Clean Air: There Are No Do Overs For Little Lungs

This post is made possible by support from Clean Air Moms Action. All opinions are, of course, my own.

Before I wrote this post, I printed out a few pages of material from Clean Air Moms Action to refer to while writing the post. I laid them on my bed so they wouldn’t get lost in the sea of papers near my laptop.

Little did I know that while I was on a lengthy phone call for work, my father-in-law had left our back door open (again) and the cats had taken advantage of the opportunity for fresh air (again).

I got the cats back into the house and went about my day. It was not until later that I found my Clean Air Moms Action materials, covered with the stomach-turning, grassy results of the cat’s adventure outside (I’ll spare you a picture … it was disgusting). The irony was not lost on me. The cat’s adventure in the fresh air ended up introducing contaminants that destroyed my “clean air” materials, something that didn’t impact that cat’s feelings at all. I had to start over.

Our Children Only Get One Childhood

The principle of “you only get one opportunity” is especially true when it comes to our children’s environment. Whereas I wrote recently about a multitude of issues, such as fair wages, the fight for paid sick days, and immigration reform after I participated in the We Won’t Wait 2016 conference, there is another set of issues I want to share: that of the threat to our children’s health from harmful pollution, climate change, and toxic chemicals.

We Can’t Take Clean Air for Granted

While I wrote in a previous blog post about the frustrated tears I shed the day my child was sent home for a third day in a row because the school nurse did not deem her hair lice free yet, that was nothing compared to the challenges children with asthma (and their families) face.

Over the almost 20 years I worked for Healthy Kids, conversations with asthma were among the most frequent. There is a reason:

Approximately 1 in 10 children in Florida have current asthma. For African-American children, the risk is higher (approximately 1 in 6). 

In a Scientific American series on the interconnections between asthma, poverty, and living in the inner city, author Crystal Gammon wrote:

Incinerators, metal producers, power plants, chemical manufacturers and other industries ring the city [East St. Louis]. Exhaust from cars and trucks on nearby highways blankets the area, as well.

The Florida Asthma Coalition describes other factors necessary to create a healthier environment for children, including promotion of influenza and pneumonia vaccinations; indoor air quality improvements including smoke-free air laws and policies; healthy homes, schools and workplaces, and improvements in outdoor air quality.

I’ve heard of teachers who were resistant to the additional work involved in implementing asthma-friendly measures until they were forced to breathe through a straw to understand their students’ struggles. I’ve heard of a school which worked hard to become a Florida Asthma Friendly School after losing a classmate to asthma. Asthma can sound abstract until it’s your child.

These initiatives are anything but abstract when it is your child struggling to breathe, your income or job on the line because your employer doesn’t provide paid sick leave, your heart breaking because you can’t protect the most important person in the world to you, your child, from the pollutants in the air they have to breathe to stay alive.

At Healthy Kids, I heard the desperation in parents’ voices as they sought an affordable health care solution that would give a child with asthma access to a medical home, critical supplies and medications, and an asthma management plan.

I have heard my friends struggle to find affordable housing that has hardwood instead of rugs (to reduce allergens). I have seen them sacrifice financially to purchase allergy-free bedding and make other accommodations to help their child cope with the effects of pollution on their lungs..

Our Votes Impact The Air Our Children Breathe

Mayor Christine Berg, of Lafayette, CO, is researching candidates because as the parent of a young daughter who is preparing for the birth of her second baby, she believes, as I do, that the stakes couldn’t be higher.

When evaluating your candidates for the presidency, state offices, and local offices, please consider the candidates’ positions on issues like clean air, climate change, and toxic chemicals.

I’ve Promised to Vote and I Encourage You to do the Same

Anyone who knows me or follows my social media knows I’ve promised to vote. But I’m not just asking you to promise to vote November 8. I’m also asking you to promise to vote for the city or county commissioner who recognizes, for example, that obesity is a factor in asthma and supports playgrounds. For the gubernatorial candidate who prioritizes cleanup of waste sites and contaminated water. For the senatorial candidate who supports the Clean Air Act.

An easy way for us to be accountable to one another (and most importantly to our children) is to take the Clean Air Moms Action Pledge from Clean Air Moms, which is working to build bipartisan support to protect our children from the health impacts of air pollution. Click the graphic below to take the pledge:

Clean Air

Learn more at the Clean Air Moms Action website by clicking here.

Follow Clean Air Moms Action on Facebook by clicking here.

Follow Clean Air Moms Action on Twitter at @momsaction.

Follow Clean Air Moms Action on Instagram by clicking here.

We will all breathe easier once we make our voices heard with the candidates running for office.

Especially our kids.

Clean Air

Lean In (A Book Review)

I finally read Lean In.

Lean In

After refraining from commenting on the book until I had read it, I’m ready.

After reading the book, I jotted down the first four things that had stood out to me. They were:

  • Lice
  • The concept of “bringing our whole selves to work”
  • How I’d rather stand straight up than lean in or out
  • The necessity of having a global perspective

Lice

Let’s just get the lice issue out of the way. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg discusses the time she was traveling to a conference with other corporate executives, and the chairman of eBay offered for her and her young children to fly with him on the corporate jet. After enduring a 2 hour wait while some mechanical issue was handled (and keeping the kids shushed during the wait), they boarded the plane. Within minutes of boarding the plane, Ms. Sandberg’s daughter pronounced, “mom, my head really itches” while furiously scratching her head. Ms. Sandberg was mortified, somehow managed to conceal the issue of her daughter’s newly diagnosed lice infestation, and made a hasty detour to a pharmacy for the proper lice treatment rather than joining the others on the way to the hotel after the plane landed. I have been there and done that (the lice issue, not the private jet). Years after dealing with a lice outbreak at our house, I still remember crying in my car when for the third day in a row the school nurse thought she “still saw something.” Our county has a “no nit” policy and calling my boss to advise that I wouldn’t be coming in (again) was a call I hated making. (Wayne was in the middle of legislative session and couldn’t help at the time.) This little scenario made me feel like Ms. Sandberg may be able to relate to some of my working parent stresses.

The concept of bringing our whole selves to work

Ms. Sandberg says in Lean In:

It has been an evolution, but I am now a true believer in bringing our whole selves to work. I no longer think people have a professional self for Mondays through Fridays and a real self for the rest of the time. That type of separation probably never existed, and in today’s era of individual expression … it makes even less sense.

I wholeheartedly believe that our workplaces will be more humane and more productive when we recognize that the men and women who walk through the workplace doors (or log in to the workplace remote system) bring the joys and stresses of their personal lives to their desks. And while some people may manage to leave the work joys and stresses behind, speaking only for myself I can say my work is with me (emotionally) on Saturday afternoon and in the amalgam of things that parade through my mind as I fall asleep. I am concerned about the messages my children have gotten about “what work is” through the things I have said, the “vibes” I have given, the “frame” I have put around “what work is.” Perhaps more universal acknowledgement of “the whole self” will change the image we portray of work to our children (for those of us who have kids).

I’d rather stand straight up than lean in or out

I understood how the admonition to “lean in” made sense in the context of Ms. Sandberg’s book. Female executives should take advantage of an empty seat at the main table instead of settling for a seat against the outer wall. If an opportunity comes their way, they should assume themselves worthy and chase it. I really, really loved her description of the decision to go to work for Google. She talked about how it was a small, disorganized organization with unimaginable potential. Although the position she was offered wasn’t a perfect match for her skills, “When you get a chance to ride on a rocket you don’t ask your seat assignment, you get on the rocket.”

The thing that kept reverberating through my head listening to the audiobook of Lean In was “why does there have to be ‘leaning’?” For me, it’s often more a matter of standing up straight, for myself at times; for coworkers at times; for ideas that matter that do not have champions yet.

When faced with an executive director who proposed to me, “I just am not sure you aren’t more committed to your family than to your job,” the challenge wasn’t whether to lean in or out, it was to stand up straight, look him in the eye, and say, “my family will always be my primary commitment. Can you show me in a measurable way how that commitment has detracted from my performance? Because if my performance is not an issue, then bringing the topic of my commitment to my family into the discussion wastes valuable time when we could be planning how to make our organization its most effective.”

The necessity of having a global perspective

Of all the people I know who have read Lean In, the demographics are somewhat homogenous: well educated people, working people, Americans and Canadians (for the most part). While I don’t expect Sheryl Sandberg to solve global women’s issues in one book, I can’t forget the woman in Guatemala who met with our group when we visited in July 2011, who had no shoes. The child we sponsor in Guatemala who is trying to learn Spanish to augment her indigenous language, who will be way ahead of the game if she makes it past 3rd grade. The question my teenager asked about the women in Guatemala (“why do they keep having babies if they can’t afford them?”) and my fumbling attempts to explain cultural pressure to procreate. The men in Guatemala who struggle to feed their growing families in a “work a day eat a day” society that is getting more and more complicated as large corporate interests make the environment harder for the lesser educated. These people have an issue different than “will my employer create close parking spaces for pregnant women?”. Until girls around the world can literally survive and be educated, our “first world problems” remain exactly that.

My daughter Tenley meets our sponsored child Estela and her mother in Guatemala.

My daughter Tenley meets our sponsored child Estela and her mother in Guatemala.

I am glad I read “Lean In.” I believe that, like people who commented about Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother without reading it, we owe each other the effort to read before ascending any pulpits. Except for the “get on the rocket and then figure out your seat assignment” line, nothing in the book made a light bulb go off over my head. I did feel a little bit of “I can relate to that” (with the lice, with some of the work/life balance scenarios) and a lot of “wow we have a long way to go still.” Kudos to Sheryl Sandberg for her professional achievements, for being a wife and mom to a family she treasures, and for championing the idea that we all bring a “whole self” to work.

In closing, I’ll leave you with one of Sandberg’s concepts that proves itself to be truer and truer as our world hurtles toward its next configuration:

“Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.”

I’ve already written almost 1300 words without really getting into how I wanted to be a stay at home mom OR the “fun” of responding to emails one-handed while keeping a breast pump suction cup firmly affixed to the correct body part. For a great discussion of the jungle gym analogy, I encourage you to visit Gini Dietrich’s post about Lean In.

jungle gym

 *Note: I read the book on audio, so it’s challenging to go back and obtain direct quotes. If I have paraphrased anything incorrectly, I apologize!