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).

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.

155 Big Green Pen Minutes Day Twelve: Write

I am participating in the 31 Days of Free Writes October challenge. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation. (Confession: I *may* not be able to resist spell-checking!)

(Since it’s a little hard to read, here’s the info about Peninnah from Kenya: “Peninnah was orphaned at a young age and couldn’t afford to continue with her education. To support herself, she got married and later had a child—but she was determined to return to school. After qualifying for a scholarship from the Forum for African Women Educationalists, Peninnah returned to the classroom. Your count is a stand for every girl who defies obstacles to education.”)

Today’s prompt: Write

Yesterday was the International Day of the Girl. Late last night, I finally read an email I had received earlier in the day asking me to participate in the One Campaign’s Count, in which participants each take a number of the millions of girls who don’t have access to education and try to give them a voice. I wasn’t made up and my hair was a mess, but I threw a cap on and did it.

I remembered doing the same thing last year when I was in Washington, D.C. with friends and fellow advocates from Shot at Life. (That was a lot of fun for a variety of reasons — we may have been a bit silly in how we helped each other get the courage up to do this on no notice.)

But mainly, as I wrote down number 16,419 and prepared to speak, I thought about the power of education for girls and young women.

To help them have better opportunities to earn a livable wage.

To help them avoid early marriage, early pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases.

To help them be everything they can possibly be, without someone else telling them what to do, how to do it, or where to exist.

I am hoping to write myself out of the current financial challenges our family is dealing with, having two kids in college and a variety of other issues to overcome.

Whatever the case, just like learning to write will give these girls and women power, I know it is putting me back in touch with my own power to solve the problems in my life I’ve contributed to.

Writing Challenge

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

Banned Books Week 2017

Banned Books Week 2017 is September 24 through 30, 2017.

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 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 I Am Jazz. The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom recorded 323 book challenges in 2016. Of the top ten, this book was number four. The ALA says, “This children’s picture book memoir was challenged and removed because it portrays a transgender child and because of language, sex education, and offensive viewpoints.”

Here’s my readout:

I ordered I Am Jazz on September 7, because I had decided to use it for my read out, but events here in Tallahassee that occurred between the time I placed the order and now brought the topic of how people want to be addressed (i.e., what pronoun is used) front and center.

A local fifth-grade teacher, Chloe Bressack, wrote an introductory message to parents and students in which Chloe requested to be addressed by the pronouns “they,” “them,” and “their,” in addition to “Mx.” (pronounced “mix”).

Two articles appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat about this, one explaining that parents objected to the use of gender neutral pronouns by a teacher and another after the teacher apologized for confusion related to the situation. This story made national and international news.

The Real Issue

The teacher explained in an introductory letter that they prefer the use of gender neutral pronouns when being addressed.

Gender Pronouns

Source: The Tallahassee Democrat via Leon County Schools

Although the teacher did not tell students what to do (the teacher stated that the teacher uses gender neutral pronouns) and said, “We’re not going for perfection, just making an effort!” …. the internet mob had other interpretations.

“Teaching children gender neutrality or gender fluidity or whatever the term is these days amounts to psychological and/or emotional child abuse.” (Tallahassee Democrat comment)

“Sad when you have to deprogram your kids when they come home from a public school.” (Facebook group comment)

“I would try my best to get my kid away from this teacher. Would she fail or demerit those that did not follow her instruction? This is absolutely wrong. Our language does not change at the whim of one teacher.” (Fox News comment thread)

And then there are the teachers in students’ “crouches” (yes, I do advocate upright posture, actually).

Gender Pronouns

The Evolution of Pronouns

Chloe Bressack asked to be addressed with gender-neutral pronouns. I can’t imagine this is the first time in the history of education that a teacher’s form of address has been questioned/criticized.

Bressack is not the first teacher to face criticism for being different from the majority of teachers

The American Federation of Teachers lists adversities teachers have faced over the years:

  • “teachers whose beliefs were being investigated by political committees during the “Red scare” hysteria following WWI.”
  • “female teachers [who] found themselves faced with “contracts which still stipulated that an employed teacher must wear skirts of certain lengths, keep her galoshes buckled, not receive gentleman callers more than three times a week and teach a Sunday School class”

The AFT also took a stand early on in civil rights issues: they moved their 1938 convention venue because the original venue forced black people to ride in the freight elevators.

I have to believe these teachers, in one way or another, faced parents who thought they would not be the ideal teachers for their students … and said so (although without the fuel of social media).

What must the 70s have been like?

I was a public school student (roughly 2nd grade through 9th) in the 70s but I don’t recall any kerfuffle over teachers wanting to be called “Ms.” instead of “Mrs.” or “Miss,” but this seems like another one of those types of situations that could have created consternation.

“Ms.” was officially approved by the Government Accounting Office in 1972 but actually first appeared almost 70 years prior, in 1901. Change does, indeed, take time.

About the singular “they” and other gender neutral pronouns

Many of the comments about the Bressack situation were some iteration or another of “it isn’t even correct grammar to address an individual person as ‘they'”! I made several comments as recently as five days ago that, as a grammar “purist,” it was hard for me to stomach such an awkward construction, but a little research prompted me to reframe.

While Merriam-Webster hasn’t qualified “the singular they” as an entry yet, they did say this when describing it as a “word to watch”:

There have always been people who didn’t conform to an expected gender expression, or who seemed to be neither male nor female. But we’ve struggled to find the right language to describe these people—and in particular, the right pronouns. In the 17th century, English laws concerning inheritance sometimes referred to people who didn’t fit a gender binary using the pronoun it, which, while

dehumanizing, was conceived of as being the most grammatically fit answer to gendered pronouns around then. Adopting the already-singular they is vastly preferable. It’s not quite as newfangled as it seems: we have evidence in our files of the nonbinary they dating back to 1950, and it’s likely that there are earlier uses of the nonbinary pronoun they out there.

“Mx.” was one of the “Words That Explain 2015” as chosen by Vox. Vox noted that the Oxford English Dictionary added it as an official word that year.

Also in 2015, The American Dialect Society defined “the singular they” as its word of the year, noting “While many novel gender-neutral pronouns have been proposed, they has the advantage of already being part of the language.”

Enough about language lessons, what about our kids?

I really can’t overstate how much this situation has weighed on my heart and mind this week. I wrote about it on September 21, when the Five Minute Friday prompt was “accept.”

I wrote about how appalled I am that the responses to Bressack’s choice are so hateful and ugly. One thing I wrote, though, is slightly misrepresentative of how I actually feel, but in the spirit of Five Minute Friday, I did not edit it. It is this passage:

“…I am frightened of a world where people, frankly, show such un-Christian behavior toward an educator, a fellow human being, a person who reiterated that they intend to address students by their chosen pronouns (I am sure at that school that means 100% “he” and “she”).”

It was inaccurate for me to assume, since the school is relatively high in socioeconomic standards, that “100% of the kids there prefer ‘he’ and ‘she’.” Life experience has taught me that even among fifth graders, typically 9 and 10 years old, their chosen pronouns may not be so rigidly defined, especially in their own psyches.

Childhood is hard enough, but the challenges grow for transgender children, who have “a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their assigned sex” (definition: Wikipedia).

According to Science News:

Nearly half (46.5 percent) of young transgender adults have attempted suicide at some point in their lives, a recent survey of over 2,000 people found. Nearly half. For comparison, the attempted suicide rate among the general U.S. population is estimated to be about 4.6 percent.

What’s more, a 2015 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that transgender youth are two to three times as likely as their peers to suffer from depression and anxiety disorders, or to attempt suicide or harm themselves. 

Although many commenters have said “9 or 10 years old” is too young to have to deal with gender pronouns that depart from traditional masculine and feminine references, the more I learn, the more I realize that people who are transgender or non-gender conforming start coming to terms with it as they begin to develop their gender identities (and deal with societal gender expectations) … which is far earlier than nine in many cases.

I think of my friends who face critical reactions when they give their little boys the princess parties they want. I think of my friend who, when he came out as gay in a small town where he taught art, had numerous students express gratitude that there was someone else who was publicly out.

And, of course, I think of all the legislative activity this year around who can go to the bathroom where.

My Wish For Mx. Bressack’s School Year

I hope Mx. Bressack and the fifth graders in their class have an incredible school year. And I hope there aren’t any parents (or any people among the multitudes who have seen their introductory letter) who are offended by giraffes (noted by Mx. Bressack as a favorite), who have been known to stick their necks out for what they need..

Mx. Bressack already stuck their neck out for something that matters.

(Editor’s Note 9/26/17 Mx. Bressack was, according to the Tallahassee Democrat, transferred to the Adult Education department, which is housed at a different campus. This is Superintendent Hanna’s statement:

“This afternoon I had an open conversation with Teacher Bressack. Given the complexity of the issue, we both agreed a different environment would be best for Teacher Bressack’s educational career and for the young students at Canopy Oaks,” Superintendent Rocky Hanna said in a statement.

I supported Superintendent Hanna in the recent election, I consider him a friend (and still will), but I am tremendously disappointed in this decision, and whatever extent our School Board failed to support this educator.)

Here is the article: Gender-neutral teacher being transferred to adult ed after pronoun controversy

Gender Pronouns

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

Heifer’s “Cows to Classrooms” Program is Expanding!

This post is made possible by support from Heifer International. All opinions are my own (but I’m not sure what Joey from Friends thinks). 

It has been quite a few years since I had to open one of these:

School Milk….. but I’m pretty sure nothing has happened in the decades between elementary school and now to make it easier to get to that milk!

This guy has a similar problem:

The gentleman in the video above was hardly alone. Remember how Joey on Friends struggled with traditional milk cartons?

When The Problem Is Bigger than Difficulty Getting Into the Container

For children in Tanzania, having access to milk itself is the challenge, no matter what the container.

A Heifer International program in Tanzania  that began in 2008 helps dairy farmers increase milk production. They are now broadening that focus through the school milk feeding program, which has a goal of creating viable and diverse markets for the farmers. Government agencies and school districts are part of the initiative to encourage a generation of milk-drinkers and increase the well-being and nutrition of eager students.

(And good news – the milk comes in packets rather than those blasted cartons!).

School Milk

Photo Credit: Heifer International

More about the School Milk Feeding Program

The School Milk Feeding Program officially began in July 2017. Besides the fact that it gives children in Tanzania access to milk and the ability to learn better, I love the way the program integrates communities by bringing the “cow to the classroom.”

During my trips to Central America, and as a fan/supporter of Linda Freeman, who has worked with communities in Cambodia to develop goat banks, I have gained a deeper appreciation of the link between animals and community self-support. This chicken in Guatemala, for example, is a key element of the family’s survival strategy.

School Milk

Here’s more about the “cows to classrooms” concept, which brings Heifer’s community efforts full circle.

School Milk

Where the Milk Goes Now (and Where It Will Go in the Future)

The July launch of the program put 200 ml packets of milk, providing 25% of the daily share of calcium, in the hands of 1742 pupils in the Njombe region; they’ll keep getting milk Monday through Friday for the rest of the school year.

Heifer wants to expand the program so that 9,000 pupils ages 9 and under in the Njombe, Iringa, Mbeya, and Songwe regions get a packet of free fresh milk every day Monday – Friday during the school year.

Besides the obvious health/learning benefits for the children involved, the cow to classroom program also creates a reliable market for producers and increases the farmers’ incomes.

What Will The Expansion Take?

I am excited to partner with Heifer to let you know how we can help this project reach its goal of providing milk every school day to 9000 children in Tanzania!

Donations of any size are appreciated. Even $2.00 would cover a week! It would be the perfect way to observe World School Milk Day on September 27.

School Milk

Photo Credit: Heifer International

If you would like to donate, please click here.

If you can’t donate right now, please consider sharing this post; the more people who are aware, the better (just click here to send a tweet now!). Women Online will donate $1 for each Facebook share or Twitter Retweet (up to $2000 total) to Heifer’s School Milk Feeding Program!

To learn more and/or spread the word, here are links to Heifer International’s website and social media accounts: Website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

I promise giving (or sharing socially) will be easier than opening a #$#(!* elementary school milk carton!

School Milk

Photo Credit: Heifer International

 

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

Why Does Local Theatre Matter?

Arts Advocacy

QUIZ: Whose motto is this?

Why Art Matters

Before we get to the answer, wouldn’t we all agree that “art works”? Not all art “works,” of course, and not all art works for every person every time, but the process of making and watching art works. In this East Bay Times article, Kay Kleinerman was quoted as saying, “Theater calls on us to engage with our brains, our bodies, our imaginations and our voices. From what could we learn more?”

Why Art Needs Us

As this United Arts Council statement notes, “Funding strategies are critical to local arts agencies, especially in the face of greatly changing private sector support.” This is why I was happy to do a very small part and write a letter of support for Theatre Tallahassee.

I wrote a letter of support because a) Executive Director Theresa Davis asked me to (and I was happy to comply!) and b) I believe there are many ways we can contribute meaningfully to places we love, such as through letters. I encourage you to do the same for an organization you care about.

My Letter

No actors makes it to the stage without intense effort on the parts of many who don’t get to share the limelight.

Similarly, we don’t always immediately see the benefits a long-term, quality arts program brings to a community.

Theatre Tallahassee delivers tangible and intangible assets to our region, by helping the economy while simultaneously engaging a diverse array of citizens through the joy of creating.

Numbers talk. Americans for the Arts found that local nonprofit arts attendees spend an average $17.42 per person (excluding admission costs) in ways that help the local economy (eating out, for example) while non-local attendees spend an average of $39.96 per person (adding other travel expenditures like hotels). Theatre Tallahassee helps our local economy grow.

Numbers talk but, equally important, art matters. Has every show Theatre Tallahassee (previously Tallahassee Little Theatre) produced since Boy Meets Girl in 1949 been a consensus success? Absolutely not. But I would argue that there has been a disproportionately loud amount of applause versus dissatisfaction. Also, the best art is sometimes judged by how you feel about it months later rather than your immediate reaction.

In an East Bay Times article, Kay Kleinerman was quoted as saying, “It’s not about how engaging in theater can boost test scores for students … It’s bigger and more important than that. Plainly and simply, theater is a lens through which to see and understand the world and understand ourselves in the world. It is a way of knowing, perhaps one of the most complete ways of knowing. Theater calls on us to engage with our brains, our bodies, our imaginations and our voices. From what could we learn more?”

Finally, transcending economic numbers and the value of art, Theatre Tallahassee’s power in my life has been personal. I saw my daughter thrive there as an actor. I have shared countless performances as an audience member, many of them with my blind mother-in-law, who held season tickets for years and appreciated the dynamic of live art even if she couldn’t physically see it. I have volunteered at will-call, worked the concession stand, helped at fund-raisers. Each of these things engaged me, in the fulfilling ways Kay Kleinerman summarized in the East Bay Times.

Theatre Tallahassee matters to our community economically and artistically, and to me in ways no other organization could.

I lend the organization my unqualified support.

Paula Kiger

And That Time I Was a Grailfinder

I have to admit one of my happiest moments at Theatre Tallahassee was when I was the “Grailfinder for the Night” during Spamalot!

Arts Advocacy

Who’s Motto is “Art Works” Anyway?

The organization that said, “In its comparatively short existence in the life of civilizations, the U.S. has produced an enduring legacy of cultural achievements, and leaders are fast recognizing the centrality of artistic expression and creativity to a health society, is the National Endowment for the Arts.

It’s one organization’s motto but applies universally.

Art works, and it deserves our support.

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