Updated Definition of “Torture” Added to Dictionary for 2013

The meaning of torture was updated this week.  Updates are highlighted in blue.

Tor-ture  /’torCHer/

The action or practice of inflicting severe pain on someone as punishment or in order to force them to do or say something.  The deprivation of sleep inflicted on parents caused by a toddler’s fears of the big bad wolf, “the evil witch,” a psychedelic candy house made of gumdrops, or some other fairy tale crap that scares little children.

To inflict severe pain on.  To deprive those who feed you, love you, clothe you, and bathe you of sleep due to overexposure to fairy tales filled with characters who belong in jail or psychotherapy or on Death Row.

noun. torment – anguish – agony – pain – excruciation – Disney stepmothers  wolves dressed in matronly clothes  cannibal witches – cats that creepily sing “we are Siamese if you please”
verb. torment – excruciate – agonize – tantalize – plague

Examples of TORTURE

  • Getting stuck in traffic is torture.
  • This heat is torture in the summertime.
  • I love my kids but they are torturing me each night at 2 a.m. when they climb into my bed.
  • Abby’s Flying Fairy School used to be torture but now it is one of few things that will keep the kids quiet in the morning so it’s no longer torturous
  • “I don’t know how much longer I can take this torture,” the mother said to her husband as their Irish twins snored in their bed. 
  • “I didn’t know parenting was such torture,” the father said to himself as he pecked away at his keyboard, thankful he had an office to escape to.
  • Though small and adorable by day, the toddlers meted out torture on their parents in the night, citing wolves, witches, and “nothing” as reasons for being scared.
  • Bedtime was torturous for the mother due to incessant demands by her toddlers for sips of water and pillow fluffing before the lights were turned off. 

Reader-Provided examples of TORTURE (need not be related to sleep deprivation)

  • The mother felt tortured when her 3 year old absolutely refused to potty train.
  • “It is torture trying to remove crayon artwork from our living room walls,” the mother said to her husband when he returned from work.

Tootsie Pops

“Here you go, kids.  Tootsie Pops!  Stay in the stroller, we’re going for a walk, okay?”

Maybe now they’ll be quiet for five minutes.  How can they go all day without a nap?  What the hell…I’m so tired.  Just need five minutes.  God…they talk so much.  

“I see you have a lollipop, Arjun!  Just eat it!”

 I really want to listen to the new Daft Punk album.  If I walk along the water I can put my earphones in…

“Arjun!  Don’t bite on it!  Suck it.  It’s dangerous to bite it right away.”

Crap, he’s gonna bite it.  And chew straight through to the Tootsie again.  I just know it. Then whine for another one.  I should’ve bought extras.  Too much sugar lately, but-

“What, Indira?  You won’t bite it?  Because you’re a big girl?  I know that, honey bunny, you are a big girl.”

Why am I always affirming her?  Mom never affirmed me that much.  It’s not like she’ll be damaged if I don’t tell her how big a girl she is because she won’t bite a lollipop.  Or would she? Is it a three year old thing? I should google that.  Can I just ignore her?  No…but maybe? Would her confidence be impacted?  What would-  Wait.  Why the crap am I thinking about this?  

“Kids!  Quiet time starts now.  It’s Mommy Time.  Don’t talk.  I mean, you can talk to each other but not to me.  Mommy needs a break.  From talking.”

Oh, thank God.  They’re quiet.  Where are my ear phones?  Ugh!  Why do I have so many receipts in my purse?  

“What, Indira?  Yes, but we’re just stopped for a minute.  Mommy has to get her ear phones.  Mommy time!  I want Mommy time, guys.  Be quiet.  Please.  Please?”

Ah.  There they are at the bottom. All coiled up.  Why can’t Apple make earphones that don’t tangle?  They made the iPad but they can’t make non-tangle earphones? Why are we even using a cord anymore?   They should have cheap bluetooth earphones for music.  Apple is so overrated. 

“What, Indira?  I don’t know.  The moon?  What?  Oh, yes, you’re right.  We can see the moon during the daytime.  No!  I don’t know why!  Huh?  Yes, maybe it’s because that’s the way God made the world, honey.”

Aww, that was cute.  I should really take her to Church more.  God, I’m such a bad Catholic.

“What?  Indira! I don’t know why some trees are tall and some are short.  I just don’t know. Maybe because that’s the way God made the trees.  It’s still quiet time, honey.  I-”

GODAMMIT!  Who is that coming over to us?  She’s so old.

“Oh!  Hi!  Sure, no problem, we can stop. You’d like to meet the kids?  Indira, Arjun, say hello to the nice lady!”

My life sucks right now.

“She’s three and a half, he’s two and a half.   Oh, his hat?”

Oh, here we go again with the hat. Yes, a two year old wearing a fedora is cute.  If I had a nickel every time someone-

“Yes, he loves his hat!  Wears it to bed, even!  I know!  Can you believe that?”

Ughhh.  Kill me now.  Indira’s down to the nub on that lollipop.  I’m screwed.  No Daft Punk.  

“What’s that?  Oh, thank you, yes.  They are blessings.”

Blessings, my ass.  Lady, you don’t know shit.  Let these kids wake you up at two a.m. every night for five weeks straight, then let’s see what you say.

“Oh, ok, take care!  Kids…say goodbye!”

Maybe I can still make it to the waterfront-

“What Indira?  You’re done?  Ok, give me the lollipop stick-”

Oh, gross!  It’s sticky.  Did I bring wipes?  

“Yes, I know your hands are sticky, Indira.  Now mine are too.  Hold on.  I think I have wipes.”

They’ve gotta be in the bottom of this stroller somewhere.  Crap!  They’re not.  How could I have left them.  Oh, that’s right.  Arjun had a poopy diaper right before we left.  God that was a huge poop.  I left the wipes by the front door.  Dammit!

“Indira, I know your hands are sticky!  One moment!  Please!  What, Arjun?  No!  You cannot have another lollipop!  You just had one!”

Maybe I should have bought more Tootsie Pops…  No!  Too much sugar.  Too much sugar lately, Dev is right.  

“What, Indira?  Yes, I know you’re not crying.  Yes, you’re a big girl.”

Again!  I did it again!  Why am I always affirming her?  I’ve got to work on that. 

“Arjun! Stop screaming!  Indira, please wait.  I don’t have the wipes right now.”


“Kids, change of plans.  Let’s go back home and have an early dinner.  How about pancakes?”

Gay Marriage: It’s About Us All

If justice is good for one, then shouldn’t it be good for all?

I recently dined with the kids – sans husband who was stuck at work – at a French bistro around the corner from our home.   It was a balmy spring night, the dining patio full of patrons enjoying mussels, escargot, and pan-seared steaks.   As I settled the kids into their chairs and tore up chunks of bread for them to eat, I heard a man’s voice behind me.   “Excuse me,” he said, “I don’t know how you do it with two.  We just have the one and it seems impossible at times.” I smiled at him and his eighteen month old son sitting in a high chair, giggling adorably under a floppy green hat.  “No different from you,” I said.  A few minutes later the man’s partner – another man – returned to the table.  The three of us talked about their impending move to Maplewood, a popular Manhattan suburb, about their fear of isolation from the city, about their excitement of having a big backyard.  The conversation was utterly mundane, yet enjoyable because we were on the same plane, finding so much in common in the space of a few minutes.

Every child is born into a universe of possibility.  He knows only one truth at the outset: the love of his parents.  Yet he is also born into an imperfect culture.  The worst examples of our own imperfections are stunning upon reflection.  Our nation’s forefathers put pen to paper with the three-fifths compromise, which effectively declared a black man equal to three fifths of a white man.  Volumes could be written by people more scholarly than I about who was to blame, why the forefathers proceeded with a compromise to allow slavery, and so on; but the simple truth is this: it was evil, and they proactively permitted it in our Constitution.  It would require a civil war and the thirteenth amendment to eradicate this evil from our historical record, yet the imperfection would persist.  In 1959, Mildred and Richard Loving, a black woman and a white man legally married in Washington D.C., but living in Virginia, were banished from Virginia under threat of jail time for breaking the state’s anti-miscegenation (interracial marriage) laws.  The Lovings sued Virginia; it would take eight years, but in 1967 the Supreme Court decreed – by unanimous decision – that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws were unconstitutional.  Yes, we live in an imperfect culture…but if history teaches us anything, it is this: we do not have to sit quietly about it.

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was passed in 1996; it is less than one page long yet its impact is devastatingly widespread; it denies the right to marry – and myriad benefits therein under federal law – to gay couples.  Their children suffer as a result. But DOMA is about more than gay families.  DOMA degrades us a society.   It is written with the same evil intention employed by those who would hold that certain men are only worth three-fifths of other men.  It dumps us into the same historical dustpan of those who would hold that a dark-skinned woman married to a white-skinned man is illegal and immoral. DOMA is a stain upon our national character.

Beyond DOMA, as a lifelong New Jerseyan, I think it is shameful that New Jersey does not yet occupy the moral high ground currently owned by Connecticut, New York, Washington, Maine, Vermont, and Iowa, among others, in legalizing gay marriage.  And yet we call ourselves a progressive state?

The two men I shared a drink and conversation with last week were good fathers who clearly loved their son. I safely assume they pay federal and state taxes and are law-abiding citizens.  They accordingly deserve the benefits and rights that my husband and I enjoy.  That they are gay should make no difference. That they are human beings should be all that matters.  Dignity is not relative.

Justice…we can embrace it or we can deny it.  But the real question is this: do we want our kids looking up at what we had the courage to embrace, or down at the justice that we chose to deny?

To learn more about the efforts to legalize gay marriage in NJ, please visit Garden State Equality, NJ’s largest civil rights organization comprised of 125,000 members, about half of whom are from outside the LGBT community.

The Prisms in Our Lives

Wisdom is like the full spectrum of light revealed through a prism; beautiful, spectacular, yet born of the ordinary.

When I was twenty-six years old, I snapped at my father with harsh words.  We were sitting in a crowded Starbucks around the corner from Washington D.C.’s Superior Court, awaiting the first day of the murder trial for a friend who had been killed two years before.  My father had traveled to Washington to attend the first few days of the trial, in part to support me, in part to bear witness to justice for my friend.  My father is like that; steadfast, righteous and honorable, like a rock planted in a riverbed, unmoved by rushing currents and shifting tides.  I do not remember exactly what caused me to snap at him, only that it was a momentary release of hot anger, profound stress escaping like steam from a kettle’s whistle.  As soon as the words flew off my tongue I felt guilt and shame burrow into my gut.   I apologized several times, but after my third or fourth apology, my father folded his NY Times in half, looked across the table, and said, “Brigid, I’m your father.  Don’t worry.  I forgave you before the words left your mouth.”

The impact of his words was immediate and lasting.  Guilt and shame washed away.  In their place, a feeling of profound security settled in.  The notion that my words and actions were incapable of altering his love for me, or his capacity to forgive, was extremely comforting.  It was comforting in the moment, but it also altered my consciousness about the nature of unconditional love and forgiveness.  Now that I have kids of my own, I think of my father’s words often.  I want my kids to feel the same sense of security that my father gifted to me that day in Starbucks.

Which brings me to my daughter.

She is only three years old.  Her mind is like fertile soil teeming with optimism, curiosity, and an ever-constant ache to please Mommy and Papa.  Yesterday she had a tantrum at the park; it was a monumental meltdown after a long day with her grandparents, water sprinklers, and a pickle from the farmer’s market.  It culminated with the tinkly song of Mr. Softee’s ice cream truck parked just beyond the swings.

“Mommy,” she whined as we walked towards the car, “I want ice cream!”

“Absolutely not,” I responded.  “You’ve already had a pickle.  That’s enough treats for one day.”

“But a pickle is not a treat!” she wailed as I strapped her into the car seat.

Later, over dinner, I asked her if she felt better and she said yes, but then ducked her head away, perhaps still angry, perhaps a bit embarrassed.  Perhaps feeling a bit of guilt at having screamed so loudly at me.   So I asked her, “Indira, how big is the sky?”

“So big, Mommy,” she responded, her eyes wide, her chubby arms outstretched to measure the bigness of the sky.

“Well,” I said, “Mommy’s love for you is bigger than the sky.  I never stop loving you.”

She looked at me, her eyes ever-wider.  “Mommy do you love me with every feeling?”

I felt a small lump lodge in my throat.  My eyes watered.  My little girl was my prism.  “Yes, honey.  I love with you every feeling.”

“Even when you’re upset?”

“Yes, even when I’m upset. I love you with every feeling.”  Then she asked me for more grapes.

What a simple truth.  Yes, of course I love my children with every feeling – joy, anger, frustration, hope – yet how easy is it for a child to assume the love stops when our faces darken in disappointment?  Would I have even considered this notion of loving with every feeling had she not asked the question?  Probably not.  I was attempting to transform my daughter’s comprehension of love and she in turn transformed me.

Life is an ever-changing, fantastic journey.  Made even more beautiful, and transformative, by the prisms in our lives.