Saturday, May 11, 2013

For my sons on Mother's Day 2013

My precious boys, today is "Mother's Day" a holiday created by the fine folks at Hallmark cards to "honor" mom's and make sure that many a harried husband and child runs in desperation to their local Hallmark store to buy cards, presents, flowers, and try to throw money at mom to compensate for a years worth of use and abuse of the aforementioned mom. I know neither one of you is rolling in dough and there is nothing that costs money that I need this year. Please read the following list of things I would like for Mother's Day.

1. Remember you are loved today-and not just by me, by your Nana, your Nan, your aunties and uncles, both honorary and biological, and a myriad of other friends who have become our family through the years of your lives. The fact that you are loved is important, and not to be taken for granted. There are many lonely people in the world, and you too will also have times where you are very lonely, but you are now and will always be loved by me and by one another and you will never be alone.
2. Remember you are lucky. You will have good days and bad days, successes and terrible failures, regardless you are very lucky young men by virtue of the fact that you are caucasian, male, and citizens of the United States. Simply by the happenstance of your birth you are both luckier than the vast majority of human beings on the earth who live in poverty related to need, education, location, and discrimination. Please do not take this for granted-use the power you possess as educated young men to advocate for those in this world who do not have your voice. SPEAK UP when you see or hear injustice. Announce to any and all who would hear you that you believe in EQUALITY for all people, all over the world, all the time.
3. Remember where you came from-spend time with older people in your family and in your community. You have no idea how much they can tell you about who you are and why you are the way you are. So much of the people we become is nurtured, but lots of it comes from our ancestors-you both love science fiction and have so many qualities in common with your Daddy. As you get older you may think you need less guidance and advice and can figure everything out on your own. You can, but I promise you it will be harder than necessary. You can always learn something from every person you meet-even if it is learning what NOT to do-trust me, there are many mistakes of my own I truly hope neither of you chooses to repeat.
4. Remember to have faith-my own faith in God has changed throughout my life and continues to change as I continue to grow as a person. I do not expect either of you to have the same faith or beliefs that I have exactly, but I hope you will both find the peace of mind that comes with knowing that there is more to life than just existing in the here and now. My faith has sustained me through some of the most difficult moments of my life and allowed me to pick myself up and begin again, knowing always that God loves me just as I am and God loves you too now and forever.
5. Remember to work hard and be grateful for the opportunity to work. Too many people are without meaningful work and desperately want the opportunity to work and provide for themselves and their loved ones. Please, please take every opportunity you are given to develop your work ethic and find the profession that helps give meaning to your work life. Please show up for work on time, dressed appropriately and be nice to your coworkers. A good way to start this is to treat every job you have as an important one-whether you are busing tables in a restaurant or serving fries at McDonald's there is a way to do those jobs with enthusiasm and to do them to a high degree of quality. Your first job will not be the last one you ever have, but the impression you make on people at that first job can last forever.
6. Remember to laugh everyday, especially at yourself. Having a sense of humor is a very important survival skill, being able to laugh at yourself will help you be more successful in all of your relationships:work, family, school, love. Because you are human beings you will screw up and do things that make you look like a fool. If you are able to laugh when you spill something on yourself or spill something on your mother in law, you will be able to put other people at ease and allow them to be themselves too!
7. Remember to have manners. "Please" and "Thank you" may seem like old fashioned concepts, but people with manners are remembered in the best possible way, personally and professionally. You want to be the young man who makes eye contact and offers a firm handshake to a potential employer.

Always your mom and biggest fan

Saturday, December 15, 2012


In Connecticut an entire community tries to console children who will never understand why a man they never met killed their friends, their principal, their teachers. My guess is that most of the child survivors of this catastrophic event do not know that the killer also murdered his own mother. That's one of those details that just adds a whole extra layer of despair to the event and would likely be even more upsetting to children who need to believe now more than ever that their parents love them and that their homes are safe places.

It's hard for me to remember when I stopped believing in being safe. There is a turn most people make during growth and development when you acknowledge that bad things happen and life isn't fair, no matter what anyone else tells you. A grandparent dies, a pet gets hit by a car, parents divorce, some event or diagnosis changes the fundamental composition of your childhood and you are forever changed. For my own sons reality came calling cruelly when they were quite small and their papa died in the front yard of our little house. That loss fundamentally changed their childhoods and removed the pretense of fairness from their lives.

As the years have passed I have struggled as a single working parent and as a working parent with a blended family trying to find the balance between being present for every moment of their childhoods and acknowledging that I cannot do it all. That I can love them fiercely, but I cannot make it to every school event and that's ok. Is it fair? I don't know. It's honest and true. I'm not a good mom when I try to be Wonder Woman. I'm a better mom when I acknowledge I need rest, exercise, work that challenges me, friendships, and my own mental health breaks. I'm also a better mom when I take my antidepressant medication. The choice I made to seek help and take medication has made it possible for me to experience success in my professional life and make progress in my personal relationships as well. It's also allowed me to be a loving, devoted mom and not be incapacitated by depression and the darkness that accompanied it for me.

When I sought help for my depression I had health insurance, could afford the copayments for my medications, and I was educated about how the medicines worked, what side effects to expect, and how to cope with them, or who to call for help. But I am in the minority. There is a vast number of Americans who are coping with mental illness everyday with little or no help from anyone. No insurance, no medication, no therapy. no understanding of the fact that what is happening to them is an illness, not a failing. For many years my dearest friend worked in mental health social work managing the care of adults with severe mental illness who had been released from state hospitals after extended hospitalizations. She and her staff would provide these folks with case management, daily medication management and every kind of support they could possibly need to become a part of the community they lived in. Her program enjoyed great success and received an award for the high number of clients who returned to employment in their communities and were able to remain healthy and stable.

It was a lovely award, but the bittersweet part of it was that those clients who experienced great success ended up being forced out of the services they were getting because they got "better."  They didn't get better in the way one recovers from an appendectomy-they got "stable." They had help remembering to take their medications and learning to manage life outside an institution, they had a network of people who were invested in their success, and they had someone they could call 24 hours a day if their illness became too much of a burden. A lot of this sounds like the things most parents do for teenagers as they transition to young adult life-but we all know that lots of people don't have the benefit of those kind of parents. A lot of people with severe mental illness no longer have any family support because their families are worn out, spent, or perhaps fighting their own battles. Some reach middle age successfully and then experience a sharp decline in their mental health status after the death of an aged parent who managed to keep them safe and sound.

So what happened to those clients who got forced out of my friends program? They mostly ended up back in the criminal justice system, psychiatric emergency rooms, or state hospitals after suicide attempts because without the ongoing case management they needed they just couldn't stay healthy. Mind you the cost of helping them keep it together through outpatient case management and necessary psychiatric medications was miniscule compared to the cost of flushing them back through the judicial system, and caring for them 24 hours a day in an institution. Additionally, those who experienced a psychotic episode or another suicide attempt often were never able to rehabilitate to the same level they had previously attained. They would now only be able to rehab to a new lower level of health and stability.

I don't know why Adam Lanza killed his mother or why he took a cache of weapons to an idyllic school building and opened fire on children who had done nothing to him, ever. There is no answer to that question that will be satisfying to anyone. I have to believe that there was a psychological "break" in Adam's mind and that as he slaughtered those human beings he was no longer the boy his parents and brother loved. Whether anyone ever determines if he had a diagnosed mental illness or not, he clearly needed help of some kind-whether that was in the form of the therapy or medication we will never know. What I do know is that he was another mother's son. On the day of his birth a woman very much like me marveled at his tiny fingers and wee small nose, and cried at the joy of his safe arrival.

As we go forward with grieving those killed in Connecticut by Lanza and debate the merits of gun legislation we would be wise to focus on what we are willing to pay as a society for having children believe they are safe. Gun legislation that makes sense and isn't dictated by the NRA, absolutely. But there is more to it than that. There is no point in having stricter gun laws if we are not willing to adequately fund treament for all types of mental illness for all people in the United States, including immigrants, children, veterans, the aging, and the incarcerated. Beyond that there is no point in advocating for further funding for mental health treatment if we are not willing to make sure people with mental illness get the same opportunities for work and life that people with other chronic illnesses receive. No one with diabetes is being blackballed from a new job or advancement-the same cannot be said for someone who acknowledges a history of mental illness.

If we truly want a country where children get to believe they are safe in their kindergarten classrooms and parents can feel safe dropping them off in the carpool line we have to be willing to do the work that is necessary to make our communites safer and get our fellow citizens the help they need and the ability to seek it out without fear of discrimination and the ability to receive it without regard to cost. When we deny individuals who are ill the treatment they need, we all pay a very heavy price indeed. The investment in comprehensive mental health care reform and legislation would provide an opportunity for a kind of safety that is priceless.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Troy Davis

After a brief delay by the U.S. Supreme Court, convicted murderer, Troy Davis was killed by the state of Georgia just an hour ago. I woke up after falling asleep knowing about the stay of execution, yet knowing his death was almost a forgone conclusion. He has been awaiting completion of his sentence for 22 years through a vast number of appeals and stays of execution. Members of his family and the family of slain policeman Mark McPhail were present for his death, and a media observer stated that the McPhail family, "seemed to get some satisfaction," from the death of Davis.

I don't doubt they are satisfied that this miserable chapter in their lives and their continuing grief is closed. Open forever will be the wound of losing a beloved man, and despite their vocal pronouncements that they are,"100 percent sure," of Davis' guilt and responsibility in the death of their loved one, they will live with the myriad of questions that government sanctioned murder brings to bear on all of us. For his part, Davis never wavered in his denial of wrongdoing, and in his final moments he offered God's blessing on those prison officials responsible for his impending death by lethal injection.

We are a country of contradiction on the value of human life. My faith and my practice as a member of the Catholic Church have led me to the a very firm conviction that capital punishment is morally and ethically wrong, and fatally flawed and the current Pope was one of many world leaders who denounced the planned murder of Davis and asked for clemency. Most tellingly for me were the denouncements by conservative Georgia politicians, the former director of the FBI, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Former President Jimmy Carter. I don't agree with many of the churches stances on social issues, but I do admire the consistency of valuing all human life.

There will be many advocates for the death penalty who will trot out the concept of justice based on "an eye for an eye," but with that notion comes the archaic belief we live in a world that is not colored in shades of gray. Justice in the U.S. is not applied in a just manner, even the most conservative political persons will acknowledge that human error has been responsible for false convictions, and in many cases wrongful deaths in the case of convicted persons being murdered and then being exonerated post mortem by physical evidence. Since 1973, 173 men have been released from death row with the discovery of evidence and the advent of DNA technology.

There is a large body of research performed by all manner of learned individuals, both politically liberal and conservative, that has consistently determined that the death penalty is not a deterrent for violent crime, that it is not applied consistently with regard to victims and their accused offenders race or ethnic background, and that economically it is a money pit of epic proportions. Estimates by news organizations and advocacy groups on both sides of the issues have determined that it costs well over 4 times as much to commit government sanctioned murder, than to house an individual for over 40 years at the maximum level of security.

On a purely emotional level I cannot imagine the heartbreak of losing a loved one to a violent crime, and on that gut level I can well imagine wanting, wishing, and longing for the death of the perpetrator. That is exactly why members of a murdered persons family are not serving on the jury-objectivity is lost, no matter how devoted one is to the cause of truth, human nature overrides the desire for truth and justice on so many every day matters in life, how could we not expect it to be a lost cause in matters of death.

Capital Punishment is a complex, convoluted, and misapplied concept because of the very fact that human beings are in charge of it and if we truly believe that having a society that protects and values life is important then we have to value the lives of the guilty as well as the innocent. Why? Because one day it could be you or I that stand falsely accused and facing death-and no one, executioner, judge or jury member, should bear the emotional cost of government sanctioned murder in the name of justice.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hitler, Beck- separated at birth?

GLENN BECK, on his radio show, likening the camp on the Norwegian island of Utoya to the Hitler Youth
 I heard this quote this morning and read it online and all I can say is, what the hell are you talking about?
Let's break it down. "There was a shooting at a political camp," No, Mr Beck there was a shooting at a Youth Camp sponsored by a Norwegian political party. The camp was focused on developing leadership skills, teaching grassroots political activism, and offering inspiration and encouragement to young people about their country and it's continued promise and potential. Sounds a lot like a Young Republicans or Young Democrats conference, Rock the Vote meeting, or summer camp for political geeks.
"Which sounds a little like Hitler Youth." No, Mr. Beck the Hitler Youth organization was compulsory, it's only purpose was to prepare German boys for military service and German girls for motherhood. Children were forced to attend meetings until late in the evening and the meetings were so stressful, many children suffered academically and physically with teachers complaining of poor attendance at school due to late night meetings and drills.
"Or, whatever." Mr. Beck if you are going to throw out the name of Hitler either come prepared to have a real conversation or be quiet. I realize this is a foreign concept to you but give it a whirl, or whatever.
"I mean, who does a camp for kids that's all about politics." The camp is actually not all about politics. Like most summer camps it's about swimming, soccer, smooching the cute girl from the town across the river and playing guitar around a camp fire. There were political speakers on a variety of topics and there were discussion groups on everything from politics to Norwegian history. Here in the U.S. the American Legion, political parties, the Masons, churches, and state governments all sponsor youth summer activities to teach young people about how they can impact their society. All of these camps have a particular political or ideological bent, and no one compares them to Hitler.
"Disturbing." No Mr. Beck, the camp itself is not disturbing. What's disturbing about this absurd and appalling commentary from you is how it continues to show how ill informed you are, and how you seemingly do not care to get all the facts before you open your mouth and slander a nation of people in mourning.
Right now, the people of Norway are dealing with an emotional tragedy and facing the harsh reality that people with beliefs like the admitted gunman seek haven inside the borders of their tolerant Nordic country. The actual comparison to Hitler might have actually been appropriate if it had been made as a comparison to the gunman, Anders Breivik, who views himself as a Christian fundamentalist set upon affirming the need to destroy Muslim culture and acceptance of Muslim's into "white society." In his manifesto of hatred Breivik mentioned a variety of anti Islamic bloggers as his heroes and I imagine he and Hitler would have had a lot in common, including a maniacal myopia regarding their importance to the rest of the world.
Not unlike Mr. Beck himself.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Love, loyalty, and wizarding

*SPOILER ALERT-if you have not yet read Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows-do not read this post

Before Nicholas and Henry were born I had already begun reading the Harry Potter series and with each new book I revelled in the joy of getting lost in another world. As my babies became boys we got in the habit of listening to the books on CD in the car or at bedtime. Soon one or both of them would be pointing a stick at the other in the backyard and yelling "You great prat!" As time has passed they have practiced their Unforgivable Curses, hunted for just the right stick/wand, longed for their own Quidditch pitch, and, of course, the sword of Godric Gryffindor.

So by the time the opening of the final movie began on Friday I was feeling overwhelmed by "THE END." I gasped when I saw the Quidditch fields ablaze, I wept when Harry finally got to see into Severus Snapes heart via the Pensieve, and I delighted in watching Maggie Smith and the other professors defend Hogwarts to the death. The movie was not exactly like the book, but every moment of it did service to the words in print and to the character J.K. Rowling so lovingly brought to vivid life page after page.

Now here I am days later still pondering Mr. Potter and what his story means to me and mine. When the movie finished we ate supper, all four of us talking at once about our favorite parts, characters, lines. The boys were in heaven dissecting the movie and were even willing to listen and hear what Bob and I had to say about Professor Snape's terrible choice of Voldemort in his early wizarding life and how that one choice, ruined every possible moment of joy he could have had in life. Harry Potter is more than a book to me and mine, because his story transcends wizardry and Death Eaters for real life.

The boys identified with Harry missing parents he didn't remember, and as they have gotten older, they identify with not quite fitting in with the Muggles around them. How I wish there were a Hogwarts summer camp they could go geek out at! Beyond the joy of friendships and learning Harry, Ron, and Hermione made mistakes-sometimes big ones, and learned to ask for help and forgiveness. They learned that loving people means acknowledging their flaws and loving them regardless (brash Sirius, common senseless Hagrid).

They learned that being brave doesn't mean not being scared whether that was riding a hippogrif, dealing with ginormous spiders, facing the school bully, or swallowing potion and becoming Bellatrix. They cheered for the little guy (Dobby, Flitwick) and how even wizards could be cruel to other species (centaurs, Giants, dragons)

They learned to value the eccentric (dear sweet Luna) and the awkward (heroic Neville), to value smarts (Ginny) over money or fame (Professor Slughorn) and to recognize that all people, no matter how difficult you may find them to interact with, have their own life story unfolding-and it is sometimes a heart breaker (Snape). Most importantly they learned the value of being loyal, not just to oneself or friends, but to your beliefs and they learned that there are worse things than dying and that those we love change us forever, and remain with us forever. Not unlike a truly magical book.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bachmann Blues

It's funny now that at 42, I see the world through my children's eyes and see how much progress we have made in terms of women being capable of being a part of most any profession. As a little girl in the 1970's, the idea of a "lady" doctor or "lady" policeman was still a rare thing, and a female soldier or firefighter, forget about it. When Geraldine Ferraro was nominated for Vice President on Walter Mondale's ticket it seemed like a gimick to get the attention of voters, not an effort to actually have a gender balanced alliance in the White House.

I marvel at the fact that my kids live in a culture that has women professionals of every kind, a female Secretary of State and a mixed race President-but I admit to having a sense of dread as the new presidential election looms ahead of our country. Not the,"Oh dear Lord, please not another campaign ad," dread, but rather the,"there are two female presidential candidates and both make me embarrassed to be a woman," kind of dread.

There really isn't much I could add to the discussion on Sarah Palin at this point-I think time has proven over and over again that she is all hat and no cattle. She is the Dr. Phil of presidential politics, full of folksy witticisms and "common sense talk" and her nonsense plays to the crowds she chooses to address. Mind you, that's all she's actually done since the last election, talk to people who want to drink from her Kool Aid stand. She has never been part of any substantive discussions on issues of importance to American voters where anyone present might disagree with her.

Michelle Bachmann on the other hand appears poised to steal Palin's thunder despite her persistant inability to pronounce common words or speak competently about American history. It's not about her being conservative. Honest to goodness. I would be more than happy to see a competent, articulate, conservative female run for President. I could listen to her debate our current President and be willing to acknowledge her strengths, despite my left leaning tendencies. But for the life of me, I cannot bear the thought that we are going to be forced to wade through the muck of another presidential race that involves the incessant correction of facts, mispronounciations, and disclaimers that will come with a Bachmann candidacy.

It is as if some part of the conservative nominating base has determined that the only way Americans will vote for a woman is if she looks like she fell out of a PTA meeting at the local Talbots. She is white, trim, always immaculately dressed, and her hair is a helmet of perfection. She is the Stepford wife candidate and what disheartens me most is that, she appears to get all of her political ideas spoonfed to her, and when she does pop off with some little gem of her own-it's usually factually incorrect.

In just the last month she has incorrectly named John Quincy Adams as one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence, signed a pledge that glamourizes the family life of slavery, and announced her pride at being a part owner of her husband's Christian therapy clinic which espouses the concepts of "praying the Gay away" and converting homosexuals via prayer.

I do not like all of the decisions President Obama makes, I haven't liked all the decisions any president I did or did not vote for has made in my last 20 odd years of voting. I don't actually think I have to like Mr. Obama in order to respect his ability to govern our country. I respect President Obama because he has shown a healthy respect for the process he is part of, while acknowledging it's glaring deficiencies. He is intelligent, learned, compassionate, and articulate. He also readily acknoweldges that he is not an expert on every subject facing our country-but he will find the right people for the job.

I believe our country deserves to trust that the office of the President will be held by someone who believes in the importance of the office, but takes the reins with humility, a desire to serve, and the willingness to learn. We cannot afford to elect or even waste time listening to someone so arrogant that she would argue the validity of her Adams misstatement with the press or proclaim her pride in being a part of a "medical" clinic that accepts taxpayers dollars, while providing treatment that is grossly negligent.

I believe our country has moved far enough down the road of gender equality to have qualified candidates, both male and female, we don't need another Palin, and she may claim her individuality, but the fact is, Michele Bachmann is nothing new. She is ignorant, arrogant, and disposable and no President of the United States can afford those three character traits, no matter how good they look in a red dress and heels.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Independence from Beck

"I'm so sick and tired of being in the system. I'm not going to play the game anymore." Glenn Beck, signing off from his Fox News program on Friday, July 1, 2011.
Oh, please. Would that we could all actually believe he is actually going to sit down and shut up.
No, no he is taking his crazy train to his own Web TV channel, eponymously named, GBTV, which sounds a little too much like a sexually transmitted disease for my liking, but perhaps that is the point. Glenn Beck, or at least his manufactured, not ready for prime time persona is as virulent as a case of the clap. Worse still, it will be a daily two hour extravaganza of hyperconservative half baked nonsense...almost makes me want to go back to dial up Internet service.
Here's my real problem with Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and others like them who claim to represent "the average frustrated God fearing American." They don't know American history, they don't fact check their own comments, and they don't understand that even the most average American would really like their elected officials to be better than average.
I am not a economics whiz, yet I think the person running the Treasury should be and I think the Secretary of State ought to have a little background and hands on experience in foreign relations and diplomacy. What the hell, let's go crazy and make sure that the people planning and leading troops into battle, actually have experience doing that while we're at it.

I do not want a folksy every person who knows half of the Declaration of Independence and is muddy on the details regarding the founding fathers (Michele Bachmann) to represent me and my country to the rest of the world. As it is, America lags behind every other developed country in educating our children and the current crop of politicos making news simply adds to the chain of evidence.

Glenn Beck revels in creating drama, even manufacturing it on occasion. He delights in pointing out the foolishness of liberals and Democrats but forgets that he is playing with a double edged sword. Once you tread down the path of name calling and vitriol it is impossible to come back to the land of sane, reasonable debate. Moderates have stopped even trying to reason with Beck for that very reason.

There have been conservative talk show pundits before and they managed to keep the highway of conversation flowing in both directions, intelligently and with respect for all parties involved. William F. Buckley was witty and irascible. He wasn't necessarily likable, but he knew his facts and he didn't pick a fight with someone if he didn't know what the hell he was talking about-whether you agreed with him or not you were likely to get a well thought out argument.

And that is exactly my point-this is supposed to be a democracy and part of the democratic process is, or should be, well reasoned, rational debate. Year after year our country becomes more diverse in every possible way and with that diversity comes an increasing number of divergent views-again, that's the way it should be. Part of the health of our growing democracy should be based on the kind of free and open debate we are able to have as Americans.

Free of vitriol, open to the exchange of ideas that are different from our own, and debated in a manner that does service to the men and women who founded an imperfect democracy.

"Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner." James Bovard

Happy Independence from Inflammatory Argumentative Nonsense Day!