On Caregiving…and having a young family…and having a full time job…and trying to keep some sanity…

Image result for picture of stressed out woman cartoon

In the last three years, we’ve spent quite a bit of time being a caregiver.  Abigail was 3 the first time we did this.  First, it was my father who had terminal cancer.  And then, with my mother who had a serious illness keeping her down for 4 months and now she’s fallen, broken an ankle, had the docs piece her back together and we are looking at another 3-4 months of intensive caregiving.  This time also includes a sister who had major surgery and needed care and was also diagnosed with a seizure disorder.  A daughter who broke her arm.  And me who was diagnosed with diabetes.  Oh, and we have a young family.  I have a full time demanding career.  My husband is a full time college student.

Needless to say, sanity is in short supply these days.  I’ve had a lot of people ask the question in the last few days of, “What can I do?”  My response is always, “oh, I’ve got it.  Don’t worry about us.”  I have a superwoman complex.  Truly.  I think I can handle the world.  I thought about it this morning and more than likely those around me will be seeing more of their peers doing the kinds of caregiving that I am doing.  So, when they are asking how to help it is not just for me, but I’m sure it has them thinking of others they may encounter in this situation.  So, this is a list of things that are of most help to me and are a good starting point for those you may know who are both full time caregivers and have a young family.

  1. If you are local, call on Sunday night and say in a forceful way, “I’m bringing you dinner on _______. What are things that people cannot eat and what do you like to eat?”  Don’t ask, “Can I.”  Just say you are going to do it.  If you are out of town, send a gift card for a restaurant.  Believe me, we will forever be grateful for McDonald’s at this point.  No lie.  We will eat that up like it is gourmet.  Why?  Because we’ve already been up since 5-6 am and by the time dinner rolls around we are beyond exhausted and a hot McDonald’s cheeseburger that we do not have to fix or do dishes after would taste great.
  2. Call us up and say, “We are coming for your child”—just not in a creepy voice.  Haha! Full time caregiving is very rough on children.  The household routine is disrupted.  They, unfortunately, do not get much of our time and they are worried about their family member who is sick.  It is hard on littles.  They need fun and we simply cannot give it right now.
  3. Send random texts and cards just to let us know you are thinking of us. Those moments of encouragement go a long way.  You have absolutely no idea what it feels like to get a funny meme in the moment after having to empty bedside commodes, etc.   Caregiving is not glamorous, so keep us laughing and encouraged.
  4. Call us and say, “We are coming over and you are leaving.” Caregiving is hard on a marriage.  VERY hard.  Many might not think of it, but when the patient literally cannot move it means someone has to be home every hour of the day.  So, we cannot go out together.  Being able to have a short meal and a trip to Target together means the world to a couple in the thick of this process.
  5. In the priority of things in life, the house is the last thing that gets attention. But, for someone like me, who has a hard time with clutter and mess, not being able to properly attend to it just weighs even more on the stress.  Show up with a bucket.  If you are out of town and have the resources, call Merry Maids or someone similar and pay for a one time cleaning.  You have no idea the tears that would flow to have that taken care of.
  6. Send wine and unhealthy snacks.
  7. If they do not live somewhere with online grocery shopping, let them know you will do their shopping and that you will stop by for their list at ____ time. Do not give them a choice.
  8. If they have dogs, stop by and take the dog for a 10 minute walk. The stress is also rough on our pets.  They are protective and can sense illness.  Poor Jake has been beside himself all week, but we haven’t had time to take him for a walk.  Thankfully, the mice have their own wheel.
  9. If you are headed out to run errands at Target or will be just doing general things around town, call and ask for their list. Believe me, we always have one.
  10. I’m going to repeat this one again—just be there. Just send love, prayers, positive energy and healing thoughts for the entire household.  Of anything I’ve done in my life, caregiving has been the hardest physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  Knowing that we have friends and family who love us and are thinking of us is so important.

So, if you know someone in this situation—reach out and even something you think is so simple—it might make the world of difference in their challenging day.  Now, I’ve got the lunch duty to get to!

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What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like!

democracy II

 

The title is a chant that is my daughter’s favorite from the marches we’ve done.  And, I’m sitting here this evening pondering democracy.  What is democracy?  Have you ever sat down and really considered the meaning of democracy and what we are trying to uphold? What DOES democracy look like?

Typically when democracy is discussed, it includes the following four pillars as a system of government:

  1. A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections.
  1. The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life.
  1. Protection of the human rights of all citizens.
  1. A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens. (Diamond, 2004)

I take the pillars of democracy very seriously.  These pillars are the ideal we strive toward.  Read through those carefully once again.  When we say we love democracy this is what we say we love.  I love these pillars whether it is me exercising them or the next person.  I love these pillars whether it is people who have my same political or ideological beliefs exercising them or people of a different persuasion.  If I value democracy, then I value each of these four components and I value them when people, all people, exercise them.

The first premise is a free and fair election.  Any evidence based incursion on our free and fair system should be an affront to all.  Evidence shows that confusing voter laws across states that hinder access, debates over voter IDs, gerrymandering—all of these are issues in our election system.  But, to me, the clearest threat to our free and fair elections is apathy.  There are those that simply do not feel their vote matters and counts.  They do not feel their voice through the vote counts.  We should all be asking ourselves how we change this apathy!  Voting is just the first step to embracing democracy.  It is just the BEGINNING of the relationship between a citizen and elected official.  Therefore, how do we encourage more people to begin the relationship?

I love to see children taught that active participation in politics and civic life are fundamental to being a citizen.  I love seeing this because it means our democracy is vibrant.  I like to see demonstrations.  I like to see people speaking out for what they believe in.  I like to see healthy debate about the direction of this nation.  When I see people taking to the streets, I do not see people “complaining.”  I see democracy.  When I see opposite positions being taken about public policy, I see democracy.  This voice is a crucial part of democracy.

Democracy is also a responsibility.  Take a look at the third pillar.  Democracy is about the protection of human rights of ALL citizens.  No matter the status of the citizen their human rights are protected and EVERY ONE OF US should passionately make sure those rights are protected because that is the responsibility of democracy.

Finally, democracy is critical review.  How?  The laws we create must be critically examined.  If we see laws and procedures that deferentially impact citizens then it is our duty to make sure those laws change so they may apply equally to all citizens.

Idealistic?  Maybe.  But, it is what we strive toward.  And, if you protect these pillars for me, I will always protect them for you.  Even if I do not agree with your perspective,  I will protect them.  Even if I do not like what you have to say,  I will protect them.  Even if your active participation means marching on my event,  I will protect them.  Even if it means reassessing my own beliefs,  I will protect them.  That is my promise to you.  Will you promise the same for me?

 

 

Too Young for Democracy? I Think Not.

 

It is no secret that I am a politically active Mama.  I write my legislators.  I am the chair of a political action committee.  I am also running for office in 2018.  There is simply no getting around the fact that politics are a daily theme in our household.

I took Abigail to her first march in November 2016 in Nashville.  She had just turned 6.  We marched with 15,000 other people to make our voices heard.  We wore our #NODAPL and Water is Life tee shirts.  She carried her turtle rattle.  I started to explain to her, in a basic way, that rallies, protests, marches and just standing on the side of the street with a sign making your voice known is a big part of America, what our country is built on, why her Granddaddy served in the military and why she should be proud to be an American.  To me, that’s part of what it means to be an American.  I have a voice and I am allowed to use it.  I was also proud to be there with two of my dear mama friends and their children.  We made quite the site with our four beautiful children.  But, they were certainly not the only children in attendance.  There were newborns to teenagers in attendance.

rally

I got home on the high of American democracy at work.  The next morning I opened my Facebook to a surprising message from someone I had not spoken to face to face in 20 years, but still felt they had a right to criticize me as a mother for taking my girl to Nashville.  Their message was horrible.  I will not even repeat it here.  I was pissed.  Pissed was not even the word to cover the rage I felt over someone telling me they would “pray for me” because I was teaching my daughter what democracy was about.  I wanted to call this person out on Facebook and lambast them in every way I knew how.  I wanted to dredge up every single tiny piece of dirt I knew about them and lay it out.  But, I didn’t.  I took the advice of my girl, Michelle Obama, and went high.  I simply reminded people that just because they see me on Facebook it does not give them the right to comment, critique or criticize my parenting choices.

Fast forward 7 months to another political rally.  This time in our hometown to make our displeasure known about the House and Senate plans for healthcare.  Senator Mitch McConnell was in town and so it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.  There were many children in attendance carrying heart shaped flags and signs that asked about their friends.  The picture below was posted and the comment came that he should not be at the rally.  He is too young.

carmen son

Let me ask this question.  WHEN IS TOO YOUNG TO TEACH DEMOCRACY?  Do we not think that part of the problem with voter turnout is that people do not believe in our democracy or value the vote?  Too many people believe they have no voice and have no say in what happens to them.  Too many people would rather not be bothered by all the politics.  Too many people want people to shut up and sit down.   I say NO.  I say that the younger we teach this next generation about voting, about finding their voice on critical matters, about loving their neighbor and making sure public policy does the same– the BETTER for us and our future.  And, where is a better place to do it than with them watching their elders participate?  So, no.  Three is not too young to begin the lesson.  Six is not too young to begin the lesson.  Where it is never too late to start embracing our democracy, it is also never too early to start teaching the value of democracy to the next generation.

Abigail and Thomas

Dear Dad…

featherii

Dear Dad:

It’s hard to believe three years have gone by.  It’s been a lifetime and an instant.  It’s been an adjustment that will never feel right.  But, we’ve done as you wanted and we’ve tried to move forward.  Some days have gone better than others.  Some weeks better than others.  And, in some cases, we had to take it minute by minute.

I’m getting to the point where I can focus myself on the good times before the bad.  I can think of our daily calls and texts without crying.  I can think about our summers just sitting around talking without feeling the crush of loss.  I can think about all the times you told me you loved me without feeling utterly lost.

I’m also doing my best to work on those areas of my life you always hounded me about.  I think you’d be proud.  I’m taking more downtime.  This was the first summer in my career that I am working less.  However, I haven’t mastered the art of just relaxing as you were always stressing to me.  I’m a work in progress.

I so wish you were here to experience first-hand all the wonder that is your granddaughter.  She is witty, smart, sweet and sassy, and just overall a beautiful little soul.  You knew that though.  I just wish you were here to see her.  I miss the times you used to call just to hear her babble.  Oh how she can talk your ear off now.

We’ve had some major hurdles since you’ve been gone.  But, we’ve done as you always asked and stuck together.  I made you promises and will always keep them.  Family first no matter what.

I promise we will keep moving forward.  We will honor you by living the fullest life we can just as you always wanted for us.  Please keep sending those little signs that I know are from you.  The feathers in unexpected places, the red cardinals that love my neighborhood and the strong presence I sometimes feel.  They keep me going, remembering and give me a little smile and reassurance.

I love you, Dad.  I miss you.  I always will.

Your Daughter

The Greatest Humanitarian Crisis of Our Generation…

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Yannis Behrakis / Reuters

My thoughts on what is happening in Syria cannot be summarized into a Tweet, a short Facebook post or even a comment or two on other articles.  This situation is enormously complex and in order to understand the usefulness of the military action of last night, one must be reminded of the context that has led to where we stand today.

Over the last 6 years I have watched in horror as the largest humanitarian crisis in my time has unfolded.  The humanitarian crisis is a result of the deadliest conflict in the 21st century—the Syrian Civil War.  I’ve also watched in horror, frustration and anger as the West has done little to aid in the humanitarian crisis.

Many in our country are unaware of why the conflict even arose in Syria.  For many across the globe, 2011 was a tipping point of action for citizens living in countries where freedoms are greatly restricted.  The world saw uprisings, later to be known as the Arab Spring, in places like Tunisia, Libya and later Egypt.  Protestors were pushing for changes that would allow a broader democracy in their nations on their own terms.

In terms of Syria, many point to the detention and torture of 15 boys as the tipping point for protests within that nation.  The boys, accused of pro-Arab Spring graffiti, were detained and tortured for the act and a 13 year old died as a result of the injuries.  What started as peaceful protests of this senseless death turned into the Assad regime killing hundreds of its own citizen protestors and throwing even more of those protestors in prisons.  These actions of the Assad regime lead to the organization of a rebel movement, The Free Syrian Army, as a response.  The Free Syrian Army was made up of not only citizens who wanted to see a regime change, but also military personnel who had defected following the response against protestors (compilation of various news sources:  BBC, Aljazeera, ABC, United Nations).

However, Syria was in poor condition prior to the uprising.  The country was experiencing poor economic conditions, restrictions on personal freedoms and a drought that was forcing rural people to move into cities.  This movement of people was creating strains and stresses on urban spaces as more people attempted to find work and make a life given all of the factors that were impacting the ability to live.  Further complicating matters, in the years since the start of the civil war are the number of groups now laying claim to various parts of Syria.  According to Aljazeera and the BBC, the following groups have laid claim to various parts of the country:  the Syrian government, ISIL, Kurdish forces, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, Rebel Groups, there are areas under Turkish control, areas under control of US forces, areas that are still contested and then large portions of the country that are not highly populated.

With the Civil War growing ever deeper, the displacement of people became a humanitarian crisis.  According to the most recent figures over 450,000 men, women and children have been killed, conservative estimates place injuries of citizens at over a million people, and over 12 million people have been displaced.  I don’t know that many people realize that this is half of the population of Syria!  This figure is a mixture of those who have left and those who are misplaced internally.  Countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey have taken on the largest number of people fleeing the war.  Estimates say approximately 4.8 million people have fled to those countries.  Conditions in the refugee camps are dire.  Problems include access to water, food security, adequate housing, and more than 2 million children are out of school as a result of displacement (BBC, Aljazeera, Amnesty International, United Nations).  We have an entire generation that is not being educated.  Let that sink in as far as the future of Syria.

We also have seen the desperate flight of people into Europe.  Estimates say about 10% of Syrian refugees have attempted to make it to Europe (BBC).  Just given proximity, the Syrian people can attempt to take boats and gain entry through Greece and try to make their way further into Europe.  We saw the pictures of babies washing up on shore as their families fled this war.  Imagine the desperation.  Imagine the helplessness it must take to say the best choice they have is to pay ruthless human smugglers to take a ride on a water craft that is not even close to sea worthy with the HOPES of getting to the shores of Europe.

So, what has the United States been doing in terms of the response to the humanitarian crisis and taking in people displaced as a result of this war?  Well, public opinion has largely argued the situation in Syria is not our business.  In a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in October 2016, 54% of registered voters said “the US does not have a responsibility to accept refugees from Syria.  There was a wide partisan gap on this measure, with 87% of Trump supporters who said the same” (Key facts about refugees to the US:  Pew Research Center). But, this is not atypical.  According to the same Pew Report, the US has never been exactly welcoming to refugees who are fleeing civil war.  Key examples include the disapproval of Hungarians in 1958, Indochinese in 1979, Cubans in 1980 and Ethnic Albanians in 1999.  In 2016, the United States accepted approximately 84,995 refugees overall.  We admitted the greatest number from the Democratic Republic of Congo (16,370), next was Syria (12,587), Burma (12,347), Iraq (9,880) and Somalia (9,020).  In terms of JUST Syrian refugees from the start of the Civil War we have only allowed 18,007 people to resettle in the United States.  Of the millions of people displaced, we have allowed in less than 20,000.

refugee

 http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/syrian-refugees-united-states

Now, there has been much debate about the need for an “extreme vetting process.”  I’m sorry.  That is bull.  Just bull.  There, I said it.  The refugee vetting process in the United States is already extreme.  According to the US Department of State the following groups and organizations are involved in the vetting process:

“United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) is comprised of:

  • The Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) of the U.S. Department of State.
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
  • The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Five international or nongovernmental organizations operating Resettlement Support Centers around the world under the supervision and funding of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) of the U.S. Department of State
  • Nine domestic nongovernmental organizations with a total of about 350 affiliated offices across the United States.
  • Thousands of private citizens who volunteer their time and skills to help refugees resettle in the United States.

The total processing time varies depending on an applicant’s location and other circumstances, but the average time from the initial UNHCR referral to arrival as a refugee in the United States is about 18-24 months.” (https://www.state.gov/j/prm/ra/admissions/).

Given the level and scope of the humanitarian crisis the United States needs to be doing more to help these people.  How can we argue this is NOT our responsibility?  How can we argue our fellow man is NOT our responsibility?  How can we justify not allowing people to resettle that have been ravaged by war?  And, before I get the argument that we need to take care of groups A, B, and C first—yes. I get that we also have social problems we need to address in this country.  I am a Sociologist.  I study these problems.  I teach on them on a daily basis.  I am VERY well aware of the issues.  However, there are times that as a nation you just do the right thing when an entire nation of people are suffering the impacts of an unstable regime that is killing them and making their future unclear and bleak.

The context for the Syrian Civil War is complex and challenging.  We are looking at a situation that needs not only a political solution in terms of removal of a tyrant, but also social and economic solutions of nation re-building.  There are many groups competing for the future of Syria.  I firmly believe it is time for the world to step up and take a more forceful approach to removing Assad and begin the hard work of national rebuilding.  Too many nations have argued they do not want to get dragged into the internal conflict that is Syria.  But, this has gone beyond an internal conflict.  The Syrian people are fleeing and they are showing up on our shores desperate, fearful and broken.  They continue to be tortured in their own borders.  This has been and continues to be a global issue.

As I’ve laid out and provided ample evidence for, the situation in Syria is much more complex than a single bombing is going to take care of.  Further, I haven’t even gone into the geo-political complexities that involve the backing of the Assad regime by Russia.  But, what I do know is that we cannot bomb an airstrip without also stepping up our game as far as what we are going to do for the people fleeing war.  What is do know is we cannot bomb and airstrip without a real strategy to handle the complexities that are the Syrian Civil War.  I hope to see more of a global strategic plan in the days to come.  I hope to see the American public push for more Syrians to come to our nation.  I hope to see more support of the international aid agencies and nonprofits who are on the ground with the people of Syria.  I hope to see us do more to aid those nations who have taken on the largest numbers of refugees.  This is a crisis that we will feel the repercussions of for decades.  The question becomes how will we respond and we will open our arms to our neighbors from Syria and not call a bombing of an airstrip a solution.

Thanks for sucking the fun out of it…

fun sucks

I like a good laugh.  I really do.  Many may not believe that because I am Captain Serious in my household and work, but I do like to laugh.  I play little pranks at work.  I prank my daughter.  I’ve never successfully pranked my husband, but I’ve tried.  I like to laugh at funny memes, jokes, etc.  And, sometimes adults and kids just do funny things and you have to take it at face value and laugh.  You have to laugh at the irrational moments.

But, then comes along those that can suck the funny out of an innocent situation.

Case and Point:

On Sunday, Mom took Munchkin to the local dog park with Pup-Pup.  There is a fun new online group that is painting rocks and hiding them for people to find.  We’ve found some really cool ones!  I’ve seen people from all walks of life get into this and it is fun following online.  Well, Munchkin found a rock IN the dog park and brought it home.  She laid it on the kitchen table with our food.  She proceeded to tell hubby where she got it and he completely overreacted.  It was cartoon comical.  Truly.  It was.  I couldn’t stop laughing.  He yells, “DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY DOGS COULD HAVE PEED ON THIS ROCK????” and then fired it out the kitchen door. Bye, bye rock.

Just the look on his face, the way his voice stressed the words, his irrational reaction—it was just plain funny.  It’s like he could see the germs jumping off that rock and onto his steak.  Come on people, it was steak and shrimp night!  You do not mess with steak and shrimp night.

So, I thought it was funny and posted it to the online group that we were down one purple sparkly rock because my husband wigged out.  Well, you can only guess what happened next.

First, I had those that thought it was just as funny as I did.  Thank you, people.  Thank. You.  You saw how funny this really was.  You saw this was not life or death.  You just saw the humor.

I then had those who felt sorry for my daughter and said it was sad.  Ummm…WHY?  How in any reality is this sad for my child?  Does this impact her physical, social, emotional or psychological well-being?  NO.  Does this scar her for life that her father threw a purple sparkly rock out the kitchen door?  NO.  So, I do not get the sadness.  But, if for some reason it does leave her impaired, I have good insurance.  I will get her a good therapist that she can tell all about the time the purple rock got hurled out the door.  I just hope it does not impact her college chances.

Then, there were those who took me to task because I was supposedly concerned about pee being on rocks and “What happened to the good old days where kids could eat dirt, oil, play in the polluted streams and it made men out of them?”  Ummm…my child gets plenty dirty.  I used to catch her licking trees for goodness sakes.  She plays in the mud constantly.  My husband had an irrational moment and saw a peed on rock next to his steak.  It was funny.  It does not say anything about our parenting and it certainly doesn’t say we are raising a “pansy” as the one commenter noted.  Oh the sexism and gendered norms present in that comment, but I will not get too sociological.

And then, there were those that were angry because we were down one sparkly purple rock that won’t have a picture online.  I have no words.  Did I mention we were painting and hiding ROCKS?

If I had known Sunday night that sharing with the group something I found funny with the rocks was going to cause such backlash, I would have kept my trap shut.  I didn’t realize this business of painting rocks and hiding them in parks was such intense business.  Since I was looking for something a little more lighthearted, I guess I will need to leave this group.  It’s even too much for Captain Serious.  🙂

Our Healthcare Situation…

Once again, I am busy this week writing more letters.  Conveniently, Mitch McConnell’s website and email has been down for maintenance so I am not sure whether my letter will reach his office in time.  Also, other legislators would not let me email them because I was outside of their district.  However, I did manage to get this message out to those who allowed me to contact them.  How sad is it that our leaders are making it hard for us to express our opinions on the decisions they are making?

Below is what I sent regarding the repeal of the ACA.  This letter was written a few days ago, so it does not include the new changes that I am infuriated about including requiring pregnant women to return to work within 60 days or risk losing Medicaid.  Have they also included access to affordable childcare in this new plan because as far as I know childcare continues to be a barrier to full employment as well as hindering families across the United States when a childcare build can exceed $1,000 a month in my area.

Each day I wake up further fired up about making my voice louder and thinking about our policy challenges in the days to come.  I hope no matter what side of the aisle you sit on you are just as engaged.  As I’ve said before, the election of a leader shouldn’t be the end of our relationship with them, it should be just the beginning.

Congressman

I write to you today to express my deep concerns over the new replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act.  I first want to tell you a little bit about my family and then I will share my concerns.  It is my hope that you will take this considerations into account when you cast your vote that will hurt my family.

I am a member of what is called the sandwich generation.  I have a young child at home and also within the last two years moved my aging mother into my home so I can better care for her and she can reduce her hours at work.  She worked hard her entire life for not only me, but also my sister.  She was largely a single parent.  She cleaned houses for most of my childhood because it gave her flexible hours to be home for us.  However, it also meant that the work broke her body down at a young age.  We never had health insurance growing up.  I watched my mother stress every time we got sick.  The real strain when there was a broken bone.  I saw her neglect her own health because we simply could not afford to have health insurance.  I know we trivialize that kind of work my mother did in our society.  We tend to think less of the working poor who clean our toilets.  But, she did what she had to do to keep a roof over our heads.  She later was able to move into a management position in retail once my sister and I were older.  However, that work did real damage to her feet since she was on them 9-11 hours a day.  Her hard work paid off for me though.  I am a first generation college graduate that not only earned a BA, but also a Master’s degree and a PhD.  I am financially secure enough to care for her.

I also have a young child.  A beautiful six year old daughter who loves science.   My husband is now a full time student.  While I finished my PhD he worked so I could achieve that goal for us.  Now, he is pursuing his educational goals and I am supporting us.  We are fortunate enough to own a modest home.  We own two paid off vehicles, are able to take a nice vacation every other year and make sure our daughter has additional educational opportunities.

I am also fortunate that I have health insurance.  Now, my employer and I pay A LOT for that privilege.  My 2016 tax form shows where we paid $11,200 in premiums.  This plan provides at least a modest amount of coverage for my little family.  My mother is also still working enough hours that her company provides her health insurance, but I’ve been concerned in the last year that she will need to drop down further in hours which will eliminate her health insurance.  However, I was not very worried because of the expanded Medicaid in Kentucky and I knew she would be able to get coverage through that avenue or if she still made too much for that we could afford one of the plans in the exchange.

The proposed plan changes all of that for my family.  I was horrified when I saw the CBO estimates that someone in my mother’s position could have premiums of $14,000 a year.  Congressman, we simply cannot afford that kind of cost.  I’ve been sitting down over the last few days and putting pen to paper thinking about what this change will mean for my family.  If my Mom has to continue to work while breaking her body down further this means I will have my remaining parent for a shorter amount of time.  My father passed away 3 years ago after a horrific battle with cancer where I also cared for him.  She literally would be working for health insurance.  Now, if we decide to drop her hours down and attempt to purchase one of these insane plans she would still be working only for health insurance and I would also have to contribute to paying for this plan.  This would mean adjustments to my family and our way of life.  Somehow, I cannot imagine this the position she thought she would find herself in after sacrificing so much for her kids.  I certainly never expected my government to expect a 60 year old woman who makes working poor wages to pay $14,000 for healthcare.  Now, I consider us fortunate.  I have the financial resources to figure it out unlike the millions of people who will lose vital coverage under this proposal.

I am, frankly, infuriated with the estimates of how many people will lose coverage.  I keep hearing the rhetoric, the talk of coverage was never promised but rather it is about lowering healthcare costs.  However, in my review of this plan I see very few measures that would truly lower medical costs.  There is no discussion of how to lower prescription drugs.  There is no discussion of how to lower and standardize the costs of healthcare across hospitals, states, regions.  There is no discussion of how to hold insurance companies accountable.  I heard the rhetoric that poor people may have to make the choice to either buy health insurance or an iphone.  Congressman, I would jump all over a healthcare plan that cost me $700 for a few years of use.  I would jump all over a plan that was $700 per year per person in my household.  However, we both know comparing the cost of an iphone and the cost of a health insurance plan is ludicrous.

I do see a clause that assumes the poor are playing the lottery, winning and then hiding this money from the government; so therefore, we need something that says we can go after those winnings for Medicaid.  The last time I checked, the odds of winning the lottery are about 1/14 million.  We all have a better shot of getting struck by lightning (1/9 million) or getting bit by a shark (1/3 million).  Please explain to me why this clause exists?  What do our legislators assume about poor people?  I also see plenty of clauses about limiting tax credits for women’s health care choices.  Congressman, what do you assume about a women’s ability to make her own decisions regarding her body?

I am sickened by a system that is based off the premise of making profit.  To me, healthcare is not a privilege.  It is a right.  It is not a market for profit, but rather something we do as a society because it is the right thing to do for our population.  And, I will gladly pay my share so that those who are working themselves into the ground just to provide the basics to their family can also have healthcare.  I will gladly do my part so every person in our nation can have access to healthcare.  It makes our nation a healthier and more productive place to have a healthy population.

I urge you to vote no for this plan.  I urge you to show leadership and collaboration and craft a plan that really does work for the poor, the average citizen, the elderly, children and not just the wealthiest among us.  I urge you to radically rethink how we do healthcare in this nation.  I would support, campaign for, back up and defend any congressman who has the leadership and bravery to craft that kind of plan.

Dear Sir,

 

capitol

This blog post is a little different than my normal reflections on life as a mother, wife, professional and sandwich generation member.  This morning I sat down and wrote an extensive letter to my congress people.  I’ve printed these letters and they will be mailed.  This letter will also be emailed and also posted here.  This is also just the first in what will be a series of letters to my representatives expressing my thoughts and concerns about many of the policy directions that impact my effectiveness as a mother, college professor and how I am able to take care of my aging parent.  Further, these policies have me thinking about my own retirement plans.  I share this because it is deeply important that as many people as possible become engaged with how public policy impacts their daily life.  Each and every one of us should be evaluating the proposals and determine how they will matter to you and your neighbors.  Each of us should reach out to our legislators to affirm what we like in a given policy and what we disagree with in a given policy.  They are there to work for us.  Electing these individuals should be just the BEGINNING of our interaction with them.

This is one of my first forays into what I call my visibility in political conversation.  Notice I say conversation–not debate, not fight.  I expect many more of my blogs will be reflections of public policy and mothering.  Public policy and being a caregiver.  Public policy and my role as a social scientist.

______________________________________________________________

Congressman

I am writing this letter to express deep concern about the budget released by the White House this week.  I fully understand that the right to develop our federal budget lies with the Congress and thus my letter to you.  There are many programs and funding lines that this administration wishes to cut that bring me great concern.  Further, there are increases in spending that frankly make little sense to me.  I will outline my concerns below.  However, I should note that these are just SOME of my many concerns that have emerged over the last 50 days.  This list is by no means exhaustive.

First, in regard to specific cuts to agencies.  Under the Health and Human Services, the budget proposes to cut the health professions and nursing training program.  This concerns me because one element of this program focuses on providing incentive and training for rural doctors.  Rural people already have a hard enough time accessing and affording healthcare and yet the administration proposes cutting programs that help ease some of that burden.  For Kentucky it is imperative that we attract doctors to rural areas.  In fact, our universities see this need and are partnering to educate more doctors to place in rural areas (see UK and WKU medical school partnership).  We should be doing everything we can to support these endeavors by our public institutions not work against them. The training program also has a targeted focus on diversity in the medical professions.  Research shows that there is a racial differential in how minority patients are treated, how they trust their healthcare professionals and even how they trust providers such as health insurers.  However, one factor that does reduce this mistrust is having a healthcare professional that not only looks like you, but also understands your culture.  To cut programs that recruit, train and then strategically place healthcare professionals whether to rural areas or to increase the number of healthcare professionals of color is a disservice to citizens.  Further, I only mention two areas that this program covers and there are many more that are just as needed that this money facilitates.  The argument is that these programs are ineffective.  However, I am unable to find evidence of this ineffectiveness.  In fact, I am able to find more research that supports why this work is needed than why the work is not needed.  These are the kinds of programs I want my tax dollars devoted.

Next, also under health and human services, is the reduction of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.  I am sick and tired of federal budgets targeting the most vulnerable in our society.  I do not mind paying my taxes so that they may be used to help our elderly and poor men, women and children keep the lights on.  The elimination of the community services block grants that aid specifically in fighting poverty is unconscionable.   As I understand it, these are dollars that are directed back into the community to address the local needs.  In my own community, we rely on these dollars to help with the needs of our underserved populations.  The non-profits and faith based communities are already stretched thin and I believe it is a good use of my tax dollars to support these block grants and agencies that facilitate groups like Community Action.  Once again, I see the elimination of this block grant as further devaluation of the most in need in our society.  Finally, Meals on Wheels?  Really?  Need I say more?  I’m sorry that feeding the elderly is not seen as a function of the government.  However, as a citizen I do see that as a function of my tax dollars that go to the federal government.

I’d now like to move to education.  Though there are many of the educational cuts (and additions such as money for private school vouchers) that infuriate me there are two I’d like to address.  First, this budget calls for the elimination of the 21st Century Learning Centers because the “programs lack strong evidence of meeting objectives, such as improving student achievement.”  I’ve looked at the literature on after school programs and in particular those studies done following the implementation of these learning centers.  Results are mixed.  However, if you read into those reports, many of the issues cited include the lack of rigorous experimental or quasi-experimental designs to study after school programs.  Thus, is the after school program ineffective or have we not been evaluating these programs appropriately?  Further, in what ways are we working with programs to make sure there is a clear theory of change linked to what they are doing that allows for a clear evaluation?  I would just encourage a further look at this program and rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater, consider other avenues we can take to evaluate and improve these programs for children.  Next, I’m concerned with the elimination of the Supporting Effective Instruction State Grant programs.  Providing blocks of dollars to states to allow professional development is an important part of creating a world class education system for all children.  I’ve seen little information of how we would replace those dollars that school districts need to further educate our teachers.  Finally, I am absolutely outraged that this budget director would argue that it does not make sense to feed kids through the schools and there is no evidence of impact.  These are BABIES.  Our future BABIES.  I am horrified that this line of reasoning would even be used.  This is one of those things we do as a society because IT IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO FOR BABIES.  I ask you to do the right thing and I gladly pay taxes so that hungry BABIES are able to concentrate in school because they are not thinking about their empty bellies.  I seriously cannot believe I am having to include this in a letter.

In terms of the State Department and Global Climate Change Initiative, I am just going to say this—climate change is real.  It is exists whether one believes it or not.  Science allows us to say it exists.  Further, as much as people would like to believe there is discrepancy in the science that humans/and carbon dioxide are drivers, the evidence exists.  Can we still learn more?  Absolutely.  But, stick with science on this one.  PLEASE. I want my tax dollars spent on the Green Climate Fund, the Strategic Climate Fund and Clean Technology Fund.

Under Housing and Urban development, I am fundamentally opposed to the elimination of the community development block grants and the Capacity Building for Community Development and Affording Housing program.  To me, community development is a PUBLIC good not a private good for profit to be made.  Developers are not going to invest dollars in our most disadvantaged neighborhoods because it does not make a lot of profit.  Doing the right thing is often times not profitable but it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.  Do the right thing.  I want my tax dollars to support these two programs.

Under the Department of Energy, once again let me say—the science is clear.  Climate change is real.  We will need to develop alternative energy sources.  The Advanced Research projects program funds research that private sector businesses will not—again going back to that pesky profit thing.  I do not support any budget that eliminates the innovative technology loan program, advanced technology manufacturing program, or state energy program.

In terms of the EPA, I cannot believe we are considering eliminating programs that restore our Great Lakes.  The plan to turn over these projects to states with no support makes zero sense.  The Great Lakes are not just state resources.  The country, as a whole, benefits from the shipping done in the Great Lakes.  This is a public good and should be restored using public dollars at the federal level.  Further, a 31% decrease in the EPA budget is yet another attack on science and climate change.  It is very clear that this administration is skeptical of the scientific method which is ludicrous.  We can bury our heads all day long, but change is occurring, it is impacting communities and will continue.  Please, do not be like the administration.  Stand up for science.

I now turn to the agencies that are targeted for total elimination of federal funding.  I will start with the Corporation for National and Community Service.  I am a very proud AmeriCorp Alumni.  That program put me on a path to my current career as a college professor and community development expert.  I was paid below poverty wages to do some of the hardest, most rewarding work of my life.  I taught GED preparation and life skills in an Adult Education Center and a local jail.  I saw the challenges of those low income adults and inmates who were re-entering society and I decided that I would devote my life and career to serving those populations.  I went on to obtain a MA in Community Development and then a PhD in Rural Sociology.  I am a proud faculty member at Western Kentucky University where I continue this work.  I know, without a doubt, I would not have taken this path without the AmeriCorp experience.  I am disgusted that this program would even be considered for elimination.

Next, I am a sustaining member of both PBS and NPR. I believe in the programming these two groups provide.  To see my daughter fall in love with science because of the Wild Kratts and Sid the Science Kid is precious.  In case you haven’t watched children’s television today it is not exactly educational.  However, I can be sure with PBS that she is getting an education.  Further, I see the way her teachers also use PBS and the supplemental materials they provide.  With already limited resources, this is yet another avenue teachers have to make the most impact in the classroom.  To think we would eliminate funding for this program at a federal level is beyond me.  I firmly believe that our government should do more than simply provide a military defense for the nation which seems to be the focus of this administration.  I believe in funding the arts and sciences.  In fact, I really cannot believe that I have to argue for federal funding for these important aspects to our American culture.  I believe in funding public radio which is where I’ve heard some of the best political debates on the issues we face as a nation, heard the leading minds on our scientific innovations and challenges and felt I was getting the best information from not only NPR, but also PBS Newshour.  I believe we should fund these agencies that do not make a profit because then good programming becomes the motivation, NOT how to draw in viewers with yelling matches, wild accusations and material that is not fit for children to watch.

I’ve just listed the other agencies that are also up for elimination that was published in the New York Times, Boston Globe, USA Today, etc.  I’ve seen firsthand the work of the Delta Regional Authority when I lived in the Mississippi Delta (proud graduate of Delta State University).  This region is only behind our Appalachian Region in systemic poverty and these regional commissions do important work.  Are they perfect?  No.  I have some faults in how they conduct business.  However, I do not believe for one minute they should be eliminated.  To see the Legal Services Corp and the Council on Homelessness on the block is yet another example of further marginalizing the most vulnerable in our society.

  • African Development Foundation ($26 million): An independent foreign aid agency focusing on economic development in Africa.
  • Appalachian Regional Commission ($119 million): A 52-year-old agency focused on economic growth in 420 counties.
  • Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board ($11 million): The agency was created by the Clean Air Act of 1990 and investigates chemical accidents.
  • Delta Regional Authority ($45 million): An economic development agency for the eight-state Mississippi Delta region.
  • Denali Commission ($14 million): A state and federal economic development agency for Alaska.
  • Institute of Museum and Library Services ($231 million): Provides money to the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums.
  • Inter-American Foundation ($23 million): Promotes “citizen-led grassroots development” in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • S. Trade and Development Agency ($66 million): Promotes U.S. exports in energy, transportation, and telecommunications.
  • Legal Services Corp. ($366 million): A 43-year-old congressionally chartered organization that helps provide free civil legal advice to poor people.
  • National Endowment for the Arts ($152 million): Encourages participation in the arts.
  • National Endowment for the Humanities ($155 million): Supports scholarship into literature and culture.
  • Neighborhood Reinvestment Corp. ($175 million): Better known as Neighborworks America, the organization supports local affordable housing programs.
  • Northern Border Regional Commission ($7 million): A regional economic development agency serving parts of Maine, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont.
  • Overseas Private Investment Corp.($63 million): Encourages U.S. private investment in the developing world.
  • S. Institute of Peace ($40 million): Government-run think tank focusing on conflict prevention.
  • S. Interagency Council on Homelessness ($4 million): An independent agency coordinating the federal government’s efforts to reduce homelessness.
  • Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars ($11 million): A program to provide scholarships and fellowships in social sciences and humanities.

“The president said, specifically, hundreds of times – you covered him – ‘I’m going to spend less money on people overseas and more money on people back home’ and that’s exactly what we’re doing with this budget,” Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, told reporters (New York Times).  To me, this budget does not reflect a people first budget.  Just look at his priorities!  They harm the people.  They harm the people I work with on a daily basis–my students, community members and most vulnerable in our communities.

There is one aspect of this budget that I do support and that is the increased funding for Veteran’s Affairs to serve our men and women who served.  However, I absolutely do not support yet another increase in military spending that focuses on making more bombs and planes.  The United States already spends more on military infrastructure than the next 8 nations combined in military spending.  We could decrease our military spending and STILL be the country that spends the most on military infrastructure.  I think back to the monumental speech that Eisenhower gave on the need to balance public and private wellbeing and the need for a solid defense.  It seems to me, this budget is heavily weighted on one side and completely ignores the other.  I also do not support any funds for the building of a ridiculous border wall.  Do we really think it is feasible to build a wall along a thousand mile border that is owned largely by private property owners and will impact wild life migration?  Do we really expect another country to pay for this wall?  Why would we take OUR tax dollars to fund such a project?  History shows that the “walls” built in earlier administrations were fraught with problems including technology that malfunctioned when birds flew around it and still left major gaps.  The smartest approach would be immigration reform.  But, that is a subject for yet another letter.

This budget, in conjunction with the horrific new GOP lead replacement for the Affordable Care Act (which I will address fully in another letter), only further solidifies my commitment to fighting against these measures.  This is only the first detailed letter you will receive from me over the next four years.  I may sit on a different political aisle than you do, but you are still my representative and it is still your duty to also represent me even if that means compromise.

It is with deep hope that you go forth and fight for many of these programs that are so vital to local people and communities.

Peace be with you.

Claiming Spaces

With my background in community development and sociology I am very sensitive to ensuring that I surround myself with diversity of thought.  I need to hear about the different realities that many of us face and I need to keep abreast of new theories, thought and research on the social problems we face.  I have a diverse group of friends and colleagues that help push me in various areas where I can have real and meaningful conversations.

A major part of my reality is teaching.  Teaching students how to critically analyze media, research methods, statistical analyses, theories and ideas.  In case you didn’t know–this is hard work. REALLY hard…REALLY, REALLY hard made even harder by the 24/7 stream of good, bad, ugly,really ugly, pitiful, horrendous, you’ve got to be kidding me information stream.  In the end of whatever I teach, I hope students at least come out with the notion that they need to read material with the idea they should have more questions than answers at the end of a piece.  What research methods were used to collect this information?  How were the data analyzed?  What is the motivation of the author?  Who is funding the author?  Whose perspective is being represented?  What might I learn from another perspective on the very same issue?  And I could go on and on.

I think I must be good at my job of interviewing because people really open up to me.  I hear the pain in their voices and in their stories of a reality that I honestly wonder how they are still standing. I hear the voices of people who recognize the kind of privilege they experience and work tirelessly to ensure more people have that kind of privilege.  I also hear the voices of people who do not believe we should talk about those things because, they feel, it just keeps the problem going.  I also hear the voices of people who tell me we should not mix races, castration should be allowed, how horrible families in poverty are, how people in poverty “just don’t” care, should “just” do x, y and z…You might be thinking, “SURELY, SURELY people do not say that to you!”  I told you, I am good at my job and these are all very real conversations I’ve had in the last 15 years of doing this kind of work.  And, sadly, in the last 15 years and with no exaggeration, a few hundred interviews later these conversations still fall into these various categories.

I live a life that is rooted in the very social problems that our communities face.  Doing research on racial and ethnic disparities is mentally and emotionally draining.  I see on a daily basis, why it matters to continue having the tough conversations.  I see why we have to find compromises on how to move forward on social issues.  Through this research I see in a very tangible and real way why it matters to keep having conversation about race, class, gender, basic human rights, healthcare, education, our criminal justice system, the environment, poverty, how we go about economic development, who gets to sit at the decision making table, who gets to make the decision making rules, etc. because these factors shape our life chances no matter who you are.

In engaging in debate, teaching and conducting my research I can become very jaded at times.  I’m grateful for my inner most circle of friends that keep me positive and keep reminding me why we keep going.  My family is also a big part of this  support; but since I live so far away much from many of them this interaction happens online.  Keeping up with their work, kiddos, spouses, hobbies, and daily life.  And, like many, I’ve somewhat reconnected with people I knew many years ago.  For the most part I’ve enjoyed seeing how people are doing at this stage in their life.  My heart hurts for the pain and tragedies they’ve experienced. I love seeing their passions for food, sports, politics, travel.

But, I’ve also seen and probably remained social media “friends” way too long, with people that I have zero common ground with.  That, by their posts and comments, despise people like me.  They have no nice words for people like me nor does it seem they have any interest in opening a dialogue.  I’ve struggled on what to do with this group of social media “friends.”  Why you might ask?  Well, go back to my first paragraph. I am deeply committed to ensuring that I do not insulate myself to only one line of thought.  I ask myself, “What does it say about me if I start deleting people because we have a different perspective?  What am I missing if I do not at least try to see their side of life?”

So, tonight as I was scrolling through and seeing the cute pictures, the funny tidbits on how the day went I started to see the inevitable posts that make me cringe.  And, suddenly, my finger started going, delete, Delete, DELETE and before I knew it I was on a deleting spree! And wow!  What a great feeling!  I have come to realize that through my friends, colleagues the amount I read, my teaching and conversations with students, and my research that I do plenty to make sure I listen to and really hear people.  And, you know what?  I do not have to hear people online that I either haven’t seen in 20+ years or that in my personal life–with who I am now–would probably have no relationship with.  I just don’t.  That is my choice.  I can make my online world how I want it and that is ok. That, for my own sanity, I can make one space that friendly, loving, funny place I need it to be.  It doesn’t mean I am not valuing other voices.  It does not mean I am insulating myself.  I simply means I am claiming this one space for the lighter side of life.  It means I am claiming this space for others, who even though I do not agree with them 100%, we do so in a respectful and meaningful way.  I do not have to see posts that are blatantly racist, sexist, homophobic, belitting of others and me, and do not even try to understand that your reality is not my reality just as my reality is not the person’s next to me.

Whew, it feels good to finally resolve this for myself.