Tuesday, July 10, 2012

So You Think Rape is FUNNY?!

So I happened to come across a blog written by a girl who went to a comedy club last night & had the misfortune of seeing Daniel Tosh, otherwise known as Tosh.0. I admittedly have never watched his show because - from what I hear from others - this man sounds like a moron. Turns out, he is. Here is a link to the blog I mentioned so you can read what happened for yourselves, but suffice it to say that he felt it was FUNNY to make jokes about rape, then when the woman spoke up & said it was not in fact funny - he turned it into a chance to ask the audience to agree that it would be funny if "5 guys raped her right now".
That this man thinks that it is in any way acceptable to joke about rape is indicative of the sickness of today's society. When did it become acceptable for someone to publicly announce that making a woman have sex by force is comical? When someone who is a public figure JOKES about rape, it reduces the violent, psychologically damaging, life altering experience that 1 in 4 of us have had to something for the world to laugh at. 

Let me tell you about rape. I won't bother telling you the searing pain that shoots through your body when a man enters you forcibly. I won't bother explaining to you what it feels like to have a hand gripped around your throat while a man whispers "yknow you like it" in your ear. I won't share with you what the sensation of having your head smashed into the side of a car is like. I won't tell you how long it takes for the bruises to heal or the bleeding to stop. I won't tell you how, no matter how hard you try, you cannot get the smell of him off your body. No, those are all physical things. Physical things heal. Scars fade. Marks disappear. What I will tell you is what happens to a woman after she is raped - the person, the woman, the individual, not the body. 

When you are raped, your entire world view changes. You no longer feel safe, you no longer trust anyone, you no longer like yourself. Cruelly, you're the one person you can't escape - & you're stuck with the memories that refuse to go away. Every relationship you have for the rest of your life is affected by this one moment. Every.single.one. You can't have sex with someone without something reminding you of this man - & the worst part is it sneaks up on you when you least expect it. Aside from the obvious unfairness to the victim, it's unfair to the men who unsuspectingly breathe in at the same tempo that he did that you suddenly panic. Not all men are bad. But once you've been raped, they all seem like they are. 

The non-sexual relationships? Yeah, those get affected too. You learn to use your sexuality to your advantage, to disconnect yourself from it & flash a little sexy coyness when you "need" to even though deep down you loathe yourself for it & you're repulsed by the ones who foolishly give in to you because you have nice breasts or a cuvaceous ass. You learned from one moment that all you're worth is your sex & no more. And when someone shows you genuine affection? You freeze up & go cold because, well, the thought of actual intimacy scares you. If someone who meant nothing could ruin your life, imagine what someone who does could do. 

When it happens when you're young, when you're barely starting to make sense of the world anyway, well then the psychological ramifications are worse. Not to mention, if it happens to you when you're an adolescent, you're more likely to be raped again &/or abused. I was 13 the first time a man forced himself inside me. Thirteen. I still don't talk about the specific repercussions of that, but suffice it to say that when you learn that sex is equated with fear, you lose your voice. And you get raped again. And you blame yourself.
And nearly two decades later, when you read about some asshole who thinks it's clever to try to get a room full of people to agree that a woman being raped is funny, you write about your horrified reaction but worry so much about what people will think of YOU even when you're writing anonymously that your hands shake. THAT is what rape does to you. It alters your life in a way that virtually no single other act can. And it's not funny.

Women already are shamed, objectified, over-sexualized, and belittled to the point that nearly 50% of rape victims never report it. Girls learn at such a young age that sexual objectification of women is normal. We don't speak up enough against it - & when someone is brave enough to, she has some jackass tell her in front of a room full of people that she deserves to be gang raped. Diminishing the severity of such traumatizing act to a skit or late night joke is INEXCUSABLE. And the people who *think* he's funny are passively condoning the notion that women ask or deserve to be raped.

I for one expect the world to be a safer place when my own daughter turns thirteen. Judging by the sad fact that the (only) two people who walked out of his act were mocked, her generation of girls will have more social & sexual victimization issues to face than mine did - which is scary.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Healthcare in the US

What is is about healthcare in the United States that gets people so upset? Have you ever noticed that as soon as you bring up the topic of universal healthcare (UHC), an argument breaks out? It's really the most fascinating thing to watch. People have this bizarrely unfounded internal measure of who "deserves" access to medical care. Not that anyone would readily admit that, they would say things like "I don't want my taxes to go up to take care of people who don't buy insurance!" when what they really mean is "I deserve proper care while others don't". 

The United States is supposedly this amazing country to live in, yet millions of citizens go without access to medical treatment. Many actually avoid going to the doctor when sick, because they know they simply can't afford it. There is something inherently wrong with a place that categorizes the value of those who live there by their ability to see a doctor. Think about that for a second....if you have a job that provides some sort of insurance, you've done "well". And yet it's the people who work the jobs that would rarely if ever provide medical care - foodservice jobs, machinery jobs, housekeeping, etc. - that are most likely to need regular doctor visits due to repetitive injuries! 

What about children? In this country, people have to decide whether to treat their children when a medical need arises & risk not paying the bills for a few months or having a giant chunk of debt to pay off over a few years. How is that acceptable - I mean after all, which do you choose....a healthy child or a roof over said child's head? It's an impossible decision. 

Here's the thing that many people don't seem to care about, get ready for it, it's a huge secret.......

     insurance companies are overcharging you astronomically!

I know, I know, I bet everyone is shocked.  Seriously though, since we all know that insurance companies are money-grubbing leeches & we all know that millions go without medical care because of it, then why are people against UHC?! The same little aspirin for a Medicaid patient is charged around 15cents, while for an insurance patient could be $32! No kidding! You'd actually save more money with UHC, have more cash in *your own* pocket that you aren't paying to the insurance company....but nobody seems to realize that. 

Is it any wonder that people in the US are going to other countries that provide free care to anyone on it's soil for their medical needs? I for one, am not surprised a bit......

(now how much do you want to bet that the US will rapidly become the country that people in this generation & the next LEAVE to seek a better life?)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

40 years later...

War is not something that's new to the human experience. It's a phenomenon that has taken place for thousands of years. People disagree, & they think the answer is to kill off everyone then declare those left standing the winner. Novel idea for conflict resolution, huh? Clearly, it's worked well. Oh wait....here we are millennia later, still fighting.

I can buy into the notion that until the last century, commoners were more or less removed from the battle scene, relegated to back-home cheerleaders for "their" cause. Soldiers brought back stories of war that would make anyone think the "others" were barbaric enemies. And of course nobody would imagine that "their" guys could be just as vicious...after all, they were fighting for the right cause. And with both sides holding the same viewpoint with one-sided information, I'll accept the idea that this lack of full perspective allowed the concept of a just war to continue. 

BUT...& this is a big one...that all changed 40 years ago. The Vietnam war was the first globally publicized war that showed true horrors firsthand, delivered to average homes on tv. I'll give you a moment to go to google images & type in "Kim Phuc". You don't have to be any more descriptive, the photo will come up. I'm choosing not to include it here because it is so horrific it leaves me in tears. It's a prize winning photo of an 8 year old girl and her brothers running away from their village, burned by napalm. Her skin literally falling off her body. She survived, she's still alive, but that is not the point. The point is....40 years ago we, as a global community, started to have regular access to images of the comprehensive effects of war. Not the soldiers returning home with battle scars. Not the tales of the unholy things "the others" would do. But the stories of the innocents. The ramifications of our actions on people who had nothing to do with the fight in the first place. 

Now, one would think that as a whole, the world would be horrified & put an end to this immediately. But we didn't. Instead, we found bigger, deadlier, scarier ways of proving how right our cause is. Right now, over in the Middle East, there are children being burned to the bone by white phosphorus. This stuff melts away skin & reignites when doctors try to operate. And before you get so horrified that those barbaric Middle Easterners would do such things....there was recently another little girl who suffered this way and the US military issued a statement that they cannot be sure if it was our weapon or theirs that caused it.

Let that one soak in for a second. The military intelligence does not know what their weapons are targeting. They are...unsure. They use terms like casualty of war & unfortunate incident. These are CHILDREN! Children are not casualties, they are not in the wrong place at the wrong time by playing out in the streets of their home town, they have no understanding of the asinine politics going on in the world...all they know, at that moment, is that they are in terrible pain. 

And we, as a global community, allow this to continue. We perpetuate it by funding scientists who find more lethal ways to do it.

When will people understand, we borrow this earth from our children? We inhabit it for a short time, while our future bloodlines continue to live here when we are long gone. Instead of leaving a legacy of beauty, health, and generosity....we're leaving behind nothing. And by nothing, I don't mean vast wastelands of devastation & toxic remnants. I literally mean nothing. It is the goodness, the kindness, the love within humans that sets us apart from other creatures. In teaching our children that destroying other lives is an acceptable means of conflict resolution, we are destroying the humanity within all of us. We are leaving a legacy devoid of anything but atrocity. We should have learned from those images that first streamed into our livingrooms on tv. We should have learned from the generations of innocents that we have destroyed. We should have found a way to protect them, to say no more. Instead, we were so outraged that we found ways to make it worse. 

This is what I want to change in the world. When I say I got into social work to have an international impact, this is what I mean. I tell people I'm not interested in child welfare work, but that isn't really accurate. I'm interested in global child welfare work. In educating others as to how our misguided ways have & will continue to affect the youngest of our generation the most. In speaking up to ensure that the world is a safer place for those who will be here when I am long gone. In being a voice for the children who hide amongst rubble and bombs who have no understanding that this is happening because people on the other side of the world pray differently, or vote differently, or live differently. That is what I want to change, and advocate for & educate about. This is why I love working with refugees, I have a very tiny impact in my very tiny corner of the globe on a very tiny number of people affected by the atrocities that governments have committed in their "just wars". And if I am very fortunate, one day I will be able to have a greater impact.

There are no just wars. There is one earth, one global community, & one human race. And we are destroying it one child at a time.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Empathy in social work

Empathy is a very important part of being a social worker. I think sometimes though people confuse empathy with an exact replication of someone else’s experience. This is not the case. In fact, one of the worst things that can be said to a client in distress is “I know exactly what you’re going through….” because well, you don’t. Saying that diminishes their own experience, even if the social worker has been through something extremely similar.

More often than not though, I hear it being used in a completely unrelated context. For example, I have 2nd-3rd degree burns on both of my hands. Burns are painful, no doubt. However, this doesn’t mean that I have any type of relevant first hand experience to be able to tell the client I recently worked with from Haiti whose body was covered 40% by burns from the earthquake that I know the feeling. It would be a terrible mistake to look at that client & say “oh I know how awful that feels, I had burns that took months to heal on my hands.” First of all, I have no idea what it’s like to have significant burns across my body or to spend years in the hospital with countless life saving and reconstructive surgeries. Second of all, I cannot relate to the trauma of going through a natural disaster. And even if I *did*, that doesn’t mean that my experience or reaction would be the same.

This is an example of self-reflection, and a realization as to how my own experience could potentially impact a client if I *think* I know what they are feeling. Self-reflection and empathy are both important in social work in order to check your own biases, values, and practice ethics. Caution must be taken to ensure that the line from empathy to self-righteousness or dogma isn't crossed.

Never, ever tell a client that you know what they are going through. You don’t. Having a similar experience is a good starting point to be able to make a connection – albeit quietly & in your own head – with what the client may or may not be experiencing. Empathy is a good jumping-off point to being able to help a client understand their own feelings, but it is imperative that workers do not confuse this with *knowing* what the client feels. This has the potential to do harm because it relegates the client to a lesser role in their own experience.

One particular population that I've noticed this happens a lot with is the LGBT community. People like to say "well why don't they just live their lives & not worry about what others think?" or the one that irritates me the most "we've all been teased about something". Yes, that's probably true. However, being teased because you wore a certain outfit or something equally changeable is *completely* different than being targeted not only in your immediate peer group but by society as a whole simply for existing. So while you may understand what it feels like to be teased a time or two in your life, & it's good to have an understanding of how uncomfortable that is, unless you have been told repeatedly by politicians, media, religious institutions, legal frameworks, and society as a whole that you are innately unacceptable the way you naturally are....you simply cannot relate. 

LGBT equality isn't about an individual ignoring what a few mean kids at school say or getting over a breakup by focusing on a hobby for a while. It's much bigger than that. It's about changing the entire framework of a society that deems a whole portion of it's members to be subhuman. It's about re-defining everything to include equality at all levels, whether it's marriage equality or simply the right to hold your partner's hand in public without getting dirty looks from people. It's about changing the very perception of "normal" to include a broad spectrum of identities. When LGBT equality truly exists, there will not be questions as to why that boy likes to wear pink or assumptions that a girl with a short haircut must be into other girls. There will not be discussions telling a transwoman to be a man & quit dressing like a woman, or insinuating that there is something "sick" about them when there most certainly isn't. 

The LGBT community is society's largest civil rights fight today. Which side do you want to be on in history? I know for me, I want to be on the side that stood up to speak for justice. And the first step in that is realizing that although I may have common experiences, it is entirely inappropriate to assume that my experience is the same for others. It is my greatest wish for society that we can learn as a whole to look at someone who is different in any way &, instead of judging & assigning value, simply say "I don't know what that's like, will you talk to me about it?" And then accept that their truth is as valid as anyone else's.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Our pasteurized society

We live in such a pasteurized society. We seem to want everything to be homogenous, similar, to fit within narrow parameters. There seems to be these ideals of what "normal" is - & virtually nobody fits into that category, yet everyone upholds these ideals as attainable. Stereotypes are so pervasive in our society that we as a general rule don't even notice them. We claim to be accepting & tolerant, yet that is rarely the case. Take shopping at the mall for example. What do you see portrayed as the ideal in shop windows? Scantily clad women whose thighs are about as big around as my wrist. White scantily clad women at that - how often do you see mannequins that are any shade of brown? Not very frequently. And when is the last time you saw a mannequin in a wheelchair? Our ideal for women is to be sickly thin, taller than average, willing to show as much skin as possible, white, & perfectly able in all capacities. The reality is.....virtually all of the population does not fit into that demographic. 

Let's focus on this "able" category for today. I myself have no disabilities, but I have a child who does & I work with the developmentally disabled population. That's enough to tune in my perception to the disadvantages our society puts in place for anyone who is disabled in any way. This is called "ableism". Yes, another -ism like sexism, racism, etc. We have more isms in society than I care to count. Here are two short examples: 

Take my child who is hearing impaired, & a trip to the movie theatre. Did you know that by law movie theatres are required to have closed captioning available or either a handheld reading device or a headset to increase volume? Ask for one next time you go to the movies - most don't have them available. And they won't provide closed captioning because it is a "disruption" the other patrons. I'm so sorry that ensuring everyone can enjoy & understand the film is a disruption. Subtitles are interestingly NOT a distraction when at a foreign film. Why? Oh....because the majority can't understand the film of course. But when the minority can't, well that's just disruptive. Speaking of hearing impaired accommodations, are you aware that by law fire alarms have to light up to signal a problem to the deaf/HOH? HOH stands for hard of hearing, if you didn't know. And yet....so many facilities do not have light up alarms, although I do see more lately. That is a life or death scenario made solveable by installing a few simple flashing lights. But it is an inconvenience. 

Now let's go back to the mall setting. You know those kiosks in the middle where the sales people accost you with samples of everything from skin softening miracles to hair extensions to the newest gadget you simply must have? I don't know about you, but they annoy me to no end. If I was interesting in sampling your fantastically amazing product I would come over to check it out, you don't have to run across the mall with feigned compliments & poor sales pitches....I'm aware of your presence already. However, try walking through the mall with someone who is disabled in some way. Someone who is in a wheelchair, someone who looks a little different, someone who walks a little different, someone who has autism or something else where they may have sudden movements or outbursts. I kid you not, the crowd literally parts to let you through. And the people at the kiosks? They have no interest in selling you their wares. It would be fascinating, if it wasn't so profoundly & painfully telling of the insensitivity of our society.

People with disabilities, particularly very noticeable ones, are treated so vastly different in everyday life. And it's hurtful. And I'll let you in on a little secret.....they notice! They have feelings just like you do. Hopes, dreams, fears, worries, everything that you deal with on a daily basis - they do too! How would you feel if most people recoiled away from you every time you went into public, & those who didn't treated you like you had some sort of inferior intelligence by either talking slowly or in some weird form of babytalk? Oh...& let me point out, not everyone who is "different" is deaf. I can't tell you the number of times people interact with my perfectly hearing-able yet otherwise disabled clients & yell at them...there is some sort of innate tendency to think that someone who has a disability cannot hear you. And it is obnoxious! Although it amuses me to no end when certain clients will talk back in an equally loud or slow voice to mock the other person & point out that they understood them just fine. While I'm at it....speaking to those who actually ARE deaf/hearing impaired in a r-e-a-l-l-y  s-l-o-w  w-a-y so that they can understand doesn't help. It changes the shape of your lips & makes it very difficult for them to read.

I'm not asking anyone to drastically alter their lives to accommodate those who may have a variety of different needs. All I'm asking is for a little bit of awareness. Next time you're out, see if everything is wheelchair accessible. The clothing racks in stores are requires to fit a wheelchair through them, yet they are rarely wide enough because then retailers couldn't fit as much stuff on the sales floor. Consider what the world would be like if you couldn't hear everything, & what might be different for you. And for goodness sake, please make it a point NOT to cross to the other side of the walkway when someone who looks or acts a little different comes your way.....they are just regular people out in public, just like you! 

Just be aware of the way everyday life is set up to further disadvantage the already disadvantaged. But I warn you, it's upsetting once you finally start to see. And you'll see it everywhere.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

free Apartheid?

I have a new favourite public figure. Well, he himself isn't new - he's been around a while - but I only learned about him yesterday. Tim Wise, and if you don't know who he is, check him out immediately. http://www.timwise.org/ I'm a bit disappointed in myself that I haven't heard of him sooner to be honest. And don't be surprised when I meet him one day & I'm about as ecstatic as the time I met Dr. Maya Angelou. I think he's that amazing. 

So I'll spare you the complicated process of thinking that goes on in my head, but basically I read over his bio & realized that he became an anti-racism activist by involving himself in anti-Apartheid activities during his undergraduate studies. Having grown up in Apartheid South Africa myself, I understand how that experience can make you question not only your values but also the concept of justice in the world as you know it. And I started thinking about how common it is for white people there to have black maids. And the general thought is that by allowing this person to clean your home & care for your children 5 days a week, pay them, house them, & give them a day or two to return to their own towns/families, that they are being given a better life than they could have otherwise. There is no inequality, because they are getting a great deal. Think about that for a second - someone comes in, cleans up your crap, takes care of your (probably completely spoiled if you're the type to hire a maid) children, lives away from their family & loved ones, & this is *a good deal*. What's the automatic assumption there? 

Wait for it.......did it click yet? 

The unspoken yet automatic assumption is that the person who is financially able to do the hiring has a better life. Let me tell you, some of the most valuable lessons I learned as a child were from the Zulu women. And there is nothing that money can buy that is more important than being able to be a part of your own community, culture, and people. Therefore, by offering employment to people on the condition of being removed from their own is not actually "better". 

And then I got to thinking about the United States. Today, not in previous decades. Who primarily cleans houses here today? Latina women. Low income black women. If you're a really generous and wealthy white woman, you *might* have a live in nanny/maid type of thing & actually believe that you are in some way helping them achieve a better life. I cannot for one second wrap my mind around how someone could actually believe that having another person clean your toilets and raise your children and clean up your messes is "giving" them anything. It's the other way around in fact....they are enabling your lifestyle to exist by doing the menial tasks (otherwise known as common household responsibilities) for you. But there is no inequality of course, because they are being compensated for their work & oh my goodness if they are undocumented then how very generous of you to be providing them with a way of life. Right? 

When is the last time you heard a little girl say "when I grow up I want to be a maid" or "my biggest dream is to do someone else's laundry" or better yet "I hope I can take care of some rich lady's bratty kid while my own sits home alone all day"? Pretty much......never. These women do this backbreaking work for so little compensation because there are no other options. These women have hopes and dreams, and most likely they will never come true because of the way society is set up. 

Tim Wise said something very true that nobody wants to acknowledge: the term underprivileged by default means that there is an overprivileged. But nobody wants to admit that they could be hogging the resources of society or denying people access to basic rights like healthcare, education, self determination. Oh no, especially not if they are kind enough to *pay* these people for their services. No inequality there! And yet it exists....there is a distinctly overprivileged group in society, typically made up of wealthy whites. 

Our society in the United States today is really no different than it was in South Africa during the Apartheid, for plenty of reasons aside from this one. But I think in a way we are worse, because we hide the fact that there are distinct inequalities in the way we live. We *deny* it even. We say "oh no everything is wonderful here! Look we aren't like THEM." 

But we are. And we are worse because we adamantly refuse to admit it. We have the Apartheid in place under the guise of freedom. Ruminate on that one for a while...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Just some thoughts about love...

Some of the most beautiful people are the ones with the most flaws; some of the strongest hearts have been broken the most times; some of the kindest souls have been through the most pain.
Their beauty isn't *despite* these experiences, but because of them. Scars and cracks, visible or not, are signs that the person has survived something and come out better - signs of strength, not weakness.
When someone allows you close enough into their private world to see their fears and weaknesses, be grateful for it, & love them all the more. There is a great amount of trust needed to be able to expose the most vulnerable part of one's nature to another person, and as such should be repaid with gratitude and love.
You can never truly know someone until you know their flaws and understand the experiences that shaped them into the person standing before you, & you can never truly love someone until that knowledge makes you respect them more & want to protect them from future harm.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Sometimes things come along that leave an indelible mark on you whether you choose to embrace it or not. One tiny moment can have a cascading impact that redefines who you are forever. It's that visible alteration, however unintended, that makes a single experience life changing. Maybe it brings a new spark of light to your soul, or maybe it brings sorrow that ultimately makes you stronger. Some things change you whether you ask for it or not. But one thing is certain - if it is truly important, there is nothing you can do to change the way it affects you and no way to stop people from noticing the resulting shift.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

LEGOs: educational innovation?

I recently learned that LEGO has given some rather large grants to schools in 14 regions nationwide. Basically, students will play with LEGOs starting in Kindergarten all the way through their Senior year of high school, & it will magically turn them into 21st century leaders. The news article I read touted playtime as being remarkably beneficial to children, as if this was some sort of new discovery they had made. 

Here's the thing: our school systems have removed playtime. PE has been cut out almost completely. Remember gym class everyday, sports outside, running the track, dodgeball....yeah none of that happens anymore. PE happens less than once a week now. And recess? Yep, that's been cut down too. So has art & music - all things shown to be highly beneficial to children.

So they've removed the opportunities for our children to have optimal learning conditions, & then requested grants from name brand companies to reintroduce the same opportunities with *their* products. Did I get that right? Now, I'm all for charitable donations. If LEGO wants to give their products to students then by all means, that's wonderful. What gets me is this - the school system in return gives $80K into this LEGO program as well. So it's not really a gift, but a matching promotion. And it's not to be spread out equally across the entire school districts, oh no, it's only certain schools within the regions chosen that receive this "opportunity". Certainly then it must be the lowest performing, lowest income, most at-risk student population schools then? Oh wait... no, it's not.

Before you think "gee Gypsy's just jealous because her kid can't play with LEGOs in school"...think again. My kid is in one of the schools in one of the 14 regions nationwide. And I'm effing pissed. Let me explain why: 

I get that these nifty little stacking bricks provide hand-eye coordination, encourage creativity, foster engineering skills, spatial awareness, & other neurosynaptic wonders. What I *don't* understand is why we don't reinstate PE, music, art, & actually introduce foreign languages as a mandatory topic in elementary school. I also fail to understand why this grant goes all the way through high school. I can buy into the idea of LEGOs being beneficial as a K-3 learning tool, but beyond that.... not really. 

$160K per school district is being spent to ensure that children play with a common, albeit increasingly expensive, household toy. Broken down, that's $40K from LEGO, $40K from the Education Blueprints Association, & $80K matched from the school district. It's that last $80K that I'm particularly pissed about.

That $80K, if spread out amongst all the schools in the district or - *heaven forbid* be given to the most at-risk schools - could go a hell of a lot further than some bags of LEGOs. As someone who works with the developmentally disabled, my first thought went to that particular segment of the population. They are underserved, under staffed, ignored, misunderstood, and marginalized. Children with special needs receive limited services through 5th grade at which point they are mainstreamed with less or no services or placed in a separate track - one that basically says "you aren't worth trying to educate anymore". That $80K could go towards employing more special needs teachers who are actually trained to deal with the challenges these children face and who know how to appreciate the abilities they have instead of having overworked teachers who leave their classroom to teacher aides who sit on their cell phones all day. These children have real capabilities and real learning potential, and they're ignored. Their needs are nowhere near met, and it infuriates me. Does nobody realize that people with special needs have so much potential, and most can be fully productive citizens if only given the support they need? 

What about the at-risk kids - low income, foster care, gang related, those kinds of students? They're often in neighbourhoods that are poorer, which translates to schools that are inadequate. I currently volunteer in one of those actually, where the teachers are given a limited supply of printer paper & once it's gone for the year it's gone. The differences between schools in a low income neighbourhood & a high income one is astonishing, but nobody seems to care to equalize it. Does nobody realize that these children are our next generation, whether or not they are rich or poor? Why aren't they all given the same opportunities? Does nobody realize that those who are economically disadvantaged are more likely to have an array of difficulties and discrimination in life that *starts* with an inadequate education?

I could carry on about the segments of students that are inadequately served, and how they are at even more of a disadvantage by virtue of our current educational setup, but I won't. Those reading who understand my frustration will already be aware of the issues, and those who don't will have enough to contemplate with just those examples. 

So this is my closing thought - why aren't these fantastic STEM (science/math/engineering/technology) improving LEGO grants being given to the autism programs, the low income schools, the deaf/blind community, or other kids who could benefit from it so much more than your average middle class student? Better yet, *why* are these administrators not aware of the impact their $80K match could have if spread out amongst those who need it most? 

Our school system is failing, & I'm ashamed to say that my kid is the one sitting in class playing with $160K LEGOs while your kid may be sharing pencils & paper with their classmate, waiting to take a turn to write out an inadequate exercise because the school simply can't afford anything better.

This is not equality. This is not serving the needs of all. This is not right. This is our educational system failing our children, as a nation, as a whole, by ensuring that the gap between the haves & have nots grows even more in the next generation.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Define "NEED"

Do you ever stop to wonder just how many things in your life you take for granted? While you're complaining about your day & how unfair it is that your barista forgot to add chocolate shavings to your fancy $5 coffee, did you remember to be grateful for the fact that you could read the menu? I'll bet you a $5 cup of coffee that you didn't even think twice about that! Maybe after this post you'll start looking at the world a little differently, & stop complaining about your luxuries so much.

I picked up a gentleman at the airport tonight, welcoming him to his first day in the United States. He, like so many other refugees, speaks only a handful of English words. All I can say is, it's amazing how much you can communicate with hand gestures. On the drive to his new home, I wondered if he was scared. I know I would be if i just came to a brand new country & didn't know a single thing. I wondered what made him leave (although, knowing his country of origin I have a fairly good idea of what he fled from) & if he was leaving anyone behind. He is....one of his few English words is "parents". I had a lot of trouble with the fact that he would be spending his first night in a strange country completely alone in an empty room. Turns out, he has a roommate, & although my next concern was that they couldn't communicate they soon found that they each speak just enough of another language to be able to have some conversation. For some reason this made me feel better. 

Being a refugee in a new land must be one of the scariest experiences ever. Imagine not only having endured something horrific but being in a completely new place, unable to understand or read the language, with no friends, no family, and a suitcase full of stuff. And nothing else. 

The resiliency of all of the people I have met never ceases to amaze me. Some of them speak 3 languages but can't read at all because they had to focus on safety instead of education. Some of them have Master's degrees but can't find work here. Some of them work jobs that your average American wouldn't dare consider, & they do it with pride because they are working. All of them - regardless of where they came from - have left a situation so horrible that virtually nobody in this country will ever have anything to compare it to. It's the same story over & over again: war, genocide, death, rape, famine, fear. Over & over again, every single day.  And they persevere. I am constantly humbled by this work that I'm fortunate enough to do. 

Anyway, back to tonight. As this gentleman was being shown his new home, everything from how to use the restroom to how to use a blanket to lessons about keeping the doors locked for safety, I suddenly realized that ... there really was nothing. A mattress, some toiletries, a small couch, a kitchen table....just the bare basics. No tv, no books, no artwork, nothing. And my heart sank. Here was this man who has all of his worldly possessions in one small bag and now he gets to reside in an empty home in a strange land. In an instant I thought about what some of these people could do all day....& basically they'd stare at the walls. Some clients practice writing or reading or speaking their English all day long in hopes of learning enough to get a job soon, but how do you do that without any books or tv or connection to anyone? 

Very quickly & very shamefully I realized that I have a small tv that sits unused in my house, waiting to hopefully be sold for $20 or so on craigslist or at a garage sale. But it could go to so much more use being given away to someone who could use it as a means to start learning English. So guess what's going over there tomorrow, along with a whole bunch of other stuff I don't need. 

There's this thing about the word "need". People throw it around like crazy. Define "need". The closets full of new clothes or racks of shoes? Not an actual need. The piles of toys? Not a need. Shelves of dvds or cds? Nope. Highlighted hair & tipped nails? Not a need either. Food, shelter, education, safety - those are needs. Everything else is a bonus. We live in such an obliviously gluttonous society, & if you take just a moment to look at the reality of others it would make you rethink everything. Maybe even what this constant overspending is teaching our children - that self indulgent materialism is better than compassion & social justice.

Here's an exercise, if you've read this far, please do it. Or at least think about it: 

Gather up everything you love. Then put everything you would "absolutely need" to have & pack it in a suitcase. Just one suitcase, standard checked baggage size. Now look around at EVERYTHING ELSE YOU HAVE. Do you need all of that? See if you can find it in your heart to fill up just 2 trash bags full of some of that extra "stuff" & give it to someone who literally has nothing. If there's a refugee relocation service in your area, give it to them. If not, give it to a homeless shelter. But really truly think about how much stuff you have that you don't "need"....honestly, you probably won't miss those 2 trash bags full at all. Not one bit. But it could mean so much to someone who literally has nothing. 

The next time you order that $5 half caff 3 splenda sugar free carmel coffee.....stop for just a second to be grateful for the fact that instead of scrambling away from gunfire or hiding from murderers and rapists, you were in school as a child. Realize that just by virtue of the fact that you're standing in that coffee shop reading the menu with money to spend on a $5 cup of coffee, that you are blessed more than many people in this world are. If your biggest complaint is that the hairdresser got your shade of blonde wrong or the driver in front of you is too slow, then be thankful. Such a tiny shift in perception can have such a large impact.

Let me know when you get rid of those 2 bags full of unnecessary stuff....

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Immigration "reform"

Listening to Republicans discuss immigration reform makes my brain hurt. Mexicans bring drugs, prostitution, and torture by coming across the border?! REALLY?! People DO NOT flee their countries through dangerous, possibly deadly conditions just to pop across the border for vacation. They go because they would rather RISK DEATH than continue to live under the conditions they are in. I think it's important for people to remember that unless you are 100% Native American, *our* ancestors all came to the United States by - wait for it - leaving some sort of oppressive conditions in their country of birth! Whether it was unjust taxation, unemployment, or ravages of war....we ALL came from immigrants! We are a nation FOUNDED by immigrants.

So the real question is: what type of people get on the boat (so to speak) then pull up the remaining entryways, shove off shore, & wave back saying "too bad for you - suckers!" Certainly not the type of people I want to associate with.

I'm 3rd/4th generation American depending on which family member you look at. My ancestors left Hungary & Germany to make a better life for their children because the conditions they were living in were unfavourable. Their journey was not much different than immigrants of today...family was separated & people were left behind, & those who came here struggled to build a new life. I'm proud of my heritage & don't forget for a *second* that if the types of immigration "reform" being discussed today was on the table last century, I would probably be a peasant farmer instead of a social worker.

We live in a country with more abundance than virtually ALL of the rest of the countries in the world yet we are instituting some of the most penalizing policies for citizens & non citizens alike. We, as a nation, supposedly fight against global tyranny & yet we are perpetrators ourselves. Take a look back through *your* heritage & think about where you would be if *your* ancestor didn't emigrate here. And shame on anyone who would deny that right to others.
Immigrants are not a danger to "our way of life". In the United States, immigration IS the way of life! The danger comes in locking down borders & refusing to give aide to those who need it. Do you know what other countries did that? Let's see....North Korea, communist Russia,  & myriad other oppressive regimes. That's the road we're headed on as we slowly & systematically strip away the rights of citizens (women's rights infringements anyone? punitive social welfare policies?) & lock down our borders. 
We may be on the verge of the first generation where people LEAVE the United States to find a better life.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Life is so mysterious at times...

There are moments in life when we think the world is going to end. We all have them. We can all pinpoint an event that makes us think that life as we know it is over for sure. Most of mine revolve around my marriage, or ending thereof. See I got married first in secret so that I could be added to our health insurance plan so my baby could have adequate medical care. I hated that date. I never recognized it because it felt like a lie....it was a lie! Then I got married 2 months later in a "real" ceremony so our friends & family could attend. But it was still a lie, since we were already married. I felt like I cheated my family, I let them down, I robbed myself, and nothing was right. But I was married and committed & I was going to honour that. Then two years & one more child later he left. And on the day that I recognized as our anniversary, I mourned. I mourned all the things that could have been, that should have been, & that would never be. Things *should* have been very very different from the start, there's no doubt about that, they *could* have been very different if we had both made different choices, and who knows what *would* have been. Regardless, I mourned. 

Until today. 

Today I got an email reminder about my acceptance to grad school. Now, grad school is exciting in itself but it's important to note that I would never have gone back to school for my Bachelors if it wasn't for my divorce. I went back to school to ensure a solid future for my children. It was either school, or a life of waiting tables. I chose school. And it's been hard. The last two years have been exhausting and there have been days that I've thought I couldn't push through anymore. Thank goodness I have a select few amazing friends who keep me going! Grad school wasn't exactly my end goal, but here I am about to embark on yet another year to earn a higher degree. Exciting! 

So what was the big news about this email? 

Well, for one it was a reminder to accept the invitation - which clearly I didn't know I needed to do. Oops. But for two, it was an invitation to attend orientation before summer classes start. When is that orientation you ask? Oh my, well, it's the date that would be my 7th wedding anniversary this year. And I was so excited to click "accept" on that form. 

You see, every ending is the start of a new beginning. I don't regret my marriage. I wish things were different, sure, many many things, but I don't regret it. It made me who I am today. It put me on the path that I'm on now, which I have no doubt is where I'm supposed to be. Sure there are days where I wish I had someone to come home to & I wish my children knew what it was like to have two parents in one house... but that's not my path. My path involves being an advocate for others, and the fact that my orientation to complete my education is on a day that once held so much sorrow but now holds so much excitement is just a testament to the fact this THIS IS RIGHT. 

May 21st will forever be an anniversary...but now it will be an anniversary of the day I started down the road to becoming who I'm meant to be. Sometimes things fall apart so that better things can come together.

And I will always celebrate it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Glamour response - that was fast!

Just got an email with a response from Glamour. I wonder if anything will come of it?  - 

Thank you for writing to Glamour to share your thoughts on "Inside the Night of 1,000 Dos & Don'ts" story in our March issue. We value your feedback, and I have passed your e-mail along to the top editors, including Editor-in-Chief Cindi Leive.

I look forward to hearing your comments on future issues of Glamour.

Many thanks,
Michelle Meyers
Reader Services

Monday, February 20, 2012

open letter to Glamour magazine

Dear Glamour,

I just read your article by Mindy Kaling. I dislike her character on The Office, but having no other reference for her aside from that show, I figured I'd read it to see what she has to say. I was truly disappointed.

I grew up as a competitive ice skater. Having always been the fat girl in the ice skating world, I'm a bit weight sensitive. Now - as both a mother and a social worker - I try to suppress those self-hating tendencies even though I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been at a size 10, which I admittedly often fail at. But at least I know better and try to model better attitudes. I'm also very aware of the inundation of media messages telling girls to be thin, and aware of the damage it causes.

Anyway, I read this article where she repeatedly calls herself "the chubby Indian kid" and says how much criticism hurts her, so I mistakenly expected her to have some sort of agenda to promote body acceptance or rail against the ways Hollywood makes her feel inadequate. Silly social worker, not everyone in the world has a do-gooder outlook.

 With tidbits such as:
"I spent the next 3 weeks running intervals on the treadmill eating lean proteins and vegetables with a handful of berries as a "treat". It was a pathetic and unhappy time during which I was endlessly grouchy. I recommend it to no one.  But it was worth it for the gown"
"my body looks slammin and I'm smiling and that's all that matters"
I was literally horrified at what I read. Actually, I was subconsciously adding up how many calories I could burn if I ate nothing but berries for 3 weeks to see if that would really make a difference in my jean size while simultaneously chastising myself for not working out like I used to and being the size of a small hippopotamus.

 *Then* the educated part of my brain took over, and I got angry. I expect this type of written trickery from the stick thin waif-like models. Of course they can survive on celery and chai tea, their metabolism stopped working years ago! But from the alive-looking women I expect more of a Kate Winslet attitude. You know - "screw you Hollywood, don't Photoshop me!" But here, this woman is talking about wanting to be as fashionable as the Kardashians and her best outift coming from a custom cinched waist. And my inner 10yo girl who would cry when nobody was looking because I was curvier already than the other girls and who knew every calorie count to every piece of food known to man instantly woke up and whispered "you'll never be good enough."

The thing is....if something as ridiculous as a fashion magazine article can do that to me, who (at least I would like to think) has a slightly more sophisticated world view with a broader range of acceptance and a great deal of knowledge about women's issues and the ways society contributes to their negative self image - if I can revert to that angsty pre-teen in a matter of minutes, then what does it do to the actual angsty teenagers who are reading this too?

It's not right. I've spent years working on my body issues that were in part given to me by the world I grew up in. It's hard to be an ice skater with a figure. The criticisms and comments still resonate years later, and it's not the kind of thing that ever leaves your head. But when you know better, you do better - for the next generation. I don't want my daughter growing up with the kinds of thoughts that are in my head that say that my worth is inversely proportionate to my pant size. I don't want this generation of girls to grow up thinking that endless amounts of running on the treadmill and a diet of celery, lettuce, and lemon juice will bring them any sort of sustainable happiness. I want to be part of what teaches them that their worth lies in their actions, their friendships, their honesty, their dreams.

I’m sure Mindy Kaling thinks she’s being cute or humourous to preemptively laugh off any potential criticism, but she’s not. Like it or not, she’s in a position of influence being a woman in Hollywood. As such, she should be ashamed of herself for promoting extreme dieting and exercise to attain such superficial beauty. Glamour magazine is read by thousands of young girls and women each month – when will your articles start to encourage them to love who they are instead of adding to the disillusioned standards that society already holds us to?

Looks like I've started a blog

I have a confession to make. I know nothing about technology. It usually takes a handful of friends dragging me kicking and screaming into the current decade before I even consider using a new type of technology. I'll never forget the first time I got a cell phone - after years of trying to convince me I "needed" one, a friend send me $200 in an envelope with a cutout newspaper picture of a cell phone. That was about 12 years ago, & I haven't changed much since then. Suffice it to say, people have been telling me to start a blog for at least 2 years. The only problem is, I don't really understand blogs. I have no idea if anyone would want to read one of mine or what I would really talk about. But here I am starting one, finally. (And I have to admit it took me about 3 hours just to figure out *how* to set this thing up)

Apparently, some people enjoy reading what I have to say. I'm a little hesitant to post my thoughts out there for everyone to see - I like the perceived privacy of my Facebook notes. I guess I'll start by posting a few of those over the next few days that were good discussion starters, & maybe over time I'll be my usual outspoken, unreserved self. 

At 12:30am as I venture out into a new branch of social media, let's just say I'm feeling mildly trepidatious about this whole idea. 

Here goes....something!

I should probably include some sort of warning in this first post: in order for me to actually take time out of my day to sit & write about something, I have to feel pretty passionately about the topic at hand. Sometimes people disagree with me & that's just fine. More often than not, people say I make them stop to think about the world a little differently, which is quite a compliment if you ask me. I'm well-educated, well-traveled, & I become easily upset at the myriad injustices in the world today. Most of my posts will probably be related to some aspect of society or the world at large that I wish to change. If you think that type of thing might interest you....then follow along :)