Wrong Side of the Bed

Every day I try to remember not to tell Laurel to go to the bathroom before we go downstairs for breakfast. It really pisses her off for some reason. And then there is a giant argument, tears, insistance that we carry her, that everything is wrong, that she does "not like what you are saying." Even after I rescind my very reasonable advice that one should empty one's bladder upon waking, it's too late. She's already over the edge.

The last two days, she protested a lot over her one waffle. She wanted two. She never eats two. I must admit, I'm a little less stingy with the foods I don't care for so much, but I love waffles. Especially $5 a box gluten free waffles. "You can have another one, if you finish that one," I say, and think about how much that makes me sound like a mom. She never finishes even one waffle. She eats all the bites that have jelly on them, but leaves the naked edge pieces.

The moods shift quickly. This morning, M made the mistake of suggesting a morning potty visit. After much ado, Laurel went into the bathroom to pee anyway, and said, "I have tears! Why do I have tears?"

Um, because you were freaking out for like ten minutes. For no apparent reason. Again.

I wonder if we are supposed to parent this out of her, or if it's just another phase she'll grow out of.

I wonder if other people have nutty 3 year olds living in their houses.

I wonder if everyone was like this when they were 3, even people like Barack Obama. Or Mother Theresa.


Thanks and all that

Yesterday I was overcome by wave after wave of joy and gratitude. Pregnancy hormones, perhaps? Early Thanksgiving spirit? Or just a really freakin' good life?

I'm totally blissed out. It's the little things. Breakfast conversations about dinosaurs. An abundance of amazing carrots and leeks for soup. The fact that our doorbell did not actually catch our house on fire. Our 60 year old boiler getting a clean bill of health for another winter. Watching M get good news and smile. Family dance parties. Neighbors that call out good morning to Laurel on our way to school.

I have a new tutoring client whom I adore. I'm 30 weeks pregnant, which is still cute, and not oh-mah-god-you-look-like-you're-gonna-pop pregnant. Of course, I'm now down to only 2 shirts that fit over my belly, but that makes it easy to get dressed in the morning. Not that I really need to dress to impress these days.

(Dang, I do not miss standing in front of the judgmental eyes of 16 year olds all day. As I flashback to this time last year when life had a train-wreck-in-slow-motion feel to it, I can actually feel my heart rate increasing. Ok, stop that. We're in a new phase now.)

And now for a funny story. At least if you think it's funny for your young child to be watching adult-content television in the middle of the night, unsupervised.

The other night, I woke up to see Laurel sitting on our bed, watching tv. It was the Late, Late show or something like that. M was conked out. Apparently he had rolled over on the remote control in the middle of the night, turning the tv on. It did not wake him up, but Laurel noticed and trotted in from her room to check it out. I have no idea how long she was sitting there but in the morning when I asked her if she turned on the tv, she said "Noooo!" When I asked her what she was watching, she said, "A scary show. With lots of talking."


In the Company of Friends (and strangers)

We went away for the weekend with Laurel's buddies and their families. Four three year olds, two pregnant ladies, a baby, good food, and a lot of jumping on the beds and playing monster. (That would be the dads.) Four women bonded forever by sharing the experience of those tentative first steps of motherhood.

It is amazing to watch these four kids after three years and recall the first time we lined them up on the couch for a photo. They were so little, they kept flopping over and half of them were asleep. It's a bit trickier to get them all in a photo these days. Now they play together, and we are left to eavesdrop on their conversations, and made up games, and unique methods of conflict resolution.

Surprisingly during the weekend, I had time to sit quietly and read! I'm continuing on in Healing the Heart of Democracy, and I've been thinking about Palmer means when he talks about "Life in the Company of Strangers."

Romney made some comments last week about Obama purchasing the support of blacks, Hispanics, women and young people. FoxNews pundits can't seem to shut up about the demise of traditional America. There seems to be a lot of fear and misinformation in these remarks. The fear of "other" is a dangerous one, Palmer writes.

Because our country is deeply segregated, most people live lives in which they are surrounded by people who are the same. People prefer to live this way because it is more comfortable, and I can certainly understand this. I often felt wildly uncomfortable when I lived in Phoenix and everybody else spoke better Spanish than I did, and the cultural norms were completely different. There were all these degrees of Hispanic and Latino that I didn't get, because where I came from, everything south of Texas is sort of lumped together. It's not the sort of thing you can really ask about, so you just figure it out along the way.

I wasn't a bad person for not getting it. But living, as Palmer says, in the company of strangers gave me the gift of broadening my views. Now, when I hear immigration policy being debated in the media, I know that Hispanic and Latino are awfully broad categories and include people of every economic class and many, many nationalities and backgrounds. I know that some of my prejudices had more than a few grains of truth, such as Latinos valuing education (as a teacher, I felt about a thousand times more respected by the community when I worked in south Phoenix, than any other place in the country). I know that some of my other assumptions ended up being very wrong (that Latinos all agree on immigration).

Sometimes it's messier. We have a regular cast of panhandlers and hustlers on our block. Their solicitations are annoying, and sometimes aggressive. I get tired of hearing their lines over and over again as they reach out to a new line up of cars at the traffic light, or the next truck that pulls into the gas station. Nonetheless, I choose to look them in the eye and say good morning. I choose to acknowledge their humanity first. Same with the drug dealers and prostitutes. Because, like me, they all have a story and a reason for being in the place they are.

I still call 911 and report anything that can even remotely be considered a crime.

But even this feels complex and terrible sometimes when the cops actually do show up and arrest someone and you know that incarceration really doesn't solve many problems except getting the problem temporarily out of your view.


Healing democracy is not going to be easy, Mr. Palmer. The more thoughtful you are about it, the less resolved you feel.


Healthcare Hissy Fits

Is anyone else bothered by the temper tantrums corporate leaders are having over being asked to provide health insurance options to their employees?

I watched this clip and read this article and it seems that many of our (ahem, very wealthy) CEO's are anticipating (though not yet experiencing) economic catastrophe, and are making a few proactive choices. Like symbolically firing people. And cutting full time workers to part time to avoid the requirement. And they have the audacity to get on tv and offer patronizing apologies to their workers.

So, yeah, here's some liberal bias showing, but Jon Stewart makes a good point.

However, I just got my copy of Healing the Heart of Democracy by Parker Palmer and I'm trying to have more civil conversations about health care. Parker says you should have humility to be a good citizen and defines it as: 
...accepting the fact that my truth is always partial and may not be true at all- so I need to listen with openness and respect, especially to "the other," as much as I need to speak my own voice with clarity and conviction.
So here's my truth. I spend a lot of time worrying about health care. Mainly about how I'm going to pay the premium if it goes up a lot next year. Crossing my fingers that this won't be a year that we max out our deductible, because high deductible plans with HSA's only work when you can actually afford your $5,000 deductible. Wondering each time I go to the doctor or midwife if the recommended screening is really necessary. Cringing when I open an EOB because nobody can tell you in advance how much an ultrasound or a blood draw is going to cost.

In the last few months, I have declined recommended medical treatment or screenings because of the cost. So has M. I'm not telling you that so you feel sorry for us. It's a calculated risk to ignore what your doctor tells you, and in the cases in which we did, the risks were low. I just think Americans need to start being more honest when we talk about how we manage our health care.

As I get older, I worry more. It was so cheap to buy insurance when I was 25. Every time I shop for a new policy now I'm inching up in the age brackets.

And I think I have it good. When I look around me, I am reminded that many of my neighbors don't earn as much, have pre-existing conditions, or lack the time or daytime availability to do the extensive amount of research, reviewing of fine print, and phone calls to manage your own health insurance and health care. Just try figuring out the difference between out of pocket maximum and meeting your deductible. (They are not the same. Except when they are.)

So that's my truth, or at least a part of it. I think it would be swell to have a single payer system in our country. Medicare for everyone. Get the uninsured and poor out of the ERs. Funnel some money away from pharmaceutical companies and put some more serious efforts into healing the preventable diseases that plague our nation with food and exercise. Rethink how we do things. Take care of our neighbors who have more significant medical needs, by making sure they have guaranteed access. Not because it's fair, but because it's just the right thing to do.

Yes, I'm willing to accept that my taxes would have to increase to make this possible.

So, this is an invitation to hear your truth. If you are someone who thinks insurance belongs in the private sector, I would love to hear from you. If you have some compelling reasons about why a medicare-like system that gives everyone health insurance coverage is a bad thing, please explain.

But let's leave death panel rants and other inflammatory and inaccurate sound bytes out of it. Tell me your truth. How it would impact you and your neighbors. What your experience with health care and health insurance has been like.


Listening to My Heart

She pauses one afternoon while we are playing and shouts, "My heart is beating!"
As if surprised, and looking for reassurance from me.
What is it like to realize for the first time that a small muscle in your chest is keeping rhythm?
What is it like to live a life where so much of your experience is Realizing For the First Time?
I press her small palm against my chest and the room becomes suddenly still.
"Your heart is beating" she tells me, in a quiet voice.
The cars rumble outside, the washing machine shifts to the rinse cycle in the basement, but
For a moment, we lock eyes and feel each other's hearts.
And then she leaps up and pulls out another block from the box, and chatters on about the castle she is building.
Like all especially magical moments of childhood, it is fleeting and soon to be forgotten.
By all but the mothers.


I Got Nothin'

I goofed up today. Do you want to hear about it? I made an appointment to have the car inspected, but didn't have the proper registration card. Turns out we had mixed up the registration for the Airstream with the registration for the car. There was nothing to be done, except reschedule and look for the card. We couldn't find it, so then I had to go to the AAA office and order a new one. Forty-one dollars and many, many hours later, and I have nothing to show for my day. Nothing to check off my list. Only things I had to do because I wasn't careful the first go-around.

The day wasn't lost, but I ditched the rest of it. I came to the library and picked out books for Laurel and me. M has a late meeting tonight and I had the notion that Laurel and I would get into our pajamas early and read a hundred books while tucked cozily in bed and sipping warm milk.

We don't have any milk, though. And it somehow seems complicated to walk into the grocery store and get some. We have too many greens in the fridge anyway. No room. Yesterday was our last CSA pick up and we were inundated with spinach, arugula, chard and kale.

It is much more fun to write about jaunts in the park with Laurel. To snap pictures of sun beams framing her head. To gush over the absolutely amazing salad dressing M whipped up for lunch today. To capture an Instagram-worthy life.

But instead, there is nothing worth photographing today. Even my magical iPhone can't fix this ugly fluorescent light or the stains on my shirts. There are undercurrents of uncertainty swirling about. (Forget small business life, who can be certain of anything with fiscal cliffs looming?) The kitchen floor has an unacceptable amount of crumbs coating it. We still don't have a working bathroom sink.

I started a half a dozen blog entries on all sorts of interesting topics. School report cards. And more Parker Palmer stuff. And a roundup of quotes that I got when I asked some friends and clients how they pick schools and childcare. Fabulous stuff. But it all fell flat.

Today, I got nothin'.


Post Election Contemplation

The maps are checkered with blue and red. Glad to see some of the these guys get voted down. Happy that equal rights for some of my friends and family are spreading across this country slowly but surely. Obama wins the electoral college rather decisively, but I'm left with a feeling that it's a tie.

We need some mediation. We need some training in civility. My childhood friend and now peace educator, Stephanie Knox Cubban, recently posted this interview with author Parker J. Palmer; the piece talks about his book, Healing the Heart of Democracy.

Parker says this about his book:

Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering. That applies on every level of life. When individuals don’t know what to do with their suffering, they do violence to others or themselves — through substance abuse and extreme overwork, for example. When nations don’t know what to do with their suffering, as with the U.S. after 9/11, they go to war. I think it’s pretty evident by now that what we did in the wake of 9/11 only escalated our tensions with the Middle East and didn’t reduce the threat to this country. Surely our suffering could have led to more-creative actions and outcomes.

You can watch this play out with 3 year olds. When one of them feels hurt, ignored or otherwise wronged, they often don't know what to do with that suffering. They hit, push, or yell.

I saw a lot of this during the campaigning when it came to issues with the economy, particularly job loss. For people dealing with chronic or lengthy unemployment, the suffering isn't so much with the lack of money...but with the loss of purpose, with the loss of their provider role to their family, or their sense of belonging in the world. This suffering clouded the debate with blame towards Obama or Bush or regulation or bailout, and shut down any creative responses to the problem.

Palmer also talks about entitlement:
One of the problems with a lot of educated, reasonably well-off white males like me is our sense of entitlement. We’re too often driven by the thought that we’re supposed to be getting more than anybody else. When we don’t, it creates resentment and separates us from others and from our true selves. 

 Entitlement played an ugly and prominent role in campaign speech. I thought Romney was absolutely heartless and sick when I heard the way he ranted against people who believe they are "entitled to health care, to food, to housing..." But I heard equally vicious rants coming from those 47%-ers against the wealthy people who do not wish to be the only ones in the country footing the tax bill. We don't need to get in a debate about whether suffering for lack of food is the same as suffering for lack of third vacation home or whatever it is that wealthy people do with all of this extra money they wish to hang on to. The point is that both parties feel suffering to some degree and lash out before any kind of productive dialogue can take place.

How do we fix it?

Start by getting to know some people who are different from you. This is sort of hard, because mostly, Americans live pretty segregated lives. It's also incredibly uncomfortable to cross cultural and racial boundaries at times. Sometimes language barriers prevent us from talking to each other. Sometimes we don't like what we hear because it challenges core beliefs we've carried our whole lives. Nine times out of ten, when I come out of an interaction with someone who is really different from me, and I've listened to them, soaked up some of their story....well, I don't feel awesome. I feel threatened. I feel confused. I see the remaining black and white divisions that remain in my brain getting clouded into Gray.

But I sit with it. I carry their story with me. It shapes my future decisions in subtle ways. It pauses my overly quick judgment.

That's what we really need. Less quick judgment. Less sound bites from the pundits. We need to carry with us real stories of our fellow Americans so that the next time we vote, we are doing so out of a shared commitment to our country and everyone who lives here.


Happy Birthday, Laurel

Thanks to everyone who made Laurel's birthday so special. She told me after everyone had gone home that I did a "good, job, Mommy, on the cake". I took zero pictures - whoops - but what sticks with me is the image of her face lit up by three birthday candles. After we dimmed the lights, there was a pause before everyone started to sing, and in that quiet moment, I saw a look of pure delight and joy, because she's three, and it's all about the moment. She wasn't sitting there wondering what the next year would bring her. She doesn't have goals. She doesn't have unmet expectations about her year of being two. No birthday baggage at all. She just loves the song and that's it about her for that moment and when the lights come back on, you get to eat cake.


Goodbye Two

First thing in the morning, I can hear her feet hit the floor and then pitter patter across her room. She's talking before she opens the door; narrating her plans for the day or a talking about a dream or telling her stuffed animal something. I swear she talks nonstop for 12 hours a day. If I'm still in bed, she'll appear next to me, smile and climb in to cuddle for a minute (still talking the whole time). If I'm awake and downstairs already, she calls to me from the top of the stairs, "Hello! I'm coming down!" She likes oatmeal with raisins for breakfast. She likes rooibos tea. She does not like to be rushed.

We have a clipboard with her morning chores now. Go on the potty. Put pj's down laundry chute. Wash face. She's allowed to watch tv if she finishes quickly. I braid her hair while she watches Dinosaur Train or Superwhy. Life seems to be intense for her. Heartbreaking disappointment over changed plans leaves her crumpled on the floor in tears, wailing. If we tell her she can't do something, she waves her fists at us. "That is not what I am saying!" she cries.

She cannot pronounce "r" correctly. She is extremely excited to go to the dentist this week. She can spend hours peeling stickers out of a book and applying them to paper. She can find Maryland, Florida and Pennsylvania on a map. She asks incredibly thoughtful questions when we are reading a book. Her favorite dinosaur is triceratops. She has an insatiable sweet tooth.

She's a little leaner and a lot taller than she was a year ago. Longer hair that is starting to darken. Physically, she didn't change all that much in a year, having long ago lost her baby-ness. The change came in the way she relates to the world, especially since we drove so far on vacation this year. I can see how she anchors herself here, in between these rivers, and is starting to make sense of the vastness of our country. I like the way she explores maps, and draws her own, and goes on imaginary car trips on the living room sofa.

Goodbye, two. Hello, three.



By the Numbers

More unemployment stats are out. It appears jobs have been added, but also unemployment climbed slightly. Experts say this is because more people entered the job market, when they got excited about seeing falling unemployment numbers last month. This points out a big flaw in all of this data; who exactly is unemployed? M and I recently left our jobs. We jointly own an LLC, but are not legally employees of the LLC. But small business owners can't be unemployed, right? Are we job creators because we made some jobs for ourselves, and also left spots for other, previously unemployed people to take our old positions? Do I even count at all, being that I'm also a mom, and soon to be full-time caregiver to an infant? Laurel still goes to preschool every day so I don't consider myself a Stay at Home Mom, although if she were 2 years older and attended school during the same hours, then I possibly would claim that status. To complicate matters, if some pollster called me up and asked me about my status, I would indeed say that I'm looking for work. I apply to jobs with some regularity. Everyone I know does this, even when they have a job, because you never know how long you are going to have your job, or when you want to ask for a raise and need some leverage.

Whew. That was a bit of a ramble. But my point is stats are a useful way to measure change on a large-scale, but we must never stop asking the questions, "How did you arrive at that number? What was taken into consideration? Where did you get that data? Who is excluded? What do I know about this experience?"

I maintain that unemployment is a stupid way to measure the economy. We should be more focused on who can afford health care, food, and housing. Your employment status doesn't really matter so much as long as you can provide those things. If a lot of people are employed but can't afford health insurance, the country is not in a better position.

Hope everyone is planning to vote on Tuesday. Make sure you know where your poll is, read up on your local races, and please knock on your neighbors' doors and see if you can drive somebody who might not otherwise make it. Pennsylvania polls are open from 7:00am to 8:00pm. Check here if you are in another state.

Never has it been more important to have a high level of literacy. If you want to be an informed voter, do not watch television ads! Or read your mail. I just watched the much acclaimed documentary Big Sky, Big Money (embedded below for your viewing pleasure), which does a really good job of explaining campaign finance law and identifying who is behind the vast majority of ads that you see.

You can also review the issues at Fact Check.org or Politifact. I am especially fond of Politifact's "Truth-o-meter" graphics".

Watch Big Sky, Big Money on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.


Happy November!

It's a soggy one. And cold. Rain gear is key if you want your kid to arrive in a semi-dry state at daycare after a mile long walk with a lot of puddles and a muddy patch of woods on the way. I remembered to give her mittens today and bribed her with some gummy snacks she got in a Halloween treat bag yesterday. (Parents - post-breakfast dessert is obviously the best time to give your child candy, especially if you are sending them off to be with the people who gave them said candy.) We spotted wet buckeyes and leaves plastered to the streets and several dogs wearing rain coats. I wished we had a second car for a moment, and then I remembered that one of the nicest things about fall and winter is going inside nice warm buildings after a long walk in the rain. I felt happy that Laurel really knows the seasons and the weather. The feel of a cold drizzle on her cheeks, the squish of mud and leaves under her rain boots. That she knows this mile-long stretch of city, that provides an interesting cross-section of urban life. We start at our busy corner. School zone lights flashing and commuters streaming by. Someone will stop their car and let us cross the street, and then we are on "the quiet street" as Laurel calls it. Traffic noises fade into the background and the houses grow in size. As we turn the corner, the trees tower over us, majestic in their old age. This is where people have money. In the summer, gardeners come and change their landscaping the way I change our sheets. Daffodils one month, impatiens the next. We never see the people that live here, except the well-dressed lady who reminds me of Martha Stewart and walks three bichon frise dogs. Then past the private school, kids in uniforms, lined up orderly to start classes. Along a well-used path in a small patch of woods, to the street where all the little kids live. In the afternoons, their moms chat on the sidewalk while they run between yards. They are friendly to us and invite us to stay and play. On warm summer mornings we can hear the clink of their breakfast dishes through open windows. On cold mornings like today, it's very quiet.

Next is the park. The bowling green with its bright green lawn. Crushed limestone paths winding off the main trail down into the ravine. Plenty of birds and sticks and leaves to catch our attention. The same friendly labs and golden retrievers being walked by neighbors before they go off to work. Finally, we can spot the crossing guard at the corner, and stroll past the mechanic, the barber, and the market. There is a child's handprint in the cement sidewalk on this stretch, and Laurel likes to stop and press her fingers into it. When we turn the last corner, she almost always starts running, and is already reaching for the door knob at the daycare center when I catch her.

Even if we leave this neighborhood now, I think this place is imprinted in Laurel's memory, and she'll have flashes of memory of it for as long as she lives.