waiting in a humongous line. If you do find yourself standing in front of Goofy with a scared child it’s okay to take a moment to try to coax the child into meeting with the character. Let the character do their thing, they are often good at winning scared children over. If  your kid’s not in complete hysterics you can try carrying the child up and staying up there for the picture. Would you rather have a picture with you in it or no picture at all?

If you really want things to go smoothly be aware of the characters limitations and aware of their and the other guests time (I’ve lumped these two together because a lot the same advice applies to both). Disney entertainment cast members have to constantly balance quality verses quantity. Every guest who has a meet and greet with a character deserves a meaningful interaction. At the same time there are a whole lot if people wanting these meaningful interactions. Characters would much rather spend the few moments they have with each guest giving high fives, hugs, kisses and having fun than fumbling with autograph books or posing for excessive pictures. If you ask a Disney performer what their least favorite part of the job is you’re likely to get “signing a million autographs a day” as the answer. That’s not to say you can’t collect characters autographs, just be smart about it. Have your autograph books and pens open. It can be hard to open books with paws and always takes up extra time to find a page. Also if you hand a character a closed book, even if they are capable of opening books, they will open it to any random (hopefully blank, if they can see well enough to tell) page and sign. So your signatures will be spread through the book all willy-nilly (madness, madness I tell you). This can be hard for kids but it’s a nice touch if you hand the book right side up to the character which is up side down to you. Pen lids are very difficult to get off, click pens are preferable because they’re very easy to use, still they should already be clicked open to simplify things. Offering the character a normal sized to a little oversized (gigantic pens are as bad as tiny ones) pen is very important. An autograph written with a golf pencil probably isn’t going to look very good. The absolute favorite of 9 out if 10 characters (I made that statistic up) are the full-sized Sharpies that click open. They are easy to grip, open and write beautifully. Do not get the mini Sharpies, they are very difficult to grab. When handing a character a Sharpie be careful to give them somewhere to grab that won’t get marker on them. A character will always use one pen from your group or family, no matter how many books you have. It is hard and time-consuming to grab a different pen for each book they sign. Explain this to children so the don’t get mad when Mickey doesn’t use their pen. If there’s more than one character standing together, Chip and Dale for example, and you have more than one autograph book, give them each a pen and book to so they can sign at the same time. Really you should only need two pens since it is rare to find more than two characters standing together. In my opinion if a child isn’t old enough to understand the autograph book it’s really a waste to get them one, unless you are going to use the signatures in a scrapbook or something. If you really want to get your 6-month-old an autograph book, go for it but baby won’t care one way or another. Time to tell a cute story to illustrate this point. Friar Tuck was visited by an adorable 2 to 3-year-old boy. The Friar knelt down and showed the boy as he signed the autograph book. The boy shook his head as he watched and said “Oh no! Don’t do that.” Then snatched the book back and ran to his dad with the indignant proclamation “Look! He scribbled all over it!” It’s also common for toddlers to refuse to hand their book to the character. It just makes more sense to save autographs till closer to pre-school age. It can also be fun to have other items signed by characters, like shirts, hats or stuffed animals. Just know that things like that are hard to sign and the signatures may not be pristine. If you want a shirt signed it’s best to be prepared with something flat to stretch it over, like a book or rigid price of cardboard. This will make it much easier and your autographs will look much neater. Also bring a Sharpie or marker, not a pen for anything but paper. (There are certain things Disney characters can not sign which I will list later).

Of course you’re going to want to take pictures with characters and posing for pictures is one of the most important parts of their job. However, you really don’t need 20 pictures with each character. It’s just rude to the other people in line. It’s totally okay to take a couple of pictures, for instance one with just the kids and one with the whole family. Or give a kid (or adult) a picture alone with his or her favorite character. But it’s really not necessary to get a picture of the kids, then a family picture, then a picture with each child individually, then a picture just with the kids and Grandma then a picture with Grandma and Mom then a picture with each kid and Dad…you get my point. And I’m not making this up there are really people who do this. And after the first few Minnie Mouse will probably just be holding the same pose (while an unseen performer rolls her eyes) as each new grouping of your family runs up for another picture. If you want to see characters but don’t want to wait in line, character dining can be fun but you may not get much time with each character as they usually have a lot of tables to see in a very short time. There are a few locations that are often less busy, Chip and Dale’s Garden Grill at Epcot is usually not too busy (usually is the key word, it sometimes gets busy particularly around Christmas).

Another tip that should be obvious, just wait your turn. I’ve seen families standing off to the side of the line trying to sneak their kids in between other families for longer than it would have taken them to just wait in line. It’s understood that young children will sometimes run ahead and hug a character before they can be stopped. In that case they expect they’ll receive a pat on the back and be gently turned around to go back where they came from. It can be hard to tell if children have gone up to a character with the wrong family, even if the kids look very different from each other, we live in a beautifully diverse world. It is totally within your rights to politely alert a character if there are kids with your family that shouldn’t be. A simple “Oops Pluto, that ones not with us” and the extra child should be kindly ushered away so you can get a lovely family photo. Don’t try to talk your way to the front of the line (everyone knows you don’t have a flight leaving in two hours) or try to stop characters from going in at their scheduled time. There is always “one more” family or group that wants to see them. They’re not being mean and picking on you, they have to go in. Nearly everyone has come from far away and there’s hundreds of birthday boys and girls in the park everyday. The only good reason why people get let to the front of the line or have characters stay out past their scheduled time to see them is if they are with someone who has extreme special needs or is with a wish granting organization like The Make a Wish Foundation (and are probably staying at Give Kids the World). And trust me when I say you wouldn’t want to trade places with one of those families just to avoid lines. (If you are with Give Kids the Word or something like that. Please ignore what I’ve said about not taking too much time and take all the time you want). If you see a character walking don’t try to stop them or shove your stroller or child in front of them unless you want your child stepped on because Piglet can’t see very well. Do wave and say “hi” or hold your hand out for a passing high-five. If you want to meet with this character ask or watch where they ware going, they are very likely walking to a line waiting for them which you can join or if they’re leaving there is a good chance they will be back in two or three minutes. You will usually see someone with the character who you can direct questions to.

Now all that’s left is making sure you know some of the rules Disney characters are held to. They can not sign money, flags (from any nation), clothing someone is wearing at the time, advertisements or anything inappropriate (like a hat with swear words). I’m probably forgetting a few things, so feel free to remind me if you think of more taboo items. They cannot take pictures with inappropriate clothing in view. If you are wearing a shirt with inappropriate material on it characters can refuse to take the picture or pose on away that covers the possibly offensive material. Is it really a good idea to wear your naked lady shirt to a family theme park? Last but not least characters may not hold or pick up babies or children for safety purposes.

This may seem like a lot but really the most importance thing (besides the respect part) is to have fun! That’s what you’re there for, right? So give big hugs, pose in fun ways for pictures, tell Pluto he’s your favorite (he is right?), take pictures to remember your awesome vacation. Take a deep breath and don’t worry so much about seeing and doing everything and enjoy what you’re doing. If you are polite and fun to visit with I can guarantee you will have a better experience. Even though performers are trained to be kind to everyone, its human nature to treat people better when they are treating you well.

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Do What I Say Not What I Do

I’m going to start this post with a disclaimer right away. I think one of the biggest problem with being a parent today is all the judgement we receive. No matter what we do someone will judge us for it and although I try not to judge, I’d be lying if I said I never, ever do. I really don’t want this to be a judgmental blog however. (Most of my posts seem to end in everyone holding hands and singing Kumbaya). The purpose of this post is to defend my parenting and not to judge individuals for their own choices. I will be writing negative things about other parenting styles in order to show why I make the choices I do but this is not meant as a personal judgement on other parents.

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If that meme was more honest it would say “Once upon a time parents beat the crap out of their kids and those kids grew up emotionally stunted and took their bottled up anger out on their own children by beating the crap out of them.” Okay, that might have been a little harsh. In all fairness the meme doesn’t actually mention physical punishment but I think it’s implied as “once upon a time” corporal was the punishment of choice. It’s also important to understand I am not against discipline. Discipline is absolutely essential to raising children, they need firm boundaries. What so many people don’t seem to realize is that spanking does not equal discipline.

It seems lately my Facebook newsfeed has been bombarded with pro-spanking memes making ridiculous claims. (Oddly enough, I had trouble actually finding most of those memes while writing this. So I apologize that I don’t have as many examples as I would like). As fun as memes are, they also really annoy me. People take them so seriously even though they often aren’t based on any fact or research or logic at all. Any idiot with an Internet connection can make a meme.

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See, I made that, it only takes a few minutes. My point is just because it’s on a meme doesn’t mean it’s true and I’m sick I being told I’m a bad parent because I choose not to spank. Particularly since the vast majority of experts and research back up my choice. Parents who don’t spank are blamed (in meme at least) for all of societies problems. Which is interesting since there are way more parents who spank their kids than who don’t. The statistics vary (all say spanking is most common) but one I saw repeatedly was that 94% of 3-4 year olds were spanked in the last year. So are those 6% of kids not getting spanked the cause if all our societal woes? If you really believe that the younger generation are mostly entitled spoiled brats yet most of them were spanked as kids, how can not spanking be the cause? There’s also this assumption that there was some magical time when all people were decent, hardworking people and everything was perfect. Sorry to burst your bubble but that’s complete bull. There has always been violence and other negatives in every society and the older generations have always scowled at the younger. Yes the world has changed but in good ways as well as bad.

I acknowledge that a lot of people have gone too far the other way and fail to discipline their kids at all. Being an over-indulgent permissive parent isn’t good for children. I think many parents who don’t give their kids enough discipline have decided not to spank but don’t know how to discipline without spanking. I mostly just feel sorry for these parents. Being an overly strict militant “because I said so” type parent doesn’t benefit children either. The assumption that if you don’t spank your children that means you don’t discipline them is completely false. The most important part of discipline isn’t punishment, it’s teaching. Any punishment (especially physical punishment) given without a talk about why the child is being punished and the reason why that behavior is wrong is completely ineffective. So, little Sally does something wrong and is spanked without discussion. All little Sally has learned is “If Mom or Dad sees me do this I get spanked. So I better not let Mom or Dad catch me doing that.” It doesn’t teach a child what they’re doing is wrong or why, only not to get caught doing it. Some parents do use explanation and other discipline in conjunction with spanking and I can respect that, even though I choose to use other methods.

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This was one of the most ridiculous memes I found but not the only one making claims that kids who aren’t spanked will end up in prison or as a criminal. There’s no evidence whatsoever that this is true. The evidence actually points the other direction. There have been numerous studies connecting spanking to aggression as well as substance abuse, anti-social behavior and these are just the problems linked to spanking that are likely to land a person in jail. If there has been a study revealing the percentage of prison inmates who were spanked as children, I couldn’t find it. However, 80% of prison inmates were physically abused as children (some states consider spanking with anything other than an open hand abuse). Which clearly demonstrates that lack of physical discipline is not the problem. Or maybe the other 20% of prisoners are these horrible people who weren’t spanked that I keep hearing about.

My parents philosophy was to only spank (just a couple of swats over the pants) if we (their three children) put ourselves in immediate physical danger. If I was ever spanked or threatened with a spanking I don’t remember it. So I don’t consider myself someone who was spanked as a child. The main reason I don’t spank or plan to spank my daughter, although most experts back me up, comes from my own observation. The old saying “do what I say not what I do” just doesn’t work well with kids. One of the main ways children learn is by modeling or copying their caregivers actions and behaviors. If you swear in front of Little Billy it doesn’t matter how many times you tell him not to say those words, as long as he hears you say them he will too. Same goes with “please” and “thank you” it’s great to tell kids to be polite but seeing their parents be polite is the quickest way the learn it. I see my daughter copying my words and actions on a daily basis. A couple of months ago she picked up  a bag, put it over her shoulder like a purse and exclaimed “I’m going to Zumba!” As a child I was told at school and church and by my parents that it was good to give to charity. But what really sticks in my head, the real reason why I give to charity is because I saw my mom physically putting money in the Salvation Army drive bucket. The examples we set as parents make ten times the impression on children than what we tell them. So (logic alert) then how can we hit a child (spanking is hitting) and expect them to learn not to hit. It’s a prime example of “do what I say not what I do.” Several studies have linked spanking to increased aggression in children. The most in-depth and comprehensive study I read about found that children who were spanked more than twice a month** at three years old were more aggressive at age five. I’ve gotten in more than one discussion about spanking with people who are adamant that it worked so well to keep them in line as children. Then in later conversations they would tell me stories about all the crazy bad things they got away with growing up. Stuff I would have never dreamed of doing. One coworker who fervently endorsed spanking even told me about the horrible fights he got into with his brothers, one of them beating him badly with a golf club. I always wondered how these people didn’t see the connection and would yell about how well spanking worked and then laugh about how aggressive and misbehaved they were as children. Of course all children are different and some are naturally more difficult than others. And even the best parent in the world can have an unruly child or one that grows up to have severe problems. Parenting can only go so far and adults are responsible for their own decisions.

The excuse I’ve heard most often for spanking is  “I was spanked and I turned out okay.” Well, guess what? I wasn’t spanked and I turned out okay too. For one thing “okay” is relative and I’ve heard some very not “okay” people say that. But mostly just because something didn’t horribly damage you doesn’t mean it is the only or even best way of doing things. It used to be common place for women to drink and smoke during pregnancy and most babies turned out okay. That doesn’t mean I’m going to knock back some beers the next time I’m “in the family way” (okay, I don’t actually like beer but I won’t drink any cocktails either). I never once wore a helmet while riding my bike when I was a kid and I turned out okay. But I sure as hell make my daughter wear one. Those may be extreme examples but still relevant.

Another reason I often hear for spanking is that kids need to fear their parents to respect them. Fear and respect may overlap sometimes but they are not the same thing. I fear serial killers, I do not respect them. I respect my husband, I do not fear him. I can’t even imagine how sad it would be to grow up afraid of your parents. Yes, if your child is terrified of you, they will probably behave but that’s not way for a kid to live and kids also won’t go to their parents with their problems if they’re afraid. Fear based discipline may be easier and get quicker results but it is not good for the family dynamic.  I’m glad to say my daughter doesn’t seem to be the slightest bit afraid of us. She knows the “I mean business voice” but I wouldn’t say it scares her. You may be wondering what my un-spanked toddler is like. I have to say, I think we have been lucky to get a naturally, relatively easy toddler (if you can call any toddler easy). But I think we deserve a tiny bit of credit as parents. Of course she misbehaves sometimes, she throws tantrums and gets into things she shouldn’t but for an almost two-year old she’s comparatively good. I can’t tell you how often we have servers at restaurants or random people at the store comment on how good she is.

Okay, I’m going to briefly mention some really uncomfortable things that I feel should be touched on but I don’t want to dwell on. First, spanking can lead to actual abuse. As a child gets used to being spanked parents sometimes escalate the corporal punishment until the child gets really injured. Second, on rare occasions a child can associate the pain from spanking with love and even sex (remember spanking occurs on an erogenous zone) and it can lead to sexual deviance as an adult or possibly worse cause them to seek out abusive relationships. With all the reasons not to spank and many alternative forms of discipline. I choose the alternatives. Trust me, most kids today would rather be spanked than have their PSP or iPod taken away for a week. Can I say for certainty that I will never, ever under any circumstances spank a child? I really can’t, but I hope I never do.

I did find a minority of experts who say an occasional spanking (over the pants, open hand) in conjunction with other discipline can be beneficial to children. And I honestly don’t believe if you spank your children you’re a bad parent. I have known many great parents who spank their children. So, if YOU want to spank YOUR children that’s your choice. (Although, I urge you to research the subject and not just do it because that’s what you’re used too). But please for the love of all that is holy please stop blaming me and those like me for all of societies problems. And please, please stop posting stupid memes about what a terrible parent I am for doing things in a way that is different from you and possibly a way that is harder but the way that I am sure is best for my family.

* If you would like to discipline your children without spanking but don’t know how or are having trouble there are a lot of great resources. For toddlers The Happiest Toddler on the Block has really helped us. If you need help finding resources, I would be happy to oblige.

** I originally posted “year” instead of “month” accidentally. My bad.

Sources

(I was really lazy and didn’t follow proper bibliography format this time but it should be enough if you want to find out more or check my info).

“Is it Okay to Spank?” by Kitty O’Callaghan. CNN.com

http://www.childtrendsdatabank.org

“Spanking Teaches Kids All the Wrong Lessons” by Laura Berman. Chicago Sun-Times.

“Pro/Con: Spanking” by Jessica Pauline Ogilvie. Los Angeles Times

“Spanking Can Make Children Aggressive, Study Says” by Pohla Smith. Post-gazette.com.

“Spanking Children: A Guide for the Science Minded” by Gwen Dewer P.h.d. Parenting Science.

“The Influence of Corporal Punishment on Crime” by Adah Maurer P.h.d. The Natural Child Project.

“Plain Talk About Spanking” by Jordan Riak http://www.nospank.com

I also used general information from my college human development class, most of which was verified by other sources above.

Pancho Barnes: The Woman, The Legend, The Badass

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Photo from http://www.panchobarnes.com

Imagine while out and about one day you see a woman dressed in men’s clothing, smoking and using language that would make a sailor blush. You probably wouldn’t think much of it really. Some might give a reproachful glance or shake of the head but most of us wouldn’t give it a second thought. Now imagine you see this women in 1970? A little more shocking but not unheard of. Now imagine its 1950. Quite a bit more shocking, right? How about 1940 or 1930? Now imagine it’s 1918? If you did see such a woman in any of those past years (I’m assuming you’re old or have a time machine) it may have been the legendary Pancho Barnes.

Many of you are probably thinking “who in the world is Pancho Barnes? And why should I care?” Truth is, that’s what I would have been thinking a year ago. Then my husband, being an aviation enthusiast, watched a documentary on her. Knowing that I love it when people go against their stereotypical gender roles, especially in time periods where those roles were more rigid, he was eager to show it to me. I was amazed at what I learned about her. This isn’t going to be an easy blog to write, cutting Pancho’s vibrant life down to a few pages is no easy task, neither is separating the rumors (usually started by her own exaggerated or made up stories) from the truth. Different accounts give vastly different tellings of some events in her life but I was fortunate to find a source that seemed to have gotten to the truth. So, who is Pancho Barnes? A colorful woman whose enormous strengths were tempered by her equally large faults, an aviator, an entrepreneur and always an adventurer. A woman who could out party a college frat boy and blew through several fortunes in her lifetime. A woman who beat Amelia Earhart’s speed record, took on the American government and survived both ovarian and breast cancer…. but I’m getting ahead of myself. Perhaps we should start at the beginning.

Pancho’s grandfather was historically notable himself. Thaddeus Constantine Lowe was the first man to do war reconnaissance from the air. Nope, not in the First World War but in the Civil War and by hot air balloon. He flew over enemy territory and he relayed his observations from the air to the Union. He was often the target of “friendly fire” because Union soldiers were so taken back by the sight of a hot air balloon. Many referred to him as “the most shot at man in the war” and he lined his basket with sheet metal. After the war he moved to Pasadena, California with his wife and expanding family (the expansion stopped at ten kids). Thaddeus was the epitome of a self-made man. Through inventions and opening one of the largest tourist attractions at the time he became very wealthy and a pillar of Pasadena society. He lost most if his wealth by stretching his dreams past his means (a trait his granddaughter would share).

One of Thaddeus’ sons, Thad Junior married a wealthy socialite, Florence Mae Dobbins (despite some objections by her parents). Florence Mae herself was quite plain but well…stinking rich. Thad hoped for a rough and tumble son but instead their first child, although male, was delicate and had major health problems. Their second child, spirited and athletic, did not disappoint Thad even though she was a girl. Of course this energetic girl born July 22, 1901 was Pancho. Okay, okay, her parents named her Florence Leontine. She wouldn’t don the nickname Pancho for many years but I’m going to keep calling her Pancho as Florence just doesn’t fit her. She inherited her mothers not so beautiful looks and her father and grandfather’s spirit. Her Father and grandfather adored Pancho and treated her just like they would a boy. Her mother and grandmother disapproved but were far to busy fussing over Pancho’s older brother, William, to give Pancho much attention at all.

Pancho was completely spoiled, always getting what she wanted. Maids waited on her hand and foot, she didn’t even brush her own hair. At three her father gave her her first pony and she could ride it competently by four. At five she got her first thoroughbred horse. This began Pancho’s lifelong love of horses and all animals. Tragically her brother died of leukemia when she was 12. Her mother and her had nothing in common as Pancho had no interest in embroidery or other “womanly arts.” They both rejected each other yet secretly wished for acceptance. She was a young girl that preferred wearing Jodhpurs (riding pants) to dresses and looked better in them too. Pancho loved to defy convention and caused trouble wherever she could. She even rode her horse naked in the night at a horse show. All the time yelling the name of the horse belonging to a girl she disliked, so everyone believed it was her rival’s indiscretion. She fit right in at her first school Pasadena Elementary, probably because she was the only girl out of the 24 students. She became such a trouble maker rough housing with the boys that her parents pulled her out and put her in a private girls school. After that she bounced from school to school because of her behavior. At one point she even ran away to Tijuana on horseback, the first but not the last of her adventures in Mexico. Every time she was kicked out of another school her parents chose to just try a different one rather than attempting to deal with Pancho themselves.

She did eventually graduate school and at eighteen wanted to become a veterinarian. Her mother would hear nothing of it and enrolled her in art school. Pancho enjoyed drawing to an extent but had no real aspirations of becoming an artist. Pancho was as rebellious as ever and her mother thought the best way to temper Pancho (or at least make her someone elses problem) was to marry her to a reverend. And so after a carefully orchestrated courtship Pancho married Reverend C. Rankin Barnes. At the wedding the men lined up to one by one kiss the bride, many of them kissing her open-mouthed and passionately. (I find this odd as we think of people being so prudish in this time period). Pancho had never even been kissed on the mouth before and she found it somewhat thrilling.

Pancho got pregnant from her and the reverend’s one and only very awkward and unpleasant (for both parties) sexual encounter. Pancho didn’t like her new not totally rich life very much. She was suddenly expected to cook and take care of her home which were not skills she had or cared to have. At 19 years old she was not overjoyed at the thought of having a baby to care for either. Her son William (Billy) Emmert Barnes was born October 9, 1921. Pancho failed to bond with her new little baby. This saddens me greatly, although I can understand that she was young and unsure about having children at all. All she saw in her child was more responsibility that she did not want.

She tried to play the good reverend’s wife but it just wasn’t her. She loved to shock people with her wild stories at ladies events she hosted and bribed her Sunday school class of 9-year-old boys with pocket knives. She started getting some work in Hollywood in the movie industry, mostly with horses. She loved being a part of it all and particularly loved making some extra money to use as she pleased. As soon as she could, she hired a cook, a housekeeper and a full-time nurse for Billy.

Despite their strained relationship Pancho was quite upset when her mother had a stroke and passed away in 1923. Pancho became very ill and was bedridden. At first they said it was a nervous breakdown because that’s what doctors said back then when women took suddenly ill after tragedies. Then they changed their tune and said it was a heart condition and she was dying. In reality it was the same high blood pressure that had killed her mother. Pancho, however was not happy being bedridden and got herself out of bed and ran away from home. She slowly regained her strength as she traveled the U.S. by train, returning home completely healthy. She was convinced she had cured her fatal disease herself.

Pancho inherited her mothers mansion in San Marino and a house in Laguana beach as well as money. She no longer needed the money from working on movies but she loved the adventure and the men. Today everyone would peg Pancho as a lesbian but it turns out she had quite an appetite for men. And although she wasn’t much to look at men were attracted to her energy, intelligence, confidence and unbridled passion. She told her husband about her first extra marital affair and was surprised at how hurt he was by it. She promised him it would stop but couldn’t stay away for long. After some time it was clear Reverend Barnes must have known about her indiscretions but they seemed to reach an unspoken agreement as long as she kept her hanky-panky on the down low he wouldn’t comment. But Pancho always lived loud and when her life became to over the top for her family, they shipped her off on an extended South American cruise. She had a fabulous adventure taking a lover, Don Rockwell who wrote the following poem about her. “With her tawny satin hide/ She would cuddle by my side/ Like a jungle kitten purring in the sun/ She was eager, she was hot/ She was all that I am not/ With her eager lips and arms/ Always quick to prove her charms.” Upon returning home, she took control of her life in a way she hadn’t before. She didn’t even pretend to live with the reverend anymore (although they remained married). She redecorated her mansion in Spanish style and turned it into a party house (woot, woot).

One night her and a few buddies (all men) made a crazy plan to jump a ship to South America. It was your usual crazy drunk talk except (this is where things start getting really good) they actually did it. They boarded a banana boat set to sail to Mexico. Pancho stuffed her hair in a dirty watch cap, wore an oversized work shirt and dungarees and, no lie, joined the crew as “Jacob Crane.” I’m not making this up, this isn’t some crazy movie, she legit joined a banana boat crew as a boy, only her buddies knowing her secret. They didn’t find out until later that the ship was actually running guns to Mexico. Long story short..er, the crew ended up being detained on the ship at gunpoint at one of their stops. Pancho found out a man, Rodger Chute was planning an escape. She convinced him to let her join him even though (again, not making this up) he didn’t like her because he had previously found out she was a woman. The two of them escaped successfully. While trekking through the treacherous jungle and avoiding hostiles on the less than noble steeds they had bartered from locals, Pancho looked up at Rodger and said “If you don’t look just like a modern-day Don Quixote riding such a skate.” He teased her back “In that case, you must be his companion, Pancho.” He meant Sancho and Pancho corrected him. He continued the jest and told her “From now in I’m calling you Pancho.” He had no idea she kept thinking about it and loved the sound of “Pancho Barnes.” They had a long, rigorous and adventurous journey finally arriving in Southern California nearly seven months after leaving. Pancho and Rodger remained lifelong friends. She had loved her adventure and learned she could survive without the luxuries if high society. She had transformed herself and her name, now calling herself Pancho Barnes.

In 1928 Pancho’s cousin, Dean Banks, invited her to take flying lessons with him. Always up for a new adventure, Pancho was enthusiastic to join him. When they approached the instructor they had hired he was less than thrilled as he didn’t like instructing women in aviation. The first time he took her up in the plane was a normal easy flight but the next day he decided to try to scare her off. Making steep climbs then diving and rolling the aircraft for good measure he was sure by the time they landed she would be a wreck. In stead she was exuberant and responded to him questioning if she still wanted to learn to fly with “Hell, yes, I want to learn to fly!” Now, remember we’re not talking about modern jets here. These were small open cockpit planes. The only instrument they had was the oil gauge. They flew completely visually with open maps on their laps. The could tell their altitude by looking over the side, their fuel level by dipping a string in the tank and flew straight by hanging a key chain from the control board. Crashes were not uncommon but, only flying at 30 mph, it was not unusual to walk away from a crash. Flying at the time was dangerous, difficult and exhilarating. Once Pancho had her pilot’s license she bought a biplane for herself.

When I first started looking into Pancho, I assumed she and her reverend husband hated each other. But that wasn’t the case at all. Although they did not live together as a married couple, still being married on paper was mutually beneficial. They actually respected and liked each other. Whenever one was out-of-town they wrote friendly even warm letters back and forth. Billy lived with his father and was raised by nannies, not really knowing his mother at all. Pancho’s home eventually became a nearly constant party, even when Pancho wasn’t home. They flew in bootleg liquor from Mexico nightly. She also hosted frequent parties in her Laguna Beach house. Her party goers included everyone from pilots to movie starts.

Now back to the flying. In the interest of this blog post not becoming a novel, I’m only going to share a few of Pancho’s many flight based exploits. Pancho told friends “Flying makes me feel like a sex maniac in a whorehouse.” She learned to fly at night, no easy task with no instruments. People didn’t know what to make of her. Not only were female pilots unusual but she carried her own equipment, serviced her plane herself, wore mannish clothing and was more than happy to tell a dirty joke, or two…or three. She flew for show in her Pancho Barnes Flying Mystery Circus of the Air. She was the only female member of a pilot club called the Short Snorts whose membership card was a dollar bill signed by all the members. She often worked as a test pilot. Pancho knew that the companies liked to use a women test pilot so they could advertise that their aircrafts were “so easy to fly a women could do it.” She wasn’t fond of their reasoning but she wasn’t about to pass up a chance at trying something new. She flew in what was known as the first women’s air race. She won, beating Margaret Perry by six minutes and her friend Bobbi trout by eight minutes. In all fairness, she had a far superior aircraft to her two competitors. Women’s flying events were always well publicized as in 1929 there were only 34 registered female pilots out of 4,690 total. The publicity is why they held a women’s endurance race from Santa Monica, California to Cleveland, Ohio. The women would be flying from sun up to sun down for eight days. Such a rigorous women’s race was controversial, one newspaper ran a story that included this line “Woman have been dependent on men for guidance for so long that when they are put on their own resources they are handicapped.” Twenty three women entered and nineteen of those actually participated in the race including Pancho, of course, and Amelia Earhart. Early into the race the heat and exhaustion overcame one contestant, Marvel Crosson. She got airsick and tried to parachute out but she was too close to the ground and was killed. Many called for the race to be discontinued, not in a respect for the dead way but in a “this proves women can’t fly” way. The fierce female pilots fought to keep the race going saying they all knew the risks of flying. Despite the tragic death, the race continued. Their were several more incidents but none of them fatal. Pancho, who had been making good time, drifted off course to Mexico at one point. Later that same day while she was landing in Pecos, Texas, their scheduled stop for the night, she hit something while touching down. She had a blind spot directly in front of her in her plane when nosing down. So although she had checked to make sure it was clear moments before, she did not see the car that had driven out on the runway (idiot driver). Her plane suffered enough damage to put her out of the race, thankfully no one was injured. Louise Thaden won the race and out of the twenty-three women who entered fifteen finished. That was the highest percentage of people to finish any race up until then, including the men’s races. Pancho bought herself a cutting edge (very expensive) plane called the Travel Air Mystery Ship. It was the fasted plane constructed and there were only four total manufactured. Amelia Earhart had the woman’s speed record but with her new aircraft Pancho beat Earhart’s record on her second try. Pancho also took jobs flying stunts in movies, the only woman at the time. She was even technical director for one film, hiring pilots and coordinating flight scenes. She also tried her hand at writing screenplays one if which was produced. It was Pancho’s idea to organize a union for stunt pilots and due to her efforts the Association of Motion Picture Pilots was formed. She continued breaking records and racing. She won the Tom Thumb aerial derby two years in a row. And was given a trophy engraved “America’s Fastest Woman Flyer” by California’s governor. Pancho even had a tiny parachute made so her pet Chihuahua named Chito could fly with her.

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Photo from http://www.panchobarnes.com

Pancho flew a friend to Mexico and befriended several Mexican air force officers. Once again, she ended up dressing like a man, wearing a Mexican air force uniform, so she could get into the men only (a.k.a. strip) clubs with her new-found friends. After a week of heavy partying even by Pancho’s standards, they started the flight home. The weather was bad, she was fatigued and nearly crashed. They hit fog on top if everything and she nearly couldn’t find a place to land. They managed to land safely only to find later that they only had a minutes worth of gas left in the plane. They were lucky o have lived. Disappointed with the lack of opportunities for women to fly for their country, Pancho founded WAR or Women’s Air Reserve, she wanted show the world women were capable pilots. Though they had no official connection to the military, Pancho ran it like a military operation. They had uniforms, ran drills and had strict rules.

Meanwhile in her personal life, Reverend Rankin was promoted and moved to New York City. Pancho remained in California but they remained married. Pancho wasn’t upset when he took Billy, 9 years old at the time, with him. She had severe abdominal pain when she was 29, it turned out she had a tumor on one ovary. It was removed along with the rest of her reproductive system. She was not sad to lose her ability to have children. In fact, she was happy she didn’t have to worry about getting pregnant while having a very active sex life. Besides that, a little thing called The Great Depression was going on and Pancho spent money like she had an infinite amount, not just a large fortune. She paid almost no attention to finances and was overly generous with friends. She tried to cut costs, firing some domestic staff and making her once grand parties potluck. She even put her beloved Mystery Ship for sale (although it wouldn’t sell initially). In 1932 Pancho tried running for supervisor for Los Angeles County’s third district, she lost and stayed out of politics after that.

By the mid-1930s Pancho had gone as far as she could in her aviation career and was nearly out if money. So she decided to reinvent herself and her life. She’d often admired an alfalfa ranch in the Mojave Desert from the air. So she bought it, she knew little of agriculture but Pancho was (understatement alert) a wee bit impulsive. She was less interested in the alfalfa than she was in the hard flat surrounding land that was perfect for landing airplanes on and the clear blue skies. She initially rented her San Marino mansion but eventually sold it. She took her dogs, her horses, her boyfriend who was for some reason nicknamed Granny and surprisingly, her son. Both Rankin and Pancho agreed a ranch life would be good for the teenage boy. For Billy it was an adventure but also difficult since he had grown up pampered. He also found himself getting much more attention from his mother than he ever had before. Perhaps Pancho could relate better to a teenager than a child.

They were far from city life, the nearest town being 20 miles away. There was also a small military encampment near by, so small it was only 17 men living out of canvas tents. Pancho got to work fixing the ranch to her liking, carving out a dirt airstrip so her friends could easily fly over to visit. And visit they did, Pancho had to build some one room shacks to accommodate all her friends and named the place Rancho Oro Verde. At first she enjoyed working on the farm, she was proud of her physical strength but she ended up hiring out most the work in time. She also wasn’t happy with how much money the alfalfa was bringing in so she bought dairy cows and fed them the alfalfa, selling milk for more than she could sell alfalfa. They actually made quite a bit from her dairy business but as always Pancho didn’t keep track of money and spent without thinking, so they often seemed strapped for cash despite the revenue. Pancho noticed the nearby military encampments needed meat and so she also went into the hog business. Always the animal lover, Pancho even loved her hogs doomed to the slaughterhouse. Next she had the brilliant idea to collect the garbage from the encampments, charging them of course, then she fed the garbage to hogs and sold the hog meat to the encampments, clever right? Eventually, Granny, who had farming experience and had been a huge help to her, fell in love with someone else and left. Pancho soldiered on without him, coming up with new business schemes constantly, most of which didn’t pan out. She was great at starting new things but sucked at the follow through. She tried breeding Dalmatians and springer-spaniels to bring in money but she kept giving the puppies to her friends, losing money. She continued expanding Rancho Oro Verde. She even put in a swimming pool, to the surprise of the humble farmers living near her. Muroc, where she lived, was full of eccentric characters but none like Pancho. And she worked hard to keep her larger than life image. She was invited to tea by the ladies. And although she had been raised in high society and new how she should behave, she told wild and embellished stories complete with shockingly colorful language. She also pulled the backseat out of her fancy Cadillac to make space for her dogs. Oddly enough, she was still well-liked. People in Muroc appreciated her eccentricities. She was also generous and was involved in the community. She did, however have quite the feud going with one of her neighbors.

Her spending continued to be outrageous and she was always in debt, no matter how much money she made. She finally ended up selling her Mystery Ship to pay off some debt. That didn’t slow her spending because she knew she would receive a large sum of inheritance from her recently deceased grandmother but it was tied up in legal battles for years before she saw any of it.

In 1939 the U.S. government started the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) as part of their response to Germany’s growing air force and aggression. Pancho got a government contract to provide aircrafts and instructors and oversee her area’s operation. She used her inheritance to build an airplane hangar at her ranch. Women were neither encouraged or barred from participating in the CPCT. Pancho made sure to find two female pilots for the program registering them by first initial and last name only. In her third class she paid special attention to Robert Hudson Nichols Jr. or Nicky. They began seeing each other. Nicky was average in most respects but rumor had it that he had something very large Pancho was interested in. And yes, that “something large” was below the belt (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more). While they were dating Pancho and Reverend Rankin were divorced. Some accounts say that Pancho buzzed his church during his sermon in her plane. Others claim she walked right through the church meeting buck naked to serve him the divorce papers. I’m sorry to say the truth is less exciting. Rankin fell in love and uncharacteristically chose his new love over his career (divorce was frowned upon) and divorced Pancho. Not wanting to be seen as a victim Pancho told everyone a juicy story rather than the truth. Despite having not seen Rankin in years and not being in love with him, she was hurt. That hurt motivated her to marry Nicky in December of 1941. The marriage lasted a whole two weeks.

All private airports within 150 miles of the Pacific were closed after the attack at Pearl Harbor. So Pancho had to close down her flight program. That wasn’t the only change the war brought. With the panic from the attack the tiny Muroc Army Air Base (as it came to be called) grew in leaps and bounds. They also started a top-secret airplane-resting facility. The base was growing too quickly to keep up with and the accommodations for those serving there were less than comfortable. There wasn’t much in the way of recreation or entertainment either. Pancho found herself getting more and more visitors from the base and she welcomed them with open arms. Servicemen only needed to knock on her door to be fed and given access to her horses and swimming pool. She loved having people around especially those involved in aviation. The commanding officer, Colonel Shoop began frequenting Pancho’s and hosted events for the base and even visiting dignitaries there. What started as Pancho opening her home to the servicemen turned into a full-fledged business. Pancho built a clubhouse with dining and dancing featuring a double-sided fireplace. She expanded her horseback riding accommodations and held small rodeos on the weekends. She even set up hotel rooms. She had no interest in making it a family establishments but she let families come during the day and swim and ride horses. She also refused to charge many of her friends for their stays.

Pancho, not one to learn from her mistakes, was running out of money and was far in debt again. And she was already spending another inheritance (again tied up in legal battles) that she hadn’t received yet. Most of the inheritance came in assets rather than cash. She was forced to attend meetings in Philadelphia several times a year (due to a hotel she had inherited), which is where she met Don Shalita, a.k.a. husband number three. A once popular dancer, he was now a dance instructor in his late thirties and loved adventure almost as much as Pancho. He moved to California with her and they were married in June of 1945. Most assumed he was only interested only in Pancho’s money. They were proven wrong when Pancho and Shalita divorced after four months, he didn’t ask for a single penny.

When the war ended Pancho was quick to open her airfield again. Any time Pancho found an extra few dollars she was sure to grab a couple of friends and a Dalmatian and fly down to Mexico. She expanded her operation and renamed it Pancho’s Fly Inn. Muroc was undergoing changes again too. It became a state of the art jet testing facility. At first she had an open door policy at Pancho’s Fly Inn but when too many people she didn’t care for started coming she made it a members only club. As always she spent money abundantly and was quick to help out a friend. One flyer for the ranch listed prices and amenities then added “If you happen to feel a little broke-don’t stay away-we want you anyway.” Her favorite customers were the young test pilots now working at Muroc and they loved her too. She loved talking shop with them and they were often surprised by her knowledge of aircrafts and the bases operations which were supposed to be top-secret. She was friends with many top names in aviation, some who would later become astronauts. One of her best friends was Chuck Yeager, you know, the guy who broke the sound barrier after breaking two if his ribs the night before. Where do you think he was horseback riding when he broke those ribs? You may remember the scene from the movie The Right Stuff, you may or may not recall Pancho (played by Kim Stanley) is a minor character in the movie as well.

Pancho decided to make the bar and grill portion of the ranch a private club as well calling it the (wait for it) Happy Bottom Riding Club. Yup you read that right. Pancho would insist, with a wink, that the name was all about horseback riding. A proper lady wouldn’t be expected to get the dirty joke in the title but we all know Pancho was no proper lady and loved a dirty joke. For a private club it wasn’t all that private, having nine thousand members at one point. Pancho also knew what most men wanted alcohol, good food and pretty ladies. So she put out ads all over California to attract pretty waitresses.

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Yup, just about horseback riding.
Photo from http://www.sci.fi

Pancho met her fourth and final husband at the Happy Bottom Riding Club, Eugene McKendry (Mac). Upon returning home from serving in the Army Air Corps his wife served Mac with divorce papers and gave him sole custody of their 4-year old son, Richard. An old friend suggested Mac seek work at Pancho’s and the rest is history. Mac was 26, around Billy’s age which must have bed hard for Billy. Worse yet for Billy, Pancho raised Richard as a son, giving him more of her time and attention than she had ever given Billy. Pancho’s relationship with Billy was increasingly strained. He still worked and lived on his mothers ranch but had married a women (who left him after just a few years) with a young daughter.

In 1946 Pancho suffered a retinal hemorrhage. She should have gone to the doctor, really the hospital but she didn’t. In stead she collapsed just days later causing her ranch hands to call the doctor. She chose to undergo a new, drastic and painful surgery called sympathectomy that would cure her high blood pressure. She went to the Mayo clinic for the procedure which had to be performed on one side of the body then after recuperating, the other side. Pancho was fiercely independent but in those painful, horrible weeks she found she needed Mac and he was there for her. While still recovering she put herself on display at the ranch and made it a joke, she would rather have people laugh then feel sorry for her. She felt the only way to recover was to have an adventure. So her, Rodger Chute, Billy and his wife and Mac took a fishing boat down to Mexico. When she returned she was healthy once again.

The Happy Bottom Riding Club continued to be THE place to party. And boy did they party! There was illegal gambling, an airborne treasure hunt, nude water ballets and one of the rodeos featured an all too accurate reenactment of Lady Godiva’s famous ride. Yup, a pretty blonde rode that horse buck naked. The presence of her pretty waitresses and wild parties made a lot of people believe the Happy Bottom Riding Club was a brothel. Pancho both denied and fed the rumors, loving the attention and business they brought in. Many of her faithful patrons to this day refute those rumors. There were legal investigations which could never prove impropriety. From what I could find, Pancho knew some of her girls were turning tricks and she did nothing to stop it but she never actively encourage prostitution or took a cut of those hostesses earnings. Billy actually married one of Pancho’s hostesses. Pancho disapproved and kicked them both out.

By this point Pancho wasn’t a licensed pilot anymore but that didn’t stop her from flying. She hated bureaucracy and refused to go through the new complicated steps to get re-certified. Her club continued to be frequented by the who’s who of Hollywood, including visits from Lassie. There were also several movies made on or around Pancho’s ranch. Pancho, always trying something new, started writing songs and had a couple minor hits. Her favorite was “Song to the Air Force” which she hoped would become their anthem (obviously it didn’t).

When Pancho got around to marrying Mac it was a massive affair, to say the least. The Muroc base which had been renamed Edwards Air Force Base pretty much shut down for the day. Chuck Yeager served as best man and Pancho wore an actual wedding dress. The feast was enormous and featured four whole roasted pigs and a fifty pound wedding cake (mmmmm cake). Sadly things went down hill for Pancho from there.

Edwards Air Force Base in the 1950s became a large and strict military base that was a far cry from Pancho’s beloved Muroc encampment. Pancho got off on the wrong foot (to say the least) with the new commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards, Brigadier General J. Stanley Holtoner. Holtoner was a strict and disciplined man who was instrumental in changing the whole atmosphere on Edwards. He saw Pancho’s as a den of iniquity, placing it off-limits at times. The growing base also had a lot more recreational opportunities hurting Pancho’s business. The worst thing was the governments plans to enlarge the base. They were taking local homesteader’s land right and left, claiming eminent domain. They compensated the land owners of course but not what the owners considered fair compensation. Pancho did not want to give up her land nor the home and businesses it had taken her twenty years and a lot of money to establish. Some of her confidants have said she would have given them the land had the government approached her correctly. Remember, this was a woman who loved the Air Force so much she wrote a song hoping they’d adopt if as their anthem. Her love and connection to the base made her feel betrayed. On seeing the other homesteaders run off their land, Pancho knew she would have to give up her ranch but she wasn’t going down without a fight.

While waiting (a long time) for the government’s appraisal of her property Pancho launched a lawsuits against the government claiming the Air Force was intentionally harming her business. This was just the beginning of legal battles between Pancho and the government that would last for years. Pancho always acting as her own lawyer and writing drawn out legal documents that included everything from reasons why the Air Force’s plans for her property were unnecessary to personal attacks. She knew she couldn’t win everything she asked for in the suites but she meant to be as big of a thorn in their side as she could. Some of the suites ended badly for Pancho and others she saw as moral victories.

In 1953, Pancho’s establishment went up in flames. She lost almost everything, from furniture to clothes to all of her prize stallions. The fire fighters were able to save her Dalmatians and their were no human casualties but it was an understandably enormous blow to Pancho. She knew she was would lose her home anyways but she had hoped to hang onto until the bitter end when she was forced to leave.The fire marshal concluded that the fire was arson and although there were some suspects, they never arrested anyone for the crime. Her home destroyed, she moved to Lancaster temporarily.

Despite the blow, Pancho continued her legal battles more fiercely than ever. She even started rebuilding what the fire had damaged. Pancho received $205,000 for her land and had to vacate (after pushing it back a couple of times) by August 7, 1954. Pancho moved to a new location about 30 miles away and in a more secluded spot. The move was difficult to say the least. And Pancho still wasn’t done fighting eventually upping her settlement to $414,500, a fortune at the time.

Gypsy Springs was her new home. The land she purchased included a run down shack of a house, the Jawbone Cafe and Motel, the Cantil store and a gas station. All the structures were in bad shape. There was no running water at her house and no out buildings, meaning there was no shelter for her horses (which did not end up in good shape over time) or housing for ranch hands. In true Pancho style, she bought some non-essential items, like an airplane, a catamaran and a color tv. She lived in a house with dirt floors and a state of the art tv. Pancho had big plans for her land, even wanting to build her own city on it but this time she had bitten off more than she could chew. She was both generous, giving away free meals and supplies from her restaurant and store, and contentious, filing more lawsuits and even pulling a gun on a police officer who pulled her over (he called dispatch, who after finding out it was Pancho, told him to “Just get in the car and leave”). It wasn’t long before Pancho was running out if money again.

In 1957 in the middle of all her financial struggles, Pancho found a small lump in her right breast. She had it biopsied at the Los Angeles Tumor Institute. They told her it was benign and Pancho and Mac celebrated for days in L.A. When they got home there was a letter from the institute explaining that further analysis showed the tumor to be malignant. I think we all realize how devastating that would be. The only treatment for breast cancer at the time was a complete mastectomy. Pancho was less concerned about the loss of her breast than the potential to lose use if her right arm. She had always been proud of her physical strength. After the surgery she exercised her arm everyday until it hurt, eventually gaining back full mobility. In 1960 she was back in shape but found her cancer had returned in her left breast and she had to have a second mastectomy. Her life had gone down hill. She finally felt her age (59) and was isolated and overwhelmed in Gypsy Springs. On top of everything her marriage was on the rocks. For the first time Pancho felt truly unattractive, she felt her sexuality that had been such a huge part of her dying. Mac began seeing a women who worked at the Jawbone Cafe. Pancho was never the monogamous type but in her unhappy state she felt jealous and betrayed. She had let Mac into her heart more than anyone else and shown him her vulnerability. In 1962 Pancho sued for divorce. By that time she had become completely overwhelmed by her deteriorating land and was involved in many legal battles to do with her financial difficulties. It was a long and messy divorce.

In 1963 one of Pancho’s old friends told a young man named Ted Tate about Pancho. While Ted was at Edwards on business he tracked her down. He found Pancho alone and in dire need of medical attention, her thyroid was shutting down and she was dying. Even in her terrible state she managed to shock the poor guy by asking (through the closed-door) if the visit was “formal or informal” because if it was formal she’d put on her “rubber tits” (her words not mine). A couple of months after his visit he was stationed at Edwards and visited Pancho regularly, eventually dragging her to the hospital and saving her life. They gave her medication to control her thyroid and while she recovered Ted spread word about her around the base. Only ten years after shutting down her ranch, most everyone on base didn’t even realize she was still around. They organized “Pancho Barnes” day on May 23 and had a huge party in her honor, with many of her old friends in attendance. Of course Pancho loved every minute of it.

Pancho was still in the middle of her messy divorce. When all was said and done they had had three judges ask to be taken off the their case and the final judge ruled nearly entirely in Pancho’s favor.

Despite her improved health it was clear Pancho was unable to take care of all her animals and land by herself. It was simply too much for one person. She was still used to having cooks and housekeepers and her home was disgusting and she often didn’t eat. An old friend, Arlene Milhollin offered to let Pancho live in a small home Arlene owned in a very small town for free. It was in poor condition and it took some work to make it habitable and even then it was less than luxurious but Pancho was delighted to have running water and a telephone and just to live near people again and without the responsibilities of her huge property. She still kept a mess of animals on her property not to mention the mess her house was. Ted ended up paying for her house to be cleaned every other week himself. She made another friend, Walt Geisen, she stopped by his house once a week and acted surprised when Walt’s wife invited her to stay for dinner. The family loved hearing her stories and she loved telling them. Walt and Ted started finding speaking engagements for Pancho and she was all too happy to share her stories at crowded banquet halls to eager ears. Her wit and wild stories made her a very popular speaker. Her seventieth birthday was a party to remember with Buzz Aldrin in attendance she began her speech “I never thought that on my seventieth birthday I’d be looking at the moon with a man beside me who walked on it.”

Pancho decided to try to reconnect with Billy, he was on his third marriage and owned his own aviation business. I’m happy to say their relationship grew closer and they attended an airplane auction together. Pancho’s old Mystery Machine was to be auctioned off. It was no longer functional but none the less the bidding started out competitively. That is until rumor spread, seat to seat, row to row that Pancho herself was their bidding on the plane. Each person bidding dropped out when they heard the news and Pancho was reunited with the symbol of her fast and carefree youth. Pancho had dreams of flying again but things had changed to much and she gave up those dreams.

Not surprisingly Pancho continued to have money trouble and continued to fight legal battle after legal battle. And her spirited eccentricities which had seemed fun and exuberant when she was younger now just made her seem like the crazy old cat lady, except instead of cats she had dogs, and goats and horses and, well you get the idea. Despite her success in public speaking and people loving her legend, most people avoided her in person. In 1975 Pancho had chest pains and drove herself to the hospital but left before seeing the doctor. Not long after that she failed to show up to a speaking engagement at the Officer’s Wives Club on base. They called Billy (Pancho’s number was unlisted) and when he couldn’t get a hold of her, he called the sheriff’s deputy. The deputy found a grisly scene. Pancho had been dead in her bed for at least a week, the kitchen faucet was left running and the heat had been turned up to over eighty degrees. Obviously, it smelled awful and the house was full of dogs and what always happens when someone’s body is undiscovered for a week in a house with a bunch of hungry dogs happened. Heart disease was the official cause of death but many found the circumstances of her death suspicious. If it was foul play, much like the arson she was victim to, so many years before, it remains a mystery.

Pancho was scheduled to speak at the fifth annual Barnstormers Reunion a few days after her death. The event instead became her unofficial funeral party. The next day, Ted worked hard to get permission to spread Pancho’s ashes by plane over the ruins of the Happy Bottom Riding Club. Begrudgingly, they granted him permission to do one pass over the site that was now part of the base. Billy flew Ted in his Cessna but when the big moment came Ted couldn’t get the lid of the urn and they circled around several times all the while being yelled at by the base. When he finally pried the lid off and dumped the ashes out the window, the wind caught Pancho’s remains and blew them back into the plane onto Ted and Billy. I think Pancho would have laughed.

As long and detailed as this blog entry may seem, I’ve barely scratched the surface of Pancho Barnes’ life. So many crazy stories I had to leave out. I wonder if Pancho’s mother had allowed her to study to be a veterinarian, would it have changed her life? Would she have stuck with it or would she have gotten bored and tried something new anyways? Pancho may not have won any mother of the year awards and was impulsive and reckless. But no one can say she didn’t live her life to the fullest. Pancho wasn’t afraid to be herself and live life on her own terms. She was always quick to stand up for herself and others. Although not everything in this blog is flattering to Pancho, I like to think she’d be happy I wrote this. Because if there’s anything Pancho loved as much as adventure (and sex) it was attention. And that’s why I wrote this, not many people read this blog but I want to help as many people as possible to discover Pancho’s gruff charms. So, let’s put Pancho back in the spot light where she belongs.

*If you would like to learn more about Pancho, and I hope you do, I strongly recommend my “reliable source” The Happy Bottom Riding Club The Life and Times of Pancho Barnes by Lauren Kessler. It could be argued that this blog entry was mostly a summary of that book. The documentary my husband discovered and showed me was The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club.

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Photo from http://www.pilot-planes.com

Sources

Holden, Henry M. Great Women in Aviation #2- Florence Lowe “Pancho” Barnes. Black Hawk Publishing Co, 2011.

Kessler, Lauren. The Happy Bottom Riding Club: The Life and Times of Pancho Barnes. New York: Random House, 2000.

The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club. Amanda Pope. Nick Sparks Productions, LLC, 2009.

The Perfect Hero

Only one street light breaks the intense darkness on the desolate city street. A sharp scream pierces through the illusion of tranquility. A woman runs, desperate for help or even a shred of hope. Behind her the sound of pursuing footsteps changes to the sounds of a struggle. She chances a glance behind her to see a masked figure grappling with her would be attacker. Terror is replaced with hope that this unknown vigilante may be her salvation.

That should be a familiar scene, a cinematic and literary cliché. People love their fictional heroes. Action heroes, super heroes and even anti-heroes. They make great entertainment. And I’m one of those hero loving people. Cliché or not, I love them. And all of my favorite heroic characters have on thing in comment, they are flawed.

Lets face it, (obviousness alert) perfection is boring. My husband and I were discussing how flaws make heroes more interesting and he brought up a good point. What creates a good story is the protagonist overcoming obstacles. If a hero has to overcome his or her own shortcomings as well as external conflict it adds more dynamic to the story. A part of me has to love Superman because, well, he’s Superman. He’s the original super hero. However (sorry Superman fans) he has the problem of being too perfect. He’s totally invincible and rarely has internal struggles. They had to introduce Kryptonite to give him vulnerability. He either has to be working to save someone who isn’t invincible (Lois Lane anyone?) or fight someone who has powers that rival his own. Batman on the other hand is only human (with cool gadgets and lots if training) and is pretty much a writhing mess of internal struggle. Superman is loved as an icon but Batman is more popular (according to Comic Resources). It’s not just in the DC universe. I mean who likes Cyclops better than Wolverine? Others have to overcome insecurities about their outward appearances, like Beast or The Thing. Still others have physical disabilities to balance their powers as in Daredevil’s blindness. Others look hideous and are completely insane, oh no wait, that’s just Deadpool (more of an anti-hero I know). It’s not confined to super heroes either. Action movies are filled with rogue cops and revenge seeking badasses.

Part of why people love heroes so much is because we like to envision ourselves as heroes. Just look at the popularity of cosplay and it’s obvious that people enjoy a respite from the real world into the fictional. Who hasn’t thought about what super powers they would have if given the choice. (I’d be able to turn into any animal, while keeping my human intelligence. Then I could fly, become nearly invisible, swim to the bottom of the ocean and kick butt as a bear or lion). It’s simply harder to relate to a flawless hero. Vulnerability not only make characters more interesting it also makes them more accessible.

Robocop aside, nobody wants to watch a crime fighting automaton. When a character is robotic or lacking humanity it usually becomes part of their journey to learn humanity. One of the most notable examples of this is Data on Star Trek (and really Spock before him). This brings me to my next point, if a character’s already infallible they have nowhere to progress. Character growth is important to good storytelling. The Buffy of first season is very different from the Buffy of seventh season (and I was starting to think I could get through this whole post and not mention my biggest hero). This growth is often most apparent in anti-heroes. Han Solo wouldn’t have been very popular if he’d been like “yes! I totally want to dedicate myself to making the galaxy a better place by joining the rebel alliance! I love self-sacrifice!” from the get go. We want to see that scruffy-looking nerd herder evolve from self-centered smuggler to self-sacrificing hero. We love to see a character and think “sure they seem gruff but I bet they’re actually good on the inside.” It goes without saying that we don’t want to see our anti-hero lose his or her quirky rogueness, we just want to see growth. That’s often a problem with TV shows in general, they get stuck not wanting to change the character too much but just end up with a stagnant boring character everyone has lost interest in.

I’ve just spent an entire post saying that heroes are interesting when they have room to grow and obstacles to overcome. I suppose that falls in the realm of obvious but I like evaluating it anyways. The point is the perfect hero is really imperfect (see what I did there). I also like my villains with a little good in them but that’s a post for another day.

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Yup, I totally just put a picture of my dog in a cape (I think it’s a vampire cape) to get people’s attention.

*It didn’t work. This has been by far my lowest viewed post.

….You Might Be a Feminist

I have another confession ….and this one involves the F word. Yup, that’s right (hand raised) I am a feminist. Shocking though that may be, I have something even more shocking to tell you: you might be a feminist too. Now, I know what many readers are thinking “I’m all for equal rights and everything but I wouldn’t say I’m a….feminist.” Guess what? (Chicken butt). Wanting equality for women is the definition of feminism. It doesn’t mean you hate men or burn bras or insist on political correctness. (Although, you’re welcome to do any or all of those things. Actually, don’t hate men, that’s not very nice). It simply means you don’t think people should be treated differently based on gender.

All feminist aren’t the same. Feminist often argue over points amongst themselves, like whether certain things empower or objectify. We are doctors and teachers, lawyers and florists, stock traders and fast food workers and everything in between. And yes, even stay at home moms (like yours truly). Women fought for the right to choose whether to work outside the home or not. And there’s nothing wrong with choosing the latter. Although it makes me sad that most families can’t afford to have a parent stay home even if they want to. Now it seems like many women have a job and still get stuck with most of the housework.

Don’t feel left out if you’re a man reading this because you might also be a feminist. That’s right men who think women should be treated equally are feminists. Don’t worry just because the word has “fem” in it, it doesn’t make you less of a man. I would say it actually makes you much more of a man.

Why is the word feminist such a taboo? Because even in this day and age some people still want to keep women in “their place.” Most of them say they have nothing against women while simultaneously demonizing us. They call us radicals and (my favorite) feminazis. Because (sarcasm alert) wanting equal pay and an end to discrimination, so like the Nazis. These people want to tell us we’re wrong and shameful for standing up for ourselves or others. These people do everything they can to make us feel bad for something they are doing to us. And even some smart, independent women believe these lies.

Women are not a minority or a special interest group, we are actually the majority of people on this plant (albeit by a close margin). Of course it’s not okay to discriminate against minorities either. The problem is that sexism is so engrained in our culture that half the time we don’t even notice it. Women weren’t even allowed to vote in the U.S. until 1920. And that’s after fighting for suffrage for decades. That means when my grandmother was born her mother couldn’t vote. Although, many atrocities have been committed against many groups of people in our culture, I believe discrimination against women is the oldest and deepest prejudice. Before people discovered other cultures to look down on, most societies oppressed women. That’s why it’s so hard to change.

We’ve come a long way and in a relatively short time but those who say we’ve achieved complete equality are seriously mistaken. You only need look on the Internet for a few minutes to see chauvinism is alive and well. My favorite quote about women’s rights is actually from the TV sitcom Malcolm in the Middle and is said by the usually bull-headed Reese (after a change of heart near the end of the episode of course) “I guess what these protesters are trying to say is that women, real women, aren’t that different from regular people. They want the same things that men want. Only men don’t have to hold a big protest to get them. And women shouldn’t have to either.” We shouldn’t have to be feminists really, equality should just be expected. I shouldn’t have to tell my daughter that she can grow up to do any job even if its a stereotypical male job. That should be obvious to any little girl, knowledge that’s taken for granted.

Many will read this and think “yeah, but men and women ARE different.” And I can’t say that they aren’t, at least generally. Obviously men and women have biological, physical differences (talking about medical sex not chosen gender preferences). Most men are physically stronger than most women. Studies have also shown that women are more likely to look at details while men are more likely to look at “the big picture.” There have been numerous studies that have shown differences in the way most men and women think and handle situations. But these are all generalizations and don’t characterize all women or all men (well besides the difference in reproductive organs). Men are often seen as more logical while women are seen as more emotional. I’m not going to say that my husband is illogical (he’s really not) but there have been several instances where I have been the more logical one in a particular circumstance. Many men are also prone to losing their temper (yes, many women are too) and anger is an emotion. It drives me crazy when men with anger management issues tell me women are too emotional. Assuming a person likes certain things or acts in a certain way because of which naughty bits they were born with is ridiculous. I could write a whole post just on how stupid it is men and women are supposed to like different foods from each other.

So, I’m a feminist and I’m not embarrassed or ashamed. I don’t slap men for opening doors for me or fit into this made up stereotype of what a feminist is. It is absolutely never wrong or shameful to demand respect for yourself or others. So don’t be afraid to use the term feminist anymore (if you already used it, good for you). Stand up for women’s rights! Shout it from the rooftops “I am a feminist!” (Acrophobics are exuded from that last one but everyone else, grab your ladders and bull horns). I thought about ending this post with a sappy list about things women “are,” you know like “women are strong, women are smart.” But then I realized that would be going against the very point of this post. The only thing that all women are is individuals and we should be treated as such.

* I am happy to post comments that pose a different viewpoint than my own. However, remember that I have full moderating powers (mwahahahah) and will not post hateful or prejudice comments.

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A Note from a Terrible Housekeeper

I’ve never been a very tidy person. Truth be told, when both my husband and I worked full-time, before having a baby, our apartment was usually much messier then I would ever let our house get now. When we moved into our first house (still sans baby) I used to joke that when we had kids at least I’d have an excuse for the mess. But the truth is now that I’m a stay at home mom, I feel more guilty than ever for not keeping a neat house.

The odd thing is that I don’t think other moms should be expected to keep their houses clean. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest when we go over to another persons house and it’s messy. Especially when both parents work I think “how can they possibly keep the house clean, take care of kids and work full-time?” And even though I feel like since I stay home, I should be able to keep things sparkling, I certainly don’t expect the same from other stay at home moms (or dads for that matter).

Of course there is a limit to how messy a house can be, you can’t raise kids knee-deep in filth, so some housework must be done. Since I don’t work outside the home I do most of the cleaning and even cook on occasion (if i have too). Although, I’m lucky to have a husband who not only doesn’t expect me to keep an immaculate home, he also helps out quite a bit when he can (he only has to work when needed so he’s often home during the day). He does other stuff too. He fixes things, does projects around the house and yard, mows the lawn, builds toy chests, cooks and sews (you know manly stuff). But the point is, yes I do clean quite often, it just never seems like enough and I get all this mom guilt that I should be a Martha Stewart (not in the white-collar criminal way but in the crafting and cooking way) and Mary Poppins hybrid.

Then I had a realization, an epiphany if you will. I am not a housekeeper. I am a stay at home mom. To clarify, my job isn’t to clean, it’s to care for, teach and raise my daughter. If it wasn’t for her I would have a job that pays monetary paychecks rather than hugs. Did this realization free me from all house work related guilt and cause me to spin joyfully, arms open, on a hilltop? Not so much but it did make me feel a little better about myself.

In college I took a Human Development course in which the professor informed us that many stay at home moms spend less time directly and constructively interacting with their children than many working parents. I knew right then and there that I never wanted to be that kind of mom. I can see how it would be easy to slip into that pattern, moms are crazy busy and when you’re with the darling angels all day every day you start to go insane and want nothing more than some time away. While working parents are away from the kids all day and cherish the time they do spend with the little dears even though they’re tired and busy too. (Of course these are generalizations and every family is different). Personally, I believe all parents regardless of gender or work status should make their family their first priority. (Not that moms and dads aren’t allowed to have jobs they care about or personal lives).

So sure, I could spend most my day cleaning but I don’t. I spend it (sentimental list alert) hiding and seeking, blowing bubbles and finding ladybugs, pointing out shapes and colors, building towers and sipping imaginary tea, drawing, chasing, ticking and cuddling. I read the same books (many of which I’ve memorized) and sing the same songs (along with making up my own) thousands of times. I set boundaries and avert tantrums (sometimes) and try to use the modern-day babysitter, aka tv, as little as possible. Not to mention taking care of her basic needs (diaper changes anyone?).

I’m not saying that if you take the time to keep your house clean you’re a bad parent. Some people don’t function well in mess and clutter. They are happier, better parents when they keep things tidy. I, myself, need to take a few minutes here and there to look at Facebook or punch out a paragraph of this blog or even play whatever silly game I’m hooked on that day on my phone (even if I’m still watching my energizer bunny out of the corner of my eye) or I turn into crabby, quick-tempered and just plain angry mommy. (And you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry). It’s doesn’t really matter what I do exactly, it’s just about taking a moment to do something for myself.  Sometimes I even read or watch an hour or two of tv while she’s asleep (I watch less tv in a week then I used to watch in a day). Technically, I could spend every waking moment I’m not directly interacting with my cuddle bear cleaning but then I wouldn’t be a functional human being much less a good mom.

Sometimes the clean laundry sits in the basket or even the drier for a few days before I get to folding it. My floors often needed vacuuming yesterday and there is always some random clutter about. Our cat and two dogs don’t exactly help with the whole cleanliness thing. Although, I guess in a way they do. They take care of crumbs and spills but they leave behind enough hair and drool (and sometimes other bodily fluids) that I doubt it evens out. But despite the mess I have a very happy little girl. So if you’re like me and your house is a mess but your family is happy, don’t be too hard on yourself. Are you going to look back when your little ones are grown and cherish the memories of cleaning your house? The long and short of it is I’m a lousy housekeeper but I’m a pretty stinking good stay at home mom. And I’m starting to be okay with that.

Nerd is the New Cool

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The other day I read a Cracked.com article entitled The 7 Most Ridiculous Things About Calling Out Fake Fangirls. I largely agreed with the article although I can understand how it can be frustrating when someone takes something you love, that they know nothing about, and calls themselves a fan. (Major run-on sentence alert). Case in point, I had to roll my eyes at a girl I used to work with, who in the past had proudly declared “I don’t read,” (not everyone has to be a bookworm but I don’t think not reading is something to brag about) when she came over to me while I was reading a Harry Potter book and said “I just became a Harry Potter nerd.” I told her that was cool then she said “yeah, I saw the third movie and liked it, then I saw the first two and liked them too.” It was all I could do not to full on face palm right in front of her, so I get that can be frustrating but who’s the judge of true fandom? The whole article got me thinking, what constitutes a “fake” fangirl/boy or nerd and am I one?

Before we proceed I should clarify a couple of things. I’m going to use terms like geek and nerd interchangeably, even though many argue there are differences. I’m also talking about geeks/nerds in the sense of being fans of things deemed geeky (which I consider myself) and not in the really smart, good at math and technical stuff sense (which I am not). These different definitions often overlap but you can certainly can be one without being the other. Also, I’m apologizing in advance, it’s going to be really hard for me to stay focused on the point and not just go off on a million tiny nerd tangents (maybe “a million tiny nerd tangents” should have been the title of this post). I should also apologize to those readers who may not be predisposed to geekiness, hopefully you won’t get totally lost in all the references.

The above article mostly focuses on the claim that there are “fake fangirls” who go to conventions in revealing costumes just to get attention. Most the complaining about poser nerds only calls out girls and women (sexism anyone?) as if only girls pretend to be something they’re not to fit in. This assumes that being geeky is now cool. I’m not going to say that’s not true, the stigma attached to nerdiness has definitely diminished in the last several years. It’s hard to argue that things that use to be considered nerdy aren’t popular now, when comic book movies are often the highest grossing movies now days. And graphic tees that use to hard to find outside of Hot Topics are sold at department stores like Macy’s. However, there are certainly those who still look down on all things geek and many people think there’s only an acceptable amount of nerdiness. Some people might enjoy comic movies but would still consider collecting said comics beneath them. Also, certain types of things are often considered nerdier than others, example being, World of Warcraft (and other MMORPGs) is generally considered geekier than Halo (and other first person shooters). I still get occasional sideways glances when I show up to a mommy and me class sporting a Firefly tee-shirt. That’s not to say geek sheik hasn’t come a long way, 15 years ago I doubt anyone would be trying to defend their nerd status.

I can say with some certainty that I am not one of the aforementioned scantily clad girls at conventions (whether they are seeking attention or sincere fans). Mostly, because I’ve never been to a convention (hold for gasps of shock). Unless you count Disney Hollywood Studios’ Star Wars Weekends as a convention. Do you need to go to conventions to be a nerd? It’s not that I have anything against conventions, I would probably really enjoy them, they’re just expensive and before becoming a stay at home mom, I usually worked weekends. I do regret that we were in Orlando during two Star Wars Celebrations and didn’t make it to either. I’ve also never cosplayed out side of Halloween. Again, it looks fun but I’m just not a crafty sort of person that is good at putting together awesome costumes. I’m lucky if I pull together a half decent Halloween costume (usually with a lot of help from the hubby). I’m also a perfectionist and it always drives me crazy when I can’t get my costume to be exactly like the original character’s and I’m too cheap to spend the money it takes to make a costume look just right. The picture at the start of this post? That’s from a Halloween party at our house.

Oh, side note, I did go to A Comic Shop in Orlando to get comic book writer Daniel Way’s autograph. There we are, pictured below (it was St. Patrick’s Day and I’d just had a root canal).

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There are so many different things to geek out about now days. Some people have a wide variety of interests while some tend to focus on one. For example some people are science fiction and fantasy fans, while some are just one or the other. More specifically, some people are just into Anime while others love Anime and Star Wars and comic books and possibly ten or twenty other nerdy past times. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being focused or more broad in your fandom. I tend to dabble in a lot of different things and to focus on individual things I like and not broader genres. I wouldn’t consider myself a general Anime fan but I am a big Cowboy Beebop fan (I like a few others too). I do read comics but only collect a few titles (although, I’m about 18 months behind on reading them, guess how old my daughter is?), mostly because there are just so many titles. I’m sure some would ask me to turn in my nerd card just based on that.

I’ve seen so many comments on the above article and others with people boasting about “knowing their s#%^*.” I often wonder how much knowledge you need about something to be a “true fan.” Do you need to stay up nights studying so you can prove your love of something to others? I really love Star Wars, they’re just plain awesome movies. My knowledge of Star Wars is somewhere between your average casual viewer (you can’t be married to my husband and not learn something about Star Wars) and your hardcore, always wins Star Wars Trivial Pursuit, fan. Does that mean I’m not a Star Wars fan? I know there are much, much bigger fans but does that somehow negate my fandom? I don’t believe it does. Even with Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and no one, I mean No One better question my Buffy fandom), I don’t know the name of every random side character in every single episode.

Another criticism I often see and hear is the “you jumped on the bandwagon late and I’ve been a fan for years” argument. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to brag about how long you’ve been a fan of something. I love to tell people how I started watching Buffy first season (although it was part way through first season and I stopped watching for a while but that’s another story). Now I’m not new to nerdom, I grew up watching Star Trek The Next Generation and remember watching old school Dr Who when I was so young all I really remember (vaguely) are the beginning credits. I watched X-Files from the very beginning (although not through the bitter, terrible end) and kept up with all the black oil twists and Krycek turns. Granted it’s been so long now I wouldn’t know The Smoking Man from Sunday (note to self re-watch X-Files). I’ve always been a fan of fantasy literature, long before Harry Potter. However, I’m not very good at keeping up with the latest thing and am often late to watch/read something amazing. There have even been times I’ve seen a movie and then after loving it read the comic or book (Scott Pilgrim, Watchmen). Sometimes, I even love a movie without ever reading the book or comic (scandalous, I know). I also have a long list of things everyone tells me I’ll love that I still haven’t tried (new generation of Dr. Who). My point is (I know this post has a lot if rambling), when someone discovers something really doesn’t affect how much they love it. I mean, I wasn’t alive when The Lord of the Rings was published, it doesn’t make me like it any less. All those people just discovering Joss Whedon after The Avengers? I welcome them and hope they watch and read some of his less recent works. If anything, his new popularity makes me feel vindicated, like “see, I told you he’s awesome” (whoever took him off Wonder Woman must be kicking themselves). Even if you didn’t discover the joys of hardcore fandom until yesterday it doesn’t make you a lesser fan in my opinion (although perhaps a tad less experienced). One of the best things about nerd culture is that it has always provided a place for the social outcasts to be accepted, so let’s not start turning people away at the door.

Sometimes I question if I’m some kind of nerd wannabe. I occasionally wonder if I’m a poser for wearing my Batman shirt when I don’t collect any Batman titles (although, I don’t wonder about my Harley Quinn shirt since I love Batman the Animated Series and she was created for the cartoon originally). I see people who really devote they’re lives to fandom and think I might fall short. One of my pet peeves is when people pull the “if you were a real fan…” card. At one point Logo had a fan voted top 100 Buffy episodes count down. Of course they listed the result on their website as well and many people including myself were leaving your typical “I think this episode should have been on there instead if that episode” comments. Then someone had to chime in with an “if you were true fans you wouldn’t be arguing about this. You would see that all the episodes are masterpieces…blah blah blah” comment. First off, I believe I’ve been clear about how I feel about people questioning my Buffy fandom. Second, real, true fandom (like friendship) isn’t about blind devotion but about seeing the faults and loving something anyways. So feel free to cast aspersions in the comments as to my nerdiness. I may not be the biggest baddest geek around but I love my obsessions passionately and isn’t that what fandom is all about? So (wokka wokka alert), can’t we all just geek along?

And now just because it’s fun, here’s a picture of Boba Fett with refrigerator magnets stuck to him.

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Too Cool for Life After High School

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For a while in college I worked as a public safety officer (security guard) for a local mall in Salt Lake City Utah (where I’m originally from). If you know me you’re probably thinking this was an odd job for me to have and you’re mostly right. I never really thought of myself as the security guard type but really the job was mostly customer service. I liked the job in some ways, helping people out, catching people doing inappropriate yet hilarious things, playing jokes on coworkers and so on. In other ways I hated it, patrolling (walking around) parking lots by myself (bored out of my mind) in all-weather. I often hoped something would happen so I’d have something to do. Not something bad like someone’s car getting broken into or someone getting injured. Just something like a panhandler I could politely ask to leave property or even someone asking me for the time.
Anyways, this post isn’t actually about my job at the time but a conversation I had while working there (don’t ask me why I explained the job then, I just felt like it, so there). I was talking to another safety officer, let’s call him K, (we probably shouldn’t have been talking since we were generally supposed to be split up and each patrolling a different area, we’ll pretend we had a legitimate reason to be in the same place) about high school. When he asked me if I would go back to my high school days if I could. I believe my response was something to the effect of (mild profanity alert) “hell no!” To which K responded ” you must not have been popular then, if you were popular you would want to go back.” At the time I just shrugged it off. I though it was an annoying response but I didn’t initially realize why. My feelings were hurt a little at his assumption but that wasn’t it. I wasn’t particularly popular in high school but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like high school. I really did. Of course I liked my friends and although I wasn’t “popular” I had quite a few. I liked getting good parts in most of the plays I auditioned for (unlike college where I got tiny parts in a tiny percentage of plays I auditioned for). I even liked a lot of my classes. I have countless awesome high school memories.
So why, even when I’d only been out of high school for a few years did I not want to go back? The answer is in the question really, I didn’t want to move backward, I wanted to move forward. I’d already done a fair amount since high school. I was at least half way through college and already dating the wonderful man I would marry. Of course there were negatives to high school too. The biggest being that my mood each day was determined by whether the boy I liked at the time talked to me. I also have countless bad memories from high school to go with the awesome ones. But every stage in life has its bad points (as well as good) and that’s not why I was glad to be done with the awkward teenage years.

I don’t want to bash poor K for missing high school so much. He was a couple of years younger than me and had been out of high school for no more than a year. It wasn’t surprising that he hasn’t done much since graduation. It’s the adults, in what should be the prime of their lives, still pining over high school that make me sad. It’s a clear indicator that you haven’t done much with your life if you honestly want to go back in stead of ahead. I don’t mean nostalgia, I get nostalgic a lot. And I’m sure a lot of patents can relate, when sometimes I think how nice it was to just be able to go out and see a movie spur of the moment without finding a babysitter. But of course I don’t really want to go back to my life before my beautiful girl was born, (well maybe for a few hours occasionally) she’s everything to me now. If you find yourself constantly thinking you want to go back to the way things were at some point in your life, my suggestion is to get out and do something with your life now! It doesn’t have to be something huge and world-changing, just do something. Also, really think back to your glory days. Were they really as perfect as you remember them? Somehow I doubt it.

I hope I haven’t been insensitive. I realize there are people whose current situations are so bad or who have had something so awful happen to them that they have totally legitimate reasons for wanting to go back to the past. And yes, I see the irony that my first post was about wanting to be a kid again (but just for 10 minutes). I really miss times, places and people from my past and I’m sure sometimes I get so caught up in past events I don’t stop to enjoy the here and now. I just can’t imagine living my whole life like that.
I hope K has grown up and stopped wishing for his popular high school days. Maybe he made billions with a life changing invention or saves lives everyday as a brilliant surgeon. Okay, probably not but I’d be happy just to know he has a job he enjoys and friends and maybe even a nice family of his own. As for me, I don’t care that I wasn’t popular in high school, I had fun. I know I won’t live happily ever after because no one does. The stuff that t-shirt (you know the one with the smiley face) says “happens” is always going to happen. I guess what it comes down to is you can’t go back, life is a one way track. So why keep looking back? You’ll just miss all the scenery you’re passing right here and now.