Friday, March 28, 2014

Too Poor To Be A Parent?

My parents came for a long visit recently and it was incredible.

Some of my favorite moments were sitting around after the kids had gone to bed and just talking with my parents. I was having one of these quiet late night conversations with my Dad when he told me a story from his childhood. His family were poor and had a lot of kids. They could only afford a small house and so he and his brothers helped their Dad modify part of the backyard chicken coop into a tiny bedroom for my dad and his older brother. The family was very thrifty and after a few years they saved up enough money for a larger house and the two older boys got a room inside.

I'd heard that story before but something finally occurred to me that hadn't before. I turned to my dad and said, "You realize that today, you'd have been removed from your parents home?" Dad frowned and disagreed and I explained to him that one of the major hardships for a friend of mine, a single mother of four, is that she is required to rent a three bedroom apartment or house in order to satisfy Child Protective Services. She has a boy and three girls and the State won't allow different gender children to share a bedroom. They also don't allow parents to share a room with their children. He then protested that she didn't really need to follow those rules because CPS would never check on it and I had to tell him that she had already been investigated by CPS twice based on reports of suspected child abuse and/or neglect filed anonymously. Both times CPS gave her glowing reviews and left her in peace but it seemed that at least two people had reported her anyway.

We live in a society where being a good parent isn't good enough. We live in a society in which you can have your children taken away because you are poor.

I have foster siblings. I am raising a child I adopted out of the foster care system. Foster care is extremely harmful to children and is an acceptable alternative only when the alternative is abuse. Having to share a room with your sisters is not abuse. Having to share a room with your entire family is not abuse.

My friend is a professional writer. She makes a good paycheck, good enough that she doesn't qualify for any assistance with things like three bedroom rent and daycare fees for four children. As a result she struggles to pay for basic needs. Her children wear torn stockings to school sometimes. She can't afford to contribute to PTA fund raisers and she sometimes struggles to buy the extra items that teachers demand during the school year. She feels guilty about this which is heartbreaking. The fact that she feels fear because of these circumstances isn't heartbreaking, it's wrong. She is a supportive, smart, college educated and loving mother. Her children are happy despite the strained financial circumstances. They love to read. They're creative, joyful, wonderful little people who fill my heart with hope for the future. It is wrong that some random woman in a fast food joint can seriously damage or permanently destroy her family.

Recently, another friend of mine was questioned by police at a fast food restaurant. Why? His toddler threw a fit and he took her out to the car for a time out. She responds extremely well to time outs, quickly calmed down and they returned to their dinner only to be almost immediately interrupted by the boys in blue. As it turns out, a fellow diner called the police and claimed that my friend had struck his toddler and dragged her out to the car to do 'God knows what' to her. Very, very fortunately for my friend the restaurant had a security system and the police were able to review footage that belied the accusation. The officers apologized and explained that they had to investigate the report. My friend was much more understanding than I would have been, I think, and quickly put the incident behind him.

But what if there had been no video recording? What if it had been his word against the busy body woman who'd called the police? They would have been required to "take the child into care". Do you think kidnapping is traumatic to children? "Removing a child from custody" is a legal form of kidnapping and is just as traumatic. It ingrains a severe distrust and fear of authority figures. It teaches children that the police aren't there to protect you. They're the people who take you away from your family. It took years for my daughter's terror at the sight of a police officer to abate to mere unease.

This system is broken. It has been broken for a long time. But since it only impacts the most vulnerable among us, we'll probably keep on ignoring it.

After all, who cares about the fate of thousands of children when the Left and Right have provided such exciting polarizing issues over which we can all obsess?

Friday, May 28, 2010

My twitter Story

I was having a DM conversation on twitter with @twbrit earlier today. We were trying to figure out Mac fanboy/girls. We didn’t make much headway because we just don’t get it. You get it, or you don’t and I don’t. The thing is; I may not get why those rabid apple addicts love their computer crack but I generally don’t twist it into something sinister.

This blog’s called all-a-twitter because micro blogging isn’t always enough. It’s meant to expand on conversations I have on twitter and basically give me a place to say something more complex more completely. However, this particular post is actually going to be about twitter.

Tonight, after taking my medicine I was a little wired and went downstairs to watch one of the many TV shows I’ve had mothballing on my DVR. This one was a Criminal Minds episode in which the crazy killer stalks people through social networking websites like Facebook and twitter and the episode soon turned into yet another diatribe against social networking.

One character described a person with over a thousand followers and likened being on twitter to “e-mail on crack”, saying it was impossible to keep up with the number of followers one acquired. Another character, a grieving mother of a slain woman, described a scenario in which her daughter communicated so much through social networking that she didn’t have time for real conversations with her family.

(BTW, Really? I’m seriously going to be so into twitter that I don’t actually talk to my family anymore? People are BUYING THIS CRAP?) *sigh* Okay, moving on…

The clincher seemed to be that the mother learned of her daughter's promotion through a third party and when mommy dearest angrily reproached her about it she was met only with an incredulous, “I posted it on my wall a week ago.”

Facebook and twitter were consistently portrayed in this episode, and in almost every other popular portrayal I’ve seen, as indicative of severe narcissism. Tweets presented were not poignant or political messages such as “If Iran sleeps tonight, It will sleep forever.” The three examples were “Sushi for lunch. Yum.” “Boss making me stay late. Grrr.” And then later a soon-to-be-victim posted a picture of a scone she was about to eat with a caption like, “Scone. Yummy.”

The main characters asked questions like, “How could you possibly think you are so interesting that people want to know what you’re eating?” Forever circling back to the whole portrayal of people involved in social networking, primarily twitter users, as narcissists.

This is just really, really starting to IRK me.

Today I found out that a person I’ve been dealing with in person for the last five months really doesn’t care at all about me. I’m not entirely convinced after today that she even remotely likes me. I believed we’d developed an informal connection into an acquaintance and, further, into a friendship. I was wrong, well, half-wrong. I genuinely liked her and thought of her as a friend. However, she doesn’t feel that way about me but because she needed something from me, she maintained a pretense.

I like twitter, not because I think I’m so amazing and everyone wants to know every little thing about me but because I’m pretty sure I’m not and they don't.

I don’t expect to be admired or exalted because I love the Tofu & Veggie Teriyaki at PeiWei Asian Diner. I won’t tweet how much I enjoy it because I think that somehow makes me awesome and everyone is terribly interested in what I’m eating. If I tweet something like that, I’m doing it because I’m trying to expose myself as completely as I am capable of reasonably doing and hoping that someone else feels the same way.

It’s never easy to do that, even on the internet. Internet rejection hurts too. But it’s not nearly as painful as what I went through today. Real life rejection is much harder to shake off, even though, honestly, I know a lot of my tweet peeps better than this ‘real life’ girl.

The internet has a long history of duplicity. Part of the appeal for some people was hiding themselves; the idea that “you can be whoever you want on the internet” is a long standing concept. In a past conversation with tweet peep @tylermassey he said something that stuck with me. He said, “No one can pull off being fake on twitter for too long. Eventually, the real you seeps in.”

THAT’s what appeals to me about twitter. I’m genuine. The majority of the people to whom I tweet are genuine. In fact, I’m usually much more candid and real on twitter than I am with the people around me. Why? Because I’m STUCK with the people around me. I have to work with them. I have to deal with them on holidays. I have to answer to them in some way, shape or form that can have minor or extreme consequences.

On twitter, it’s easier. Someone thinks you’re boring? They leave…and most of the time you don’t even notice. People leave because you post too much or not enough or you’re just not who they thought you were when they first stumbled onto your feed. The vast majority of the time, that’s fine and dandy.

The only time it’s apt to matter, it’s not going to happen that way. The only time I'd care if someone stopped following me is if we'd started actually conversing with each other and gotten to know each other. I've never had someone like that just stop following me without any explanation. See, there are relationships on twitter that develop. I have people I consider friends.

Today when the real world was whooping up on me six ways to Sunday I posted something on twitter and @sjoes, a truly amazing and inspiring person just the way she is (thank you very much), posted a reply that genuinely made me feel better. She’s good at that. Why didn’t I call my Mom? I did. She didn’t answer. I called my sister too, she also didn’t answer. I was hurt and needed to tell someone and typing it to the void in the vague hope that maybe someone out there gave a crap was better than nothing.

When I was stuck in a undeniably ugly, somewhat scary and deeply depressing ER room by myself, I tweeted a picture because it made me feel less alone. Was twitter a substitute for my husband? No, but he wasn’t there at the time. Twitter is always on and chances are that there is someone out there who might care that you’re scared and alone.

I know so much more about @sjoes than I do the ‘real world’ person who hurt me today. Strangely, I don’t know a lot of the important BIG things. I know simple little things about her, the mundane.

There’s a scene in Good Will Hunting where Robin Williams’ character explains that love isn’t always knowing all the milestones in a person’s life but knowing all the details; the odd twists and idiosyncrasies that make all of us the truly unique and strange INDIVIDUALS we are. He said:

“People call these imperfections but they’re not, ah, that’s the good stuff. And then we get to choose who we let into our weird little worlds. You’re not perfect, Sport. And let me save you the suspense, this girl you met? She isn’t perfect either. But the question is whether or not you’re perfect for each other?”

I can’t speak for everyone on twitter but I know that for me, it’s not about people hanging on my every word. It’s not about trying to impress people. It’s about being intimate without the bone crushing, soul squishing fear of rejection because if you find those people who also may have forgotten how much they like pickles and get to talking to them and find out that you enjoy each other’s ‘weird little worlds’ that’s a friendship that is more pure than most you will find in the ‘real world’.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hair Cuts and Gender Bias

I usually cut my own hair. Why? Because I'm cheap. I'm very cheap.

I recently decided that for the 1/2 marathon in San Diego I'm going to have Team in Training purple highlights put in my hair. Since I can't do that, I called up the spa where a friend of a friend works and made an appointment.

Afterward, I checked out their website. I know, I know. That's the wrong order but let's just move on past that.

I noticed that they charged for haircuts according to gender.



So, it kind of pissed me off a wee, tiny bit and they had this contact information there just begging me to send them feedback. Aaaand to sum up an unnecessarily long story, I sent them the following email:

Good Morning, people I don’t know.

I just recently made an appointment with you for the first time and decided to check out your website. While there, I noticed you price haircuts according to gender and that kind of offends me. And I needed to send you an e-mail and let you know because this is the information age and opinions must be e-mailed!

Anyway, so, do you charge a woman with very short hair the same price as a woman with long hair? Do you charge a man with very long hair the same price as a man with short hair? What about transvestites? Do they get the male or female price?

I get that you’re probably assuming men will have shorter and easier to cut hair but that has nothing to do with whether their bits dangle. It has to do with the length of their hair. So, why not price according to hair length?

That’s it. I’m just protesting further separation and assignation of humanity according to gender as represented by your pricing system. If, as I suspect, you really don’t care what I think, please ignore my e-mail and go about your business. I just thought I’d let you know. Have a great day!

Love & Kisses,


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Warm Hug

One of the biggest things going on in my life right now, if not the biggest, is the fact that I’m participating in Team in Training. Team in Training is an organization that exists for the sole purpose of raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. This society is amazing!

I could go on and on and on about it (trust me) but I think that Matt Hall does a really good job of explaining the impact LLS has had for people struggling with leukemia, lymphoma and other blood cancers.

Matt's Thank You Video

When I don’t want to get up at 3:30 in the morning and traipse around my neighborhood in my ridiculous reflective gear and flashing lights, straining my muscles to the point of open rebellion I think about, well Matt now, but also Lisa. Lisa is working with our team and is a five year survivor of blood cancer. She was helped by LLS and now works in an LLS clinic greeting new and (thankfully) old patients.

Can you imagine what kind of impact she has? Imagine you’ve been diagnosed with a blood cancer like Leukemia. That’s scary. No, forget scary. It’s terrifying. It’s Leukemia! All these crazy thoughts and questions are running through your mind and scaring the dickens out of you. You get sent to this cancer clinic and walking through the door you don’t know what to expect. Part of you isn’t expecting the doctor to prescribe anything other than the length of your stay of execution. Then you meet Lisa. Lisa gets you some coffee. She’s pretty. She’s sweet. She’s kind, helpful and knowledgeable but most importantly, she’s alive! Lisa is sitting there as living, walking, talking, coffee fetching proof that you CAN survive. She’s an angel embodying hope for the future, your future.

Lisa does all this just by breathing but there are other things she does that are equally as helpful. Lisa can give you practical advice. Lisa says, “Whatever question you’ve got that you think is too silly or embarrassing to ask the doctor? You can ask me.” Lisa can tell you her story. Lisa can tell you things your doctor will never properly be able to understand. Lisa is a godsend.

I absolutely believe that donating to LLS is a way to help save people’s lives. LLS funds research that has produced life saving treatments for people suffering from blood cancers, LLS funds clinics that allow patients to receive those treatments, and LLS funds patient contacts like Lisa that help give people the positive, hopeful outlook that is so important when fighting such a daunting battle.

Yep, raising money for this organization is definitely one of the biggest things going on in my life. I’m doing fundraising but also training to represent LLS in the San Diego Rock N Roll marathon on June 6th. I train five days a week and do whatever I can think of to get donations. My goal is 3,000 USD. Both the half marathon event and the fundraising goal are daunting and scary but nowhere near as daunting or scary as facing one of these diseases.

I’ve been working with my Mom-in-law on fundraising ideas. One of them is the Warm Hug. A Warm Hug is a long rice sock divided into sections with a handle on either end. You place the hug into a microwave for a minute, turn it and then do another minute. It comes out fragrant and deliciously warm. You can then drape it around your neck, over a sore joint (it’s especially good for applying heat to those tricky ankles) but my favorite is holding it by the handles slung snug against the small of your back. It’s an absolute must have for the pregnant woman.

My Mom-in-law has done most of the work but I have done my part as well. This morning I’ve sold five, possibly six at $15 per Hug. I like the fact that people who are making donations to this awesome organization get to feel a nice warm feeling over and over again.

If you would like to contribute to my fundraising efforts please, please do! Here’s a link to my personal fundraising website with team in training. After donating you can check back in to see my progress via updates I will be posting to the site.

My Fundraising Page

If any of you donate $25 or more, please send me your address because I’d really like to send you a warm hug!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Way: Buddha & Christ

Initially, the lives, teachings and deaths of Christ and Buddha seem very different. Jesus of Nazareth, or Christ, was born into relative poverty. Siddhartha Gautama, or Buddha, was born into relative wealth. Christ taught that he was the Messiah. Buddha forbid his followers to worship him. Christ was martyred. Buddha died peacefully. However, the religions based on their teachings both focus on personal responsibility, the awareness and pursuit of truth, and love. Though differences exist, the true practice of the teachings of these men is essentially similar.

The story of Christ states that he was born in circumstances so strained that his mother was forced to give birth to him in a stable. The story of Buddha, on the other hand, states he was born to wealth and comfort. The two beginnings seem like opposites until you take one more step back. The Christian tradition states that Christ existed in Heaven prior to his birth. Thus, Christ and Buddha both lived in seemingly ideal environments and both chose to renounce the comfort and security of those environments in order to pursue truth.

Another similarity is the fact that neither figure chose to leave their ideal environment in order to better their own personal circumstances. Buddha chose to leave his lush surroundings because of his discovery of pain and suffering in others. His lifestyle had to that point insulated him from pain and suffering. He had no personal interest at that time in solving the problem but chose to do so out of compassion for his fellow human beings. Thomas Merton states, “The basic aim of Buddhism…seeks to provide a realistic answer to man’s most urgent question: how to cope with suffering.” Buddhists commonly refer to this as Buddha’s Great Renunciation. Christ chose to leave Heaven and become human out of a similar altruistic desire to solve the problem of pain suffered by humanity. In both stories the central figures abandon positions of privilege and expose themselves to suffering they would not have otherwise felt. This is a sacrifice both figures make in order to solve the problem of pain and suffering for all of mankind. In this way, though only one, Christ, is ultimately killed as a result of his beliefs, both men can be considered martyrs.

When approaching the teachings of these men there is again an initial impression that their teachings are extremely different. Christ seemingly teaches a strange mixture of monotheism and polytheism, presenting a single God composed of three separate personalities: God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit. Buddha, on the other hand, presents no God figure and his teachings revolve around self-discovery and enlightenment, not worship. Christ insists his followers worship him while Buddha insists his followers should not.

Once again, the two are more similar than expected but it takes a greater understanding of both teachings to find the similarities. In both traditions at one point a person comes to each teacher and asks for a summary of what they are teaching. In the story of Christ, a man approaches and asks what the greatest commandment is. In the story of Buddha, a man asks what Buddha and his monks practice. Their answers seem to emphasize the differences of their teachings. Christ replies that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength while Buddha states that he and his monks sit, walk and eat. But, once again, one must look closer. Christ adds that in addition to loving God, a man must love himself and his neighbor and he defines a neighbor as transcending race, nationality and even religious conviction; encompassing all humanity. When Buddha is pressed to more clearly define his answer he states, “When we sit, we know we are sitting. When we walk, we know we are walking. When we eat, we know we are eating.” This is an example of the Buddhist concept of mindfulness; being aware of, accepting and loving yourself and the world around you.

These might still seem very different teachings but they are, in fact, remarkably similar. Christ instructs us to love God, love ourselves and love others. More than that, he implies that these acts are all connected; that if we know and love God, we will automatically know and love ourselves and our fellow human beings. In clarifying the Buddhist concept of mindfulness Thich Nhat Hahn states, “To me, mindfulness is very much like the Holy Spirit…When you have mindfulness, you have love and understanding, you see more deeply, and you can heal the wounds in your own mind…all of us also have…the capacity of healing, transforming, and loving.” Both religions state that followers should be aware of their place in the world, of themselves and of their fellow beings and to respond to the world with love and compassion.

The last area in which these two men and the faiths they inspired seem to differ greatly is in their deaths. Christ was killed, dying a violent death as a martyr for his teachings at the age of only 33. Buddha died peacefully at the age of 80. The resurrection of Christ is one of the most important tenants of the Christian religion. While Buddhists do not present the belief that the Buddha was resurrected, they do believe there are two Buddhas; the historic Buddha and what Hahn describes as “the Buddha within ourselves who transcends space and time.” Thus, though both faiths believe their founders to be dead, both faiths also believe these men live on in a spiritual yet very real sense.

While Buddhism and Christianity are, like the men who founded them, very different; there are as many, if not more, similarities as differences between the two. As Hanh states, “We have different roots, traditions, and ways of seeing, but we share the common qualities of love, understanding, and acceptance.” C.S. Lewis wrote something similar: “There have been differences between…moralities, but these have never amounted to anything like a total difference.” You cannot argue against the differences that appear when comparing the lives, teachings and deaths of Christ and Buddha. Yet, neither can you argue against the similarity of the core beliefs of the teachings and, most importantly, the examples they left behind.

Hanh, Thich Nhat. Living Buddha, Living Christ. New York: Riverhead Books, 1995.
Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1952.
Merton, Thomas. Mystics and Zen Masters. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976.
Thurston, Bonnie. "A Chrisitan's Appreciation of the Buddha." Buddhist-Christian Sudies (University of Hawaii Press) 19 (1999): 121-128.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Why blogs are a good thing.

I think blogs are a good thing. That’s not really a radical position for a blogger to take, I know. It may seem that it bears no explanation but I’m going to explain anyway because I’m a blogger and it’s kinda what I do.

Blogging is good for historians.

Blogs are a form of journal writing and journals have proven to be incredibly useful tools for historians. The fact that people who want to understand a wide range of public thought and reaction to major events now don’t have to wait until the writers die or are far enough removed from those events they feel comfortable publishing their thoughts in the form of a memoir (often by semi-ruining the information with what Shakespeare called ‘the pale cast of thought’ or what I call retrospective introspection) is, I think, a good thing. With the magic of blogging, you gather information on the immediate thoughts and feelings of people from vastly different walks of life by doing a simple Google search.

Blogging is good for bloggers.

People who are intimidated by a bound book of empty pages demanding to be filled can often find blogging a vastly more approachable medium. The fact that you are often writing to an audience encourages perseverance and persistence when many would have otherwise given up on writing a journal. Why is that good for bloggers? Because journaling and blogging create a scenario in which we actually sit down and think about our lives and the world around us. We take the time to consider events and how they might be affecting our feelings, leanings and even world view. This allows us to learn more from our successes and failures and about ourselves. The ability to look back and read past blogs allows us to understand the reasons we came to certain conclusions at the time we drew those conclusions. Believe it or not, the ability to objectively revisit emotionally motivated logic is an incredibly affective tool in the process of refining the series of beliefs and principles that make up our person.

Blogging is good for readers.

I mentioned historians because they’re a special case and reading doesn’t necessarily describe what they do with journals/blogs; with them it’s more like dissecting and discerning. A reader just sort of takes it in.

Blogging is good for readers in exactly the opposite way objective presentation of facts is good for readers. Objective presentations allow us the freedom to look at facts and form independent opinions. Blogging is good because it not only exposes us to vastly arrayed differences of opinion; it often shows us the process the writer’s thoughts took to come to those opinions. Thus, we not only are presented with a differing point of view but also the reasoning and facts that led to that point of view. We get to see that people who disagree with us don’t do so because they’re just deceived/deceivers with a malicious predisposition etc. There is a whole life’s history that goes into each person’s views on life, the universe and everything and readers get to see that. This causes us to be more sympathetic of those other experiences and, better, to learn from those experiences.

It’s like making plans to place your hand on a hot stove and then reading an account of what happened when someone else did the same thing. By reading the thoughts and experiences of others, you can save yourself.

Another way of putting it might be this: Life is a mine field and our experiences form the map we use to traverse it. As I move forward, I either develop theories about where mines are located or determine through painful experience exactly where mines are located. By reading of the experiences of others, I not only can learn the exact location of some mines, I can also gain knowledge that refines my theories about where possible mines are located. My map only covers a small part of the field. Blogging is, in effect, sharing my map with the world. Reading blogs is allowing the world to add to my map and refine it. The end result hopefully being that I step on fewer mines and live a longer, happier life.

Blogging is good for the world.

I love the movie A Far Off Place. There is a scene at the beginning of the film where Reese Witherspoon’s character is arguing with her father about the ethicacy and efficacy of two different approaches to the problem of poaching. He believes in addressing it peacefully and she believes in hunting down the poachers and shooting them.

Nonie: You know, Dad, people need to stand up and fight for what they believe in, or things will never change.

Nonie’s Dad: People need to sit down and talk, or people will never change.

I think blogging is yet another wonderful chance for global communication. I get to sit at my computer and read the inner thoughts of a teenager in the U.K., a world-wise woman in the Netherlands or a struggling musician on the East Coast of the U.S. There are so many different people with so many different paths and points of view. The ability to share the world with them and be aware of the fact that I share this world with them is an amazing gift; one that should be shared.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Crazy Conversations

My husband and I are a little crazy, I think. At least, we have these crazy-people conversations. It seems like the really crazy/silly conversations happen when we're getting ready for bed. I think it's mostly his fault.

For example, I got a new shampoo that I thought made my hair smell nice. I ask a simple question and this is what happened.

Me: Smell my hair. Doesn’t it smell nice?

Hubby: (Laughs) Smell my butt. It smells nice.

Me: No it doesn’t.

Hubby: How do you know it doesn’t? Have you smelled it?

Me: No. I don’t have to. It smells like butt. You know how I know? Because it IS a butt.

Hubby: Not necessarily. For all you know my butt could smell like daisies. You don’t know, because you haven’t smelled it. You wanted me to smell your hair but you won’t smell my butt.

Me: There’s a big difference between smelling someone’s hair and smelling someone’s butt.

Hubby: My butt has hair and I submit to you that the hair on my butt smells like daisies and until you’re willing to smell my butt and prove me wrong you’re going to have to concede that.

Me: So be it. Your butt smells like daisies. Are you happy?

Hubby: Very.

Me: You won’t be.

Hubby: What does that mean?

Me: Oh nothing.

Hubby: Okaaaay. … Good night.

Me: Good Night, Daisy.

Hubby: … Touché.