Shopping for Essentials: Quarantine Edition

I learned to love grocery shopping when I had toddlers. Face-to-face time with the little ones, guilt-free spending, and social distractions made it a welcome respite from the banality of house-wifery. When I went back to work, my husband took over the grocery shopping, taking our boys with him to beg the angelic cheesemongers and produce managers for samples while I enjoyed some quiet time at home making brunch for the menfolk after a long and hard foraging mission. Our local grocery store of choice has always been New Seasons. They let you eat the groceries you haven’t yet purchased, which has quelled a few tantrums in years gone by. They do business with local farms, ensuring that produce is tastier, cheaper, and has a better carbon footprint than Whole Foods. They treat their employees with respect and pay them well. I love to ask employees why they work for New Seasons. So many of them have left high-pressure jobs to work in a place that values their expertise, offers flexibility, and provides a culture of acceptance, caring, and respect. I could go on and on about New Seasons, but the purpose of my blog today is to describe my experience at New Seasons since Covid-19 sent us working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering-in-place.

Our family, like most other families in the country, is trying to do our best to follow guidelines and flatten the curve. We started shopping with the intent to stock up for 2 weeks at a time. The first time I did this was when I was still working. I started hearing rumors that grocery stores were running out of toilet paper, and I started to get a little paranoid that our family staples might not be available for long. It was a Thursday. The kids’ after school activities were canceled by the end of the day, and the NCAA was announcing that they were canceling tournaments. My plan was to head home from school/work early so that I could get to Costco before most people heading home from work. As we drove by the Costco parking lot, however, I could see that it was unlikely that I’d even find a parking spot at Costco, and dropped the kids off at home so that I could try shopping solo at our neighborhood big-box store. It turned out to be a good choice. I got the last two mega packs of Charmin, and the last twin packs of NyQuil and Jif peanut butter. I got the last two bags of flour (I honestly bake and was low on flour!), the last bag of sugar, and stocked up on a number of staples. No one was acting like anything was unusual. People were smiling at each other. No one had overflowing shopping carts. I cycled through wondering if I was the most insightful or most paranoid person in the store. I was probably a little bit of both. I brought home my booty and told my husband that I may have gone slightly crazy but I wanted to be prepared. I was surprised when my level-headed, maddeningly analytical husband wondered aloud if we should stock up even a bit more. When my rock mirrors my anxiety, it only gets worse.

After work the next day, I hit the Indian stores for more staples. Rice, dal, everything was there, only our favorite brand of rice was completely sold out. I called my husband to make sure I’d gotten everything. It wasn’t long after that I learned our school was being closed a week prior to spring break.

I chose to start writing about the pandemic from this angle because my second greatest fear right now is that I won’t be able to feed my family. A few weeks into the crisis, it appears that these fears are largely unfounded, as a few missing grocery items does not a famine make, but I still can’t shake the feeling that there may come a day that I won’t be able to buy milk, or that the bread will disappear again, or that our toilet paper will run out.

There are worse things. I know. My in-laws laugh because a toilet paper shortage is a first-world problem and a third-world non-issue. I grew up hearing stories about my grandmother living through the great depression and my mother eating the food from a depression-surviving-housewife. I suddenly felt like I could understand their point of view in a whole new way. It’s not the same thing. We are comfortable and have plenty of food. I’m just saying I have a better picture of what it can do to a person.

Grocery shopping has gotten even more surreal. My husband and I went to New Seasons last week, and after our experience, I think I can say with confidence that they are the most virus-conscious grocery store in the area. To begin with, they wouldn’t allow us both to enter the store. They had the entrance cordoned off, and said that they were only allowing a certain number of people into the store at one time, and only one member of each household, unless there were extenuating circumstances (single parents, caretakers, etc). My husband went back to the car, taking our re-usable grocery bags with him, because those weren’t being allowed either, to reduce the chance of outside contamination. When I walked into the store solo, brandishing a freshly sanitized grocery cart, I was surprised that aisles had been blocked off to encourage a one-way gentle flow of traffic through the store. I tiptoed through produce amidst signs stating that employees would immediately move aside if guests needed to get something in their work areas. I purchased meats from the butcher area that was devoid of all beef despite 5lb limits on any one item. I strolled through the still-empty bread aisle toward the fresh bakery, where all items were now pre-cut and pre-bagged. I asked if I could have one of the fresh baguettes they’d taken out of the ovens. They apologized and said that to reduce contact with bakery items, I had to purchase the pre-bagged baguette slices. I think the strangest difference was not the giant orange dots encouraging us to stand 6 feet away from the shopper in front of us in the check-out line, but the plexi glass barriers they’d installed in front of the cashiers. I know some of these cashiers so well that they ask about my kids. One of them had their youngest son within one week of my youngest son. We still compare stats after almost 7 years. It felt odd to wait while they sanitized the entire conveyor belt between each shopper, but it felt positively alien to be separated by barriers. 

It’s a strange new world we’re living in, in so many ways. I hope to document some more of these ways in the upcoming weeks. Lord knows I’ll have the time.

 

Photo credit: https://www.drugtargetreview.com/news/54427/new-virus-surface-characterisation-technique-developed/

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Why I protest

pdx-protest-for-blog

My husband asked me a grating, but valid question the other day:

Why do you want to go to the Women’s March in protest of the Inauguration, anyway? What do you think you’re accomplishing?

Yesterday, pre-march, my answer would have been vastly different. In my heart, I didn’t really believe that marching WOULD make a difference, and therefore, maybe the whole day would be a waste. Nothing more than a little fun in the streets of Portland, Oregon. Something like doing a 5K. Today, I believe that maybe you have to DO something to find out its real purpose.

Today, I went into the streets of Portland by myself. By that, I just mean sans family and friends, because in reality I was anything BUT alone. Walking by myself in the city always feels liberating, with just a hint of danger. That feeling in itself reminded me of why I was marching. Women shouldn’t have to think about what they have on their person that would be an effective weapon in the event of an attack….and yet how many of us have thoughts like that running through our heads every. single. time?

I joined a crowd heading toward the Morrison Bridge, when suddenly I found myself hit a wall of humanity. Well, humanity and umbrellas…and signs…and one awesome vagina dentata (google it, you’ll be happy you did!) that smelled like rosemary. I took a deep breath, and tried gently weaving my way through tiny openings to try to get closer to the heart of the rally. As it started to rain, the wall became a tiny sardine can prison. Thank goodness I’m not claustrophobic. I put my hood over my head, looked down, and moved with the waves. I made it about 20 feet in 45 minutes before people started chanting “start the march! Start the march!” One guy tried to start the crowd chanting “Dump Trump!” But somehow, it never caught on.

At one point, the vagina dentata took off her mask, and asked “does anyone have an extra hair tie?” Milliseconds later, there were three hands reaching in their pockets, “yep!” “Sure do!” “Will this work?” V.D. expressed her thanks, and asked the woman next to her if she’d hold her sign while she pulled her thick hair out of her damp face. The woman actually said, “I would be honored to.” At that moment, I felt like I had thousands of allies. Even if only for something as simple as a hair tie.

I had planned to meet up with one friend from work and a couple of relatives who had come from the other side of the bridge. Unfortunately for most of the march, cell service was down, presumably because everyone was trying to reach their marching partners all at the same time. I heard a ton of people around me with the same problem.

A helicopter flew overhead, and I imagined myself at home, watching footage from the aerial cameras, wishing that I could be part of the news story. I felt so proud and lucky to be on the streets instead of my couch. One hundred thousand people joined the march in Portland, Oregon. ONE SIXTH of the population of the city spilled out together to join their voices and hearts in a collective experience of democratic dissent. I felt pride, love, and an indescribable energy flowing through us all.

When the march finally began, it spanned the breadth of two streets. Both Naito Parkway and 1st were chock full of people marching north. I read sign after sign. Tiny manifestos. Little mission statements. Statements of purpose, each supporting a different cause. Most of them were anti-Trump sentiments, but they each came with their own spin, identifying a group, a race, a cause, a system of beliefs threatened by the newly crowned president. LGBTQ people, people of various physical and cognitive abilities, Asian drummers, Latinx sex workers, Native American water protectors, scientists, and women… so many women in pink pussy hats. Lots, and lots of pussy hats.

At one point, I was marching beside a whole group of drummers and bell-tappers. Snares and bass drum beats coursed through our bodies in waves, amplifying the energy of the crowd. Our steps fell into rhythm, bouncing along with the beat. People in balconies, rooftops, and car garages overhead waved, some with signs of their own, cheering for the crowd below. I followed along with the drummers for as long as I could. There’s nothing like percussion to make you feel more alive!

At the end of the march, I was finally able to find my friend from work. Even without exchanging the words, even though we’d spent most of the day apart, I felt like we’d had the same experience, and were thinking similar thoughts, and feeling the same energy. The collective consciousness is real.

We found a place near the stage at Tom McCall park for the post-march rally. A few speakers came onto the stage. There were two that stuck out in my mind. One of them wanted to talk about listening to marginalized groups. She started with a disclaimer that her words would be difficult to hear. She called out straight, cisgendered, able-bodied white women. “It’s amazing to see a crowd of this size, but it makes me want to ask you, ‘WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?’ Where were you when we marched for transgendered people, or for the homeless, for redlining?” A few white women shouted from the crowd, “We’re here now!” The speaker shook her head. “No! It’s not your turn to talk. It’s not your turn to shift the dialogue. You need to listen, and if I sound offensive, feel free to leave.” Some did. The rest of us listened. It’s important. Listen.

I’m going to digress for just a moment, because I know a lot of people WOULD feel offended by how that woman addressed the crowd….but every time I see conversations of race, disabilities, or other marginalized populations online, it gets warped and misappropriated. I was in this large, closed Facebook group a few weeks ago, when someone tried an experiment. She asked all the white people to refrain from posting on this ONE thread, and JUST listen, so that people of color could tell their stories and experiences. What followed was about 900 posts of “I’m listening,” and 100 posts of “It’s reverse racism to ask white people not to talk.” I scanned the thread for a good 5 minutes and couldn’t find ONE story from a person of color. Instead, it was totally usurped by people who felt like no one had the right to restrict their privilege for one fake Facebook minute.

I’m also a follower of a group of autistic adults who help educate parents on how to better understand their autistic children. Many of those parents also chime in with their experiences and advice. Once in awhile the admins post a question that is ONLY for the Autistic population. Mostly, it will request insight about their experiences or the unique perspective that comes with being autistic. Non-autistic or “neurotypical” people are NOT allowed to respond. Despite the fact that moderators explicitly warn that violating this rule may result in banning you from the group, there are always one or two parents who feel like they can speak for their children. The moderator will usually give them a warning, reminding them that their experience as a parent does not mean that they can understand the complex neurology of someone ACTUALLY experiencing autism. Often, the parent fights back, claims to be silenced unfairly, and gets banned from the group. What these people fail to realize is that by violating this rule, they are invalidating the voices of the autistic, stomping all over their safe space with hostility, and then try to tell the moderators how they should run their own group. Listen. For heaven’s sake, listen.

Ever since the election, I have felt so much anger, rage, disappointment, emptiness, and apathy. Ever since Trump’s numbers slowly overtook Hillary’s, while my jaw dropped and my heart fell, I have had screams pent up, waiting to be loosed on humanity. Ever since I walked into work, seeing the silence and mourning on the faces of my co-workers, my soul has cried out for catharsis, for a release, for something to make me hope again and feel like my words aren’t fruitless. Ever since the “disenfranchised’ conservative white population took over our futures, I have been craving the companionship of like-minded progressives who understand that steps forward for minorities don’t mean the rest of us are left behind. For heaven’s sake, they’re just asking for shoes to run the same race we’ve been winning for centuries.

Today, I feel like a fraction of my hope has been restored. Today I feel ready to raise my voice again in blogs, in calls to my senators, and in conversations with my friends and family–my small corner of influence. I encourage you to do the same. Call your senators. Call out racism. Call for equality. Call for basic decency, and listen. Listen to someone whose story is nothing like yours. Listen even when you feel uncomfortable. Recognize your privilege. Use it. Put your money in places that will make a difference. Be a good human being. Practice kindness. Be the best version of yourself.

So no, I don’t think going to the march changed much of anything. Trump won’t be impeached tomorrow, no one will overthrow the government, and we probably won’t even get a bigger voter turnout the next time we elect our senators and congressmen and women. But today, *I* am different, which means all 100,000 people at that march today feel a little different too. Many people watching the rallies all over the globe felt a glimmer of hope and solidarity with a movement that celebrates love and rejects fear. Maybe, just maybe, that’s a good place to start.

 

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A Tale of Two Brothers: Understanding America’s Election Pain Through Sibling Rivalry

It’s not easy to view recent events through clear eyes. The division in our country after the recent election makes it clear that every citizen’s eyes are blurred or tinted in one way or another. Everyone has layers of experiences, culture, belief, and environmental factors that change the way we look at the world. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. It’s just how our brains work. But when we encounter someone with opinions different from our own, it can feel like they’re trying to peel back our layers, which can be uncomfortable, or even painful.

I’ve tried to ease the process this week by peeling back a few of my own layers. I’ve been trying to see the world through someone else’s eyes in the hopes of releasing some of my anger and frustration. I’m trying to understand how we got to this place without allowing the rage I feel to cloud my vision. It’s been a rough week, and I’m far from done. Nevertheless, I happened upon an idea this today that is helping me understand…and might just help my fellow humans on the other side of the divide understand how I feel about them as well. The country and its denizens are complex, rich beings that don’t like being summarized by analogy…yet I’m going to attempt just that.

I have two sons–8 and 3, that I’ll call Lock and Key, respectively. The age gap between them is fairly large, and you can see it in their most recent developments. The older Lock is a smart 3rd grader who just did his first book report this year, got to briefly stay home alone for the first time, and who loves science and building things. The younger Key just learned how to use language effectively, figured out how to do puzzles, and got potty trained. Lately, Lock has been complaining that Key gets everything he wants, gets most of our attention, and doesn’t have to do as much work as Lock does. It was time to sit down for a serious discussion about wants vs. needs, and the responsibility that comes with privilege.

Privilege is a word you’ve probably heard a lot lately, and if you haven’t, it’s definitely time to join the conversation. For the past couple of years, through the Black Lives Matter movement, and the LGTBQ civil rights movements, our country has had to come face to face (again) with the fact that some citizens are more privileged than others, and that those of us with more privilege may have responsibilities unique to that privilege. This is the exact premise of the conversation I had with my 8 year old Lock. It went something like this:

“Honey, I love you and your brother more than anything. I love you equally, but that love won’t always look the same, because you have different needs. Sometimes when we go to the park, I spend more time with Key, because he needs extra help jumping up to get on the swing, and needs someone to push him. You, Lock, are so grown up! You are tall enough to jump on the seat, and you learned how to pump your legs. That means you don’t need my help anymore, but it also means that you can swing higher than he can.”

Sound familiar? Now, a disclaimer, because I don’t want to get bogged down in the fact that Key is younger. I don’t want to be mistaken for infantilizing minorities. I’m simply making a distinction based on privilege. When you have more, when you have access to more, it is easier to achieve more, and that’s what those of us on one side of the divide seem to understand more clearly.

So what if we look at the country from Lock’s point of view? We’ve been talking about Key’s needs for a long time now. Black lives matter, but what about blue, green, and white? Gay people earned the right to marriage equality, but what about our marriages that are falling apart? Who will save the sanctity of our relationships? We’ve been talking about religious freedoms, and making sure that Muslims have the right to build mosques wherever they want, but what about a Christian’s right to say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays,” or say a prayer in school? We’ve been talking about keeping refugees safe from war, but what about my right to a safe neighborhood. I don’t know these strangers invading my hometown.

You have a right to these thoughts. You have a right to your needs, but as a person of privilege, you also have a responsibility to help those struggling with meeting their basic needs.

I’m reminded of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It looks like this:

maslows-pyramid-of-needs1

The main takeaway here is that we all build our lives from the base up. The first needs we all need to be met are related to survival. We all need food, water, and shelter to survive. Until these needs are met, we aren’t going to be able to focus on higher-level needs such as safety, friendship, or the meaning of life. By the same token, if you have things like self-esteem, love, and purpose, it can become easy to take for granted that you have food, water, an education, an alarm system on your home or car, and respect.

Going back to Lock and Key, I can explain to Lock that he is capable of meeting his own basic needs. He can get himself a glass of water. He can lock the back door and operate a phone in case of emergency. He can ask for a hug, talk to people in order to make friends, and do his schoolwork in order to achieve confidence and respect. But Key, like so many people in our communities, is less advantaged. I work in a classroom with people with disabilities. I wish I could tell you that they are treated the same and given equal opportunities by every teacher in my school. They’re not. Additionally, children with disabilities are 3.7 times more likely to be victims of physical or sexual abuse. (1)  I wish that schools were less segregated…or at least that schools populated largely by minority students had schools that offered equal opportunities as those populated primarily by white students. They don’t.(2)  LGBTQ people are more likely to experience hate crimes than any other group, including black people and Muslims. (3) The cards are unfairly stacked. Privilege is unfairly distributed. Lock can turn on the television and access Phineas and Ferb anytime he wants. Key has to ask for help to watch Daniel Tiger and eat some apple slices. Because of his privilege, Lock has the responsibility of helping his brother, telling me if he gets into an unsafe situation, being as fair as possible, and sometimes, letting his little brother win…so that he can experience success and gain confidence. It’s what brothers and sisters are supposed to do.

This week I think I peeled back enough of my own biases to understand why Trump was elected. I believe that the majority of Trump supporters aren’t racist, hateful, or sexist. I understand that many people looked past the hateful rhetoric to choose a man who heard their needs. I understand that many of you were wrongly led to believe that Hillary Clinton was worse. I understand that many people didn’t vote, either because they didn’t like Clinton, or because either choice felt like a loss.

You still made the wrong choice.

A vote for Trump was a statement that racist, sexist, ableist, offensive commentary is acceptable. A vote for Trump sent the message that the needs of privileged white America is still somehow more important than the needs of minorities struggling to meet their basic needs and achieve their constitutional rights. It’s difficult and painful to peel back your layers of cloudy thinking to see clearly…but when you do, you’ll see that your responsibility is that of an older brother. Use your privilege to speak out against inequality. Use your privilege to help the less advantaged access the same rights this amazing country affords you. Help the United States become a place where the American dream is truly accessible to all. Listen without speaking. Without judgment. Without anger. Listen to their needs. Try to understand their goals. Try to see their point of view. Take care of your brothers and sisters.

 

 

(1)http://www.who.int/disabilities/violence/en/
(2) https://escholarship.org/uc/item/3rh7w18g#page-6
(3)http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/06/16/us/hate-crimes-against-lgbt.html?_r=0
Heading Picture: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carolyn-lukensmeyer/conventions-are-for-votin_b_9489612.html
Maslow’s Pyramid Picture: http://needsforlifestagessmhs.weebly.com/maslows-pyramid4.html
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Fighting Racial Inequality

This blog isn’t going to attempt to be original. This blog probably won’t say anything that hasn’t been said before. I don’t have a unique viewpoint, or much experience with racism, or even black friends. I’m just a middle-aged white woman, married to a brown man, with tan children. But I, my brown husband, and my tan children deserve a better, safer, kinder world than the one raging out there. You do too. So while I can’t claim to add anything new, I feel we all have a responsibility to continue the conversation in any way we can.

I’m going to start with something that is controversial, that really shouldn’t be. #BlackLivesMatter. First off, YOU ABSOLUTELY CANNOT hijack this hashtag for anyone else right now. It is NOT okay to type #AllLivesMatter. It’s true, and everyone has some small piece of suffering to call their own, but there are other ways of drawing attention to that suffering without diminishing that of someone else. There are a hundred memes out there trying to help the general public understand why it’s not okay to use the hashtag in another way, (ie. it’s not okay for your doctor to say “all bones matter,” when you want him to fix your broken ankle.) and yet the other day I heard Rudy Giuliani, an arguably respectable republican, SCREAMING at the Republican National Convention that all lives matter and blue lives matter, to thousands of cheering fans.

Why?

I am horrified at the recent shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge this past week, and I would like to voice my solidarity with them. No police officer should have to fear for his life over something another officer did. No good officer should pay for the crimes of a bad egg. But you can’t type #bluelivesmatter. Of course they do. Of course. Of course they need our support. Do it in another way that doesn’t detract from our black brothers and sisters who are also hurting right now, and have suffered through generations of inequality, rejection, manipulation, fear, and ignorance.

Racism is alive. It’s strong. And every time someone says “I’m not racist,” it gets stronger. Every time someone says “doesn’t having a black president prove that racism is over?” it gets stronger. Every time someone says “I could understand why we had affirmative action in the past, but if they want equality, they shouldn’t need it,” it gets stronger. Every time someone says “I don’t think he deserved to die, but it wasn’t like he was a good person,” racism gains muscle. We don’t even have to call it racism. We can call it racial inequality. It’s alive, it’s strong, and it permeates every area of life for a person of color. If you deny this, it’s because 1) you are NOT a person of color, and 2) you aren’t listening to a person of color.

Let’s start here: If you are a white person, have you ever had to have “the talk?” Not the birds and the bees. The one about how to act like a quiet, docile, helpless, obedient, blank, and harmless person if you’re ever stopped by a police officer. Think you have the right to question your arrest? Sure you do, but you may end up dead. Think you have the right to plead the 5th? Sure, but you could be shoved to the ground and arrested for obstruction of justice. Think you have the right to understand your rights? Sure, but if you speak Spanish and don’t understand an officer screaming in English to put your hands up, you may just get shot repeatedly for resisting. If you have never had to worry about your rights coming in the way of your life, you are coming from a place of privilege. The first step to ending racial inequality is to accept that you come from a place of privilege. If you are a man, you have it better than a woman. It’s just a fact. If you are straight, you have it better than someone who is gay or transgendered. If you are thin, you have much more privilege than a person who is fat. If you are born into money, you have more opportunities than a person with a poor upbringing. We don’t question most of these facts. Why do we question the considerable handicap that comes with race?

The Brown vs. Board of Education ruling came down in 1954, effectively ending the Jim Crow laws segregating schools. But state and local legislation spent the next few decades finding loopholes to continue allowing segregation. It wasn’t until 1988 that de-segregation reached 45% of people of color. It wasn’t until a few years ago that the last high school prom was desegregated. How can anyone claim that racial inequality doesn’t exist in a world where we could still legally send children of color to sub par schools only one generation ago? How can we expect a whole culture to be able to pull itself from poverty, crime, drug use, broken homes, and unsafe communities, when we could LEGALLY prevent them from equal rights and treatment a mere 60 years ago? How can you drop a stone in water and expect the ripples to have no effect?

When you see #blacklivesmatter; when you hear it being shouted through tears, when you see protests in cities thousands of miles from incidents of police brutality, don’t dismiss their pain. Don’t discount their struggle. Don’t justify how you’re not racist. Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine how terrifying it would be to be pulled over by police and mistaken for someone who just robbed a bank, or pulled out of your car and searched without a warrant, or cuffed on the ground for asking what you did wrong. Imagine doing everything right…disclosing your concealed carry permit…and being shot while your wife and child watch…

We need to support #BlackLivesMatter, because until we can provide equal opportunity, equal rights, equal safety under the law…we prove time and time again that they just don’t.

 

facts gleaned from: http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-25-spring-2004/feature/brown-v-board-timeline-school-integration-us

Picture borrowed from: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/08/no-plans-to-stop-says-black-lives-matter-121538

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Why Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood Might be the Best Children’s Show of All Time

There’s no shortage of mediocre children’s programming out there. In fact, with a few exceptions, the majority of the shows my now-seven-year-old son has dragged me into over the years have been mind-numbingly dismal at best. When I happened to hear about Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, therefore, I had no reason to believe it would be any different. The warmly nostalgic reference to Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood gave me hope, but there isn’t a television-loving human alive who hasn’t been burned by the promise of a quality spin-off. Much to my delight, this beautiful show defied my expectations, and in fact delivers on so many levels that I was compelled to share my discovery, and delve into the brilliance that is Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. 

The Legacy: Would you be my neighbor? Even just hearing the word “neighbor,” conjures an image of a calm, warm, friendly face from childhood. Can you still hear the trolley chimes that signaled a return to the neighborhood of make believe? Daniel is full of nods to his predecessor. The little preschool-aged tiger wears a red sweater, puts his shoes on and off during the beginning and ending credits, and all of the puppet characters you remember from the old show (Lady Elaine Fairchild, X the owl, Daniel Striped Tiger, etc) are still present, featuring as parents or relatives of the new animated lead characters. I was even more pleased to read that The Fred Rogers Company reached out to producers interested in creating a show that would not only promote Mr. Rogers’ legacy, but follow a curriculum that is based on his teachings, as well as current science on child development and emotional learning.

The Science Behind the Show is legit. I’m a behavior consultant who tries to keep up on the latest parenting knowlege (rather than trends), and have specialized in emotional development and social skills, particularly in children with disabilities. What has amazed me about watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is that not only are its lessons well-planned and accessible, but they seem to transcend the gap between neurotypical children and those with cognitive challenges. Anyone can learn something from watching Daniel Tiger. The show uses something they call “strategy songs,” (written and performed by Voodoo Highway) to teach one concept per 15 minute episode. The this isn’t a new idea. Shows like Dora the ExplorerBarney, Yo Gabba Gabba, Sesame Street, and scores of others use songs to teach lessons. What does seem to set the show apart is that they sing one phrase–the key lesson–at strategic points throughout the show, which not only cements the idea in the mind of the viewer, but serves to generalize the concept in multiple contexts, teaching the child that, stopping to use the potty, for example, is something you do everywhere–at home, at preschool, and in the community.

One of my favorite strategy songs goes like this: “It’s okay to feel sad sometimes. Little by little, you’ll feel better again.” My older son, Lock, thought it was hilarious that everyone in the town of make believe seemed to know the same song wherever Daniel went, but my younger son, Key, Is incredibly calmed when I hold him and sing this song. Not only does it teach a child to identify their feeling as being “sad,” but it tells them that it’s a normal feeling, it’s okay to feel that way, and that they won’t be sad forever, which is a very real fear in the mind of a child.

Other brilliant strategy songs include “When you need to potty, stop and go right away. Flush and wash and be on your way!” “Grownups come back,” “You’ve got to try new foods ’cause they might taste good!” “It’s almost time to stop so choose one more thing to do,” “When something goes wrong, turn it around and find something good,” “When a baby makes things different, find a way to make things fun!” and “Saying I’m sorry is the first step, then how can I help?”

The last song is brilliant. I have struggled with my older son, Lock, in helping him understand that saying sorry isn’t enough, and that your actions are the true apology. Daniel Tiger isn’t really aimed at his 7 year old demographic, but in all honesty, I am grateful that my 2 year old loves the show, because it means my 7 year old can still benefit from the lessons. Lock still has a lot to learn about empathy and social skills, and I love that I catch him singing them from time to time.

The strategy songs are a gift to any parent. They are easy to remember, catchy, well-written, beautifully performed by Voodoo Highway, and if you sing them to your children in real life situations, it instantly gives them a context in which to understand what you’re trying to teach them. What kid wouldn’t prefer a 3 second reminder-in-song to a lecture or nag session from Mom?!

Daniel Teaches Diversity, but not in any weird, uncomfortable, in-your-face way. They don’t preach it. They simply present it as reality, and that is so rare these days. Miss Elaina’s parents are an interracial couple. Prince Wednesday has a cousin who is a recurring character that wears braces on her legs. O the owl is being raised by his uncle X. Daniel’s doctor has an Indian accent. Miss Elaina always wears her dress backwards. Prince Wednesday’s older brother may be royalty, but he also babysits Daniel and works in the produce department of the grocery store. One episode features a song about differences, where they unabashedly compare skin colors. I love it. I love that they will openly discuss differences, and I also love that there are times when they let the differences speak for themselves. In both cases, it totally works.

Daniel Isn’t Annoying, and this is a big deal. Any parent can give you a list of shows that make them want to gouge out their eyes or stick Q-tips in WAY too far. Mention Caillou, and a few of my parent friends will tell you the intricate ways in which they would murder Caillou AND his “we’ll always be better than thou” parents. Any parent who has let their kids watch Max and Ruby can tell you that their child probably stopped speaking in full sentences and reverted back to using a single word per day just like Max, or became intolerably bossy like his OCD sister Ruby. Parents who used to fondly watch Mickey Mouse will now find that Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is nearly devoid of education, and seems more intent on branding and teaching our kids to drop their “G’s.” Is that somethin’ to worry about Mickey? Dora and Diego are full of good lessons, but Dora’s voice is hard to handle after a thousandth viewing, and every parent will eventually find their kid “swiping” valuables just like that kooky Swiper the Fox.

I’m being a little flippant, because in the end, it’s just TV, and lessons in theft ultimately lie in my hands as Mom, just as they should. I don’t think Dora needs to get rid of Swiper, and I don’t think Max needs to develop more mature communication skills. I do think we as parents need to exercise our right to choose quality programming. I choose the show that makes me smile along with my kids, supports me as a parent, and gives unexpected tools in the form of brilliant songs. I choose the show that explores racial differences, disabilities, and age limitations in a way that’s lighthearted and fun. I choose the show that doesn’t make me want to write death threats to the producers after the thousandth viewing. I choose Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.

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Making a Change

How do you create change in your life? I’m honestly looking for feedback. Essays have been written about whether or not true change is really possible for a human. I don’t think I doubt the human capacity for change. It is difficult, no doubt, and for some it may be near impossible, but I have known people who have made changes, big and small, for better or for worse, and have never looked back.

What does it take to implement real change? For some I’ve heard it took a cataclysmic moment. A bit of serendipity. A rock bottom. For some, it seems they just woke up one day and said “I’m going to do things differently today,” and changed cold turkey. For some, it seems like Oprah’s “it only takes 30 days for a habit to become a permanent change,” works. I call shenanigans. For me, it seems like I’m always able to make a change for 30 days, and then my mind says “Okay, you’ve done it. It’s all downhill from here!”

Day 31 would beg to differ. My rebel self says “HA! You thought you could change me? ME?! Good luck sister!”

So I want to know. What was your biggest life change, and what made it possible? Was it a moment? A thought? An ultimatum? An epiphany? An event? Or just plain hard work and determination? What happened when you felt like quitting? How did you cope? Do you feel like the change is permanent, or is it always a struggle? Were the rewards worth the sacrifices?

If you’d like to respond privately, I would love FB messages or emails. If you would like to respond publicly, I’m sure you’d be helping dozens of people in my audience! If I get enough responses, I will create a follow-up blog to summarize what I’ve learned.

Thank you all in advance for your participation!

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Why “Pro Choice” is NOT a Valid Stance in the Vaccination Debate

syringe

My kids are 7 and 1-1/2, but I have been pro-vaccination for much longer. I have studied and worked in the field of developmental disabilities, including autism, for over 10 years, and nothing I have seen, read, or studied has ever shaken my stance on this issue. I have read peer-reviewed, evidence-based case studies on vaccinations and their effects, correlations, and have seen meta-analyses done of mass amounts of these studies over time. I have also been watching the news, just as you have, to see that formerly eradicated diseases are popping up again. Here. In the United States. A first-world country.

I also read Facebook.

Suddenly, there are new articles and blog posts about vaccines every day. I share the good ones. By “good ones,” I mean, the posts that are pro-vaccine, share solid science, and try to limit the amount of contempt they have for anti-vaxxers. So why am I adding to the huge glut of vaccination information being spewed onto your news feed? I have two reasons really. My first reason is that I read the comments under every vaccination article, and there are still a vast number of people that don’t understand how vaccines work, what herd immunity means, and why those of us with vaccinated children even CARE if someone else doesn’t choose to vaccinate. Secondly, I want to state what I know, plainly, cleanly, and without malice. So without further ado, here is what I know, all of which can be verified by the Center for Disease Control.

Vaccines Work— For some reason, some people doubt that vaccines were the reason that certain diseases were eradicated. I have trouble believing that I can change peoples’ minds about this if they stick to their guns after reviewing the facts. The facts are that since the polio vaccine was discovered, polio was eradicated. See the graph below from cdc.gov:

polio_fig_02

The same thing can be said for whooping cough, measles, and smallpox. In third-world countries, where vaccinations aren’t 100%, they still see polio, whooping cough, and smallpox. This should be self-explanatory. There are hundreds of studies that back up this claim. Vaccines WORK. Now, HOW do they work?

Vaccines work by injecting an imitation or inactive form of a virus. It can’t make you sick because it’s not a living organism, but it DOES trick your body into thinking you have a disease. Your body responds by doing what it does best–fighting the disease. The reason you sometimes get a fever after a vaccine is not because it has made you sick. The flu, for example, doesn’t CREATE a fever. A fever is the body’s first natural weapon against illness. In raising the body’s temperature, it kills off invading bacteria and viruses without harming your own healthy cells. But the real miracle of vaccines is that it teaches your body the precise combination of immunities it needs to fight off the disease you’re being vaccinated for. If you’ve been injected with the measles vaccination, for example, your body learns to cure itself of measles. After receiving the vaccination (and having all subsequent boosters required), at least 90% of human bodies will then be able to fight off measles in the event of an exposure. Only 90%? Maybe more, but vaccinations are effective at least 90% of the time. What about the other 10%? Well, that’s the other, more indirect way in which vaccines work. Herd Immunity.

Herd Immunity This rather indelicate term refers to a herd of animals protecting itself from a predator. The stronger animals circle the weaker animals to protect those that can’t protect themselves, strengthening the herd as a whole. This same principle can be applied to vaccines. Some people cannot be protected by vaccines. These people are comprised of the 10% or so of people for whom vaccinations simply don’t work, the millions of babies too young to receive their vaccinations, or the millions of people who are too sick to be vaccinated, such as those with auto-immune diseases, or cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. The ONLY way we can protect these people from measles, polio, whooping cough, and many other potentially fatal illnesses, is by ensuring that those of us strong enough TO receive the vaccinations DO receive our vaccinations.

Pro-Choice is Dangerous— When it comes to male circumcision, co-sleeping, organic food, discipline, and almost every other decision a parent has to make for his/her child, I am strongly pro-choice. Your child, your choice. HOWEVER, when it comes to the vaccination debate, a healthy, unvaccinated child puts other people at risk. I understand the argument from a parent who feels like their children are healthy enough to simply CATCH measles and allow the body to create immunities on its own. It makes perfect sense–except that for 4 days before and 4 days after that child exhibits any symptoms, they are HIGHLY infectious, posing a risk not only to babies, but other unvaccinated children, AND the 10% of vaccinated people for whom the vaccine just didn’t work. The recent Disneyland outbreak is a perfect example of how infectious measles can be. The virus lives in saliva and sneeze droplets for up to TWO HOURS outside the human body, and has a 90% rate of transmission. That means…well imagine a healthy 30 year old man walks into a giant conference room. He has measles but he doesn’t know it because he doesn’t have a rash or a fever yet. He sneezes, and leaves the room. Two hours later, 100 people enter the conference room. Statistically, if none of them have been vaccinated, 90 out of 100 people will leave that room having contracted measles. If ALL of them have been vaccinated, up to 10 could still leave that room with measles, because as we’ve previously discussed, the vaccine isn’t 100% effective without herd immunity. Those 5-10 people will then go on to infect others.

So Why Not Vaccinate?–People choose not to vaccinate for various reasons. They may believe that vaccines are full of toxins that could harm their child, that the risks of contracting the viruses are lower than the risks from vaccines, that vaccines are linked to autism, or they believe they’ve educated themselves with enough information to make an educated decision. I’ll address these concerns.

     Toxins Aren’t Real–I’m not saying that certain substances aren’t toxic. There are many harmful substances that can hurt our bodies, but those same substances in smaller levels, or alternate forms, can be healthy, and even helpful for our bodies. Take rosemary for example. Rosemary is an herb that is not only delicious, but can be used as an anti-fungal element, insect repellent, and may even contain anti-cancer properties. If eaten in huge amounts, however, rosemary has been found to increase bleeding, induce miscarriage, and increase risks of seizure (WebMD). Vaccines have been criticized for carrying small doses of formaldehyde (renders the virus in a vaccine inactive. Most formaldehyde is removed prior to packaging), and mercury (found in Thimerosol, used to prevent bacterial growth). These same “toxins,” however, are NATURALLY OCCURRING in foods we eat every day, in much larger amounts than those found in the vaccines.

     Vaccines and Autism–Most people by now understand that the link between vaccines and autism has been not only disproved, but revealed as fraudulent. Most people also understand that Jenny McCarthy shouted for years about how vaccines gave her child autism…and now says her child may never have had autism. What many people don’t yet know is that the autistic community at large is PRO-vaccine, and accept autism as a celebrated part of themselves rather than an illness or disability. The words “autism” and “vaccines” should no longer occur in the same sentences.

     Educate Yourself–BUT, and this is a huge caveat, your education needs to come from the right sources. I understand a lot of people mistrust the government and totally discount anything on the CDC website. If this is the case, find other studies that come from reputable sources. These should be peer-reviewed and evidence based. It’s also important to understand the difference between correlations and causation. The word “correlation” is often used in scientific studies to say that “when we see A, we also happen to see B.” There is a true correlation between ice cream sales and crime. Does that mean that ice cream causes people to commit crimes? Nope, but it might mean that warmer weather somehow leads to more violence…but that’s a correlation too! Maybe warm weather affects some other variable that leads to an increase in crime. We don’t know. What we DO know, however, is that a correlation does NOT indicate a causation.

     Risks–There ARE risks to vaccines. Most of the time it’s fever, rash, allergy, or some other mild reaction. One in a million will have a life-threatening reaction. Some parents will say that they’d rather risk their child getting measles, rubella, mumps, or chicken pox rather than subject their child to a potentially life-threatening vaccine, even though the mortality rates of measles, rubella, mumps, and chicken pox are all higher than the mortality rate of a vaccine. What parents sometimes forget is that it’s statistically more dangerous to get in a car than take a vaccine. It’s more dangerous to take antibiotics than to get a vaccine. Weigh the risks if you must, but the numbers don’t lie. Vaccines are not only important, but statistically safer than most things we do on a daily basis.

Do The Right Thing–Vaccination isn’t important only for yourself and your own kids, but for your whole community. Not everyone is safe. Not everyone is healthy. Not everyone can live through the effects of measles or whooping cough. It’s not enough to be “pro-choice” when it comes to vaccinations, because not everyone has that choice…and for their sake, we need to educate ourselves, be socially responsible, and vaccinate every healthy child. It’s the right thing to do.

All images borrowed from cdc.gov

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