Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What Should Matter in This Election (and Always)

Human dignity.

I'd like to propose that supporting human dignity serves as a guiding principle in prioritizing policies and spending in our society.

And then, because we are not the only living beings relying on the resources of our planet, I suggest we consider the health and welfare of local and global ecosystems as well.  The dignity of my children and their children's children depends on it.

In education we often plan curriculum by envisioning the desired outcome first and then planning "backwards":  designing a map of the journey to achievement from a beginning.  Imagining that our society's goal is to produce and sustain dignified, self-sufficient, healthy and contributing individuals, we can also imagine what our society needs in place to promote such citizens.

Supporting human dignity starts with our youngest citizens, infants.  Or, perhaps, it starts with our citizens who are pregnant or potentially pregnant.

It's a huge responsibility to feed, grow, nurture a human.  Understanding that there may be No Greater Responsibility (nor greater influence than parenting on the fellow humans with whom we occupy space), supports for parents and the potential parents among us is a priority.

The more unplanned, unhealthy pregnancies there are, particularly if choices to discontinue unwanted pregnancies are limited, the more Big Government we need.  Babies born to unprepared, unhealthy people or families invariably need assistance or interventions  Adoptions require regulation and management.  Children awaiting adoption or whose parents are temporarily deemed unfit need foster care.  Foster families and adopted children often benefit from additional resources.  Government provides these services.

First, let's acknowledge and dignify human sexuality and promote healthy, safe options for both expressing sexuality and preventing pregnancy.  Education dignifies.  We should continue look for more ways to promote healthy bodies and minds.  Let's nurture young people to respect their own and others' bodies and see themselves as beautiful inside and out.

Speaking of education, I think we should acknowledge that educating our citizenry is only second to parenting in Great Responsibilities, and it deserves being treated as such in terms of attention and resource allocation.  The path to dignified, independent, self-sufficient, and healthy adulthood runs right through classrooms.  With the goal of fostering independence, critical thinking, and ingenuity, schools should continue to develop programs that assist young people in determining how to both sustain themselves and contribute to a functioning society.  Whether or not graduating high school students plan on post-secondary education or work, we ought to be laying the foundations from preschool on, increasing the number of courses and pathways designed to match student interests and talents with the jobs and careers relevant to a changing society.  That means more partnerships and internships with industries and opportunities for young people to be actively involved in their communities while in school.

We had a long summer, the kids and I.  Cuts to education in the form of furloughs mean shorter school years for all of us.  I traveled and camped with them, took them to museums and beaches.  But as I signed my girls up for summer camps, swiping my credit card and signing checks for enriching experiences at the zoo, park, and pool during weeks when I worked, I couldn't help but think of families with fewer resources, whose children were likely stuck at home with parents either working or not working in this flailing economy, languishing in the heat, hanging around the block and buying soda and chips from the corner store.  I began to think that long summers aren't so healthy for all families and children. 

We need more affordable programs and childcare so the families we implore to get off welfare and get a job have an incentive:  earnings that exceed the cost of babysitters and camps.  On the flip side, opportunities offered for children to exercise and maintain math, literacy, and critical thinking skills.  Opportunities to build things and be creative.   Opportunities to be productive, independent, and proud. 

Coincidentally, look what a bunch of kids in Minnesota did at a creative summer YMCA camp:  an homage to Hot Cheetos and professionals collaborating with kids to encourage creative expression, group projects, and culture.  More of this, please. 

Let's keep working to make college affordable and meaningful.  Let's invest more in community colleges and career/technical/vocational programs which result in job placements.  Let's do our best to make healthcare affordable and accessible for all. 

Let's dignify the struggles of those working to overcome addictions, mental illness, and homelessness with programs that foster safety, independence, and self-sufficiency.

Let's dignify the relationships of adults who love each other and recognize their marriages. 

Let's dignify aging citizens by providing resources for them and the families who support them. 

Let's reach across party lines and agree on some key things that matter (I think it's possible!).

While I fear months of vitriolic campaign ahead, I am remaining hopeful. 

As I've written before, "I recognize my sense of well being as highly affected by the well being of those around me." 

Call me selfish, but I'm going to vote with that in mind. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Old, New, Borrowed, Blue

It was the first time I slept on our new air mattress, camping.  I even felt a little guilty, like I was cheating on camping.  But my hips thanked me for passing on the Target One Spot yoga mats to our daughters for sleeping pads.

I lay in my sleeping bag on a hot summer night made cool by the mesh roof of our tent and the being-outside-ness.  Our tent, a family double-wide, was a freebie from a friend, and the five of us (including borrowed nephew) fit with plenty of room for more friends.  I slept smack dab in the middle between husband and nephew, flanked by daughters, with an amphitheater-like view of stars above.

I felt a surge of affection for my sleeping bag, an REI mummy model I mush instead of roll when I stow it away so as not to stretch the seams.  My mother had sewn in half, lengthwise, an old blue sheet of my brother's from his childhood bed linens, explaining that the cotton layer would make sleeping inside a nylon bag more comfortable, less sweaty.  She was right. I'd found the sheet at the bottom of my cinch sack, where I'd kept it packed faithfully for twenty years. I recalled how gritty it and my eyelids and nostrils had become when I slept outside in a Moroccan sandstorm.

My sleeping bag and I backpacked on the Appalachian trail with eighth graders.  It traveled to Kenya, Tanzania, and Morocco.  It had hung from trees to dry out after rain.  I tried, once, to zip it together with a boyfriend's bag.

My sleeping bag brought me back to my solo days, when a summer adventure cost only one plane ticket and my own gumption and supplies.  Only I and the sleeping bag and the sheet inside connected the Me of 15 years ago to this moment, camping under the stars with my family and friends.

On an evening hike with Big Sis, as she experienced the natural high and exhilaration of wide open space and birdsand deer and lizards and jack rabbits and unexpected tarantulas on the trail, she turned to me and exclaimed, "Mom, I want to camp as often as we can.  And I want to go camping for my whole life."

Amen, sister.  And maybe when you're 41, you can sleep on an air mattress.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

It's What's for Dinner

Husband coached out of town for my first week back to work after summer, which meant early-morning camp drop-off for the girls and exhaustion for all of us. (Oh, how often I bow down to single parents and partners of deployed spouses!  This week, I paid homage again). 

I didn't feel like cooking.  My clientele were tired, listless, and cranky.  Even beans and rice felt too ambitious. 

So we kept it simple (and sodium rich!). 

Almost MRE.

Scrounging the cupboards for the easiest and cheapest meal options reminded me of my post-college days in Washington, D.C., when I shared an apartment with two roommates and we had the opportunity to analyze and/or adopt one another's eating habits.  One of my roommates had a "default" meal--the dinner she would eat right before payday or when creativity, motivation, or other groceries (including ours) had run out.  She dubbed it Corn As A Meal. 

Corn as a Meal relied on one staple:  frozen corn.  At its most basic, Corn As A Meal comprised corn and salt and pepper, heated in the microwave in a big bowl and eaten in front of the TV.  Sometimes Corn As A Meal included hotdogs, cheese, other vegetables, or more exotic herbs. 

My roommate's "Frozen Starch" As A Meal backup plan inspired a phase when I would enjoy Peas As A Meal (tasty with parmesan cheese, by the way).  And my other roommate would fix herself Rice As A Meal. 

Despite the billing spaghetti-os, mac 'n' cheese and ramen enjoyed this week, ideally, Big Sis would love a caprese salad for dinner, and Little Sis would prefer Trail Mix As A Meal (and it would be nice if I'd go ahead and remove everything but the chocolate chips, please). 

What's your default dinner, folks?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Me and Myself: A Discussion.

In this post:  Me, taking on Myself.  Who has not been, uh, Myself, lately.

Me:  Dude, you hardly slept last night.  Athletes are busy competing and winning medals in various events in London and here on the home front you are kicking tail in self-denigration.  Which is not a congratulations, by the way. Winning a medal in self-flagellation would not make Me feel better about you, because that would only mean that you are excelling at annoying Me, which is...annoying.  Seriously.  I want Myself back.

Myself:  Yep, that's the bummer about being in a state of negative self-appraisal--it is like a dog chasing its own tail.  I feel like a jerk for feeling like a jerk.

Me:  These are not productive thoughts at 1:30 AM.  I need some sleep, yo.

Myself:  I was making a list of all the things I told Big Sis we would do "later," and feeling guilty about them.  I haven't fixed her bracelet.  I haven't planted seeds, like she asked a week ago.  I didn't get the hot glue gun out this morning so she could add one more thing to her fairy house...

Me:  Ok, look.  You read two unhelpful pieces of literature last night before you went to bed and lost all perspective.

Myself:  Hey, those were two very helpful, insightful, well-written pieces...

Me:  Not at night!

Myself:  Okay, you're right, not at night...(why is that, anyway??). But now it's night, and I want to keep reading Cheryl Strayed's memoir, Wild, even if it makes me cry and worry about my mother, and everyone else's mother, dying.

Me:  I am really hoping all these mortality fears are a phase, because, yikes.

Myself:  Cheryl Strayed writes, consoling herself after the death of her mother, "Nothing bad could happen to me, I thought.  The worst already had." But see, this was before she had kids, because there's that whole world of worry she hadn't yet anticipated...

Me:  Your kids are fine, if not a little anxious...Hey!  What a coincidence!

Myself:  Are you saying I am projecting my anxiety?  Making the girls worried or stressed?  Should I be worried about that?

Me:  You already are.  GAHHHHHHHHHHH.  Would it help if I reminded you that there are people with tangible, right-now worries who don't have the luxury of imagining dire scenarios?

Myself:  I talk to Myself about that all the time.  Go ahead and join the peanut gallery.

Me:  Can you channel some Buddhism here and let go of the things over which you have no control?

Myself:  I am good at that on airplanes.  But when I am driving...That's why I am also worrying about the quality of my relationships.  I have more control over those.

Me:  Okay, so you read an interview with Gabor Mate in The Sun, who reminds you that parenting is not "about techniques.  Parenting is about a relationship."  Don't go crazy cataloging all the things you're not doing for and with the girls; enjoy them.  Practice being more present, more patient.

Myself:  Okay.  I am trying.  I hate it when I'm shrill.  And controlling.

Me:  So do I.

Myself:  Really?  Am I that bad?

Me:  Stop it.  Right now.

Myself:  Sigh.

Me:  Give yourself a big break!  You tell others to do that all the time!  What is it with you this summer?

Myself:  I'm not sure.  On the bright side, I think feeling like this helps me have more empathy for others experiencing a funk.

Me:  I think you need to go back to work.

Myself:  Isn't that sad?

Me:  I don't think so.  I think you have balance when your esteem is fed by the relationships you nurture and work you do at your job, along with being a present parent and partner.  I think it's harder for you--for some reason--to have all your eggs in the family basket.

Myself:  I am far more critical of myself as a parent.

Me:  I don't think you're alone in that.  And I think everyone benefits from having an external form of building pride and faith and belief in oneself.  Which doesn't have to be work outside the home, per se, for everyone.

Myself:  Running isn't enough for me.

Me:  Nope, and that's okay.  It's one outlet--or inlet--but you need those interactions working at school provides.

Myself:  Nevertheless, I fantasize about not working.

Me:  Of course.  But truly, you'd love to work part-time.

Myself:  And then I feel a little selfish, or spoiled.  There are so many women in this world whose work--and I mean work!  Hauling water, etc.--is never done, and then I think I am having an American, first-world crisis of conscience.

Me:  Well, you are a product of your own society/community and its demands.  And beating yourself up for feeling this way isn't helpful.  Seeking out the sources of these feelings, and then making adjustments in lifestyle and approach is a more productive strategy than wringing your hands and wondering what the heck is wrong with you.

Myself:  Talking about it and writing about it is therapeutic.   I told a friend recently that I'd like to feel "more awe and less fear."  I've been there; I want it back.

Me:  Simplify, sister.

Myself:  I am working on it.

Me:  Good.  So...can we sleep tonight, maybe?

Myself:  After the Olympics :).