"Failed to Death"

It is with a heavy heart and a great deal of anger and frustration that I share with you the tragic end to my neighbor's struggle with mental illness.

Recently the Denver Post, a Colorado newspaper, ran a story series titled, "Failed to Death." While this series was about children who fell through the system cracks and which ended with loss of life, I think that they could, and should, run a companion piece detailing the same problems in regard to the mentally ill.

On November 25, I wrote about my frustrations of trying to get help for one of the gentlemen in our neighborhood in a post titled, Helping Those with "Beautiful Minds". A man not much older than myself, lost his job, was unable to find work, lost his insurance and went off of his medication. Shortly after that he started to hallucinate fairly significantly. His delusions were paranoid in nature and resulted in his inability to function in regards to basic day-to-day life. His water was eventually shut off and he began to struggle financially. His property deteriorated and he visibly lost weight. He was struggling and all those around could see it. The problem was, they were powerless to do anything about it.

The neighborhood rallied around him, not in a malicious way, but in an effort to help him. In point of fact, the actions I witnessed were so compassionate, so caring and so willing to help that I found unexpected pride and appreciation in my community. He verbally assaulted some of the people on our street, and yet they were still capable and willing to accept that it was his illness and not him that was shouting those things at them. I saw neighbors get involved, make phone calls, offer to help pay his bills, try and contact family, request well-checks and keep a general eye on his well-being. I myself provided water for him when his was shut off and while I never felt immediately threatened, I was keenly aware that his paranoid hallucinations represented a very real and present danger to myself and my family in their unpredictability. With that in mind I told my kids that while I expected them to be kind in all dealings with the neighbor in question, they were not allowed to play in the front yard anymore, answer the door, or speak with him unless an adult was present. After all, I had to be realistic about our safety.

At the end of my post lamenting the care of the mentally ill in America I predicted a tragic end to my neighbor's story. Unfortunately, I was right. He can now get the help he needs because he finally attempted to commit "grievous harm to himself or others." He could get the help now, if only he had lived. My neighbor passed away as a result of his illness. The system failed him in every way that I predicted. It makes me angry to think that we had a ticking time bomb on our street. We all knew it, the police knew it, his psychiatrist knew it, and his family knew it. And yet, thanks to the woefully inadequate laws in this country to help those who need it and protect citizens from mentally ill patients in free fall, we can add one more tragedy to the Preventable Tragedies Database.

I am sad, but relieved. It feels like divine intervention that things went down the way they did. I feel sick when it occurs to me that we live abreast of a school and when the police came to search his house I watched them carry out enough weaponry and ammunition to take down Fort Knox. The wrong amount of noise from the school, a snatched conversation, anything could have set him off and children would have been at risk. And when I think of what might have happened it makes me furious.

I do not blame my neighbor. In the end it does not taint my memory of his kindness towards me and my children. It makes me mad at the system. It makes me mad that things like the mental health clause is clearly no barrier to gun ownership. It makes me mad that we cannot help until someone dies and then, so often, at that point help is rendered useless.

The moment clearly calls for a giant "I told you so," but it is one I do not relish in any way. The whole thing is infuriating and heartbreaking. The system failed my neighbor, it failed him to death.

Please Drive Safely

If you do nothing else this holiday season, please, please drive safely.

It is so easy in the hecticness of the holiday season to get caught up in your own personal "to do" list. If anything, I am more guilty than most about that. With Snowflake's birthday hovering at just a few days before the big day, I get to pour on birthday stress into what already tends to be a stressful season. But, this year, as I am rushing around trying to get teacher presents, staff presents, family presents and birthday presents, I am much more aware of what is actually important. And, the fact of the matter is, the people who love me the most are not going to disown me if I don't get everything done. My family isn't going to stop being my family if for some reason I was to miss getting something under the tree for them. (Although the kids might not feel that way if Santa were to forget them).

No. The people who love me know, that what is most important under the tree is each other. And this season not everyone will have that joy.

 A few weeks ago, on Nov 17th, one of my close friends lost her two and a half year old in a tragic parking lot accident. The lady in question was not backing up, the boy in question did not break away from Mom and run out into the road, there was, as I understand it, no drinking or texting or cell phone usage. My friend's sweet boy was standing next to the car in the exact place he was supposed to be. The lady was just in a hurry and didn't see him. And now my friend's life, as well as all those around her, is changed forever. It is like ripples in the pond; it is strongest at the center, but rippling ever outward to everyone who knew him. In her own words she wrote:
Bram was hit by a lincoln navigator, when standing next to our car. The driver "just didn't see him." She was looking for a parking space. So if you think this could never be you, think of how many times you've been in a parking lot with your child or children. Standing next to our car wasn't enough to protect him. Standing near his dad wasn't enough to protect him. He didn't dart out. He was just there. But her car was too big, her mind too distracted, and she hit him, his head was crushed, causing severe cranial fractures, instantly brain dead but his body held on for 28 minutes....This could have been ANYONE, but it was me. It was my baby. It was Bram. Our family is missing a huge piece.

So, as we are all going about our busy lives this Christmas I implore you; watch where you are going, pay attention to your surroundings and remember the real priority is not one more gift under the tree, but instead, making sure that every family gets to enjoy a safe and happy holiday season together. The fact is that it could happen to any of us, on either side of the tragedy. A mistake takes just a second, but it's ramifications can last a lifetime.

And if you think of it, please say a prayer for my dear friend who has a long, long road to travel.

Helping those with "Beautiful Minds"

Anger. Fury. Frustration.

Just a few words to describe my viewpoint towards the nature of care that the mentally ill receive in this country. While in some ways America has made progress in the civil rights and treatment of our mentally ill (we are no longer locking them up in scary, sub-standard facilities with a minimum of three signatures to be subjected to heavy medication and electro-shock therapy), however I feel that we have now allowed the pendulum to swing too far the other way. In my opinion, the mentally ill are now quite literally suffering and dying from their own freedoms and with it, so suffer the people and families around them.

While the movie "A Beautiful Mind," starring Russel Crowe, which tells the true story of an academic suffering from schizophrenia, ended in a more or less happy ending with the character coming to terms with his affliction and living a productive life, not all individuals suffering from mental illness in America will be so lucky.

This blog is supposed to be about issues affecting families and in my opinion this is a major one. Not to mention it is highly personal at this exact moment considering the drama that is currently unfolding on the street that I live on. At the end of my street a very nice gentleman about my same age is living alone with only his pets for company. This same man, when we moved in, was very kind and always stopped when walking his dogs past our house and chatted whenever we were in the front yard. I knew him to be a bit quirky, but never anything but rational and considerate. Then about a year and a half to two years ago he lost his job. People stopped coming to the house not long after that. I still saw him walk his dogs and we talked about him looking for work. Then, within the last six months I started seeing him less and less until one day I realized I hadn't seen him out in quite a while. That is about the time the reports from neighbors started coming in. Strange sightings of him in his front yard arguing with no one. Knocks on peoples doors asking them who he was and why the government was trying to trick him about his identity with false and illegal birth certificates.

Then the police started coming.

The police have been to our street many, many, many times. Sometimes they come in unmarked cars with one or two officers. Sometimes they come with four or five marked SUVs. One particularly alarming day I arrived home to find our street blocked off, no one could come in or out. There were police, fire trucks, ambulances, and animal control vehicles. The result, they knocked on his door, checked that he seemed lucid and left. Another fun weekend night I looked out my living room window to see police in my front yard using bushes and cars on our street as cover and aiming rifles at the house in question. My friend called just then to ask if we were still having dinner since she was stuck at the end of our street unable to get through. Again, nothing happened. They were "just checking on him and there is nothing to worry about." Umm...if there is nothing to worry about, then why do you have multiple rifles trained on the house?

In all fairness, I think they are most likely correct. I had a visit one night shortly after dark. I heard a knock at my door and it was my neighbor. I greeted him and asked if he was ok. He was standing there with a bucket and he asked if he could borrow some water from our front faucet, his had been shut off. He was so polite and lucid I thought maybe he was back on his meds (he told another neighbor he was off of them because he could no longer afford them since he lost his insurance). No such luck though. I told him to please help himself whenever he needed it and that he didn't need to ask each time. He seemed fine right up until I said I was sorry his water was shut off and he started raving about government conspiracies, mind control devices, illegal birth certificates and how his family was behind it all. At no time did I ever get the sense that I was in any danger, but it made me profoundly sad. Then he came by a week or so later and he seemed much more agitated, and much more delusional. He was seemingly unaware of me after a moment and instead was heatedly arguing with the moon. I found it to be unsettling and made me feel a little more uneasy.

WHY, when he so clearly needs assistance are the police doing nothing? I thought, if they are here every other day checking on him, why can't they do something to help?

Being the person that I am, I immediately took to the Internet and began a full-scale search of mental health laws and services in this country, hoping I could find some way to help my neighbor who has never been anything but nice to us. What I found was highly alarming. There have been recent stories in the news, horrifying stories about similar issues with individuals suffering from mental illness. These stories have one thing in common, which is that the family was trying to get the individuals help, but were hand-cuffed by civil rights laws protecting the freedoms of the individual. I found an article here, that discusses neighbors unable to get help for a woman down the street who was holding the entire neighborhood hostage. I found examples just recently in my home state where we have had a 24 year old man who is suspected of killing his mother who tried to get help for him and feared for her life, or the largest mass shooting in American history this year when James Eagan Holmes opened fire in the premiere of the new Batman movie and who apparently had seen a psychiatrist on the CU campus where he attended school who specialized in schizophrenia. There are many more across the United States.

In researching what I might be able to do, I stumbled on to a wonderful article on the history of mental illness treatment in America, "Law Creates Barriers to Getting Care For Mentally Ill", which referenced a database, started in Virginia, called the "Preventable Tragedies Database." (you can search it's contents here) It is compiled by Dr. E. Fuller Torrey. The purpose of this collection is to record and track all tragic events that might have been avoided if only the laws existed to allow for state intervention for mentally ill individuals who are refusing treatment. The importance of this lies in the fact that until an individual shows the potential for imminent harm, or has committed a crime, they cannot be the subject of any state intervention with out their expressed consent and compliance. The downside of this law is that with many mentally ill individuals, there appears to be no identifiable escalation but merely a moment when they finally snap in some fashion.

So, in a horrifying Catch-22, my neighbor who lost his job in a crappy economy and was quirky enough not to immediately get re-hired, is now off of his meds and most likely unable to secure employment at this point. He can not get the assistance he needs because he is refusing to comply and is over 18. As a result of his job loss he has no money to get help, even if he wanted to, and is so far gone that it is doubtful he even understands he needs help. The authorities can do nothing because as long as he seems lucid enough, and has not done harm or is in imminent danger of doing harm, they cannot intervene if he is refusing treatment. Now he is living in a house where he has no water, and possibly no heat or electricity (although I thought I saw his lights on yesterday) with winter coming. It doesn't take a brain scientist to see how this story is going to end. It is going to end one of a few ways. He is finally going to commit harm to others resulting in his getting help through the criminal system, or help will be rendered unnecessary because he commits harm to himself. The other possibility is that he is going end up homeless with nowhere to go and will only be taken in by the state if he commits grievous harm (see previous statement). Either way I think it is deplorable that this story doesn't seem like it has any chance of a happy ending. He is a kind-hearted soul who is devoted to his furry (and scaly) friends and deserves a chance to get back on his feet.

In my opinion, which is hardly an island, America desperately needs to revise the laws to provide law enforcement a greater latitude to intervene when it becomes clear that the individual needs to be forced to continue treatment. In my opinion we need some sort of stepping stone system. It needs to be something that allows someone to maintain their freedoms as much as possible while still allowing the state more latitude in intervention in order to protect its citizens. It should be allowed, if enough community members or family members file complaints or concerns, that the court could issue a mandate of evaluation. It could be sort of a, "Hey your neighbors think you might be mentally unstable, please report to a shrink immediately and let's find out." The psychiatrist could evaluate the patient and decide if treatment is warranted. If it is found to be unjustified, or the neighbors are found to be making baseless accusations, there could be consequences for malicious reporting. But, if the individual is found needing medication, such as in the case of clear-cut hallucinations and they refuse to comply with treatment after three warnings, or if they never report to the initial visit, it could be mandated that they be taken in for a 72 hour treatment and evaluation. If the individual refuses at that point to follow a treatment program, they could then be taken into state custody unless a family member steps up to take responsibility for maintaining their required treatment. We mandate treatment for drug addicts and alcoholics who drive under the influence whether or not they commit harm to someone else. Couldn't we extend the same courtesy to mentally ill patients who desperately need help if they are disturbing the peace or threatening neighbors?

I am praying that I will have a blog post coming sometime in the future where we can celebrate the recovery and assistance that peacefully resolves the situation, but I am far from optimistic. His neighbors are helping as best we can when he will let us (one even offered to pay his water bill if he paid to have it turned back on), but we are a poor offering compared to what he needs; medication, psychiatric care and a social worker/family member who can check up on him.

You can read the outcome in my post "Failed to Death"

Down the Rabbit Hole: Another Adoption Post

Well, it happened. I have tumbled down the rabbit hole....again. But in a good way.

The first time I tumbled down was February 13, 2010. My mother took me out to lunch to "discuss" something with me. It sounded ominous, like she was about to announce she was sick or had cancer. How little prepared I was for what came next.

The gist? I was always told she adopted me because she couldn't have children of her own. I was a gift. Special. Unique. Turns out, that wasn't entirely correct. She confessed that she had a daughter whom she had given up for adoption in her 20s. It was true she could not have children, but from complications from her first pregnancy. She had fully intended on never telling me, swearing to take her secret to the grave. She was only telling me now because her daughter had found her and requested contact. My mom then mentioned that she had just had coffee with her and she wanted to meet me.


She seemed so excited, so buzzed on finding her daughter. She was trying to down play it so as not to hurt my feelings, but it was clearly all she wanted to talk about. She had a picture of her. She wanted to share. I could also tell she was full of angst, nervous about how I might take it all, terrified that people might find out her deep, dark secret. The secret that she made a poor decision in her youth (haven't we all) that resulted in heartache. I assured her that people would not judge her (and I was right). She was excited, but secretive and she wanted to share that with me. I could tell me being OK was important to her, so I asked questions and tried to be as supportive as I could. In reality I was furious. "How could she have not told me?," I thought, "aren't I adopted? Wouldn't I, of all people, have understood?"

For about a week the world felt like it was upside down, much like Alice in Wonderland who fell for a long time through the rabbit hole and came out the other side. I was shocked. I was upset. But then I began to think about all the pain of what my mom must have gone through and I realized, she didn't keep it from me because she didn't trust me, she didn't tell anyone. She quietly hid her pain, stuffed so far down she thought it might even be gone. Suddenly so many things, so many occasional comments that made no sense at the time, suddenly were given new context. She was struggling, and in watching her process, I began to wonder, what would reunion look like for me? Did I even dare search? Life was fine the way it was. But, there are always those unanswered questions (such as the ones I wrote about just over a month ago).

I met my mom's daughter. She is lovely. I very much enjoy her company. I know she was disappointed that my mother never had any more biological children, but she and I have found a sort of sisterly bond, and we share one very important factor. We are both adopted. It was when I was out with her and my mom one day that the two of them ganged up on me. "Why aren't you searching?," "It has been so amazing," "I think it would answer a lot of questions for you," and "I think you are just afraid of what you will find." How to explain to them? It wasn't so much fear of finding rejection but fear of upsetting the status quo. But then my mom commented to me one day on why she agreed to meet with her daughter in the first place, "No matter how uncomfortable I am with what happened, she didn't ask to be born. I owed it to her to meet with her and answer all the questions she had because I made the decision to bring her into this world." Her words gave me hope.

Watching the two of them get to know each other and watching my mom answer questions for her daughter that I had always had for myself, set something in motion. The clincher came when my middle child, Raindrop, started experiencing severe allergic rashes that were covering her whole body. Allergy testing after testing. Food diaries after behavior diaries, all desperately trying to pin point what was causing it. She was going through blood tests and skin tests and x-rays and ultra sounds. Nothing seemed to be helping and she was missing skin clear from the backs of her knees up to her mid-back area. Enough was enough. If I could spare her discomfort, I would. My fear evaporated and I allowed my mom to hire an intermediary to help me locate my birth family. Mama bear instinct reared it's head! If medical information could help us get answers faster, than that was what we needed and quick.

Ironically I did most of the research myself (I had done most of it five years earlier on a whim one day). Turns out I had quite a knack for investigative online searching. (Although in all fairness I did a stint as an Internet researcher for one of my graduate professors seeking obscure data online such as what was the preferred method to skin a deer in X year in the X area of the United States, so I had lots of practice). I handed over my findings and the intermediary attempted to contact my birth mother on my behalf. I didn't have to wait long. She called me with news within a couple of days of her first attempt at making contact.

Back down the rabbit hole....
Whatever starry eyed fantasy I may or may not have had about a potential reunion popped rather quickly. The intermediary was horrified with the response she had gotten and was reluctant to read the letter to me over the phone. The theme of the letter was anger. Fury even (although the words were meant to convey the opposite of that). Closed adoptions are meant to be closed, she was content, and that was that. Um, closed adoptions might have been true in 1976 before the advent of the home computer, but we have the Internet now. You can't hide much these days (a fact I remind my children of daily, lest my daughter get caught having to give up her dream of being president because of a posted Facebook photo of some poor decision making on a spring break trip to Cabo). I only wanted medical information and to ask some questions. There was little chance of that happening. And I really doubted she was going to give me the name of my birth father.

So, I began digging further...I was really getting good at this stuff now. However, I hit a dead end with my paternal side when I realized their surname was one of the top 30 most popular names in the U.S. No way to whittle....or was there? (Enter the scariness of what is available on the Internet). I was surfing high school yearbooks that people have scanned in from the state I was born in and found a high school year book with pictures taken the year I was born. I then used the data I had from my adoption records and abracadabra, I narrowed my search down to two families. Eventually with some more digging I had my confirmation and I sent the information to my intermediary. We were supposed to meet sometime in the next few weeks to discuss making contact. And then........

One more time down the rabbit hole....
They found me first. They were searching for me at the same time I was searching for them. And even more amazing, they are open to meeting with me and answering questions. How exciting.....and scary.....and mind blowing.

The fact remains that I still have two half-sisters out there who most likely have no idea I exist. And if I ever could, I would say to them in the event they found out about me, "I truly understand how you feel". It is shocking and overwhelming to find out something like that from your mother. It calls into question all sorts of things. I know, because I have been there myself. I too have tumbled down the rabbit hole a few times. But, the good news is, it is temporary. And in the end, I feel I know my mother better now than I ever have before. I only hope I can represent that same sense of healing to my own birth family.

Anthropology Defends Halloween

So, today I was driving, in between Halloween parades, and on my way to my second Halloween parade of the day. I was flipping radio stations searching for something to listen to. I could listen to talk radio since I only had Starman in the car and he is still too little to have an opinion on whether or not we listen to Disney music for the five thousandth time. While flipping, I landed on a gentleman discussing Halloween and all the things that were wrong with the holiday.

As it turns out, the station I had landed on was a fairly conservative Christian talk show and they were busy lambasting Halloween as a holiday where we encourage our children to dress up in inappropriate/scary/sacrilegious costumes and extort unhealthy candy from our neighbors. They spent a bit of time on the specific idea that the whole concept of "Trick or Treat" is actually teaching our children to give free reign to greediness and blackmail and extort candy from their neighbors. The show host then discussed the concept of All Saint's Day, celebrated on Oct 31st, a celebration of Christians living sacrificial lives and that somewhere along the line a bad decision was made on how to celebrate that day. He lamented Halloween celebrations and indicated that instead we should be out helping people and celebrating doing good works by volunteering and giving old folks a hug and spending time with them (his general words).

While I have absolutely nothing against doing good works and I wholeheartedly celebrate the act of volunteerism, as an anthropologist I would just like to make a case in defense of Halloween. I think that the host of the talk show was way off base when he associated going door to door and collecting candy with extortion. Extortion is a serious charge, which I believe requires forethought and malice to qualify. Instead Halloween represents the childhood fantasy of a holiday built around candy. But, from an anthropologist's viewpoint, Halloween is so, so much more than that.

My husband and I moved into our neighborhood a few years ago in the spring, and for the first 8 months we lived in the house, we did not meet or speak to any of our neighbors. It wasn't until Halloween night, when we dressed up the kids and started ringing doorbells that we had a chance to meet the people who lived around us. Now, a few years down the road, I still hold that there are some neighbors who, if it weren't for Halloween, we might never speak to. But, once a year when my kids ring their doorbell, we stand and chat like we have been old friends for a while. One nice woman from down the street even invited us in to see her new kitchen renovations.

Why is this important? It is important because, as any anthropologist would say, people fare better when they feel like they belong to some sort of community. And belonging to a neighborhood where people are connected and engaged helps keep our kids safe, helps provide a safety net if we need help if we fall ill or run into hard times. It decreases crime and promotes the swift identification and the meting out of justice when it happens. I do not see how these could be considered unchristian ideals.

Sure the kids dress up in all kinds of costumes, even scary ones, but most cultures have a celebration or holiday or tradition that revolves around the exploration of the dark side of human nature, death or demons. It allows our children to feel a sense of power, a conquering of the dark, so to speak. As far as I am concerned, all good things. Not to mention it is fun. The kids love seeing the other costumes, waving to someone after they realize they recognize them in their disguise. It brings out creativity and personality. And again, it is pure fun. Children don't understand the religious and personal reasons why they are not allowed to celebrate. I viewed this first hand when I dropped off Snowflake today only to see one of her classmates in tears at the door. Turns out, this classmate wasn't allowed to celebrate the holiday for personal or religious reason but I doubt she understood that. What she was most likely upset about was seeing all the other kids coming in, faces lit up, excitement twinkling in their eyes carrying sacks that contained their costumes and there she was empty handed, on the outside of it all.

And lastly, in response to the radio host who suggested that instead of Halloween, kids should go find an older person to hug, my children used to always visit the assisted living facility their Great Grandma lived in and the folks living there derived great joy from the joyfulness and cuteness of children dressed up with the promise of sweet revelry. Yes, there are the rude, greedy children who are just out for the "big score." But, those children would probably act that way on any day of the year. I shudder to see what they are like at Christmas. To me, that should not dictate our view of the holiday.

The night before Halloween this year one of my neighbors came over and asked if my girls would like to come dip caramel apples at their house after dinner. We went over and had a wonderfully pleasant time making caramel apples and chatting. They are a couple whose children have left home and do not have any grandchildren as of yet. They are lovely people, and I am glad the holiday gave us the excuse to get together and enjoy the company. Then, after the parades, and the visiting relatives in costume, we arrived home to find our next door neighbors emerging from their home with their 3 year old son and new daughter. My girls immediately started in, "Oh Mom look! The neighbors are going Trick or Treating, can we go with them, Please? Please?" We all ended up going around the cul de sac where we live, talking to other neighbors, laughing at the kids darting around the street and generally enjoying the night.

As we finished the girls took up stations at our front door. Some kids came from my daughter's school and we talked to them and their parents. After I thought we were all done and ready to wrap it up for the night, about seven, one of Snowflake's best friends showed up at our door. They were just getting started and pretty soon the girls were begging to go back out together. Before I knew it we were back out on the streets, not because the kids wanted more candy, but simply because they wanted to have fun being with each other. Walking with the family of my daughter's friend, we went to streets I hadn't even been on before and I was introduced to people they had met in the neighborhood. New connections were made, and our sense of community deepened.

I therefore would like to make an impassioned defense in the case against Halloween. Despite it's outward appearances and people's accusations of celebrating the macabre and encouraging greed and gluttony in children, I see Halloween as an excuse to go door to door and visit your neighbors. It is a chance to deepen the bond with your community and celebrate the innocence of fun and the simplicity of childhood where the worst fear you have is the thing that goes bump in the night. It won't be long before they realize some nightmares are real and there are far scarier things in life than the local grocery store bagger dressed up like a zombie.

Applying the Mom Pledge to the 2012 Election

Elizabeth Flora Ross, who runs The Mom Pledge, advocates for a cease fire in the Mommy wars. She has encouraged moms with an online presence to take an oath to act in a kind and responsible manner.

I have rewritten this oath to apply to all Americans participating in the election process. With election day fast approaching, the debating and mud slinging is quickly picking up pace and I thought it was important to remind everyone that we all still have to live with each other after it is all over. While the debates are between Republican and Democrat, Liberal and Conservative-type positions, not breast or bottle feeding, circumcision or intactivism issues, the pledge remains the same. Emotions are high, and the stakes are no less than our future, but there is always time for kindness and respect.


I am proud to be [an American]. I will conduct myself with integrity in all my online activities. I can lead by example.

I know my children learn from my attitudes and actions. I promise to model respectful, compassionate behavior. It starts with me.

I pledge to treat my fellow [Americans] with respect. I will acknowledge that there is no one, "right" way to [run a country]. Each [American] makes the choices best for [their] family.

I believe a healthy dialogue on important issues is a good thing. I will welcome differing opinions when offered in a respectful, non-judgmental manner. And will treat those who do so in kind.

I stand up against cyber bullying. My online space reflects who I am and what I believe in. I will not tolerate comments that are defamatory, hateful or threatening.

I refuse to give those who attack a platform. I will remove their remarks with no mention or response. I can take control.

I want to see [all Americans] work together to build one another up, not tear each other down. Words can be used as weapons. I will not engage in that behavior.

I affirm that we are a community. As a [citizen] , I will strive to foster goodwill among [all Americans]. Together, we can make a difference. 

Bullying is never okay, no matter what the context. What is most important, as is the wonderful right of all Americans, is to exercise your voice with its unique perspective by getting out and voting in an informed manner.

Vote For Amie

I have decided that one of the keys to effective parenting is this: know your limits. It sounds simple in theory, but it is so much harder to practice. It is the art form of constantly balancing everything in a manner not unlike the plate spinners on the boardwalk. In American society we all suffer from a great time suck. The fact remains that Americans work more hours, with less sick/vacation time than almost every other industrialized country. We fight obesity by condemning fast food, and yet our entire society is based around a fast-paced lifestyle. We have not built into our schedules anything that care for the basic needs of the family.

Because we work so much, gone are the days of the 9 to 5 job. Now we have the 8 to 6 jobs that require a rush home to somehow cram in dinner, homework, housework, extra curricular activities and quality family time all before bedtime. It isn't really feasible to cram it all in, hence the popularity of convenience foods. So we nuke our dinners, or grab yet another drive-thru meal, all in an effort to maximize time with our families before we have to get up and put our nose to the grindstone for another day.

Add to this the rising costs of feeding families, rising costs of childcare and lack of support from the workforce (not just with the inflexibility of most full-time jobs, but the serious lack of quality, well-paid part-time options). America simply does not have the time or inclination to care for its own families. We are too busy engaging in the rat race of consumption. To take it one step further, we even push our families into the realm of consumption by feeding them, caring for them and cleaning up for them by purchasing these services from third party providers.

In the wake of the whirlwind of political nonsense we have all been subjected to recently with the upcoming November elections, I would like to propose that one of the candidates (at this point, I really don't care which) start addressing the fact that families need help. And, before you, the reader, assume that I am strictly referring to families with young children, I am not. I am talking families who have elder care responsibilities, families with young children, families who have special needs children of any age birth to adult, families where one parent or spouse has a disability or illness and anyone who does not fit into the dual-income, no children model we seem to assume our economic system is based on.

As we once heard in high school speeches for class president, "If I were elected I would promise to increase revenue and taxes to benefit our abandoned education systems. Good schools create increased property values, which last time I checked benefit even those who do not have children, or children in school.
I would encourage the workforce to add quality part-time jobs to their employment offerings so as to provide adequate time for each family to meet its own needs.
I would institute a program by which to encourage employers and families to work together to make time for proper food preparation. I believe that this would not only decrease American obesity rates by controlling what goes in our mouths better, but allow for more family meal time. Studies have shown regular family meals have decreased the likelihood for all sorts of negative social behavior such as drug use, eating disorders, depression, and truancy, which like quality schools, benefits all of American society. While there are many changes that could be made to improve the lives of all families, if I were elected, these are the three that I would change first"

"A vote for me, would be a vote for Valuing Families"

Alas, you will not see my name on the ballot come November. And, as far as I can tell, there is little to no chance that the current candidates will start espousing real valuation of parents in this country anytime soon. It seems we, as Americans, instead only value the almighty dollar. We have built an entire society that circulates around the idea that someone is home taking care of things, and when no one is or no one can and there is no money to hire someone....there is no time, in fact there is negative time and it affects all aspects of health and sanity. The only thing left for stressed parents living in this country is the critical coping mechanism.....KNOW YOUR LIMITS! And find a way to work within them as best you can. But, if you find you ever have extra time on your hands, maybe you can help me run for office in 2016. Then again, I might not have time.

The Stupid Couple Fight

The Husband and I got into a stupid fight today. No, not just garden-variety, run-of-the-mill stupid, I mean epically stupid. The kind of fight that lives in infamy years afterwards as a simultaneous testament to how hard marriage can be and the fact that no matter how old you get, you are still capable of acting like a child.

Let me explain.....

It all started with Snowflake's first grade social studies project. The directions were as follows: "As part of our history unit, we will be discussing our individual family cultures and traditions. We are asking each child to share a tradition that their family celebrates annually....Please choose one annual tradition (ie: Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Easter, birthdays etc...)...Please help your child answer the following questions:
What family Tradition or Holiday do you celebrate?
Who celebrates this tradition with your family?
Why do you celebrate this tradition?
When do you celebrate this tradition?
Where do you celebrate this tradition?
How does your family celebrate? (special foods, gifts, decorations, etc)

Now, as a CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGIST (ah-ah-hem) you would think I might know a thing or two about this assignment, so when Snowflake asked what a tradition was I gave her some examples: putting out holiday pillows and blankets on the couch, Daddy taking the day off of work on his birthday, decorating the tree, carving pumpkins etc..

Admittedly, looking at the assignment I realized while they were asking about "traditions" they really meant holidays. Snowflake, when asked which tradition she wanted to share, correctly answered, "When we put reindeer food out on the lawn for the reindeer." The Husband said OK and started having her fill out her form. I immediately interjected and pointed out that the last question would make no sense if you started with something that specific. If you started with "put out reindeer food" you could not then answer HOW you celebrated. The Husband told her, just write "throw glittery oats on lawn," for the HOW. I became hot headed and retorted that he clearly didn't understand the directions and that she could not get up and present that to the class.

Here is where, I believe, it is in the chain of events that things began to go disastrously wrong. My husband, insisting that the word "tradition" meant you could use reindeer food as an example, was plowing through having Snowflake write out her answers and ignoring my strenuous objections. Finally I snatched the paper away and furiously began erasing it, snapping that she should write Christmas as her tradition and write the reindeer food at the end. The Husband, snatching it back, told Snowflake to keep writing.

Now, I won't go into all the details of the resulting fight...needless to say, they were a total departure from anything even remotely resembling maturity. There was yelling, there was pencil throwing, there were even accusations slung. Through it all, poor bewildered Snowflake sat in front of her paper muttering about how, "it's due tomorrow" and "can I work on my assignment now?"

Having completely lost all sense of sanity (not that there was that much there to begin with), I stomped into the laundry room to look for some shoes because at that singular moment I just wanted to get as far away from The Husband as possible. He followed me, and told me I was not allowed to leave the house and that I was acting no better than the kids. Abandoning the shoe search, I just walked out through the garage and out on the sidewalk....at which point he CLOSED THE GARAGE DOOR! Now believing myself to be locked out of the house, without a cellphone, and without shoes, I began to walk.

I walked to the end of the street, where I made a decision. Being too stubborn and prideful to beg to be let in, I decided I would head to someone's house and call my mom. While there were many doors I could go knocking on at 7pm on a Sunday night, I chose my friend who lives down the road. Of course, as I was walking I realized the street lights had not come on and as I got further from our street it got darker and darker. It was near pitch black by the time I got three blocks over and it was beginning to dawn on me that I had not in fact made a very good decision. I began to get a tad jumpy as I walked and I started thinking things like, "Ok, if something happens to me it is really going to be my own stupid fault" and "How on earth did we get to this point?" and "I really need to try and be less stubborn" and my favorite, "Gosh I wish I had some shoes!"

I arrived on my friend's doorstep and knocked. When she answered the door, surprised, she immediately made the mother-like observation, "Are you ok? Where are your shoes?" I explained that The Husband and I had gotten in a stupid married-couple fight and I had walked over. Then I asked if I could come in and use her phone. She invited me in and did what any truly great friend would do....she sat me down, fixed me a drink and we talked.

As it turned out, it was a good thing I showed up, because she had somehow missed the homework assignment note and went looking for it. She found it and thanked me for bringing it to her attention. We shared stories of stupid couple fights (the kind where teddy bears fly across the room, or brownie pans full of brownies are thrown on the floor and stomped into bits) and after laughing until tears nearly ran down our faces about how hard marriage is sometimes, she got her keys and prepared to drive me home.

My arrival home was met with an immediate apology, as well as a reciprocal apology from me. Turns out, The Husband had Snowflake redo her assignment and they decided on a different "tradition," Thanksgiving. The paper was wonderful. Why do we celebrate?, "To show thanks for the people we love and the things we have."

I am thankful for many things. But, tonight I am most thankful for my wonderful partner in parenting. No matter how ridiculous we both act he always manages to redeem things. Also my friend, who neither questioned or judged why I was showing up late on a Sunday night, in the dark, in the cold, sans shoes on my feet. We ALL get a little stupid now and then, but if the people around you truly love you, the laughing-about-it-later part comes quickly.

Taking Things for Granted- An Adoption Post

As my birthday approaches each year, I tend to become pensive about, well, my birth. This is significant because I am an adopted, only child. I am very lucky, I was raised by a wonderful mother and father. I have always known I was adopted, but there are have been things, no matter how wonderful my adoptive family is, that bug me.

There are certain things that children raised in their natural families take for granted. For starters, I never get tired of hearing people say things to my kiddos like, "Wow! They all look like they belong together" or "He looks JUST like his big sister." And the one that really warms my heart is when people tell me "OH! He/she looks just like his/her mommy." That one really never gets old. People take the fact that they look like their family for granted, some may even resent it, but what it gives you is a sense of belonging, a visual representation of an unspoken bond. I was so excited when my second child was born looking like my own little mini-me (minus her Shirley Temple curls).

When I was little I always thought it was so funny when people would tell me that I looked like one of my parents (My dad is 6 feet 4 inches and fairly thin, my mom is 5 feet 6 inches and also really thin. Meanwhile I am a mere 5 feet 1 inch and built like a square). I would always give them a sort of sideways look when they made those comments and make a point to tell them, "Really? Because I am actually adopted."

I am sure that people were just looking for similarities because they knew we were related, something to say for small talk, but it felt weird. It felt like they were stretching, or even worse, not really looking. While we all shared the basics; brown hair and blue eyes, I found it hard to believe they could mistake my parents' angular features and skin with the envious ability to tan for coming from the same gene pool as my round, freckled face, paper-white skin, and shoulders so wide that there was little chance that I wouldn't be an excellent swimmer. It wasn't until I had children of my own that it really dawned on me how precious something as simple as looking like your family really was.

The other thing that people who are not adopted take for granted is the ability to ask questions. When I was horribly, horribly morning sick with my second pregnancy I would have given my right arm to be able to turn to someone and say, "Did you have to go through this? How did you cope?" or when my first daughter started talking late it would have been so helpful to say to someone, "Did anyone else in the family start talking after two?"

It sounds silly, but it is a privilege to be able to look the doctor in the eye and answer when you are pregnant with your first child and he asks, "So, do any birth defects or pre-term labor issues run in your family?"

Yes, I love my parents. Yes, I was very lucky that my birth mother and father were strong enough to give birth to me and sacrifice in an unimaginable way to give me a life with everything a child should have. Sometimes I feel wrong wanting more than that, like I should be grateful for what I do have. But, then someone will say something like the lady at church last Sunday who turned to me and commented, "Oh Starman looks so much like Snowflake, there is certainly no arguing that those two belong to the same family," and I start to pine for all those things that my children will never have to question, but will probably never appreciate.

Fall is Here!

I love fall!

I love it in that nostalgic, feeling-of-home sort of way. The minute the weather starts to turn and the temperature starts falling I immediately get this warm, fuzzy, emotional feeling. My mind turns to the fall menu that I revisit every year; pumpkin bread, apple crumble, squash and apple soup, oatmeal cookies, chicken and dumplings, chili and cornbread, hot chocolate, hot apple cider, pot roast, turkey and cranberries, mashed potatoes, to name a few. Some people gain their weight at Christmas, but for me, it is the bounty of the fall harvest that gets me every time.

The Husband makes fun of me because I cook on a seasonal rotation. As we were standing on our back porch the other day, enjoying the evening crispness of late summer, he says to me, "So, now that summer is almost over, tell me again what food will I get to see that I haven't seen in 9 months?" I smacked him in the arm, pretending to be annoyed, but I was smiling inside. Smiling that he knew me so well. Smiling at his good-natured teasing. And smiling because I really, really love fall.

I love the coolness and the crispness. I love the crunch of leaves on the ground and the rustle of dried leaves yet to loose themselves from the trees. I love the smells that linger in the air. Smells of apples and cinnamon. Smells from the smoke of the first lit fires of the season hanging in the air. I love the jeans and sweaters being pulled out of storage and the emergence of scarves around necks and hats on heads. I love the start of school with its sounds of laughing children that invade my kitchen (we live right behind Snowflake's elementary school). But, most of all I love the promise of weeks and weeks on end of holiday festivities.

In our circle of friends and family we are fortunate enough (or unfortunate enough, depending on how behind I am on shopping) to have 6 birthdays for immediate family members within 8 weeks. In between that we have Halloween, then after the run of birthdays we have Thanksgiving, Snowflake's birthday and then Christmas. Fall is a very, very busy season in our household. Despite the inherent stress of shopping, there is an overriding feeling of festivity that starts with the warm days of early September and doesn't end until the day after Christmas. It is one of the reasons I love the season SO much.

So, as I am basking in the cooler nights, enjoying the warmth of a bowl of chicken and dumplings and a steaming mug of hot apple cider and planning my sweet Starman's first birthday party, I find my writing to be one of the furthest things from my mind. And so, rather than let it suffer from neglect, I thought instead I would share my joy, my happiness and my contentedness in the season of friends and family. And just know, that in my little corner of the world, when the jingle bells start ringing in mid-October, this quirky lady not only doesn't object, but is most likely humming along.

Happy Fall Y'all!

The Impotent Anthropologist

I remember very vividly the day that I stood in my thesis advisor's office discussing my future. She was very clear that there were two things that I could not avoid if had any intention of continuing a career in anthropology. The first, and perhaps the most frustrating, was a PhD. I say frustrating, because I had every intention of getting one until life stepped in and "got in the way." Now, like Howard Wolowitz on the show The Big Bang Theory, I am relegated to a lifetime of "justs" and "onlys," as in, "I just have my masters," or "I only have a masters degree."

The other thing my thesis advisor noted was that I needed a foreign language. The fact that I was going to an expensive private school and paying for the majority of it myself, I figured I would save a few pennies and skip that little optional "requirement." I do wish I could go back and make that decision over again because while anthropologists with "just" a masters degree DO find jobs, those jobs are often serving minority or marginalized communities which frequently do not speak English. Five years later I now realize what my thesis advisor was telling me. If I do not wish to continue on with a PhD, the best way I can make myself marketable is to know a foreign language. Oh how I wish I had listened to that little piece of advice. By ignoring it I robbed myself of the most relevant skill I could posses to culminate my aspirations (although I am currently working on fixing the issue).

Shortly after graduation I remember, also very clearly, reading an article about the utilization of anthropologists in many fortune 500 companies. The article discussed anthropologists' various contributions to things like advertisement, product usage in the hands of real people, analysis of workplace and co-worker dynamics and product development (think the infamous "green button" on the copy machine, brought to you courtesy of an anthropologist). The article clearly delineated anthropology as one of the hottest new degrees with the promise of a bright shiny future, even outside the hallowed halls of academia. Then the recession hit, the economy retracted and fanciful degrees like philosophy and anthropology were suddenly forced to compete against people in the job market with much more streamlined, clear-cut degree tracts.

In hindsight I might have done a lot of things differently before arriving at that point in my advisor's cramped, windowless, first-floor office. For one, I might have flown back in time to the moment when I was sitting on my bed in that crappy apartment I shared with a co-worker, post-undergrad, looking at pamphlets on graduate schools and puzzling through what I wanted to do with my life. I could go back to that moment and take a different path. Sitting there in front of me were about four schools worth of information on various Anthropology choices, and one lone pamphlet for the University of Denver's Library and Informational sciences department, I could have picked up the "safe choice" and made it.

In hindsight, becoming a librarian would have been much more conducive to my current lifestyle with children. The schedule, job opportunities and family-friendly flexibility  might have made things easier but, I had such dreams and they demanded I follow them. In all honesty, I wouldn't have traded all my schooling in the social sciences for anything. I felt they gave me a greater understanding of myself and where I fit into the universe, and it was one of the main things that I enthusiastically embraced about the discipline.

Flash forward. While my mother always used to say, "do what you love and the money will come," I am not really convinced of that after living it for a decade. I followed my heart and it landed me in a sea of student loan debt with no promise of a future payoff . My lack of foresight has rendered me impotent in the current job market. I possess no clearly translatable skills, no language skills to fall back on. Instead I am left with broad based degree, whose very validity is currently being debated within the academic community, many of whom are postulating the demise of the discipline. So, I am left with the promise of a dream and no real way to fulfill it. And yet...I am not ready to abandon it. Somewhere out there is the perfect niche who could benefit from an anthropologists unique criticism, viewpoint and contribution.

Then today I saw a fellow anthropologist post this link with the recent conclusion that Anthropology is the #1 worst choice in majors for current undergrads. I could be angry, but I am not. Instead, I figure, if our subject is considered outside of the box, then that is where I need to be thinking. Am I sad I didn't become a librarian? Some days I am, when the bills are rolling in and there seems no end to it. But, in the end I am an anthropologist in my heart and that will never change.

From Chrysalis to Butterfly

This past week my daughter, Snowflake, started first grade. In regards to parenting, this is a huge milestone for most people. Unless you are homeschooling, this milestone represents the moment when you turn your children loose to spend almost as much time per week with teachers and classmates than they do with you at home. You may think this story is about her transformation into a butterfly. It's not. This story is all mine.

The advent of an unrelenting school schedule has forced this "roll with the punches," "c'est la vie" parent to completely alter a six-year-long parenting style. Over the short time since school started I have met a whole new me. This parent that I have suddenly become is wed to her schedule, is attempting to simplify her life from commitments and surprisingly even manages to get housework done with ease. In general, she is a much happier person.

Let me explain. I just finished enduring the second worse summer of my life. I posted earlier this year on the the worst summer of my life.  Unlike the worst summer of my life, nothing changed, no one died and I didn't lose a job. Instead I endured a three-month vacuum of full-scale depression.

During most school years I work for Children's ministry. I put together programs, manage employees, write curriculum and work childcare for a quite a few different churches. I am surrounded by people day in and day out. I am too busy to think straight and certainly too busy to be depressed. I also spend my evenings as a dance instructor. When one works 7 or 8 small jobs with 3 small children it is impossible to ever sit down and stop moving.

Then summer comes. Summer, I have observed over the years, is the time when, although we all have more time that we could spend with each other, even the best laid, "Call me and we will set up a playdate" often goes unanswered. Summer is the time when each nuclear family pulls into itself and attempts to reconnect after the busyness of the school year. They go on vacation, they go to the pool, if the parents are working they put the kids in summer camp. But, either way, each family tends to go into its own cocoon, only to emerge in fall when the kids go back to school. This is the summer that my cocoon became suffocating but transformative. I was painfully and excruciatingly transformed into a whole new parent.

Last spring my husband approached me and told me, "If you don't get a full-time job, we are going to lose the house in 18-20 months." Well, that definitely got my attention. I started applying for jobs in April. Job application after job application went out. Six weeks later, the tidal wave of rejection letters started coming in.

"We are sorry..."
"Due to an overwhelming response to our job posting....."
"Over-qualified" (education)
"Under-qualified" (work experience)
"Unfortunately you will not be proceeding to the interview phase..."

Or, my personal favorite. Nothing. NO response, just a lingering curiosity if the application actually got to anyone or if they just couldn't be bothered to reject me.

The panic set in, I started yelling at the kids to go watch t.v, "Mommy needs to fill out this application." In the meantime, my husband, in attempt to help, took on overtime shifts. He took on a whole bunch of overtime shifts.

This led to me, at home by myself with the kids for 12 hours a day. No break. Three kids. No money to go anywhere to get a break.

It was fine at first. After the school year the two girls were excited to have time to spend with each other. They spent June playing elaborate games and making up stories and plays to act out. Then as July hit, the excitement wore off. The nothingness of every day started to wear on them and the fighting started. The girls would start in on each other the second their feet hit the floor in the morning. The baby was teething. One day Mr. Starman screamed for 6 and a half hours straight. Nothing I did helped.

The days started feeling LOOOOONNNNGGG and I would desperately count down the hours until my husband got home. This meant on some days I would let the kids stay up till he got home at nine because I was too tired to try and put them to bed myself. I felt like I was trapped in hell and I wished every day for a job so that I could escape my children.

The depression got worse. I stopped cleaning the house. The kids started running me instead of me running the kids. My husband, exhausted from working all the extra hours, started picking fights the second he walked through the door. "What did you do all day?" "Why are the kids still up?" "What is going on with you?" "You need to get it together!" At one point my Mom, who had become very concerned, asked if she should be worried about our marriage. I looked at her and told her honestly, "I don't know."

The only thing I could do was wait and count down the days until school started or a job came through. The idea that Snowflake would be gone 7 hours a day was like a mirage in the distance of the desert. You hope it holds the promise of rest and rejuvenation, but you aren't sure, so you just keep desperately moving towards it.

And then, before I knew it, it was here. It was with great joy, and absolutely no sadness, that I walked her off to her first day of first grade. And when I got home....there was quiet. It was peaceful. There was no fighting, no squabbling over who had the red crayon or who got to play with the pink-haired Barbie last. Raindrop sat down, happy to finally have time without her older sister issuing orders, and played with her play-dough for two straight hours. Starman took a nap. I sat down and had a cup of coffee and relished the silence.

And then, like a butterfly awakening from a long chrysalis I emerged from a scary two-month-long fog of stress and depression. I got up and started cleaning my house. The next day when she left for school I kept going. Soon I started organizing. When she got home she was too tired to argue and I fed them dinner and had them in bed by 8. I was suddenly following a schedule and I realized what parents have seen in them all these years. No longer was I the fly-by-night parent. Our lives had changed. My Snowflake had to get up each morning, eat breakfast, get dressed and go to school. Starman's teeth came in. The husband and I refinanced our house. I abandoned the job hunt. We took a breath.

I am now a parent of a school aged child, and quite frankly, if this is what it is like, I will take it! Suddenly I don't hate being home with the kids. I have fallen in love with parenting all over again. I can't wait for my Snowflake to get home from school so that we can talk about her day and do something fun together as a family before bedtime. Somehow having less time with her has made me appreciate her more. Now I am counting down 13 days until Raindrop starts preschool. I am even starting to think of projects I can do for me. The grinding daily neediness has subsided a little.

I am happy.

I am a butterfly.

Avoiding Tragedy

I have to say that whenever I see an article in the newspaper about a mother who went ballistic and killed herself and/or her children, I feel sad of course, but while everyone else vilifies her, demonizes her and recoils in horror, I think, "I can see how she would get to that point."

Sounds shocking, I know, but the fact of the matter is that, as I already discussed on my guest blog, "It Takes a Village", there is absurdly little help from the larger community for parents. Instead, there is a tendency to isolate and bully mothers with silent condemning looks that don't say, "Wow, it looks like you are having a really hard day, how can I help?" but, instead say, "Look at THAT woman! She is obviously not a very good mother. She should discipline those kids or they wouldn't act like that." We have this block that says that we can't cross that invisible privacy fence that surrounds each individual nuclear family and forces the members to deal with crises with their own energy and resources.

"How many children could we have saved if the mothers of those families had just reached out to someone?" That's what we say after the fact, when the shocking reality of violence has gripped our attention. When the woman in question has become the epitome of the role-reversed maternal figure. Then we point and shake our heads at the tragedy of it all and wonder futilely if we could have done something different.

I can tell you right now. YES! You could have done something different and I am here to tell you how you can prevent another tragedy in the making.

Child rearing in this country has been made to be a very isolating and often disrespected endeavor. We judge parents daily but do very little to help them make their lives better. The workplace has a disturbing history of discriminating slyly against women, and specifically mothers. Then we turn around and put down people, especially mothers, who are on public assistance implying that they are having children to avoid working. After we have cut women off from the pride of income production and then shamed them for accepting needed help, we then silently berate them in public for having a bad day with their kids and yet fail to step in and respectfully help out. If someone in a parking lot looks like they are at the end of their rope and yelling at their kids, it is somehow more acceptable to shoot them a sideways glare than step in and assist. And that goes both ways, most mother's don't want someone to step in, even when they so desperately need it, because in America it is shameful to admit you may not be the ideal mother all the time.

Now we add the final piece. Depression. Here is the insidious thing about depression. The worse it is, the less likely the person is to show you. The more depressed they get, the more they are going to pull away, shut down offers to help and the more they are going to maintain the front that everything is fine. And here in America, God Bless us, we are so tied up in the idea of the precious nuclear family, that we are perfectly OK with letting someone do that.

Now we have a depressed person who may or may not have a job, is stressed out, feeling judged, having nowhere to turn and feeling overwhelmed. So after examination, perhaps these stories are not so shocking after all. Maybe, just maybe, the woman in these stories is not the devil, but someone we chose not to see until it was too late.

Don't be afraid to cross a line. If it seems like someone needs help, don't second guess, just act. Show up and offer to alleviate some of their burden. Prepare yourself for objection and respectfully navigate it. Stop and tell the kid screaming in the Target cart, "Hey sweetie, let's give your Mom a break today and calm down." Will it make a difference in the child's behavior? Maybe, maybe not. But, what it will do is tell that particular mom, "Hey, this is not your fault and it is OK. I understand parenting is tough and everyone has those days."

We need to stop paying lip service in this country to family values and start actually looking at how we can value parents and in turn make them feel valued. And then we might even be able to prevent the worst from happening.

Have you ever seen a mother struggling? What did you do to step in and help?

Guest Post: Emily Bybee

I was recently talking to my friend Emily, an author of Young Adult fiction, about her experiences as a licenced child care provider. As we talked I realized that her encounters with parents in the community and the reactions she received when out with her charges would fit in perfectly with the topics and issues I explore on this blog. Luckily she was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to pen this wonderful article for me. Emily discusses the irony in the lack of respect we afford our care givers in America contrasted with the supposed precious nature that we assign to our children.

     Many moms have had the experience of meeting another mom at the park and having a great conversation until the working mom vs. stay-at-home mom question comes up. If you’re the stay-at-home mom then you’ve probably gotten the remarks like “Oh, you JUST stay home?” or the sideways looks that make you feel judged, like you need to explain what you do with ALL your free time. This isn’t always the case, but often it is.

     I frequently felt judged, like staying home put me at the bottom of the social ladder. I was so wrong.

     After staying home with my three kids for over five years I started an in home daycare so my husband could change careers. I got licensed but only took two young children so everyone had plenty of my attention. 

     After a few visits to the park with all five kids in tow I came to a realization. I’d dropped to a new low level of the social ladder. Now, not only did most of the working moms turn their noses up at me, the stay-at-home moms did as well.

     Needless to say, this is a generalization and only taken from my own experience over the four years I was a daycare provider, but the consensus was unmistakable. If I was a home daycare provider then I must be uneducated and unemployable in any other career and I hadn’t even married well enough that my husband could provide enough for me to stay home. It got to the point that I’d rather let people think I had five children than tell them I was a daycare provider. Just in case anyone is wondering, I graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in environmental biology and had the option of going to medical school but chose to stay home with my kids.

     Now, in my classes I took for my license I did meet some people who probably fit this description. They wanted to pack in as many kids as possible to make money with no thought of the quality of care they provided. What surprised me was that they had no trouble finding clients.

     The first question from everyone who called me about daycare, with the exception of one wonderful client, was how much I charged. Not about my qualifications or background with children or what we did throughout the day. No, it was always how cheap I would go. I know that money, especially now, is tight in so many families, but honestly the most important questions are rarely asked.

     It seems to be the consensus that if you are a daycare provider then it is only because you have no education and couldn’t get any other job. There is no respect for the position. How did we get to this point where the most important job, of taking care of our precious children should be given to people we don’t even respect? I just don’t understand the logic.

     I took providing daycare even more seriously than any other job I’ve had but got the least respect. This presents a serious conundrum. Important job, give it to people we think so little of? I can’t say I follow the logic.

The Pain and Pride of the Parenthood Mirror

Parenthood is funny sometimes, and sometimes it is decidedly less funny. In fact sometimes it is downright disconcerting. Sometimes there are these moments when we look at our kids and instead of these darling individual personalities we normally see, instead, we see....a mirror.

Anyone who has children knows exactly what I am talking about. From the time a baby is born the family immediately starts commenting, "Oh he looks just like his daddy," or "She has her mom's smile." As they grow older and start exhibiting more personality the comments begin, "Oh she is stubborn just like her dad," or "He likes art just like his mom." We see familial resemblances and it helps connect us to our family.

Then there comes the moment when a child does something that is exactly like his or her parent and the horrible realization dawns, "Oh wow not just the good stuff gets handed down!" And sometimes it is a behavior or a personality trait that you feel almost guilty about disciplining because you can see yourself in it and realize exactly what is going on in that little head. It is those moments, in my opinion, that are some of the most challenging moments of parenthood. It is like seeing yourself before your parents and life had a chance to forge your actions for the better, or worse. It is uncomfortable and disconcerting and makes you examine yourself and your choices, and hopefully challenges you to continue to try and be better.

For those who have worked hard to overcome or struggle through a flaw (and we all have them) it can feel as though you are starting over from scratch watching your child struggle with the same issues. It can also be an amazing thing. It can help you realize how far you have come. People who have learned to suppress a temper they have come by honestly, or overcome shyness or any other trait that holds them back, can look at their child and understand where they are coming from and how to get them through. And sometimes the difficult answer is to just sit back and watch them walk the same painful path you yourself walked because it is clear there is no shortcut or easy answer.

That is how I feel about my middle child, Raindrop. She is her mother's daughter, as my family says, in all of her high-need, stubborn, intense, over-emotional glory. She is also painfully and cripplingly shy. Now, here is something only those who have known me for an excruciatingly long time know...so am I.

Anytime I tell someone that I am shy I am usually met with disbelief and derision. Surely someone as apparently outgoing and talkative as myself couldn't possibly be shy. But, the fact of the matter is, it has taken me 12+ years of theater training and dozens upon dozens of performance and public speaking experiences just to get me to a point where I can fake it...most of the time. There are times, however, when that shyness still overtakes me. I can think of a recent time, a parent get-to-know-you function at my daughter's school. I was late and when I got to the door I saw everyone engaged and talking already and no matter what I tried to convince myself, I could not make myself walk in. So, I turned and left.

I see those moments in my Raindrop. I see the moments where she approaches a group of children, even children she knows, and she circles them. She looks for the "weak link," the one where she could single out to talk to in the most non-threatening manner. It kills me to watch this. The painful longing of wanting to belong to the group coupled with the paralytic fear of rejection. It is like watching my own childhood in a curly-haired mirror and my heart aches for her and all the pain she will probably go through figuring out how and where she fits in. I wish I could spare her this.

But, then I realize in some ways I already have. I was an adopted only-child. She is the middle child with two siblings living with her biological parents. Watching my kids I have realized, siblings shape and challenge you in ways no other relationship could. She is braver when her big sister is around and I think ultimately it will help her find her feet faster than I did. But, introducing her to theater, my medium for overcoming my own handicap, has given me unspeakable joy. She took to performing just as I did and in doing so, gave me a mirror that I could gaze into with pride and hope. I turned out okay. So will she. And it is possible, just possible that this new version, Amie 2.0 if you were, may even have more talent than I did. But, then again, that may just be the mother-colored-glasses talking.

Here is my girl performing as the Passenger Engine in a rendition of "The Little Engine that Could." Watching this without prior knowledge, you would never guess that the little girl in the yellow dress suffers from severe shyness. It was so much fun to see my little Raindrop shine!

Guest Blogging on the Mom Pledge

You can find me over at the Mom Pledge today. Feel free to join me on a great site.
 A link to my guest blog, "It Takes a Village"

A No-Win Situation

The recent conflicts in the news such as the access to birth control vs. religious freedom debate, the push to remove formula from NYC hospitals and restrict it's access to improve breast feeding rates, the breast is best, as long as it isn't seen in public controversy, and the recent news stories discussing how the new Yahoo CEO unwittingly became a lynch pin in the mommy wars debate; all hinge on one key aspect: the politicization of the female body.

Somehow, no matter how much we have fought for equal rights (a topic I discussed here, in Part I and Part II) we have failed somehow to address the politicization of the female body. Despite our challenging of gender roles from the early 1960s, we have made very little in-road towards reconciling our modern day lifestyle with pervasive traditional gender roles. I agree with the author of the article discussing the recent appointment of a pregnant woman as CEO of Yahoo who quotes Rosalind Chait Barnett, a senior scientist at Brandeis University's Women's Studies Research Center, "If a man was taking a job like this and his wife was going to have his first child, that would be a yawn," she says. "People [wouldn't] be talking about it."

However, despite the fact she has made her way into the media spotlight for being pregnant, she has not helped matters when she declared that she is planning on taking only a couple weeks maternity leave and working through that. I agree with the author that she is setting up unrealistic expectations for normal working mothers (and perhaps herself). After all, there is no guarantee there won't be complications. I expected to go back quickly myself with my last pregnancy and ended up back in the hospital for a week with complications. We all know what they say about the best laid plans.

I also agree that she, as a high performing employee, has access to all the resources she needs to follow through on that promise assuming a normal delivery. After all, like celebrities who can afford a cook, a nanny, a night nurse, a chauffeur, and a maid, she will essentially be unburdened from all repetitive and physical domestic labor. That means she can function at a much higher level because she will be getting more sleep, eating well, getting personal time to improve mental performance and living in a clean house with no effort. Individuals availing themselves of these resources also don't see their children very often. There are trade-offs in all things.

So, rather than idolizing or demonizing this poor woman, we need to recognize that regardless if she succeeds in fulfilling her promise she will be condemned. She will be condemned for setting a bad precedent for other working mothers. She will be condemned as a neglectful or bad mother for going back to work so soon. Or, if she changes the plan, she will be condemned for not doing as she has said she would (as many first time mothers change their tunes post-delivery after the reality of the baby has arrived) because she will have given every employer out there yet another reason not to hire pregnant women or mothers. Literally, she can't win. She probably had no idea that the very fact of accepting the job would thrust her into the limelight of the mommy wars. Her body would become politic and her every decision criticized.

It is in this moment that we as mothers should stop and make a conscious decision not to judge her. Not to judge her certainty on her short maternity leave. Not to judge her decision to take on such a position of responsibility on the eve of one of the greatest transformations a woman can make. Not to judge her if she changes her mind and backs out or if she succeeds in fulfilling her promise to work through her maternity leave. When the entire country is focused on her decisions, we as women can only lose. It is only by letting her make her decisions for her family, for better or worse, without imposing our own beliefs on top of her that we can truly begin to loosen the politics around the bodies and choices of women.

The Right to Nurse

I am not an activist. I do not judge. I, as an anthropologist, was taught to be fairly open-minded towards other's beliefs, cultures, religions etc. As it applies to motherhood, I am not the type to stand here and tap my feet and waggle my finger at someone and spout off about "breast is best" and then rip my shirt off in an act of in-your-face activism. If you choose not to nurse, fine. If you choose to nurse, but are uncomfortable doing it in public, ok. If you choose to nurse in public but choose to do so with a giant blanket, or nursing cover-up, or my personal favorite...the Hooter Hider, go for it. I choose not to subscribe.

I subscribe to one belief and one belief only, I HATE to hear a fussy baby. If my baby is hungry, guess what? I am going to feed said baby and I am going to do it in the most discreet manner possible because that is who I am. On that same note, I find discretion is often circumvented by the introduction of a blanket which instead screams, "Guess what I am doing under here!?!?!" But regardless, the bottom line is I am going to FEED my child. If you have a problem with it....well then you can go hang out in the restroom, or the corner or closet or wherever else you think we nursing moms should go to hide from sight. My baby is hungry and I am going to make sure he eats! Period. Have you ever been so hungry you can't stand it? It makes you cranky. Now, would you rather see a tiny square of naked side, or listen to an infant SCREAMING at the top of his lungs?

If you are curious why I am suddenly ranting, it is because today, for the first time EVER in three children, I was asked to leave a pool while nursing. I had originally latched the baby on as slyly as possible while sitting on the top step of the entry section so that I could keep Piper, who was struggling a bit, within easy arm's reach. A pool employee, after walking by four times to see if I was really doing what she suspected I was doing approached me and nicely told me that while I was welcome to nurse the baby wherever I wanted on deck, I was not permitted to do so while "in the pool." I explained that I was not in fact "in the pool" and that only my feet and backside and the baby's feet were actually touching the water. Then I very nicely refused to move and quoted Colorado State Law "A mother may breastfeed in any place she has a right to be." I then inquired whether I had a right to swim in the pool. At this point she became highly frustrated and belligerent and told me she was going to call her manager. I welcomed her to do so and said, "Perhaps she is aware and can explain that this same situation was just on the news two weeks ago and that the pool, Pirate's Cove, had to issue a public apology to the nursing mother for breaking the law and that you are very much in the wrong right now."

It was at this point that she adjourned to the other side of the pool and whipped out her smart-phone, perhaps in effort to become smarter because she did not approach me again (one assumes she fact-checked me and found I was correct). Instead however, she and a large group of patrons that had collected sat across from me the rest of the time I was there and pointed and talked. Eventually after an hour or more of being extremely uncomfortable I left. Up to that point I would like to add, including her, there were a total of 6 other patrons at the pool. There was no crowd and no one was paying much attention until she stepped in. In the end I wasn't so much angry as deeply disappointed that even though the news had just dealt with this issue two weeks ago, there were still such uneducated people.

Again. I am not an activist, but if you are going to tell me to "cover up",why don't you tell these girls "cover up?" Pretty sure J. Lo is sporting more exposed breast than I do when I nurse.
 Or how about the girl rumored to be our favorite Christian, Tim Tebow's girlfriend
 This woman is definitely sporting more skin in the breast area than any nursing mom I have ever seen....but then again, what do I know?
 This is from a bikini catalogue, you can purchase this for your very own collection...hat not included. Not too much breast here, right?
 Or, my personal favorite, the ultimate string bikini. This I am sure is much more tasteful than me upsetting people by feeding my baby.

Lastly, a quick Google search shows many stories that are similar to my own. Apparently I am far from alone.
 A mom at Pirate's Cove.
Mom Told Breast-Feeding Violates Pool's Ban on Food, Drink

So I looked and found out that
Organizations exist to report any discrimination against a nursing mother.

And lastly I will leave you with this: The American Academy of Pediatrics states, "Breastfeeding and human milk are the normative standards for infant feeding and nutrition." and recommends "exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, with continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant."