Friday, July 28, 2006

Modern ancient wisdom

www.beliefnet.com is one of my favorite sites. They offer a rather lengthy quiz which can tell you what religion bests matches your beliefs. They'll also email a daily prayer, quote, thought, etc. for whatever religious faith (or lack thereof) that you want. I get three different ones, which probably says something about me. Anyway, these were two recent emails that stuck with me. Here's the first:

Once, two very old brahman, both 120 years old, came to see the Buddha. They sat down before him and said:

"We are brahmans, frail and old. We have not done anything noble or even particularly worthwhile, so now there is nothing to reduce our fear of death. Please show us a way to happiness."

The Buddha said: "Yes, brahmans, you are truly frail and old and now you are full of fear. This world is flooded with old age, sickness and death. But if you can practice some insight into your deeds, some control over your words, and some contemplation of your thoughts, that will provide you with a refuge and a shelter.

"Your life is nearly over. No one is immune from old age and death. Remembering death and keeping it in your mind, practice performing good deeds that lead to happiness for others. One who performs good deeds and is thoughtful will become harmonious in body, speech and mind. He will find that death is not to be feared but indeed brings happiness."

-Anguttara Nikaya


Here's another one:

Prayer to Live With Grace
-Rabbi Rami M. Shapiro

May we discover through pain and torment,
the strength to live with grace and humor.
May we discover through doubt and anguish,
the strength to live with dignity and holiness.
May we discover through suffering and fear,
the strength to move toward healing.
May it come to pass that we be restored to health and to vigor.
May Life grant us wellness of body, spirit and mind.
And if this cannot be so, may we find in this transformation and passage
moments of meaning, opportunities for love
and the deep and gracious calm that comes
when we allow ourselves to move on.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

Right or Wrong?

She's 25. She's never finished high school, primarily because she tried to kill herself at 15, and then when that didn't work, she turned to a man who gave her a kid, but nothing else. She works more than 40 hours a week at a small town fast food joint, $6.15 an hour--no overtime, no benefits. The governor and state legislature took away her Medicaid so she can't afford medicine for a serious and persistent mental illness and still get groceries for her three young children.

And those three kids? The oldest one is developmentally delayed and needs medicine for attention and behavior problems. The younger two were born two months early. One has cerebral palsy, one was diagnosed failure to thrive.

The last couple of men she's had relationships with either beat her, beat her kids, or both. Restraining orders only go so far in the hills, because you've got to have a phone to call the sheriff.

So, is it right or wrong for her to trade sex for the rent or the money for utilities and food?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Good and Evil Part II

I did not put on my ipod when I went to the Aurora Walmart. I have been in that store a zillion times and never even thought to put on the ipod. (backstory: I've learned to wear my ipod, turned way up, blasting weezer, the cure, bob dylan--anything to drown out the sound of parents and kids who forget that voices carry.)

So I heard what I heard until I clapped my hands over my ears to shut out the sound.

I noticed the two little girls and their mom when I heard them all excitedly commenting on gifts they were buying for an uncle. Two little tow-heads, probably about 4 or 5, clad only in bikinis. No shoes, no shorts. Mom had on her shoes, and had covered her swimsuit with cutoffs and a t-shirt. The girls were cavorting through the clothes racks, pointing to outfits while their mom shopped.

I'd wandered through the store for a while before I heard them again:

Mom, yelling: Goddamn it get your ass over here!

...glimpse of skinny little legs running into the shampoo aisle...

Mom: What the fuck do you think you're doing? I am not going to buy you a fucking thing if you keep that up! I get you a fucking outfit, a fucking toy, panties, everything! Do you want me to put them back?

Mom: SHUT UP! Just shut the fuck up!

That's when I covered my ears. I guess I stood there for a while, blindly staring at mouthwash, trying to seal out the noise. I couldn't even move.

Moments later I watched her march those children with their bare feet out on the hot asphalt to their car. She shoved the basket of sacks across the pavement, and children just scurried behind her. No noise, no whimpers, no cries.

I know all the do-gooder talk about understanding the mom's value system, the way she was raised, the stresses in her life. I know all that, I really do. It is stressful to have two little kids with the "Gimme's" at the store. But she turned on them so drastically. And they just took it. What else could they do, right?

You can only excuse this behavior so much, before realizing that no matter what, cussing out a child, humiliating them, shaming them with your words, is not okay. The girls reacted by not reacting. I wonder what has happened to them that they were able to kill their emotions like that?

It is a vicious cycle, you know. It won't stop with that mom, it won't stop with those children.

An ipod gives me a three minute song's amount of peace. Where do those children get peace?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Good and Evil, Part I

Aurora, MO may be the center of the universe. Truly. Or at least the center of the food universe. Within a two block area are what may be three of the best restaurants in the region. Today I had a business lunch at the Kaffe Metropolitan. The atmosphere smacks of urban coffee house, but the staff are small town in all the good ways. The owner stopped by the table to see how we liked the quiche, and remembered everything we'd eaten right down to the type of salad dressing we ordered. After my colleague went on her way, I stayed behind for a coffee and what turned out to be the best strawberry cheesecake ever.

Imagine this: an inch or so layer of white cake (no lowly cracker crust for this masterpiece) topped with three inches of pink and ivory creamy, cheesy, heaven. With a mug of black coffee, this was a sublime experience.

Aurora is also home to great barbeque at Hawg Wild--where a hungry social worker can get a charcoal grilled burger, chips and a coke for $3.00. And Bootleggers, right down the block, famous for it's microbrewry, has some awesomely good walleye. Their raspberry lager is to die for.

Aurora is a neato town. It also has one of the last small WalMart stores left around. I try to wait to get the stuff I think I can't find cheaper than at WalMart until I can get to Aurora or Buffalo for their tiny stores. I went in there today, too, but I forgot to put on my ipod. That's for another post, though.

No sense in mucking up a perfectly good cheesecake.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Bloggers meeting

Went to my second Springfield Bloggers meeting the other night. Very little "blog talk" happened, but it was a wonderful exercise in people watching. I listened to lots of political bantering and got some good gossip about local muckety-mucks. The gatherings are an odd platform for a wild array of personalities.

It was cool to meet some folks who'd also worked at the Purple Palace of Mental Health in the past. We shared some scary stories about the Grand Pooh Bah in beige who rules that roost, and noted that trying to live on the salaries was futile, especially when watching state and grant dollars coming into that place by the truckload. Seriously.

None of these guys are still in mental health from what I could tell. I know other do-gooders like that. My Best Friend in the Universe finally gave up working in the social services when the local sheltered workshop, changed directors and thus changed focus. She went into the gourmet food business and has not looked back. She's making more money (that's a given) and no one asks her to fix their kid, their marriage, their psyche. That said, her personality is such that people talk to her anyway, and when she listens, she listens. I know people with PhDs that can't pull that off.

Even with graduate degrees in counseling, psychology and the like, it is a hard job, and sometimes it is pretty thankless. You hear more and see more than you expected; eventually you have to decide if you can do it and maintain your own life. And some people decide they need to take a different road, at least temporarily. Oh man, that does sound good some days.

I've tried it, even just "moving up" to administration was too far away from the work that has true meaning for me. So really then, all my bellyachin' is surface junk. Underneath, it is just who I am.

Funny how a beer with bloggers hatched more things to think...

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Whining is good for the soul.

Not again! Katz/Skaggs/Osco is changing hands. I knew it was coming, thanks to one not-so-snarling marmot, but now the sign is up and it is official. My favorite store is once again morphing-this time to CVS.

As a kid in Tulsa, going to Skaggs was the ultimate fun (especially when it included a trip to Baskin Robbins in the same shopping center) and I decided early on that owning a Skaggs store would be total coolness. First it was because of all the toys, then when adolescence hit, it was because of the bubble bath and make-up aisles. I figured if I owned Skaggs, I could spend my time wandering up and down the aisles, trying out all the goodies. Heck, I could've slept there, too.

When I came to the queen city for college, I quickly learned how to get from Drury to Skaggs, and by the time I graduated, I knew all the short cuts and back roads to get there in a hurry.

It took me a year or so to stop writing my checks out to Skaggs when they became Osco, although that was probably just a symptom of oppositional defiant disorder--I didn't dig that change one bit. Passive aggression is a good social skill, after all.

When they moved the stuff around in the store a year or so ago, I survived with only a few symptoms of post traumatic stress, and I've even tolerated the fact that moving stuff also entailed drastically raising prices.

But now it is over. Dreams of owning Skaggs went by the wayside after I figured out that being a do-gooder will never make me rich, but at least I could still wander the aisles and dream, right? Wandering CVS doesn't sound like nearly as much fun, though, and I doubt that I will so easily tolerate the ridiculously high prices with a new company at the helm.

Okay, I am finished whining, for the moment anyway. I will no doubt keep going to the building on South Glenstone, no matter what it is called, because when push comes to shove, at least it ain't Wal Mart.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

What happened to her?

I spent my lunch hour today trying to help a four year old girl take a nap.

"Dakota" was too tired to eat her lunch--she'd pushed her chicken nuggets, corn and apple slices around the plate, but she'd stopped eating after the first couple of bites--and she hung her head of filthy blonde curls, waiting until someone could go with her to the cot.

Her hands, face and teeth were clean. The Head Start teachers see to that. But her clothes and hair were grimy, and she scratched her head absently throughout the meal.

I was at this rural Ozarks Head Start because her mom and teachers think she needs to be "fixed." She is angry much of the time, and has outbursts of rage. Her rage includes biting and kicking, screaming and throwing scissors, books, plates of food. Dakota rages until she's worn out. And of course her teachers and mom are worn out, too.

I didn't fix her today.

It is instinct, I guess, to stroke a child's soft cheek and pat her back as they snuggle into sleep, so as I pulled the homemade double knit polyester blanket over her dirty purple leggings (remember it is 93 today) to tuck it around her shoulders, I reached out to touch her cheek and wish her sweet dreams.

She flinched.

Jerked away from my hand, eyes wide, her shoulders rigid under the blanket.

That's Dakota's instinct.

And this is instinct borne of experience...experiencing slaps, punches, screamed words. They've told me the stories about her life, but really--how can this happen? She is only 4 and she expects to be hurt.

Before the clock ticked, she'd relaxed again, and reached out to hold my hand to her cheek as she closed her eyes and curled up to sleep. But the flinch was there, the fear palpable.

Dakota's mama tries. She works more than 40 hours a week at the local fast food place, earning $6.00 an hour. No benefits, no overtime. But hey, it's more than minimum wage, right? Her mom had made a serious suicide attempt at 15, gave birth at 18. She was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and responded well to medication. When Governor Blunt allowed deep cuts to Missouri's Medicaid, Mom lost her health care. She can't afford her meds and food for her three kids, so she battles her symptoms alone.

Dakota's mom watches Nanny 911 each week to learn how to be a better parent. There's been a long series of men, though, some of whom Dakota says are "nice." The others, well, mom's got restraining orders on a few of them. Dakota has used brightly colored construction paper to build tiny pipes and joints, pretending to light them. She knows way too much about sex and needs to be supervised in the bathroom. Children's Services say it's not the mom, but they stay close anyway.

I didn't fix her today. I stayed with her until she slept, though, her fingers curled tightly around mine as she drifted away.

Monday, July 10, 2006

This is just the tip of the iceberg

Boys, 6, Abuse 5 Year Old Girls
7/7/06

www.telegraph.co.uk

Police are investigating allegations that two six-year-old boys sexually assaulted two five-year-old girls at a primary school.

Officers were called to the school in Suffolk, which cannot be named for legal reasons, but because the boys are below the age of criminal responsibility social services are now dealing with the matter.

In a statement, Suffolk County Council described what happened as "deeply disturbing".

The alleged assaults took place on June 22, a police spokeswoman said.

One of the girl's parents contacted the police the next day. They told officers that their child had been sexually assaulted at school.

A second girl then came forward making similar claims, while a third girl said she saw what happened.

In a statement released by the council, John Gregg, service director for vulnerable children, said: "Following an allegation of an incident at a primary school in Suffolk, the head teacher took immediate steps to deal with the situation and involved all the appropriate agencies.

"Some of these allegations are deeply disturbing. Our prime concern is for the children involved.

"The incident is being dealt with in an appropriate manner, bearing in mind the nature of the allegations, and the age of the children involved.

"The county council is giving support to the school and pupils and will be providing advice and guidance to the families involved about how they can help their child deal with this

Most "regular" folks will read this story and assume the boys did something not-so-awful like pat the girl's bottoms or say something inappropriate. That would be wrong, though. There are five year old boys even in the "bible belt" who are literally sexually assaulting other kids on playgrounds, at naptime, in play centers, at day care and kindergartens. They are children who've witnessed violence and sexual assault either in person or on video. They've been assaulted and abused themselves. And they've come to believe it is acceptable behavior.

They are in school with your kids.

In many cases, they aren't getting "fixed" because the government has slashed funding for children's mental health care and early education programs like Head Start. The system doesn't help when it focuses on punishing mandated abuse reporters more than they focus on teaching parenting skills and lessening child abuse.

We protect all our children when we work to help the "least of these."

Sunday, July 02, 2006

President Gore made me cry

Gore's "slide show" movie, An Inconvenient Truth, is in Springfield, at a mainstream theater. I realized this on Friday AM when I checked movie listings for the Young One. Within 10 minutes I had put on shoes, grabbed a jacket and headed out the door for the Campbell 16. Good, controversial flicks don't stay long here--if they come to the Ozarks at all--so I figured I had better get there before I missed my chance.

I am so glad I did.

Political ideation aside, this film is one that folks need to see. It isn't about politics and it isn't, really, about Gore (although there are some incredibly moving scenes from his life) and it isn't about tree-hugging. It is about the ways our planet has changed and is changing. It looks at how these changes, under certain circumstances, were to be expected, and how the changes have exploded to crisis proportions in the last century primarily because of human behavior.

I began to cry, though, when I started thinking about how different the world would be today if Gore had been allowed to take office as he was duly elected to do.

I don't think we'd be fighting an endless war in Iraq.

I am not convinced that 9-11 would have even happened at all, since the Clinton-Gore administration had been following Bin Laden's plans and had even warned the Bush camp about their concerns (and were not taken seriously as we now know).

Would we be overwhelmed by national debt again? No. Would we be experiencing such a huge gap between the "haves" and the "have nots?" No. Would we be fully signed on to the Kyoto agreement? Yes. Would we be developing alternative fuel sources and promulgating legislation that furthers the health of our planet while "growing" the economy? Heck yeah.

I should issue a small caveat about my tears: I was a Gore supporter in 1988 because of his environmental policies. When I had to give up on Tsongas's chances in 1992, I really thought the Democrat ticket should have been reversed to Gore/Clinton. (I didn't realize then what an embodiment of the American Dream Bill Clinton is--nor, of course, did I realize that his borderline personality tendencies would cause him to sabatoge his success.)

When Gore was campaigning in 1992, he came here to speak. I couldn't get inside, but did get a place right by the rope when he walked out. When I shook his hand I felt a little like the guy in Stephen King's The Dead Zone--my hand buzzed with his power, with his potential.

And then in 2000, they took it all away.

And so on Friday I cried.

I cried for our nation. I cried for our Earth, and I cried for our future. I wish my son would be inheriting an honest government, an America that is respected, not feared, and a nation of people who care about each other and our planet.

Go see this movie. If you live in the Ozarks, go see it soon before you miss your chance. And then stay for the closing credits where you'll read ways we can all make changes that make a difference.

You probably won't cry, but you will think.