Category Archives: stuff i really care about

Death and grudges

My step-grandmother died a couple days ago.

But, wait, just a little framing & backstory before I get into this…

Backstory part 1:

My mom’s parents got divorced and both remarried other people when she was in high school.  Her father married who I had mostly always thought was a nice enough lady, and since they’d been married *my* whole life, I just always thought of her as another grandmother.  She was affectionate with me and really gave me little reason to think of her as anything but “grandma”.

However, she and my mother had had a very contemptuous relationship for a long time, which my mom told me about once when I was in my teens, after sort of realizing I didn’t think that my ‘grandma’ could do much wrong.  They didn’t get along for a long time, like REALLY didn’t get along, to the point where my mother felt that her father’s home was not a welcome place for her.  Long story short, they eventually made amends (must have been before my mom got married at 25, because they had their wedding reception at my grandpa’s house), and as far as I knew got along pretty well from then on.

Backstory Part 2:  My mom died when I was 22.  She was 47.  My grandpa and grandma (really my step-grandma) both outlived her, really a tragic sort of situation.

My grandparents lived in the Adirondacks, and it was always nice to visit them.  My aunt, their daughter (so, my mom’s half-sister) also lived up there with her family and I have always adored my aunt… she’s only seven years older than me so our relationship was always more sisterly than aunt/niece, even if we were never super duper close because I grew up in the Buffalo area and she was up there.  As I got older, the Adirondacks felt like more and more of a home (especially after my mom died), to the point where my husband and I chose to get married up there, and a year or so after getting married, semi-seriously considered moving up there.

My grandfather died of cancer in 2004.  About, oh, a year before he died, (and before he knew he was sick), he and my grandma decided they wanted to give a hunk of money to each of their kids.  Since my mom had passed away, they gave me and my brother her share.  (This wasn’t life-changing money, but it was enough to ‘pay off a car loan we had’ kind of money.)  My grandpa let me know ahead of time, and I was effusively grateful before he’d sent the check.  At about the same time, he’d sent me a check for $10 to cover an internet football pool a friend of mine ran that my grandma was involved in every year (she was a pretty cool lady, there were some very solid reasons I liked her!).  I was working full-time, well, really, more than full time, and I’d just found out I was pregnant but wasn’t telling anyone yet (thus my brain was pretty unreliable), and the $10 check had wallowed in my wallet for a while.  Well, my grandpa calls and says, “Hey, did you get that check I sent?” and all I can think of is this $10 check that’s been getting cobwebby in my wallet.  “Oh yeah,” I said, nonchalantly, “I have it.  I just haven’t been to the bank.  I’ll cash it soon, sorry.”  He seemed…. odd… about my response, but dropped it.  Then, going through about two weeks of mail that had piled up the next day, I found a slip for something certified mail that had arrived sometime in that time frame, which I didn’t actually think anything of because we’d gotten a couple weird pieces of what were basically junk mail via certified mail over the last few months.  Went to the post office a couple days later, and discovered it was the check – the generous, much more than $10 check – from my grandparents.  Oh.

OOHHHHHHHHH.

Needless to say, I was mortified and called my grandparents and apologized profusely and vehemently expressed my gratitude for the gift.  Then after I deposited the check and paid off the earlier-mentioned car loan a few days later, I wrote them a thank-you letter, telling them about how we’d paid off that loan with their gift.

Backstory Part 3:

About a year later I had a baby (the first pregnancy ended as a miscarriage and I got pregnant again pretty quickly afterwards), and a week after the birth, my grandfather died of cancer.  There wasn’t a wake or funeral per se, but they had a memorial service for my grandfather about a month after he died.  It was 7 hours away from where we lived on an uneventful drive, but our daughter did NOT handle car rides well.  Lots of screaming and crying and not a lot of sleeping, and at that point she was still nursing every hour for 15 minutes.  Flying wasn’t an alternative because the service was in the middle of the Adirondacks, where commercial flights are few and far between and wicked expensive.  With much regret I explained to my grandmother that we just weren’t going to be able to make it.  She tried to sound understanding but in retrospect I think she was pretty offended.

A couple months later, once car trips with the baby weren’t a total nightmare, we did make it up to visit for a few days.  And overall, it was a really nice visit.  But on the day before we left, at a moment when my grandmother had me alone, she decided to tell me how offended my grandfather was at how ungrateful I was for the gift they’d given me.  Not only had he been taken aback at my behavior, but surely my mother raised me better than that.  She would have been mortified to know how poorly I’d behaved.  “OK,” she concluded, “I just had to get that off my chest.  Let’s not let it bother us anymore.”

WHAT?!?

I don’t doubt for a second that my grandfather probably said something to that effect in the days between his call about the check, and me realizing the extent of the misunderstanding and apologizing profusely for it.  I knew he probably had a few days of thinking I was horrid.  But was she unaware of my apology, or did she forget about it?  I was truly so shocked at her scolding of me that I barely defended myself.  Instead I was left to wonder – did my grandpa somehow not really understand the root of the misunderstanding?  Did they never receive my thank-you note?  (I specifically asked that, and my grandma had no recollection of it.)  Did my grandfather die thinking I was some awful person, or had she been so angry in her grief after he died that she just ruminated on every wrong she felt was committed against him, remembering vividly the harsh words but forgetting the amends?  Regardless, that moment she felt she had to be ‘honest’ with me has permanently and unalterably made me question how my grandfather, and maybe even how my mother felt about me.  99% of me knows she was just way off-base, and grief had made her behave out-of-line.  But in a more meta way, I was just really pissed she would say something that accomplishes nothing but to help her soothe the pain she was feeling by trying to right the wrongs she felt had been committed against my grandfather.

I later came to learn she’d similarly laid into my brother when he was up there for different, but similarly somewhat petty reasons that had happened years earlier… which means she verbally disciplined him on behalf of my dead grandfather for stuff he did when he was a teenager.  A teenager whose mother had died when he was 15.  As cross as I was about the gall she had with what she said to me, I was doubly angry that she could do the same to him.  My brother had also missed the memorial, but through no fault of his own.  My grandma had told my dad, who for whatever reason couldn’t make it, and he never told my brother about it.  I was sleep-deprived with a new baby and never thought to tell him, I only happened to mention it a few days later to ask why he and Dad didn’t go… and that was the first time he’d heard about it.  He was really, really upset that he missed it.  He adored our grandpa.  Of course grandma also got really mad at him for it, and probably mad at me also that I didn’t make sure he knew.  I’m sure a lot of that fueled her need to ‘get things off her chest.’

Had she told off anyone else?  I never heard about it, if she did.  But it made me wonder if we were targeted because we weren’t really “hers”… and had she always felt that way, disconnected from us because we weren’t her biological grandchildren?  I remembered what my mom had told me about how poorly my grandmother had treated her when she and my grandpa first got married.  It made me question everything I thought I knew about my relationship with her.

I think we only visited twice after that.  Both visits were fine… but her brutal ‘honesty’ that one visit had me constantly on edge that she might decide she needed to tell me something else that would further chip away at truths I took for granted.  So the visits stopped, and we rarely spoke on the phone.

I can own that I was probably being petty, and perhaps I should have leveled with her about how what she said made me feel.  Maybe our relationship could have been salvaged.

I’m sad she died, for sure, but I know she’s been pretty sick for awhile so I’d sort of already mourned her over the last couple months.  If there’s anything though, her death has made me realize how angry I still am with her.  I hate that I feel this way.  I’m just not quite sure what to do with it.

Increasing Breastfeeding rates will reduce government health costs

How does your state rate on the CDC’s Breastfeeding Report Card?

http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/pdf/2011BreastfeedingReportCard.pdf

Chances are, not well.  Most states aren’t doing a great job at this.

It’s a puzzle as to why, since so many states are having trouble financing Medicaid and WIC programs, and many also have state-sponsored child and/or family health insurance programs.

Breastfeeding is so important to reduce costs for families and for our state governments!  Of course formula provides adequate nutrition, and many babies do just fine on it.  But it’s certainly not ideal, and it definitely costs more money.

So why is breastfeeding important?  Well, here are a number of articles you may peruse for more information (all from very reputable sources):

Why Breastfeeding is Important (US Office of Health & Human Services)

The Economics of Breastfeeding: A Cost/Benefit Analysis (Ph.D. in Parenting blog)

Affordable Health Care beings with Breastfeeding (USLCA)

More Breastfeeding could save U.S. billions (Reuters, citing a study in Pediatrics)

How can we get there?  The answers begin in the articles linked above.  But the big answers, in my opinion, are:

  • Incentivize hospitals to become “Baby-Friendly
  • Get more certified Lactation Consultants into practice, both privately and employed by hospitals/pediatric medical practices/WIC organizations
  • Require medical pediatric training programs (for pediatricians, obstetricians, midwives, and OB/pediatric nurses) to include a minimum amount of course hours on infant nutrition and breastfeeding
  • Restrict marketing by formula companies and force them to be more WHO-compliant, and make WIC organizations only do business with companies in WHO compliance for the marketing of breast-milk substitutes
Unfortunately, breastfeeding is only a ‘money maker’ for those who it saves money: families, health insurance companies, and governments.  I’ve seen some positive changes in health insurance circles (with my last baby, I received a whole book on infant care and nutrition from my insurance company that had very thorough and good information on breastfeeding, that emphasized its benefits).  But as a people (and government, remember, is supposed to be of, by, and for the people) we need to drive the changes we need to see that are best for us as a society. 

I would launch a shitstorm of pain upon you if you did this to my daughter

I’ve been following this story for awhile, way before SCOTUS decided to hear it, thanks to the awesomeness that is Fark.com:

http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/04/19/scotus.strip.search/index.html

Long story short, let me sum this up for you.  A student in a middle school tells a school official that one of her classmates has prescription-strength ibuprofen with her at school.   School officials pull this girl, a 13 year-old honor student with no history of disciplinary issues, out of class, search her backpack, and when they don’t find the aforementioned contraband, decide a strip search would be prudent.  The male administrator gets the female school nurse (because that makes it all better, right?!) and they make the girl strip down to her bra and underwear.  They never do find the ibuprofen.

Girl is understandably traumatized and embarrassed.  Parents are understandably freaked the hell out.  The case has been tried and appealed, and appealed, and the Supreme Court will be hearing it tomorrow.

I truly honestly totally completely hope that the Supreme Court upholds the decision of the federal appeals court that found the search was illegal.  Now, I don’t have any problem with school officials having a little more authority than normal over the students under their care.  A school is unarguably a challenging environment to keep safe and school officials do need to be able to utilize a bit of discretion.  Go ahead, search lockers, do random drug tests.  Do not, however, EVER, based solely on the word of another student, march my daughter (or son, for that matter) into your office and insist she strip down to her undergarments in the name of protecting the student body from the evils of pain management.  I’m not generally a fan of litigation, but you can rest assured I would sue your pants off, and then once I had your pants, I would punch you so hard your children would be born dizzy.

That’s not to say I don’t think the administrators could have taken action.  They could have asked some questions, maybe tried to verify the accusation from the other student.  Once they did a reasonable search of the girl’s personal belongings they could have sent her home for the day with the admonition that she should never ever bring prescription or over-the-counter drugs to school.  I remember how I was as a 13 year-old kinda-nerdy, never-been-in-trouble honors student, and that close brush with getting in trouble would have freaked me about and been all I needed to never do it again (or at least be way better about not getting caught).

You, as school administrators, may have some extended protections in the name of the safety of the student population at-large, but your students do not check the entirety of their civil liberties when they walk on your campus, a point very famously made by SCOTUS in 1969.  And in this case, I really really hope the Supreme Court hands the Safford Unified School District in question its ass on a platter.  Cold, with a side of kick-in-the-head.

Green in the hereafter

Yesterday’s post also ties in nicely to another point about death planning I’ve been contemplating.  Many people are all about trying to be more green these days — recycling, driving hybrids, reducing one’s carbon footprint.  I do what I can, when I can, though I am no saint and surely could be doing more.  I touched yesterday on the ooginess I feel about embalming and being buried and how I’m not really down with all those chemicals.  Lo and behold, I just came across this CNN article that talks about the same topic.

I first became aware of the idea of green funerals watching the show Six Feet Under.  One of the characters dies, and her husband opts to bury her in green cemetary, where the bodies are interred without being embalmed and only wrapped in a gauzy shroud.  He dug the hole himself and placed her, and filled it in.  There was no marker for her grave, and I’m fuzzy if I’m getting this from the show or elsewhere but I think the only way he knew where she was buried was by GPS coordinates.  (And of course there was a whole other subplot around this, where the husband tricked the wife’s family into believing she was cremated, but he gave them the ashes of someone else.  Being he was a funeral director himself he had access to a cache of cremains never picked up by the families.  It was an odd, but riveting show.  Give it a gander sometime if you are into that sort of thing.)

Anyway, the CNN article quoted some eye-opening statistics about the resources ‘consumed’ by the death industry and buried in the ground.  Enough metal each year to build a Golden Gate Bridge!  Enough concrete to build a highway, each year, from New York City to Detroit!  Egads.  And that’s on top of the tons of toxic embalming chemicals that leech into the ground from decaying bodies and burned into the atmosphere through cremation.  It really gave me pause, and definitely reinforced my own minimalist desires for the disposal of my used-up body.

I hope for anyone reading these last two posts, you’ll take a couple things away from this:

1) Be open, as soon as possible, for what you wish for your body when you die, with whoever might be charged with that decision.  Include it in your will, even (though in a will only, it could be too late for the immediate arrangements that need to be made upon your death – it’s simply not adequate to ONLY have this information in your will).  You never ever know when those wishes might suddenly become relevant.  It may seem like a macabre and weird thing to discuss with your spouse or children or parents.  But for them, knowing your wishes and that they are following them will lift their burden and ease their stress, even just a little, at an otherwise very burdensome and stressful time in their lives.  You’re doing it for yourself, but you’re doing it for them, too.  I am so glad my mom shared those wishes with us, even if I rolled my eyes at her when she’d do it.

2) Research and consider greener funeral alternatives.  Your desire to leave the Earth a better place for your children shouldn’t stop with your last breath.  Try to make your last major imprint on the world in keeping with the way you lived, as much as you can tolerate from both a personal and religious perspective.

A can of electoral whoop-ass

Well, I did it.  I called the Board of Elections.

When I called the Board of Elections, the woman I spoke with was very very not happy about it.  Well, before I told her why I was calling, and simply said I wanted to voice a concern about something that happened at my polling place today, she assumed I was going to say something stupid, I think.  I imagine she’s handled a lot of weird stuff today.  She automatically said that any complaints need to be submitted in writing.  I said, well, let me just tell you what happened to me and you can tell me if the concern I have is legitimate and tell me what my next steps should be.

So I told the story and she was actually pretty pissed off that it happened.  She explained to me what he should have done (verbally tried to get my attention or knocking on the side of the booth) even though she also said by my story it didn’t sound like I was taking an inordinate amount of time in the booth.  She said she was going to bring up the issue to the board of commissioners just based on my verbal complaint, that that specific poll worker would definitely be talked to, and she apologized profusely that it happened.  I don’t really want the guy to get in trouble… but what he did was pretty wrong, it seems.  I’m glad I called it in.

Election Day shenanigans

I went and voted, and took the kids with me.  Jake sat in a stroller just outside the voting booth but Lane came in with me and helped me push the buttons.  She’s enthusiastic and impressionable and it’s my job as her mom to make voting seem way super awesome.

And then, as we were nearly ready to pull the handle and submit our votes, the little weird old guy who was supervising our booth actually stuck his head INTO OUR BOOTH, THROUGH THE CURTAIN and said “Everything OK in here?”

“Yes, we’re fine, get out NOW,” I replied, or something to that effect.  When we left the booth a few seconds later a line of like three people had built up (we’d been able to go straight in).  Apparently this rush made him panic a bit, and he hadn’t yet heard about the blocks-long lines in many voting areas.

I was annoyed.  But the outrage didn’t really hit until I got into the car.  He basically violated the sanctity of my secret ballot.  Had I not had Jake in tow, who was desperate for a nap, I would have gone back and given him a real piece of my mind.  I’m still strongly leaning toward visiting the Board of Elections tomorrow and logging a complaint.  Should I?

Going Public: Breastfeeding Narrative #6

There comes a time after your wee one arrives where you may, possibly, potentially, start to consider actually leaving the house.  It may take a few days, or months, before the idea of heading out doesn’t seem to be so complex an operation that it makes your brain stall.

“They” like to say that if you nurse your baby right before you leave, and don’t plan to be out for more than a couple of hours, then you’ll avoid having to nurse in public.

“They” never met my daughter.

Lane was a nurse-a-holic.  I could nurse her before we left the house, and she’d be content to snooze away in her comfy infant car seat in the shopping cart while I tooled around Target, but the second it was my turn to check out my purchases in line, she wanted a boob in her mouth pronto.  As a baby she always had impeccable timing.  It wasn’t long before I’d mastered the art of nursing and paying.  Paying with a debit card, I’ve found works best when you’re paying one-handed.

The fact of the matter is, if you’re a breastfeeding mom, chances are you’re going to end up breastfeeding in public.  There are moms that choose to avoid this at all costs.  They nurse in the car, they nurse in the restroom, and in case they absolutely must nurse where someone might see them, they own a nursing cover.  I’m not that mom.

Oh, for certain, I was nervous to breastfeed in public.  What if someone started or gawked?  What if someone gave me a dirty look or chided me for corrupting their precious snowflakes with my boobs?  What if I was asked to stop?  What if my overactive letdown flooded the shoe section at Macy’s?  But I found the best course of action was just to climb up on that horse and ride it.  I dare say, I have had great success with nursing in public.  I feel I can do it discreetly, without any extraneous props or apparatus.

In learning the ropes myself, I’ve come across a few morsels of wisdom:

1)  Pick a good spot to make your first foray into public breastfeeding.  For some moms, this is someplace quiet and out of the way… the lounge in a department store, the bench by the pharmacy in the supermarket, a corner booth in a restaurant.  These are all excellent choices, and I’ve nursed on all of them.  However, I went in a slightly different direction.  My first public breastfeeding experience was when Lane was about 3 weeks old.  I took her to the mall to walk around, and despite all my efforts to tank her up before we left, she was looking for a boob after about 30 minutes at the mall.  I considered my options, and went with the bench right in front of Victoria’s Secret, where there were giant posters of larger-than-life woman with larger-than-life, mostly naked breasts hanging in the windows for all to see.  I figured, there’s no way ANYONE would have the gall to reprimand me for nursing here!  And honestly, I’m not sure a single person noticed we were nursing.

2)  Dress appropriately.  Nursing bras are your friend!  I personally prefer the type I can just pull to the side vs. the drop-down flap/cup thing.  Mostly because I fumble too much with the little claspy things on the cups.  Lots of women love nursing wear, but I’ve found more often than not it’s more awkward than just hiking up my shirt, and sometimes doesn’t even provide the supposed benefit of more modesty.  I’m a big fan of wearing nursing tank tops — like a nursing bra, but a tank top — under regular shirts.  Also, I’ve gerryrigged my own maternity wear, by buying a pack of wife-beater tank tops and just cutting a horizontal slit across the chest.  They are super long, and thin, so I can wear them under anything and get great midsection coverage when I hoist my shirt.  Some women will swear by button-down shirts, but they’ve never worked well for me.

Of course in this same vein, you’ll find some of your wardrobe gets shoved to the back of your closet for awhile.  Tight shirts without any stretch to them will not see much daylight… especially stuff that is empire-wasted.  One piece dresses are a thing of the past.

3) Prepare for the unexpected.  As I’ve mentioned, I have an overactive, forceful letdown, which means when I start nursing, my non-utilized boob is capable of randomly offloading an ounce or two of milk in about 30 seconds.  Nursing pads helped but if they were out of position, or if I’d done a boneheaded thing like put them in backwards (yes, I have, even when there was a sticky part to duly demonstrate which side was ‘out’) I’d leak all over the place.  I therefore kept a clean shirt in the car as much as I could remember to do so.  I kept a stockpile of burp cloths and breast pads in the diaper bag.  (By the way, nursing pads are great in a pinch if you forget diapers.  What you can do is put a nursing pad right into the pee-pee area of the diaper, and change it out, thus extending the life of the only diaper you have with you.)

I’m happy to report that through frequent public breastfeeding of two babies, I’ve never received a dirty look or a disapproving stare when I’ve breastfed in public.  Most people have no idea what you’re doing.  I have received plenty of smiles, a few “good for you’s” and shared a few nice conversations with other women who have breastfed or are currently doing so.

The best thing about my willingness to nurse in public, I have to say, is the benefits in a time of crisis.

When Lane was just shy of her second birthday, we took a trip to Arizona.  On the flight back, our plane was delayed on the tarmac before takeoff, for two hours.  Lane is a boisterous, energetic, intense girl… when she’s happy she’s loud and feisty… when she’s upset she’s loud and sometimes inconsolable.  It’s a tough package to deal with… but nursing was always a welcome distraction for her.  We sat on this hot, crowded plane, with a businessman next to us and a family in front of us for that two hour delay (during which I nursed Lane at least four times to settle her down and just as something for her to do, and she didn’t nap at all) plus our three hour flight.  When the ordeal was finally over, some five-plus hours later and we were de-planing, the man next to us said how pleasant our daughter was — even though I was sitting right next to him, I’m pretty certain he had no clue that Lane ever breastfed.  The family in front of us was shocked to see there’d been a toddler behind them the whole time.  I’m certain without nursing in my bag of tricks, we would have been the most reviled people on the plane.