School/work

The pandemic has heightened awareness of a number of social problems in the United States.

One revolves around the care and education of children. Political and business leadership often spout platitudes about how important children are and how much they care about them, but they seldom back up their words with meaningful policies that help children and the people who love, care for, and educate them.

Before the pandemic, American families often cobbled together child care with parent(s), school, relatives, neighbors, and paid caregivers, who often had to charge more than the family could afford to pay even though their own salaries were so low it was hard for them to get by. When schools and most day-care centers closed due to the pandemic, parents were suddenly trying to do paid work themselves from home while simultaneously trying to care for and educate their children or were forced to quit a job outside the home to be at home for their children.

It’s not a sustainable situation for many families.

There is a big push by the president and some state and national leaders to re-open schools full-time and full-capacity in the fall, even though that is against the recommendations of public health experts, in order for adults to return to jobs outside the home or so they can work from home without interruptions, but, besides being a huge health risk for children and adults, it fails to address the root of the issue.

Somehow, caring for children in exchange for a salary is considered “work” but caring for children without a salary is not considered work. Hazel Henderson calls this non-monetized part of our system the “love economy.”

The United States lags far behind other countries with advanced economies in acknowledging the love economy. We don’t offer mandatory paid sick leave, parental leave, or caregiving leave. People who do get paid as caregivers, whether for children, elders, or other vulnerable people, often earn shockingly low wages. For that matter, many people working in other kinds of jobs also don’t make a living wage, making it impossible to fully care for their family. Other countries also have a must more robust system of social services, so that people have access to adequate clothes, shelter, food, medical care, and education regardless of their income level.

As part of our efforts to #BuildBackBetter, the United States should reform our economic, health, educational, and social systems so that every person has adequate resources to lead a life of dignity. Some components of such a system that have proven successful in other countries have been single-payer universal health care, required living wages for workers, a graduated tax system that raises enough revenue from the top of the income spectrum that those in the lower end can afford their tax bill without compromising the needs of their household, free public education, paid leave for sickness, caregiving, and vacation, and a robust social safety net so that no one goes without food, housing, and other basic necessities. I would also like to see more social recognition and financial support for caretaking that is currently part of the “love economy.” A possible way to address this would be through a program of universal basic income or a stipend for those caring for a child, elder, or person with a long-term illness or disabling condition.

Obviously, crafting systemic change will take time and new national leadership. For the moment, I think it is foolish to implement a national school opening policy. Historically, education has been the province of local districts within the framework of state policy, allowing the system to adapt to local conditions. The wisdom of that flexibility is even more evident during the pandemic. Areas with low rates of illness may plan to implement hybrid systems where students attend in person part-time and online part-time so that physical distancing can be used to keep the virus in check. Areas with very high infection rates may need to keep students at home learning virtually until their infection rate is under control, when they could begin to phase in in-person attendance. All schools will need plans for dealing with changing circumstances; as there have been school closing plans to deal with severe flu outbreaks or natural disasters, there will need to be COVID plans to try to keep the school community and the general public as protected as possible.

Everyone wants students to be back to in-person classrooms, but only if it is safe for them, the school staff, their families, and the community. Pretending we can go back to the pre-pandemic system without grave public health consequences is foolhardy. Instead of wishful thinking, we need to use data, science, expertise, care, and intelligence to adapt to our changed and changing circumstances.

It’s what our children and youth need and deserve.

sheltering in place

Like most of the people in the United States and those in many other countries, my spouse B, adult daughter T, and I are sheltering in place. This is not a great hardship for us. We are among the most fortunate of families. B can work from home indefinitely if necessary. With so much of the economy shut down, T will need to delay applying for  jobs, but she is safe and content here with us. Some of my poetry activities have moved to Zoom, so I still get to workshop poems. I’ve been able to participate in more social justice and environmental webinars because I am nearly always at home.

The biggest sacrifice for me is that I can no longer visit my father, who is 95 and living in a senior community. I’ve tried to set everything up so I can help out by phone only, but it is certainly not as effective as being there every day. My sisters and I call him every day at various times. I always call in the morning to check in and help him decide on his dinner order. Because they have had to close the common rooms, including dining, meals are being delivered and orders need to be in by 11 AM. It is stressful not to be able to visit, but I admit that is less stressful than worrying that I might inadvertently infect my dad and a building-full of vulnerable seniors with COVID-19 because I was pre- or asymptomatic.

I have had to change some of my shopping and meal habits. I was used to going to the grocery store several times a week and planning dinner a day or two at a time. Now that shopping is supposed to be just once a week (or two weeks), I’m being much more diligent about planning meals and having ingredients on hand. This is still complicated by supply problems. While I would love to go to one store and get everything on my list, there are still times when shelves are empty for a whole category of items. We are also now wearing cloth masks in public places, so my next shopping trip will be accomplished with a stylish cloth napkin and hair tie number made using this video. We don’t have to wear masks when we go out for walks in the neighborhood, though. There are not many people out at any particular juncture, so it is easy to stay more than six feet apart.

It’s been interesting to me to hear and read how others are dealing with staying inside with their families. I’ve seen a lot of people talking about the stress of being with their children 24/7. Because it was my privilege to be the full-time-at-home parent with our daughters, I was used to that lifestyle. Parents who aren’t used to full-time family togetherness because even days off were usually filled with out-of-home activities are discussing the revelation, sometimes accompanied by nervous laughter.

There is a lot of stress about not knowing how long shelter at home policies will be in place. People are suffering from lack of their usual routines and comings and goings and want to know when things will be “back to normal.” In reflecting on this, I realized that I’ve spent so many years dealing with uncertainty – multi-generational caregiving does not lend itself to predictability – that I am not upset by not knowing what will come next and when. I’m not cavalier about it; I do follow the news, perhaps more than I should, and try to prepare myself for a range of possibilities, but I’m not assuming things will return to the way they were soon or ever.  I’m trying to advocate for positive social change, the pendulum swinging back to a more community approach than a hyper-individualistic one. I think the pandemic has made many people acutely aware of our interdependence and the vast numbers of people in the United States that live economically precarious lives. It has shown us how vulnerable we all are from a medical standpoint, especially those who have underlying illnesses, many of whom are not being treated adequately due to cost barriers. Cities around the world are noticing what it is like to have cleaner air. Perhaps this period of disruption and radical change to our way of life will demonstrate that the changes needed to address the climate crisis are possible and engender the political will to put it in place.

Well, that paragraph certainly covered a lot of ground, but that is the way JC’s mind tends to work…

That does, though, bring me to the last point I want to address.

Many people have talked about feeling scattered in these times. They are finding it hard to concentrate, to finish tasks, or even start them. I admit that this is disconcerting. It is also the way I have felt for years. People who know me personally or who have been reading TJCM for years know that I have been in the midst of dealing with the death of my mother-in-law, the final illness and death of my mother, and the permanent re-location of my daughter E and granddaughter ABC to the UK after having them live with us for over two years. It’s a lot of grief and loss. I often tell people that I feel like I have holes in my brain. The pandemic and the political situation in the United States added to the mix of personal issues make it more difficult.

If you are not used to this feeling of being scattered, it may help you to think about our present situation in the context of grief  or loss. Talking about it can help. Writing can, too, if that feels better or safer for you.

Even acknowledging it to yourself can be helpful.

And knowing you are not alone.

snow day

There have been a lot of big storms in the United States in recent weeks. Our region hadn’t had too much bad weather – until yesterday and today.

The storm started Sunday morning with an extended period of freezing rain, which made driving inadvisable. Sunday evening, it changed to a heavy, wet snow and it has snowed nearly all day today (Monday). The trees and utility lines are all weighted down with snow. We have lost some limbs from the trees in our yard.

The roads are impossible to keep clear and all the schools, including the University, cancelled classes. Lots of businesses decided to close, as well, for the safety of their employees and customers. Our museum and science center closed. Even our doctors’ office is closed.

B and most of his colleagues are working from home.

As I was contemplating all the closings, I remembered snow days when E and T were young. One of them had learned a song in elementary chorus and we used to sing it sometimes when there are snow days. “There’ll be no school tomorrow, no school tomorrow, no school tomorrow, if it snows.”

And because YouTube exists now, I can search and find recordings! The words and music are by Jay Althouse.

Binghamton Poetry Project Spring 2019

I actually managed to attend all five weeks of Binghamton Poetry Project this semester and decided to submit to our anthology, even though I could not make today’s final reading. I generally post the poems that I put in the anthology after the reading.

The first two poems were actually written in the summer session of 2018, but there is no anthology in the summer, so I decided to publish them this time. A note on “An American Family”:  I want to acknowledge that indigenous/First Nations people are the original Americans; this poem refers to the vast majority of people in the United States who are either descendants of immigrants or immigrants themselves.

Enjoy!
*****
At Thirteen Months

My granddaughter grabs
at the floor lamp again
knowing that it is forbidden
but not that it is dangerous

looking at the adults
in the living room
knowing we will say
no

will pick her up
take her away
set her down
in the middle

of the room
where her toys
are scattered only
to have her rush

back to the lamp
look to make sure
we are watching
repeat the scenario

I finally resort
to what I did
with her mother
take her away

but hold her
in my arms instead
of placing her on the floor
she squirms and cries

a bit but
thirty seconds
is a long time
for a 13-month-old

she toddles back
to toys not lamp
a tear glistening
on her cheek

*****

An American Family

We are an American family
but people stare.

At the park, they assume
my sister is her children’s nanny.

I worry about my brown-skinned
nephews being stopped by the police,
but not my blond one.

Most Americans have roots
in Europe, Asia, or Africa.
Why is it so hard to accept
our family’s roots in all three?

What could be more American?

*****

We always wanted to roast marshmallows

after the hot dogs and hamburgers
had been grilled
and the charcoal glowed
red, under its ashen coat

We cut green sticks
whittling them down
to a point
ready to pierce

the Jet-Puffeds
We didn’t want
them to catch
fire, to burn

black, just a nice
golden brown
soft and sweet
as we three

girls, protected
from charred
bitterness
and burnt tongues

SoCS: Sesame Street

Thirty years ago, our television was often tuned to Sesame Street on our local public broadcasting channel. It was an hour long and we followed the story lines of the human and Muppet characters. We had Sesame Street songs on cassette and some Sesame Street toys. We even had a Sesame Street songbook that served us well for many years and often sat on the music rack of our piano.

Now, our television is sometimes tuned to Sesame Street on our television, which is much thinner but with a bigger screen than it was thirty years ago. We still have it on our local public broadcasting station, but the episodes, which are only a half hour, are delayed by months, as the series is now on HBO. I admit that it bothers me, although I know that they needed to make the change to keep the series going.

Our granddaughter ABC, like many other young children, is more likely to watch Sesame Street segments on a tablet or smartphone. And, unlike our old cassettes, there are no tangles of tape as they got used often.

I hope that Sesame Street will continue to be produced around the world for many more years to come. I want it to be there for ABC’s children, too.
*****
Join us for Just Jot It January and/or Stream of Consciousness Saturday! Today’s prompt was “television.” Today’s pingback link is here: https://lindaghill.com/2019/01/18/the-friday-reminder-for-socs-jusjojan-2019-daily-prompt-jan-19th/ 
More information and prompts here: https://lindaghill.com/2018/12/31/what-is-just-jot-it-january-2019-rules/  

parents and children

Daughter E and granddaughter ABC have been back with us for a month. ABC is currently snoozing in her grandpa’s arms. While we are sad that her daddy is so far away right now, we know it is necessary so that E can get a spousal visa to join him next year when the three of them will be together full-time at last.

ABC just reached thirteen months of age and is going through one of those time periods when she is especially attached to her mommy and very suspicious of strangers. Observing that and knowing how important it is for her to be surrounded by love and stability makes the ongoing crisis of the current US border policy all the more appalling. It is unconscionable that the current administration has taken children away from their parents or guardians and then lost track of them.

While the courts have ordered that families be reunited soon, the government has asked for more time. Meanwhile, the damage to these children’s health continues, as well as the heartbreak of their parents and of millions of Americans who cannot belief that such cruelty has been done in our name.

Many people have come forward to assist the children and their family members, giving money, legal services, transportation, housing, and other assistance to reunite the children with their loved ones as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, we cannot undo the trauma these families have experienced.

marriage, family, and immigration

Millions and millions of people watched press coverage of the recent wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Meghan, a United States citizen by birth, is now the Duchess of Sussex.

I am very happy for them as they begin their married life in the United Kingdom, but I am sad that British immigration law makes it so much more difficult for other non-citizen spouses to join their British counterparts. The complex immigration laws of the United Kingdom and the United States, both currently in flux under their current governments, are conspiring to keep ABC, my dual-citizen granddaughter, from being with both her parents for the majority of her first two years. She is always very excited to video-visit with her daddy when she is in residence with us and her mom here in the States, but it is, of course, not the same as being there in person.

Still, at least they can see each other and have access to a process that will enable them to be together long-term, unlike the families seeking asylum in the United States who are being subjected to new procedures by the Trump administration. Children as young as one year are being separated from their parent(s) and put into foster care. Unconscionably, some of the parents are being charged with human trafficking of their own children.  Such treatment of asylum seekers is both immoral and illegal under international law. I’m hoping that legal challenges filed on behalf of these families will find justice among federal judges, even though it is the Justice Department in Washington that has implemented these new draconian policies.

Update June 1:  This post gives more information and ways to speak out in defense of children and parents.

Halloween experiment

As it happened, all of us needed to be away from home in the early evening of October 31st. I had already planned and bought our Halloween treats, so I decided to set them out on the porch with the light on so trick-or-treaters could still enjoy them.

I covered a lawn chair with a blanket and set out two totes of local apples and a basket with several bags of candy.  I made a sign that said “Happy Halloween! Please enjoy 1 or 2 treats.”

I got home first and found that the system was working well. I replenished the two types of candy that were low and decided to watch some news rather than jump up to answer the doorbell, planning to take things in at 8:30.

A few minutes before 8:30, I heard some older kids’ voices on the porch. When I went out, the basket that had held the bags of candy was on the porch floor empty. There was one empty apple tote; the other was gone.

I didn’t mind not having candy left and I am quite sure that all the young children got their treats. I was disappointed that some kids who should have known better were not willing to share.

I don’t know if I will have a similar decision in the future or not, but at least most of the trick-or-treaters did respect the spirit of sharing.

I think I will concentrate on that.

changes

Since December 26th, E and T, our adult daughters, have been living with us. We weren’t sure how long this would last, but now we know.

Not much longer.

T has been offered a job beginning February first as part of a grasslands research study by the Department of Environmental Conservation – in Missouri.

T has a particular interest in grasses and prairies. She can rhapsodize about sedges. We are very happy for her as this will be great experience for her post-master’s degree resume and allow her to work in a prairie ecosystem, which has long been a dream of hers.

We are shifting into high gear to prepare for her 1,000+ mile move, which needs to happen quite quickly.

Thinking about the move is bittersweet, though. We will miss having T here with us, especially her hugs. Because she will be in a rural area, her internet access will be limited, so there is unlikely to be much videochatting.

We will try to enjoy these last few days with the four of us together, even though they will be busy. And we will have memories of these rare few weeks together to last for years to come.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2017/01/16/jusjojan-daily-prompt-jan-16th17/

March 25th

March 25th, 2016 was Good Friday.

So was March 25th, 2005.

The only reason I remember that fact was that that was the day my friend Angie died.

When she died after fighting cancer for over four years, both of B’s parents were still alive. His dad died in July, 2005, also from cancer; his mom, on Tuesday of Holy Week, just a few days before the 11th anniversary of Angie’s death.

In the early morning hours of March 25th, when I couldn’t sleep, I visited the website of the the charity that Angie’s family established in her memory. I always make a donation on March 25th and on October 25th, which was Angie’s birthday.

This year, the paypal link was broken, so I emailed to ask about it.

Her eldest son sent me a reply and set about getting the link fixed. He also sent me a wonderful photo of his daughter, whose middle name is Angeline, after the grandmother she will never meet on this earth. In the photo, she has a marker in her tiny hand. She may be an artist, like Angie.

Life goes on.