Tuesday, October 26, 2010

And just because it's not always about a high-handed social statement...

There have been moments -- actually, strings of moments that lasted weeks sometimes -- over the last year during which I had doubts I would ever truly feel like a parent again. Parenting a teen is nothing like parenting a school-age child.  And parenting a teen who was raised by someone who doesn't always share your value system is like parenting a difference species.  Not judging, mind you; it's just that different folks can approach the same things very differently.

This week was not like that.  This week, I felt like a parent again.

Back at the beginning of the school year, Daisy Mae and I made a deal:  if she could get through the entire first quarter without missing any assignments in school -- not a homework, not a quiz, nothing -- she could have a Halloween party.   A real one with decorations and friends and music that was too loud and a bonfire.

Well, Saturday night she had her party.  The house and the deck were decorated up, we built a bonfire of epic size in the front fire pit, I moved the stereo onto the screened porch (where, if I had my druthers, it would stay forever), and we cooked up enough food for a small army. 

About 15 kids showed up.  It was big enough to be fun for everyone and small enough to be controllable for a first party.  The kids were great.  They danced.  They sang Top40 dreck.   They played on the swings and hung out around the fire.  They threw candy at each other.  Nothing was broken; the mess was nothing extraordinary, and outside of some minor irritation due to the preponderant habit of teens to open a can of pop, drink 2 ounces and then abandon the can, I couldn't complain about anything for the evening.

It was fun.  And I was really proud of Daisy.  She made sure everyone felt welcome, and introduced everyone around.  She hugged everyone hello and goodbye.  She mingled. 

Twice, she came inside and thanked me for helping her throw the party.  And she meant it.

It's good to see your kids succeed. It's even better to encourage and see them earn a genuine reward.  I'm looking forward to doing this again sometime.

Floating Dichotomy

My Facebook status yesterday said this:

People in Haiti and around the world are dying because they do not have fresh, clean drinking water. How thankful we should be for a hot shower.

The most effective treatment for the Cholera epidemic that is sweeping through Haiti right now -- more effective than antibiotics -- is clean water.  That's it.  Both prevention and cure. And yet it is too expensive and too difficult to deliver to most who need it.

I was at an AIDS conference a few years back and the keynote speaker stood up at the podium and poured a 16-ounce glass of ice water and set it down.  Then he said "If this was the cure for AIDS, most of those who need it couldn't afford it."

And here we are, nestled in the Great Lakes Basin, dumping enough of that precious cure on our bodies every day (10 gallons in a five-minute shower) to keep five active Cholera patients alive -- ten, if they are children.  In total, the average American uses 50 gallons of fresh water daily for bathing, dish-washing, clothes washing, toileting, etc...but only drinks about 1 gallon.  And most of that, we have polluted with sugar, caffeine, or other chemicals that don't benefits our bodies.

Making clean water a priority in the world is not rocket science.  Most of it can be accomplished with low-volume pumps, simple filtration, and plastic soda bottles.  

I'm not saying that we should give up showers, or coffee for that matter.  But I am saying that we should know where our blessings lay and realise that not even the worst off among us is having to watch their children die of diseases that can be cured with the most basic of necessities.

Feeling a little thankful today?  Enjoying your morning shower?  Think about supporting one of the organizations that is bringing clean water to the poorest in this world.  I included some links above.

Friday, October 22, 2010

I Got Mine

"Do you know why people are suffering so much more during this recession than many did during the Great Depression?" My husband was in the passenger seat, preparing to give me the answer to his rhetorical question, "It's because folks in the 30s used to have back yard gardens, maybe a few chickens, a goat. They grew and canned their own food, so they could weather an economic storm better than we can now."

I winked, "You're just lobbying for us to get some chickens aren't you? It's always about chickens with you."

He frowned, "I'm serious."

He was serious, and I think in honesty, he was largely right. We were more self-sufficient then. We still made most of what we needed here. Everyone had access to garden and a workshop and women still knew how to sew their own clothing. Making soap wasn't just a yuppie hobby, like it is now.

But I think it's only half the story

You see, what was also different then was that people looked after each other. If your neighbor was struggling, you gave him a share of what you had. My grandmother would keep a pot of soup on the stove nearly all the way through the Depression; when the beggars came to the back door, she would give them a bowl to warm and sustain them; they would sweep her stoop or do a small repair in return. The owner of the greenhouse in town would allow men to sleep in the greenhouse at night during the winter, and in return, they would make sure the fire in the stove stayed lit. They might do a little weeding or re-planting if he threw some bread into the deal. You made sure your neighbor's kids had a safe place to stay and got something to eat, while the neighbor was out looking for work. Nobody had very much, but they shared what they had.

That attitude of abundance, the concept that enough is enough, the idea that "I am my brother's keeper" has been lost in the country. What I hear in this country today, especially from the "Tea Party", is: "I Got Mine. Why should I share it with those bums??" Only I wish they stopped at the word "bums". More often it's "scum", "deadbeats", "towelheads", or words that start with the letter N or the letter F. As in "That n***** president is gonna take my hard-earned money and give it to a bunch of other deadbeat n******"

The Tea Party mouthpieces (and make no mistake; the real leadership of the Tea Party can be found in big business, not in the grass roots) are my contemporaries; they did not live through the Depression. They have not learned the lessons about community and compassion that our grandparents did; or if they did, they have forgotten them on their way to the Temple of the Almighty Dollar.

Where does the blame rest? In my opinion, it is in the most unexpected of places: Social Service Programs. Now don't get all self-righteous on me, or accuse me of having gone off my meds; hear me out.

When we stopped having a human connection to the poor in our communities, when we placed the government in the position of intermediary between the Haves and the Have-nots, we turned our nation's poor from people into amorphous objects. We stopped having that very real, human, physical connection to our charity. We lost the ability to place our hand under the elbow of the ones who have stumbled, and in helping them rise, to see ourselves in their faces. We have lost our sense of, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

In two generations, we have lost our compassion.

Do I think the poor would be better off without Welfare, AFDC, Medicaid, etc? Of course not. They are a lifeline. I would no sooner do away with social services than I would my own job.

So how can I praise and blame our Great Society at the same time? How do we keep the good in our lifelines and eliminate the unintended negative social consequences?


We didn't go far enough. (and I hear the collective sign of relief and your renewed faith in my bleeding-heart-liberal roots)

Let's look at countries like Denmark, Norway, or even France. There is, generally, an economic equality in those nations. Perfect? No. But the sense among the populace there is, "I may not have everything I want, but I have most everything I need; we can choose where to live and what to do, we can elect our officials, we can have a strike if things aren't going according to our liking, and nobody is starving and nobody dies for lack of access to health care."

Why don't we have that? Because in designing our social service programs, our leadership in the 30s 40s and 60s -- and more recently, in 2010 -- wimp-ed out. They bowed to political pressure from the moneyed minority. They didn't design policies that said "Them is us". They didn't say "'Universal' means everyone; no exceptions". They didn't design a system that allowed the rich and the poor to share equally in healthcare, transportation, and other common denominators. If you design a system that only benefits the portion of the population that cannot afford to pay for it, of course you'll get resentment. Our social service structure not only maintained the haves and the have-nots, but it deepened and reinforced the differences between them.

We cannot transform the attitude of an entire nation in the blink of an eye. It will take another two generations to re-learn lessons about compassion and community, and I fear that many of us will suffer a difficult journey getting there. But we must recognize that "I Got Mine" isn't sustainable for very long, and we have to push our leadership to finish the good work that we elected them to start in 2006 and 2008.

Which means, like it or not, we have to bring them back to office this year. Because if the party of "I Got Mine" comes back into power, we will have more in common with pre-revolution France than post-modern Norway.

Yeah, I Got Mine. You wanna share?