Seeking Space for Hope

Quite a few times after Hurricane Michael came ashore, mostly sparing Tallahassee  and leaving us mainly with the annoyance of darkened homes during lengthy power outages as our neighbors to the west had their houses, businesses, and properties destroyed, I said, “We dodged a bullet.” (Many projected storm paths had Michael making a direct hit on our town).

Little did we know that 23 days later, literal bullets at the hands of a murderer would not spare us as a community, as a shooting at Hot Yoga Tallahassee resulted in the deaths of Nancy Van Vessem and Maura Binkley and the injuries of several others (the gunman also died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound).

My Relationship With Hot Yoga Tallahassee

Although I never went to HYT’s first location, I remember several friends raving about it. If I recall correctly, it was on the west side of town, in what was probably a more out-of-the way location.

The clientele and the reputation of the studio grew, and it relocated to Betton Place, a more centrally located, upscale complex. That’s where I first took yoga at HYT and met Brittani, the owner. Although I didn’t go to HYT exclusively, it still played a unique role in my yoga life.

I did glow yoga and sacred music yoga there. I participated in the December Instagram challenge with HYT one year, posting a picture a day for a month. Most recently, I took part in the outdoor community yoga at their newer location off of Bannerman Road.

The entire time, I watched Brittani grow as a business owner. I saw her become a mom and work through the difficult period of her baby’s severe health problems when he was first born. I remember well a time this summer when he was with her at outdoor yoga; he brings her so much joy.

I’ve always thought it must be a difficult balance to strike to own a yoga studio: an activity that is supposed to help all of its participants eradicate worry juxtaposed against the difficulties of running a business. How do you collect unpaid fees from someone who was seeking respite from the stresses of debt? How do you gently and compassionately intercede with the space hog, the yogi wearing the off-putting fragrance, the late arrival who had promised to arrive 10 minutes early to avoid disrupting everyone else?

I admire Brittani for being a business owner, but I love her more for the mother and human she is.

The Door

Hot Yoga Tallahassee offered more types of yoga than “hot,” despite its name. However, it does do hot yoga well. I always found its heating system and temps to be relatively hotter than other places, especially with their previous system.

Although the actual helpfulness of this was probably all in my head, I liked getting the spot closest to the door. I had the idea that an infinitesimal wisp of air could get in between the floor and the door to keep me from passing out. The temperature probably wasn’t any different by the door than at the farthest corner of the studio, but the thought gave me some relief (it would also be easier to leave and take a respite from the heat without disrupting other people if I was already by the door).

The Grief

I am struggling to write about this situation. It is as hard to find words that even come faintly close to being adequate as it was to get air through an imperceptible space between the door and the floor at HYT.

I was talking with a therapist recently about a situation that had formed an emotional knot in my psyche, one that I couldn’t untangle or resolve. Lo and behold, as she walked me through how the knot got there in the first place, it became apparent that the tension keeping the knot so tightly bound wasn’t solely generated from the situation that was presenting itself as the problem, but from the tectonic shift set off when my mom passed away in February.

And for all the grief I feel for this most recent situation, I have had to tell it to “take a number” as if my heart were the DMV and that the various situations needing to be processed were so many expiring license plate decals.

Other People’s Words

Fortunately, as I work through my emotional knot, other people have risen to the challenge with the perfect words.

From Food Glorious Food, a business in the same complex as Hot Yoga Tallahassee:

Tallahassee Gun Safety

From David Harshada Wagner:

Tallahassee Gun Safety

Photo credit: David Harshada Wagner

From John C. Thomas IV, father of Maura Binkley’s roommate:

I don’t have any answers, but I know now the firsthand agony of what no one should have to deal with with such numbing frequency.

My heart goes out to Maura’s family and all other victims of this senseless act, and to all those who live silently with pain in the aftermath of this type of violence.

It [mental health issues and gun violence] cannot be marginalized. It must be our biggest priority, for the sake of our children and future generations.

From Gary Taylor, Ph.D., Florida State University English Department Chair. (Maura Binkley was an FSU English major.)

What we can do, as English majors, is write about the particulars of her beautiful promise. What we can do, as Americans, is dedicate ourselves to erasing the ugliness that erased her.

From Nancy Van Vessem’s daughter, Molly Johnson:

Tallahassee Gun Safety

I read that Dr. Van Vessem’s favorite spot was by the door too. I’m guessing she just wanted to be able to leave efficiently to get to work. Maybe, like me, she needed the reassurance that she was close to cooler air if the temperature got too warm.

I don’t know, and can’t fathom, why she and Maura Binkley are gone.

Thank you, Food Glorious Food and David Harshada Wagner, for trying to find the tiniest sliver of hope and a path forward at a time when I’m not there yet.

Tallahassee Gun Safety

Benefits:

There are several GoFundMe accounts set up to benefit Hot Yoga Tallahassee:

From the Director of the Florida Yoga Teachers Association

From Lauren Cordy, a friend of Brittani’s

From Becca Berry

From M&M Monogramming, designed by The Moore Agency:

All proceeds from the sale of this sweatshirt go to Hot Yoga Tallahassee.

From Advanced Metal Art:

Tallahassee Gun Safety

Photo Credit: Advanced Metal Art

(As other benefits appear, I’ll add them here.)

I also recommend Moms Demand Action, Everytown for Gun Safety and Sandy Hook Promise to learn more about advocacy for a solution to gun-related problems in our country.

I am linking this post up with the Kat Bouska prompt, “Write a blog post [based on] the word: dark.”

Tallahassee Gun Safety

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

National Gay Men’s HIV Testing Day Events in Tallahassee

I made some new friends for a cause I’ve long supported when I went to Neighborhood Medical Center’s STD Prevention 101 Healthy Happy Hour last week. I was there partially because I wanted to get a picture I could share on the Sept. 21 #ADayWithHIV. I got my picture:

 

And I got so much more…

I got a reminder that there are people in our community of all ages, races, genders and walks of life who face decisions every day about their sexual partners and practices. Especially among young people, some of these decisions are poorly informed (or downright misinformed). It takes candid talk, acceptance and easy access to testing and treatment options to help them make the best decisions for their health.

As I alluded to in this post, helping people be aware of the risks they face, the options from which to choose and the resources available to them takes explicit discussions (i.e., naming body parts correctly, not being shocked by the array of ways people interact with each other sexually and throwing away assumptions). It also, however, requires the intuition and empathy to understand how self-esteem plays in. A 15-year-old young woman, for example, said “I’m not going to get tested; I know my [18-year-old] partner is positive, so I’ll just get reinfected.”

It has been a long time since I was on the front lines of this particular kind of work (and even when I was, it was on the phone as a counselor/supervisor for the Florida AIDS Hotline, so my “front line” was a telephone receiver). I have so much appreciation and respect for what these people do. Additionally, I am grateful for the federal, state and local funding (Leon County Board of Commissioners, United Way of the Big Bend)  that makes it possible. The links I have shared aren’t comprehensive: my point is that it takes funding from a variety of sources and those are, in my opinion, jeopardized by our current political environment. We should advocate for them to be continued.)

National Gay Men’s HIV Testing Day

National Gay Men’s HIV Testing Day is coming up on September 27, and my new friends asked me to share information about the events that will be held throughout the week to observe it. I am happy to do so; here’s what they said:

Our community knows how important it is to maintain an active role in our own health. Starting Friday, September 28, 2018 through Sunday, September 30, 2018 Neighborhood Medical Center will be hosting our 4th Annual Health Extravaganza for National Gay Men’s HIV Testing Day. All events will take place at Hotel Duval (415 N. Monroe St. Tallahassee, FL. 32301) and will be free of charge to the general public. Below is a detailed list of the events that will take place during the 4th Annual Health Extravaganza:

Friday, September 28, 2018 Live Couch Talk
An interactive conversation with a health care team about HIV prevention and treatment options for people living with HIV/AIDS. Come hear the personal life story of one person’s HIV diagnosis and their journey to living a healthy lifestyle.

Gay Men HIV Testing

Saturday, September 29, 2018 PrEP First Drag Show
An informational health event about PrEP {Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis} with a Drag Exposé. This FREE event will provide educational components, speakers, drag shows and lots of fun with a twist.

Gay Men HIV Testing

Sunday, September 30, 2018 Gospel Drag Brunch
An event to close out the Health Extravaganza weekend. We will fellowship through food and song as we commemorate the precious lives lost in the LGBTQ community and individuals affected by HIV/AIDS.Gay Men HIV Testing

No one will leave this event empty handed or uninformed as we will have booths presented by our partner agencies: Big Bend Cares, FAMU Health, FSU CHAW, and Florida Health, amongst others. Please come out to help Neighborhood Medical Center and our partners spread the word to patients, family, friends, and community members about PrEP and HIV/AIDS.

Each of these three events is free. However, the organizers ask that you register through this link, which has a separate registration for each event.

For additional information, feel free to contact:
Mathias Sweet at (850) 688-0914 or msweet@neighborhoodmedicalcenter.org
Joseph Ward (850) 577-1562 or Jward@neighborhoodmedicalcenter.org

Gay Men HIV Testing

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

Banned Books Week 2018

Banned Books Week 2018 is September 23 through 29, 2018.

Since 2014, I have participated in the Banned Books Week Virtual Readout (which, by the way, can be done anytime — not just during BBW). In 2017, I read from I Am Jazz (here’s the recording). In 2016, I read from Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out (here’s the recording). In 2015, I read from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (here’s the recording). In 2014, I read from Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy (here’s the recording).

This year, I am reading from And Tango Makes Three . The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom recorded challenges to/bans of 416 books in 2017.

Banned Books Week 2018

Of the top ten, this book was number nine. The ALA says, “Returning after a brief hiatus from the Top Ten Most Challenged list, this ALA Notable Children’s Book, published in 2005, was challenged and labeled because it features a same-sex relationship.”

Here’s my readout:

How I Chose This Year’s Book

This year’s process wasn’t especially formal. I ruled out books I had read before, and solicited opinions on Facebook (scientific, right?). I ended up choosing “And Tango Makes Three” because my friend Rebecca said her little boy likes it. The end.

After reading it, I can say I like it too. It’s about New York City, first of all, and evokes my memories of going to the Toy Boat Pond with Tenley years ago (I’ve never been to the Central Park Zoo, oddly enough!).

I like how Roy and Silo (Tango’s Parents) were much like me as a parent-to-be and then a parent. They hoped fervently to have a child of their own to raise and prepared as well as they could. When she finally arrived, she hung the moon in their eyes. Universal parenting aspirations.

About To Kill a Mockingbird

Most people in my informal poll wanted me to read To Kill a Mockingbird. I have read it before, but it has been so long. I’m not sure why it intrigued so many people in the discussion, but for the record, here is why it was challenged, according to the ALA:

This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, considered an American classic, was challenged and banned because of violence and its use of the N-word.

I need to revisit TKaM anyway. It’s on my list.

Why Book Challenges and Bans Matter

This year’s Banned Books Week theme is “banning books silences stories.” I believe wholeheartedly in the power of stories (even (especially?) stories that make us uncomfortable, introduce an idea or concept that is new to us or in some other way expand our worlds.

Banned Books Week 2018

In Why do we ban books, anyway? Chelsea Condren writes, “The power and danger in book banning lies in someone’s ability to think their opinion is the only one that matters, and, thereby, the only one that is allowed. I think a lot of us want what’s best for children. But being able to decide for oneself the quality of someone else’s thoughts, and being able to use those skills to form your own opinions, is a skill best learned by reading. The ability to think critically is important, and books are the tools with which we whittle that ability.” I agree.

I also am reminded, by an author who has had his share of challenges (Mark Haddon), that it’s short-sighted to be even a hair smug or self-righteous about being an advocate against challenges/bans, because “…both sides, paradoxically, are to be thanked for getting more people reading and talking about books.”

Banned Books Week 2018

Here’s to letting all stories see the light of day. Banned Books Week 2018

 

 

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

Kleine-Levin Syndrome: A Family Ascends the Mountain

It is particularly significant to me that my friend, Jonathan Lyons, allowed me to share this reflection he wrote in advance of Rosh Hashanah this year. He, his wife Barbara Forbes-Lyons and their son, Avner, are navigating a changed life due to Avner’s diagnosis with Kleine-Levin Syndrome (KLS). My goals in sharing Jon’s story are a) to support him and his family b) to expand awareness of KLS c) to help other families coping with the chronic and severe illness of a child know they are not alone and d) to celebrate the fact that this family is not defined by KLS. 

Yom Kippur. a time of atonement and repentance, is approaching. This quote (attributed to Maya Angelou but I can’t completely confirm) said something about forgiveness that pertains to Jon’s piece:

Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it.

Jon’s post touches two complementary ideas:

As parents, he and Barb have been weighed down by the heaviness that comes from trying to define (and resolve) the rare condition that became apparent as their son’s physical condition and behavior changed drastically. 

Related, as Jon mentions in the post, he and Barb were told that perhaps they should move on emotionally. Why do we as human beings presume to know what a family going through something so intricately difficult and chronic needs to do? It must be hard to forgive these people for “what they didn’t know before they learned it” but perhaps this post can put a tiny dent into helping others learn.

~ Paula

Kleine-Levin Syndrome

Jon, Barb and Avner

Yom Kippur is nearly upon us. The cycle of the new year has begun for Jews around the world and part of this will include reading of the binding of Isaac, Abraham’s favorite son, born of his wife Sarah. None of that was on my mind until just recently.

It struck me, seemingly from nowhere. For the past couple years, nearly the only thing on my mind was the health of my only child. My son, Avner has a very rare, devastating neurological illness called Kleine-Levin Syndrome (KLS). KLS is a form of ideopathic hypersomnia. That means that people with KLS, sleep a lot. Some of them sleep for days at a time.

When they are not asleep, but “in an episode” their waking moments are marked by mood changes, memory deficits, and many strange behaviors. Parents like myself, flock to the online support group and frequently rant when our children are gone again. We hope it will not be for long and that this might be the last such episode.

Often this disease takes years to be properly diagnosed. Patients frequently collect incorrect diagnoses of severe mental illnesses until a doctor or a desperate parent finds the KLS diagnosis and the search begins to find a qualified medical team that can test and evaluate the patient for KLS. I say parent, because the mean age of onset for KLS is 16 years old, but my son had his first episode at 12. Some aren’t diagnosed or experience symptoms until well into adulthood.

My son’s prognosis is tentatively good. He responds well to a course of medical treatment. Only 30% to 40% of patients see relief from lithium. No other drug currently performs as well. Though we also rely on a second medication which is custom compounded for hypersomnia patients, as an off-label prescription.

I tell this tale frequently. I tell it too frequently. As a parent of a healthy child, until this disease, I was ill prepared for such a radical change in lifestyle and perspective. Parenting is difficult and we all struggle at times, but without much doubt, my wife, Barbara and I have struggled more than many because of the great uncertainty created by KLS. Even now, we do not know if our child will wake tomorrow or if we will return to the painful cycle we lived before the medication seemed to be working.

So, someone who heard me tell the tale too much, told me so and suggested it’s time to move forward again. It woke me up and made me more self aware, which is certainly a theme of Rosh Hashanah.

After sleeping on it, a little like Jacob, wrestling his own angel, I had my own insight. We all read biblical stories through the lens of our own experiences. The Binding of Isaac certainly invites such opportunities.

My friend David turned to me one year during holiday services and said to me “Isaac was an idiot.” We ducked out of services so he could grab a quick bite and he laid before me his literary criticism of Isaac and made a compelling case for some kind of developmental deficit. It absolutely fascinated me and probably established my deep interest in this passage as an insight into late Stone Age or early Bronze Age cultures.

In our sanitized modern culture, the story still horrifies us. No doubt, some kids must come home from services wondering if their parents are going to tie them down and offer them up as a holy sacrifice. Post Holocaust, a common criticism of Abraham is that he failed G-d’s test because he argued for the innocent of Sodom and Gomorrah, but not for the life of his own son.

Now I’ve gained yet another perspective on the tale. We read this story from different key perspectives through our lives. Upon our introduction to the story, usually at a young age, we see the story as Abraham’s servants saw it play out before them. They brought the wood and their master and Isaac. They saw the plot played out before them with keen interest but without personal investment. On those initial readings, we learn the sequence of events and we know that they have great importance.

We become familiar with the story and we try on the role of Isaac. At first we wonder at the journey and we put our trust into Abraham, when he tells us that G-d will provide the ram. We experience the fear of the raised knife. Like young adults, we may feel indignity at being the passive object of everyone else’s designs. Where is Abraham’s chutzpah, willing to raise his objection to his G-d in the name of the unverified good souls in Sodom and Gomorrah, but not for his own flesh?

Perhaps, like my friend David, you seek an explanation by way of some defect in Isaac. Was he a simpleton, unable to speak intelligently for himself? The narrative makes quite the point of the simple childlike questions that Isaac asks, yet the chronology of the story tells us that he is a grown man by this time. Could this have been a Stoneage rite, to rid the tribe of members who could not contribute? Could the importance of the tale be that Abraham broke the tradition to give us a new modern morality? Did Abraham pass the holy test by sparing his son or following the command of his deity? Did he fail for following an immoral order without question? These questions have long been debated between Jewish scholars.

Yet there is another reading. Parents who enjoyed the growth of healthy children and suddenly struggle with their own infirmities while caring for an ailing child know this reading. Abraham has grown old in the service of his Lord. He has profited and grown his wealth and that of his people. All has gone well for this servant of G-d. Abraham has G-d’s ear and great influence in his known world. Then his life which moved from strength to strength changes course abruptly.

My own child was strong, energetic and brilliant with an insatiable curiosity. We used to run together when I trained for triathlons. Then he disappeared inside himself for more than two years and we were living with a walking husk of the child we once knew.

It occurs to me, that maybe we have been reading the story of the binding of Isaac all wrong. It’s not a test of Abraham’s will, or devotion or even his ultimate morality. It’s not a test at all. Through Abraham’s eyes it’s a journey of a father who faces an impossible task regarding a child he loves. He has no choice in the matter. His only option is to move forward through the horror ahead.

In the next part of Abraham’s tale, he loses his wife. He does not speak directly to G-d again, as far as we know. He seems broken by the experience as far as we can see. His demise follows closely enough, and the great wealth and the land holdings he gathered will not pass to the next generation. Isaac was a dweller of tents, we are told. He was a nomad.

It doesn’t make for a tidy reading. There’s no tightly knit resolution, except to say that everyone continued to live their lives and that struggle would ensue.

Those of us who have watched a healthy child fade before our eyes, walk in similar paths. We watch the graduation announcements and the triumphant first day of school photos in social media. Instead,we celebrate when our child is well enough to continue school, or the school is willing to amend accommodations that help our child stay enrolled, if we are very lucky.

We are ascending the mountain, because we must. We have the blade in our hands. Our beautiful children walk beside us, struggling under the load of the wood they bear to the altar. We are both hoping and praying that this will work out in some other way than what it seems. We continue through the day. Then we gather our loads, and we do it again.Kleine-Levin Syndrome

How You Can Help

To educate yourself, visit this link.

To donate, click here.

To learn more about how to speak with a family dealing with a rare illness, click here.

 

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

The Great Divide(r)

Recognizing Microaggressions

Are you on Twitter?

If so, put “grocery divider” in the search bar and take a scroll through the results.

Go ahead. I’ll wait. (But if you want to save keystrokes, click here.)

The thread appears to have begun here:

Recognizing microaggressions

It may have been a joke, but the 1,700 comments and 48,000 retweets, not to mention the 261,000 “favorites” show the staying power this idea has.

Although the thread has some laughs (this tweet is from 2011 but it seems appropriate for the “humor” part of my post) …:

Recognizing microaggressions

…it mostly has references to the idea that the use of a grocery divider (especially the rush to get the thing down as quickly as possible) is a microaggression.

Microaggression 101

I’m not qualified to give a microaggression primer, but here’s a bit of background.

Merriam Webster defines a microaggression this way:

a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority)

There are some evocative examples here (chosen by me partially so I could give a shout out to my former employer, Fordham University!).

And Psychology Today breaks microaggressions down into three categories: microassaults (read more about those from Sailing Rough Waters), microinsults (more on those here, also from Sailing Rough Waters)  and microinvalidations (more on those in this Teen Vogue op-ed).

Why I Use The Grocery Divider

Perhaps I am speaking out of both sides of my mouth by saying what I am about to say. Maybe it’s hypocritical to argue that it’s silly for one Tweet to “stick” so deeply with so many people yet spend an entire blog post writing about it. But writing is how I sort things out (and try to encourage others to think critically), so here goes.

The use of a grocery divider on my part is just that … a lifelong habit grounded in an attempt to be courteous, informed by my high school experience as a grocery cashier and driven by the fact that I am ready to get out of the store. 

That’s it. End of story. Not intended to be a microaggression.

But I Can’t Stop Thinking About This and Neither Can Many Others

Here’s how things have gone since I first saw a tweet about The Great Divide(r):

First, I think about this every time I am at the store.

I had a conversation with a cashier about this at Publix the other day. This is how it went down:

Me to cashier — as I am putting the divider down (see “lifelong habit” above) even though there wasn’t anyone in line behind me — “I guess it was pretty silly to do that since no one is behind me.”

Cashier: No comment, neutral reaction.

Me: There’s all kinds of talk on Twitter about how ridiculous it is to put the grocery divider down.

Him: It’s just what people do to separate their groceries. No big deal.

(Cue angels singing. I am white, the cashier was black, context that I find important for this post.)

Second, isn’t it crazy how the grocery store is the microcosm that puts our behavior in perspective?

It’s insane (and possibly a sign that I could organize my life better) how much time I spend at Publix. I’m there multiple times per week.

(I imagine, somewhat related to these stories, that anyone who shops at Vineyard Publix would agree it’s an overly courteous place — shoppers and workers alike — we fall all over ourselves apologizing if we almost collide while turning into a new aisle. We are a collectively polite group for the most part. This includes the divider question.)

I was buying six shrimp at the seafood counter at Publix the other day and the associate jokingly said, “There’s a seven-shrimp minimum.” I told him that would be fine. He said, “I’ve only had one person in my entire time here be offended by that ‘minimum’ joke.” At the same time I said, “who could be offended by that?” I also said, “But years ago I had a sobbing breakdown in the cold cut section because of something another shopper said to me, so grocery stores really do bring out something emotional in us.”

Third, the divider is a practical matter.

Here’s an homage to the power of the stupid divider. At my former employer, we had an auditor require us to make our corporate credit card procedures more stringent. (There had been some overreach, a story that won’t get told here.)

When I was buying supplies for a business-related occasion while using my corporate American Express card, my daughter put a fountain drink she had gotten at the deli on the belt, and it was accidentally with the business items vs. our personal items.

When it was discovered that I had spent $1.75 (or whatever) on a personal soda, I had to repay the $1.75 (fair enough) but the card was also locked up in the CFO’s office and I had to check it out every time I traveled on business (which at the time occurred frequently). The only solace is that the same thing happened to one of our most senior leaders, because he accidentally paid for his Firehouse Subs lunch with this corporate card, which was located next to his personal card in his wallet. Side note: neither of us works there anymore.

Fourth, it isn’t just Twitter.

I found a blog that started off discussing Pet Peeves (not the grocery divider) that ended up in The Great Divide(r) land in the comments. One person said they wouldn’t put the divider down because they don’t work at the store (this “don’t work at the store” idea applied to at least one justification for leaving the cart in the parking lot instead of returning it too). And this may have been in the Twitter thread vs these comments, but there is also a “use self checkout if you have an issue with the divider” camp too. (I personally feel like self checkout is REALLY a way to do the store’s work for them, but that’s for a different day I guess.)

Fifth, it’s hard to talk about these types of things productively.

I thought I could ask a question about this topic (of the idea that using the divider is a microaggression) in a private group I’m in that contains an amazing, diverse assortment of people committed to discussing race, how white people can be aware of white privilege (and address it), and many other things.

As the thread progressed, most responses were in the “it’s common sense” camp, but I was asked/told:

a) why I hadn’t only asked black people because doing otherwise just gave the white people in the group the opportunity to justify themselves

b) why I hadn’t asked the tweeter (my response: because many of the responses to him had been attacks and I didn’t want to join the chorus/I also said I thought the group was a safe place for this type of thing and hoped to take advantage of it to feel out this topic)

c) told I was making the problem worse

I deleted the entire thread and spent the rest of the evening wondering about the set of interactions and wishing we could have finished the discussion. I DM’d the person who challenged me, explaining why I had taken the thread down (basically, that I didn’t want to alienate anyone) and have not heard back from them.

Ultimately, Respect for Each Other Matters

In writing this post, I worry I will undo any good I did (if there was any) by writing We Have to Talk About White Privilege.

If you are someone for whom use of the grocery divider feels like a microaggression, I respect that.

I have read someone I respect a great deal, Shay Stewart-Bouley of Black Girl In Maine, say that the work of coming to terms with racism is both internal and external. I wholeheartedly agree.

I like what Cheryl Strayed had to say about the internal work:

You don’t have to relinquish your heritage to be an ally to people of color, Whitey. You have to relinquish your privilege. And part of learning how to do that is accepting that feelings of shame, anger and the sense that people are perceiving you in ways that you believe aren’t accurate or fair are part of the process that you and I and all white people must endure in order to dismantle a toxic system that has perpetuated white supremacy for centuries. That, in fact, those painful and uncomfortable feelings are not the problems to be solved or the wounds to be tended to. Racism is. – Cheryl Strayed

And although this piece isn’t technically a guide to doing internal work, this one line by Morgan Jerkins in How I Overcome My Anger as a Black Writer Online somehow seems connected to the importance of internal work, while it is also a bit of a segue to the external:

My therapist taught me that before I spoke to an audience of thousands or millions, my first audience should be myself. – Morgan Jerkins

And about the external work, again I am no expert here but I think it begins with ceasing our silence when we see racism. Michael Harriott wrote “…silence in the presence of injustice is as bad as injustice itself. White people who are quiet about racism might not plant the seed, but their silence is sunlight.”

In Closing

When I rush to put the divider down at the grocery store, my intent is straightforward: I don’t want to accidentally pay for someone else’s items (the budget is tight) and I don’t want to add stress to the cashier’s job.

Why eat up extra minutes having a transaction voided when I could better spend my time and efforts trying to do something that really makes a difference?

Recognizing microaggressions

I am linking up with Kat Bouska, for the prompt “Share something that entertained you this week, can be an article you read, video you watched, someone’s FB share…whatever!” Although, to be clear, “entertained” isn’t exactly what this topic did for me this week.Recognizing microaggressions

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

Book Review: What the Eyes Don’t See

What do you do when your kid is dirty?

You bathe them, right?

Flint Water Crisis

What would you do if your pediatrician said, “there may be a problem with the water. It would be a good idea to start making your baby’s formula with bottled water. Also, don’t bathe them in your water — it may not be safe. Use bottled water instead.”

If you’ve ever bathed an infant, you know it’s a messy, physically involved process. Adding the complications that come from being unable to just run water from the tap is not on any parent’s wish list.

Compound that with the challenge of being a single parent, of being on a budget below the federal poverty level, of struggling to meet your children’s basic needs much less track down enough bottled water to bathe them in it.

The Flint Water Crisis

That’s what Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha told a parent when she first started becoming aware that there may be excess lead in Flint’s water. This was before she tried to get the attention of public health (and public works (the distinction is important)) to let them know children were potentially at risk after the city switched its water source from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the Flint River.

In Dr. Mona’s book, What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City, she describes her role in discovering the problem, trying to get the attention of leadership, and advocating for a solution.

It’s important to note that she also weaves in her family’s history, because their immigration to the United States and their roots in Iraq, including the genocide they witnessed, contribute to her commitment to doing something about environmental injustice.

A Reminder to Speak Up

This book reminded me of the importance of speaking up, and of continuing to ask questions if the first “no” or “that really isn’t an issue” just doesn’t align with reality. I’m not always a person to fight (okay, that may not be true for things I’ve written, but it’s a skill that (for me) is a work in progress).

Effective advocacy often requires trying more than once and dealing with rejection. It also requires having iron-clad facts, lots of them, but conversely being able to boil them down into a one-pager (or one sentence if needed — time with elected officials or their staffs can be fleeting).

How to Help an Advocate

I was struck while reading this book at the toll Dr. Mona’s (she prefers being called that, by the way) advocacy took on her personal health and mental well-being, as well as on the life of her family (she has two young children).

Therefore, straight from my head, here are ways you can support someone who has taken on a massive cause without personally having to confront a hostile or uncooperative elected official:

If they are a personal acquaintance, help with child care or meals

Provide behind-the-scenes support —- write letters to officials, share advocacy points on social media, make phone calls

Give them an ear, just an ear. They may need someone they trust in whom they can confide, someone to say, “yes, it matters — I get it”

Check in with them long after the most high-pressure moments have ended; such advocacy certainly has positive effects, but post-crisis life can be a big adjustment

A Note about Senator Stabenow

Michigan’s Sen. Debbie Stabenow was certainly not the only elected official to advocate for a thorough resolution and long-term arrangements for Flint’s recovery, but her involvement had a personal meaning for me.

I type Sen. Stabenow’s name often, because I have a role in preparing a newsletter about agricultural issues (she’s in the most recent issue as a matter of fact). But now I know that she has a background in social work and that she played an active role in the Water Infrastructure Improvements for America Act and other measures to help Flint.  It was signed by President Obama in December 2016 — #ThanksObama.

What We Can Still Do

Flint still has challenges: This article details where things stand on the testing of the current water supply, on the entities that are still donating bottled water since the state stopping doing so in April, and the issue of plastic accumulation due to all of the bottles. I recommend reading it to remain informed.

The Flint Child Health and Development Fund, created by Dr. Mona, supports “a myriad of interventions proven to promote children’s potential: home visiting services, nutrition education, breastfeeding support, mindfulness programming, literacy efforts, play structures, and much more.” Donate here or buy the book, since a portion of the proceeds go to the fund. 

We can speak up in our own communities, states, and the nation (the world, too, of course). There are plenty of problems to solve in our world, some of them exacerbated by people who hesitate to speak up for fear of losing their jobs. If you don’t know where to start, look into an organization like RESULTS, which as domestic and international outreach and does a great job of helping people learn to advocate in big and small ways.

Flint Water Crisis

My incredible advocate friend Yolanda, at the RESULTS conference.

Because, honestly, using dirty water is no way to bathe a baby, much less feed him or her.

Flint Water Crisis

Source: Democracy Now

**Note — the picture above is alarming, but it’s important to note one of Dr. Mona’s main points: even “clear” water can (and did, in Flint’s case) contain dangerous amounts of lead.

**Note #2 — this isn’t so much a review as an attempt on my part to deal with how furious these types of things make me, and to encourage you to join me in the fight(s).

Related Articles:

‘Environmental Injustices’ Disproportionately Plague Poor Communities, Flint Doctor Says

I am linking this post to Kat Bouska’s site, for the prompt “write a post inspired by the word ‘dirty.'”

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

Maybe Next Time: WITH

parents with children

The humble word “with” (and its Latin version, “cum”) could be better used in these two ways:

THE SUMMA CUM LAUDE GRADUATE’S CAKE

Did you read about the case of Publix and the summa cum laude (with highest praise/with highest honors) graduate?

His mom ordered a cake from Publix online, and requested that his graduation distinction of “summa cum laude” be inscribed on the cake.

Publix’s online ordering system prohibits “vulgar” terms, so the “cum” was represented as “—” when the mom originally ordered it, and she commented in the comment box that it was not a vulgarity, but should be inscribed as requested.

When she went to pick up the cake, this is what had been made:

parents with children

This image appeared in the Huffington Post and numerous online publications.

The graduate’s parent said her student was “absolutely humiliated.”

Here’s the Washington Post version (the most detailed) and the Huffington Post version (if you can’t get past the WaPo paywall).

Publix and online ordering

In my experience, online ordering at Publix still has wrinkles (as the graduate’s family experienced). I ordered a princess happy birthday cake a few years ago (because trust me you can have a daughter in her late teens for whom a princess cake is still the bomb diggety) and the store eventually called to say they didn’t have that version.

A scramble ensued to find a Publix with princesses (granted, she wasn’t going to have a three-year-old level tantrum if I didn’t provide it but still …. it’s the principle of the thing).

Even long before online ordering was a thing, I ordered a cake in person from Publix, and gave them a picture of the 1-year-old-to-be that was going to be added to the cake via an edible image. What did I get at pickup? “Happy 18th birthday, Mackenzie.”

Screwups can happen IRL and in online commerce.

My take

This is one of those situations in life that is frustrating but is also a) easily fixed and b) deserving of perspective.

(And full disclosure: I have done my share of online griping about things that turned out to be minor (and some that I still consider relatively major). I do try also to recognize the dazzlingly good and positive things that happen too.)

To the kid: For what it’s worth, I can tell you from the perspective of a mom, this doesn’t deserve the “absolutely humiliating” label. Not to discount your feelings, but people and corporations mess up. Some worker at Publix did what they saw on a printed order form to do (granted, they could have asked/clarified). Just enjoy the cake. And congrats on your 4.89 GPA — that’s incredible.

To the mom: I understand your frustration too. I do. I’m really glad to hear you are “laughing about it ” (Huffington Post) but not entirely sure why you are going to “avoid Publix for now.” I know it wasn’t you that picked it up (and I can see my husband not proofreading a cake if I sent him to pick it up) but I have seen Publix fix an error in flat out minutes. I realize you may not have even had “minutes” to go back and get it fixed but I wonder if they don’t deserve just a bit more grace than they’ve been given. I feel like they probably try to teach that at Christian-based home schools like the situation in which your child was educated.

To Publix: Please update your online ordering system (or train your bakery workers to carefully read the comments section of online orders). Or suspend online ordering until wrinkles like this get ironed out. Please: iteram conare (try again). Maybe next time you’ll get it right.

(Note: I don’t know Latin and I’m relying on Google translate so if you’re a Latin expert, feel free to correct me!).

THE KIDS BEING SEPARATED FROM THEIR PARENTS

The New York Times says “more than 700 children have been taken from adults claiming to be their parents since October, including more than 100 children under the age of 4” at various stations along the US-Mexico border.

One of many questions about this complex issue: is President Trump’s administration starting to use the threat of separating children from their parents as a deterrent to trying to cross into the US?

Furthermore, the Office of Refugee Resettlement has “reported at the end of 2017 that of the 7,000-plus children placed with sponsored individuals, the agency did not know where 1,475 of them were” according to the Arizona Republic.

The issue of how/when/why/where we allow people from other countries to cross into ours is bigger and different from the fact that children should remain with their parents.

Here are some articles to read. I am frankly trying to digest it all myself, so at this point the best I can do is say is “read this,” pray if you are a praying person, and act in some tangible way.

From the New York Times (may be behind a paywall): Hundreds of Immigrant Children Have Been Taken From Parents at U.S. Border

From PBS Frontline: HHS Official Says Agency Lost Track of Nearly 1,500 Unaccompanied Minors

From the Arizona Republic (opinion piece): Montini: The feds lost – yes, lost – 1,475 migrant children 

From Vice: What Separating Migrant Families at the Border Actually Looks Like

From Political Charge: #WhereAreTheChildren: How to Help

My Take

I think many of us in our country are awfully selective about how we use hashtags regarding other people’s children. Remember how we all got behind #BringBackOurGirls when Boko Haram abducted hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria but many people in the US took more of a #SendBackTHEIRGirls attitude when so many children from El Salvador arrived in Arizona in 2014?

In this case, termed #WhereAreTheChildren widely on social media, the girls (and boys) are here in the US. Decisions must be made about their long-term whereabouts, but in the meantime they should be #WithTheirParent.

I am so fortunate to have been able to travel to El Salvador (and Guatemala) with Unbound. These week-long trips only scratched the surface of truly understanding the issues faced by people (especially women and children) in Central America. Although this is a HUGE understatement, the desperation many of these people feel to leave their countries is born of life-threatening risk day and day out (not to mention restricted access to education and difficulty earning enough to survive).

As the Vice article I link to above notes, one parent was separated from her children upon arriving in the US then assigned a bond “too high for her to pay—$12,500—deeming her a flight risk for being connected to a gang, when her sole connection was the harm they did her [the woman reported being beaten in front of her children by MS-13 gang members].”

Although I am a citizen unwilling to wait until some hypothetical next time, for the purpose of this discussion, Maybe next time a child won’t be forcibly separated from a parent, lost in an administrative maze and exposed to potential human trafficking. But let’s make “next time” immediate.

NOTE

It’s ironic that today’s post is devoted in part to advocacy. I just revised my LinkedIn profile to delete one of my favorite parts of my profile, the fact that I am an advocate. I decided it may be confusing potential employers. Rest assured I will always be an advocate. ALWAYS.

But I need a full-time job. Therefore, if you have any leads (Tallahassee or remote), I would appreciate you letting me know.  Here’s my LinkedIn profile. I am looking for communications work (writing, editing, proofreading, social media) but also have extensive health policy experience. And I can promise a solid work ethic, professionalism and enthusiasm wherever I end up. I took a necessary detour through the world of caregiving for a few years, performed it willingly and lovingly, but it’s time to help pay for these two college educations for which I am responsible and get back on a full-time professional track again.

I doubt it will happen by next Sunday (although you never know!) but maybe next time (or soon) I post a blog, I’ll be doing it with a fond word or two of farewell to the gig economy as I move on.

BACK TO “WITH” AND “CUM”

The only way I know to wind this up is to offer to bring a cake inscribed #WithTheirParent to a postcard-writing party or other advocacy event (about this issue of the missing kids).

Who’s up for it?

This post was written in response to a Kat Bouska prompt: “Write a blog post the ends with the sentence: Maybe next time!:

parents with children

 

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

Volunteering for VIPs at Brewfest

This post is made possible by support from the Reward Volunteers Program. All opinions are my own.

VIPs are “very important people,” right?

At the Tallahassee Brewfest sponsored by Sunrise Rotary, VIPs got special treatment: their own designated entrance queue, special food, extra swag, and the all-important “special VIP glass.” No boring nondescript beer-tasting cups for them!

Reward Volunteers Program

What Volunteers Do

I had many tasks throughout my day as a volunteer at the Tallahassee Brewfest, starting with unboxing those VIP glasses.

As the VIPs arrived, we welcomed each one, got them set up with their goodies, and wished them a happy event.

After the VIPs were processed, we had other jobs to do. We helped answer questions, relieved other volunteers, kept the venue tidy, and in general promoted a happy vibe among the 1200 Brewfest attendees.

After the event, we ushered participants out, then it was breakdown time. Our volunteer duties during breakdown time fell under the “if you see it, and it needs to be done, do it” category. Carting boxes of unused supplies out. Consolidating uneaten food and getting it to a new home. Throwing away bags of trash. Dismantling tables. More trash.

How Volunteering Helps

The Sunrise Rotary Tallahassee Brewfest is the club’s largest event of the year. Twenty-one organizations benefit. 21!

Each of these organizations is oh-so-worthy, but there is something Rotary does that makes it important for me, even though I am not a Rotary member, to pitch in at Brewfest: Rotary International is one of five partners in the Polio Eradication Initiative, a public-private partnership pursuing the sole goal of eradicating polio worldwide. I have been a Shot at Life champion for five years, advocating for children worldwide to have access to immunizations for vaccine-preventable diseases including polio. We’re all on the same team in that regard, so it’s important for me to chip in.

Among the 21 causes Brewfest helps directly, several of them intersect with my interests and affiliations. I may not be able to volunteer at each one regularly, but helping at Brewfest indirectly gives them a boost. The Alzheimer’s Project, for example, provided several hours of respite care weekly so I could run errands (or sleep, or work) without worrying about my father-in-law. Honor Flight, a favorite cause, takes WWII veterans to Washington, D.C., every year to be honored. 211 Big Bend helps people experiencing suicidal thoughts or other mental health issues in addition to compiling resources for community services. More importantly to me, it’s where I received mental health training and experience that has served me for decades, long after I stopped answering the phones for the counseling hotline and the Florida AIDS Hotline.

What Volunteers Get

The list of rewards for volunteering at Brewfest flows as easily as the taps did that night (until time to close when we friendly volunteers showed everyone the exit)!

In addition to helping all the great causes I listed above, we get to see a broad cross-section of our community and socialize while we work.

We even got beer breaks – something you can’t say of every volunteer gig.

Reward Volunteers Program

I also accrued Reward Volunteers points. RV is a program sponsored by the Cabot Cooperative, makers of the World’s Best Cheddar and other dairy products. I have been a member for more than a year. Here’s what Reward Volunteers is all about:

  • It’s a site where you can log your volunteer hours and keep track of the ways you make the world a better place
  • Participating organizations (and individuals) can win prizes for logging their hours
  • Reward Volunteers lets you search for volunteering opportunities in your area
  • The site gives gives Organizations and Volunteers a free way to track volunteer activity.

Learn more about Reward Volunteers from this Facebook Live I did with Cabot volunteer Amanda Freund.

But here’s one thing no bullet point list can adequately capture: the fun factor. It was rainy. Our boxes of VIP glasses got soggy. Guests arrived a bit skeptical about how day would turn out. We all had a great time.

Who’s the Real VIP?

There were other VIPs that got something out of the day besides the people we greeted when the event began. The other very important people are the ones served by the 21 incredible agencies that Brewfest supports.

The beer taps may have had to stop at the end of the event, but the event’s good results will flow all year long.

Reward Volunteers Program

 

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

#GivingTuesday 2017

Twas the night before Giving Tuesday 2017 and I was …..

  • facing down a deadline
  • wishing I had instituted an email newsletter so I could shoot one out instead of inflicting a blog post on people

BUT since there’s no newsletter option and the deadline is breathing down my neck, a blog post will have to do. A few quick pre- #GivingTuesday thoughts.

#UNSelfie

I am participating in the Big Bend #UNSelfie contest for Giving Tuesday, and my charity of choice is the Hang Tough Foundation. Hang Tough helps the whole family when a child has a life-threatening illness (more here).

If Hang Tough gets the most votes, they win a $500 grant from the Community Foundation of North Florida and $500 toward a direct mail fundraising campaign from Target Print & Mail.

*********   Vote for me here all day on 11/28/17 only!   ********

BONUS: Giving Tuesday 11/28/17 is my birthday and this is the only gift I want!

Giving Tuesday 2017

It’s also a Llamatastic day for Heifer!

Look for my llama and me on social media!

In addition to Hang Tough, I’m supporting Heifer International today! The gift of an animal (LIKE A LLAMA) from Heifer increases access to education, empowerment, and dignity. It’s an easy way to give gifts that really matter. When you give today (11/28) all gifts are doubled! 2x the help for 2x the families.

Giving Tuesday 2017

(Note – Yes I’m wearing a Team in Training shirt. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is ANOTHER fave of mine because so many friends are dealing with blood cancers.)

My Awesome Friend Nicolette

My friend Nicolette is running for Orange County Commission District 4.

I am positive Nicolette is going to make a positive difference in her community so, although this isn’t strictly a Giving Tuesday request, I encourage you to support a candidate who is running for all the right reasons (for a non-partisan seat).

The link to donate is here.

 

Giving Tuesday 2017

The Other 364 Days

If you find yourself stressed out today (after voting for Hang Tough in the #UNSelfie context, because HOW COULD THAT BE STRESSFUL LOL?), remember there are 364 other days on which you can make a difference. My thoughts on that here.

Giving Tuesday 2017

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

Thanksgiving 2017: A Little Cheering Section for Caregivers

November is National Family Caregivers Month and Thanksgiving is almost here! That means it is time, for the third year, to create tokens of appreciation for the caregivers at Tallahassee’s Elder Day Stay. (Here’s a look back at Year One and Year Two.)

Caregiver Support

Why does it matter to say “thank you” in this small way to caregivers?

Caregiving is Expensive

The costs of home, community, and facility care of elder family members has increased over the past year. According to Genworth Financial, the national median daily rate of Adult Day Health Care (providing social and support services in a community-based, protective setting) is $70, a 2.94% change since 2016 and a five-year annual growth rate of $2.79%.

Caregiving is Messy

I have grown to hate (or at least to try to tune out) most advertising around the caregiving options for elderly family members. The sweet grandma reading a story to an attentive grandchild, the sentimental music playing in the background as families gaze lovingly upon one another, the clean, seemingly chaos-free homes.

That wasn’t the case for us, and I doubt many caregiving families could relate to a situation that doesn’t involve bodily fluids, mystery smells, and stains of undetermined origin. This post lists several reasons elderly people lose momentum in the hygiene department, including depression, control (definitely a factor for us), and the fact that their senses have dimmed so much that they may not see or smell their deteriorating physical state.

(That’s why I always include hand sanitizer in the appreciation tokens — we should own stock we went through so much of it.)

Caregiving is Important, Minimally Rewarded Work

According to GoodTherapy.org, “Thirty-five percent of caregivers find it difficult to make time for themselves, while 29% have trouble managing stress, and another 29% report difficulty balancing work and family issues.”

One small token of appreciation can’t reverse the challenges created by caregiving, BUT it can remind the people doing this important work that they are not forgotten, and that their needs are recognized.

And since I like keeping it real, let’s throw in one more toilet reference. When I was looking for a great quote with which to end this post, I found (ta-da!) a rising toilet seat. It is not only elevated (we had that) BUT it has little (okay, maybe not so little — they say they handle up to 450 pounds) “lifters” that help the elderly person get up from the toilet without a human caregiver helping them. It’s one “uplifting” item in their world that quite literally DOES lift them up.

Giving these Thanksgiving tokens is a little bit like that — a small lift that lightens one small fragment of a caregiver’s day.

If You Want to Help

I got a late start this year (and I don’t have caregiving to blame!), so I am still finalizing a few details regarding how many caregivers there will be this year, but I’m working from an assumption of “50” and I’ll come in and update as things get refined.

Here’s what I hope to include:

A Sharpie (the participants at adult day stay mark their belongings with Sharpie).

Hand sanitizer (remember the “messy” paragraph above?)

A candy bar (everyone deserves a treat!)

If you’re local and can help, let me know. If you’re not local, and want to contribute, feel free to send donations via Paypal to opuswsk @ aol.com with the notation “Thanksgiving 2017.”

I invite you to help me be part of the “little cheering section” for a deserving group of caregivers.

Caregiver Support

I am linking this post up to Mama’s Losin’ It this week — for the prompt “Write a blog post inspired by the word: messy.” (Also – pro tip – if you’re a cat lover, visit Kat’s post about her foster kittens. So cute!)

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.