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.

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.

 

 

 

 

They Are Wrong…

communicationAt 6:45 this morning our daughter asked us a question that sat us right on our butt.  I’m still in shock.  I’d expected questions like the one she posed, but certainly not in kindergarten.  Hubby and I have even had hypothetical conversations about what we would do in “X” situation.  Yeah, you can’t prepare for it and especially not at 6:45 in the morning.  Our daughter asked,

Why would someone say that white people and black people shouldn’t mix?

I’m a Sociologist.  I talk race for a living.  I can facilitate the heck out of conversations whether online, face to face or using an interactive video system.  I get high ratings for this kind of work.  My eloquent first response this morning?  “Uh…” (deer in headlights, WHAT THE HELL running through my brain, and there isn’t enough caffeine in the world for this face).

Hubby stepped up and quietly (like he was approaching a time bomb) asked, “Honey, where did you hear that?” Dr. Sociologist is still saying, “Uh….” At this point, Munchkin sees our faces and knows that she has said something wrong, but we do not want her to get upset because she NEEDS to be able to ask us why someone would say these things.  We know this is one of those moments.  I finally snap out of it and hug her reassuringly and tell her we’d really like to know where she heard it.  From this, we deduced it was at school though she is still pretty cagey about where in school.

Again…WHAT THE HELL?

A million things were running through my head.  I was thinking about a conversation I’d JUST HAD LAST NIGHT with a friend about race, education, and a pretty messed up situation. I was thinking, “IT’S 6:45 IN THE MORNING!”  I was thinking,  “Why has my baby been exposed to this thinking?!”

And, I knew we had to keep it simple.  We had to keep it on the level of a 5-year-old.  We very slowly told her that we love all people.  That all people can love each other.  That love isn’t just for some people and not for others. We talked about all the people in her world who are wonderfully unique that she loved and who loved her.  We talked about how much better her life is for knowing those people.  We talked about how much she would be missing if she did not have them.  We bumbled through.  We stumbled.

We then told her, and I think this is key, that the person who said those things is WRONG.  We did not chalk it up to “some people just think differently.” No.  We flat out told her that they are WRONG.  We also took it a step further that might land us in the teacher conference one day, but we also told her that when she hears things like that she has our permission to say it is WRONG.  I feel like we at least did that part alright.

I feel like at age 5 that is about the best we can do for now–keep it simple while also giving her a voice to tell someone that kind of thinking is wrong.  We can try so hard to protect her, but I cannot protect her from playground talk, talk at dance class, things she may overhear in the grocery store.  But, I can teach her how to respond to these situations and remind her of the values and people we hold dear.

I’m sitting at work writing this now.  I’ve spent the first nearly 2 hours at work writing welcome messages to my online students in race, class, and gender and to my sociology of gender students.  I’m reminded how important these classes are in trying to overcome these early messages kids get and then they carry into young adulthood.  I’m not often at a loss for words, but this morning just kicked me in the stomach and made my heart hurt.

But, I can say this–COME ON, ADULTS! WE CAN DO BETTER THAN THIS.  WE MUST DO BETTER THAN THIS.

The Road to Independence

Abigail

First Day of Kindergarten!

 

When Munchkin went off to kindergarten 2 weeks ago, she did so excited, confident and, frankly, like a boss.  In fact, she told me after we brought her in, “You can go now, Mama.  I’ve got this.”  And, she certainly did.  On day 2 she didn’t want us to bring her in.  She wanted to be dropped off and walk in on her own.  By Tuesday of the next week, she decided our flimsy excuses of why she couldn’t ride the school bus didn’t match up and so she started riding the bus home.  Part of me, like any mother doing this for the first time, was a little sad that she did all of this without needing her old Mama very much.  The other part of me was reminded that this is what I am training her for.

At 5 it seems a little extreme to say I’m training her for independence.  She still needs Mommy and Daddy in so many way and will always need us as her parents.  But, even as she hits kindergarten there are things we are doing that increases her level of independence and self-sufficiency a little more each day.  She thinks it’s complete crap that I won’t jump up and get her whatever she needs.  She is perfectly capable of getting herself a drink, getting her snacks and, as her Daddy wants to push, even start making her own sandwiches for lunch.  We war over cleaning her room, picking up her toys and doing chores around the house.  She looked at me a little shocked this summer when I told her it was part of the gig of being the younger cousin that you sometimes were teased (in a loving, but definitely older cousin kind of way).  I am reminded of my own days of being “Donde-Magombe” though now when they try to call me that I tell them it is “Dr. Magombe” to them.  Good laughs.  Good memories.  Horrible nickname.

But, she is perfectly capable and needs to learn from these early tasks that she can take care of things herself.  It starts now so that it is not a complete surprise the first time she is told to figure it out for herself.  She needs to learn the skills early on so that when bigger challenges come up she can feel confident in creating solutions on her own.  This includes learning to deal with conflict in school, being able to handle it when she fails at something, working hard toward a goal and feeling the great sense of accomplishment when she does it and learning, as much as I do not want to think this way, that Mommy and Daddy may not always be around to fix life’s challenges.

Anyone who knows me, knows I have always felt this way.  I was raised with an emphasis on independence and self-sufficiency mainly due to circumstances.  But, this was brought to the forefront again this week with seeing the devastating loss 11 children are going through in Oxford, MS.  It was brought to the forefront with the responses of those children in the light of tragedy in considering how they will take care of their brothers and sisters.  Those kinds of attitudes just do not appear in children.  They are carefully cultivated by parents.  I was reminded once again in a very stark and sobering way, that as much as I want to be there for Munchkin and be the one to make sure she’s never hurt or in trouble or has to need for anything, life may deal a very, very different hand.  I was reminded once again that my task is not just to love my child unconditionally, but also do the very hard work of building all of those really hard, difficult skills they need.  I have thought of those children constantly and also of those parents who probably never dreamed of this outcome.

I was much older when I lost my precious father and there were many things I still depended on him for—a listening ear and his humor just to name a few.  That void alone has been difficult to manage.  But, again, those skills of coping do not just happen.  You do not suddenly reach a specific age and BOOM!  Coping skills!  Those are also learned through a life time of challenges and problem solving.  So, next time when she yells that I am, “Completely unfair and I am ruining her life!” over making her do something she does not want to do, I’ll just keep remembering that one day she may still yell that something is ruining her life, but she will know how to pick up and get to figuring it out.  And, it is with all of my hope that I am the one there to provide a little humor and a listening ear as she rants and raves about whatever it may be she is facing but also with pride as she figures it out.

What I miss…

dad and abigail

Busted!

 

Today I’m thinking about all those things I miss about having Dad healthy and here with us.

It goes without saying that I miss everything. Some things make sense in terms of what I miss, but others are memories that mean a lot to me and may seem trivial to others.

I miss his voice.  I do have a DVD with clips of family reunions where his voice is heard.  I play that more than I probably should.  I was devastated when I learned that my cell phone had automatically deleted his voicemails to me and there was no way to get them back.  I get scared sometimes that I cannot hear his voice in my head.  I miss his voice.

I miss his special ring tone and text tone.  We talked or texted everyday.  I’d hear his text tone and get a smile and welcomed the break to text for a few minutes.  Or, I’d give a small laugh after I made his ring tone drum corp and he’d call.  Yes, I miss talking to him and sharing with him.  But, I miss that sound that tells me he is on the other end.  It seems strange, I know, but when you are used to those sounds and what they represent you miss them.  No one else can be my “gong” or “Drum Corp” notifications.

I miss his reassuring hand on my shoulder.  Dad and I could have deep conversations about life and about things going on in the world.  Sometimes, during really bad times, at the of our conversations we couldn’t say anymore and he’d put his hand on my shoulder, his lips would be tight across the front and the only sound that would come out would be, “tut.” He got it.  I got it.  I knew we’d be okay.

I miss his fried potatoes.  Man, I do not know what that man did to those potatoes, but I’ve never been able to recreate them.  Hubby loved Dad’s breakfasts when we were home.  He did them right.  Dad would laugh and tell me they are just normal potatoes fried in a pan, but I don’t believe him.  He was saying something to those potatoes to make them so good.

I miss him complaining to me that I am messing up his lawn.  He would OCCASIONALLY let me mow the lawn at the house.  But, boy, he would pace (he’d exaggerate that pace to make it dramatic) but not really because he loved his lawn and loved having it “just so.”  Hubby now takes that task because, like Dad, he doesn’t think I can mow a lawn properly. But, I love being on the riding lawn mower at home and coming over every inch of the land he loved, but miss the ball cap being thrown to the ground (in a comical manner) and the clutching of his heart (Fred Sanford style) when I would mess up the mow lines.

I miss him giving Abigail Pepsi, ice cream sandwiches, candy, cakes–you name it–he’d give it to her and then tell me he “forgot” I didn’t give her that kind of stuff.  I miss him sending a weekly DVD for her.  I miss him calling just to listen to her babble.  I hate that my daughter will never know the kind of Grandpa he wanted to be.

The list could go on and on, but for some reason these are the ones on my mind.  But, I also miss something else.

I miss the person I was before he died.  The saying “Death changes everything.” is no exaggeration.  There is no way I can be the same person before as I am after.  I live a full life.  I laugh.  I joke. I love.  But, I’m not the same. You are fundamentally altered after such a loss.

While it will be sad to see another year pass without him, I will remember to laugh as much as I can during this hard month because I am so fortunate to have so many things to miss and love about that man.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fear

dogwoods

Today fear hit me in such a way that I am still processing everything that happened and my own feelings about it. Writing seemed the only way to be able to start reflecting on the events and a part of my new reality I haven’t confronted before.  One that is always in the back of my mind, but I never dwell on it instead choosing to believe it will be sometime in the far, far distance.

It was a regular day.  I was grading papers at my desk thinking toward my afternoon class.  My phone rang. It was Mom. Except when I answered it wasn’t Mom. It was her co-worker telling me she was having chest pains and needed to go to the hospital. I RAN from the office and probably broke a few laws getting to my Mom.

Mom on the gurney. Mom hooked to machines.  Mom looking SO pale and frail.  The calm nature of the doctors and nurses. Me screaming in my head as I observed all of this, “Why are you so calm?  Don’t you know this is my Mom?  Don’t you know this is the only parent I have left?”  Me speaking to the nurses in my own calm voice answering questions about her medical history, family medical history, current medication–so many questions.

Waiting–oh the waiting!  I thought answers about heart attacks would be quicker. Nope–a 3 hour wait to evaluate cardiac enzymes or whatever they are called. Pacing, sitting, standing, looking at my phone, pacing some more, sitting some more.

And then finally the non-answer. She didn’t have a heart attack, but the heart is a funny, funny muscle. She could have been feeling something but only tests from a cardiologist will be able to tell us more.  The ER visit today was to solely tell us she didn’t have a heart attack.  Then, he kind of made me laugh when he essentially told us he was also going to treat her for gas, because you know, it could also be that.  I brought Mom home and then proceeded to nearly give her a heart attack with the number of times I crept into her room to check on her.  And, I will likely do this for some time to come or until we have more answers.  I definitely will be these doctors worst nightmare in the weeks to come as we have these tests.  I want to understand every detail.

But, I’m also sitting here thinking about my support system.  Wow, these people cover me in love and concern when I need it.  Hubby was home ensuring Munchkin was happy and content and, above all, oblivious to what was happening. Texting and checking in.  Making me laugh even when I didn’t want to.  My sister–stomach all torn up with worry right with me–feeling the same fears.  Mind going a million different directions–none of them good.

Two other women, the most unlikeliest of friendships, like always were ready to do whatever I needed.  These two women have been the most amazing friends since we moved to town.  I’m the youngest, J is 10 years older than me and R is 10 years older than J.  I do not think I would have been able to stand, stay focused and be as healthy as I am without their constant friendship.  I do not thank these two women enough for being such good friends and strong examples to me about motherhood, friendship and overcoming challenges. They jumped in and took care of what needed to be done at work and then just kept in touch with me and would have been in that ER in 10 minutes flat if needed.

Later, I reached out to some family to let them know what was happening.  I was scared.  Just needed some reassurance.  They always provide the level headedness.  And, as always, I wish my Dad’s family was just a little closer distance wise during times likes these and that my sister in law was just down the road.

I got home and I reached out to my silent, constant–K.  She knows the deep rooted fear since she lost her father many years ago now. She was right there and you know what, I know with out a doubt in my heart that if I had said, “K–I need you here.” 8 hours later she would have been in my driveway.  She shared how she’s dealt with the fears.  The healthy ways she’s tried to channel it.

And there are many more.  I know that.  And I know I am so blessed in having this support.

But, I’m not going to lie.  It freaking sucks to have this fear of losing my one parent.  I have many friends who have already lost a parent or both and I think, “How do we do this?”  How do we keep all the fears in check or how do you keep the grief in check?  How do I make sure this episode doesn’t put me back into that dark place I was a year ago; two years ago? I just don’t know.

I know I will have this fear, this far reaching, deep fear of losing my only parent.  I know that I have to recognize the fear, deal with it in a healthy way and then handle the future with the same calm on the outside with hopefully more calm on the inside.  I also know that I still have an amazing circle of people around me who will help me with whatever comes my way.