Monday, March 26, 2007

Thursday Thirteen (Late, as usual)

I recently attended a four day/three night conference in a warmer part of the country. It had been a few years since I'd flown, so some of the security stuff was new to me. The crowds, long lines, late flights and missed connections, rushing from gate to gate for no apparent reason, surly baggage handlers, rude first class passengers, crying babies...were definitely not new. Human behavior doesn't seem to change much, which made this "Thursday Thirteen" list pretty easy to construct.

13 reasons I’d rather drive than fly:

•I only have to take off my shoes if I want to rest my feet.

•I don’t have to take off my belt and put it, along with my shoes, my laptop, my purse, my liquids and my candy bar in a little grey tray to be x-rayed.

•I can carry a bottle of water,or even a coke, and noone will think I'm a terrorist.

•I can carry liquids in containers that hold more than a tablespoon, and I don’t have to put stuff in a Ziploc bag unless I just want to.

•My bag can weigh more than 50 lbs (of course I might need to lift it, but at least I can decide how much my back can take)

•I can stop the car and get out pretty much anytime.

•The windows open.

•No turbulence.

•No waiting on a runway.

•I can honk at other drivers who get in my way.

•I don’t have to wait for permission to board—I can just get in and drive.

•Since I’m not 30,000 feet in the air, it is unlikely I will need a flotation device or oxygen mask.

•I can actually experience the scenery, read the historic markers, know what cities I am going through, stop to look at rock outcroppings (the geologist's bloodline runs strong sometimes), even take an alternate route at the last minute.

My first car was a 1966 Buick LeSabre. It was about as big as a 727, but even when I was just going to the store for my mom, I knew that big hunk of metal was all about freedom and control. I'm not so good at giving that up just to save some time.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Suffer the children.

All in a day's work...

A four year old boy puts his arm around my shoulder and says, "My mama ain't coming back from California this time. My gramma is going to take care of me now."

A three and a half year old boy, while waiting for his lunch: "My mom says she hates me. She says I'm stupid." To the girl sitting next to him: "Hey Hailey, my mom hates you, too."

A three year old girl, who has been sobbing inconsolably, refuses to move from the front window of her rural Ozarks preschool: "I'm sad because my grandpa loves me but we're not going back."

A four year old boy, playing in an outside playhouse at a different rural preschool, takes an undressed, lifelike baby doll and throws it inside a cabinet. After he slams the cabinet door, he begins kicking it, shouting, "Shut up baby, shut up baby, I can't take it anymore."

A five year old girl, while eating her snack, mentions, "My grandmother says when my mom gets out of prison, she might come to see me if she's not doing the meth anymore."

A four year old boy, after punching a boy in the stomach, is screaming and crying. He's trying so hard to explain why he's mad. Nothing he says, however, is understandable. His mom, who was 15 when he was born, didn't know she was supposed to talk to her baby, so now he doesn't know how to use words to communicate. He knows how to use his fists, though.

A preschool teacher, finishing her 15th year at the school, is crying quietly. "I don't know if I can make until summer. I've never had to deal with kids in so much pain before. I don't know how to fix it and I am so tired."

One day.

Years of suffering.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Shout it out loud.

Matt Blunt has again showed his bias and lack of understanding about the agencies that help people living in poverty access services like health care. Blunt has withdrawn thousands of dollars used by Planned Parenthood to provide certain cancer screenings for low income women. He says women should not have to go to an "abortion provider" to receive their screening. Blunt, a Springfieldian, ignores the fact that Planned Parenthood does not provide abortion services here. If you need an abortion, you can't obtain one anywhere in Springfield. That situation was covered pretty significantly in the local paper when the last abortion provider closed up shop, guess Mr. Blunt missed it.

It seems that conservatives like Matt Blunt work to keep poor people down under the guise of “helping.” He thinks it is okay to remove funding from a legitimate and well-respected health care organization because of overblown information, and funnel the money into a different place where frankly the director is well-placed politically. Obviously federally qualified health centers do important work and the Jordan Valley Community Health Center (which will be getting all the funds earmarked for Greene County) fills a big need, but they are not the only organization in town which serves people living in poverty. If they didn’t have the funds to serve all women needing screening, did they refer the women to agencies who could serve them, like Planned Parenthood?

Planned Parenthood and other such organizations, like OACAC’s Family Planning program, make birth control accessible to women and men of all socio-economic backgrounds. Family Planning, using birth control, is probably the most effective, frontline defense against abortion, child abuse and neglect, girls dropping out of school, and so forth.

I’ve discovered recently that, even when talking among other professionals, if you start to speak about birth control people start looking around to see if someone is listening. They start to whisper like we’re discussing something evil.

Since when is it evil to plan a family? Why is it taboo to talk about birth control, about making sure children are wanted, and that women (and men, for that matter) are prepared to raise a child? Why do we tiptoe around such a hugely important topic?

Every day I am in contact with children who are abused. I am in contact with children who are neglected. I am in contact with children who live in foster care because their parents couldn’t or wouldn’t take care of them. I am in contact with teenage girls, some as young as 14, who are about to give birth, but seem to think the baby is basically a big doll that you can dress in cute little onesies. No one has talked to these girls about birth control methods after the baby is born. Why not?

Unless you buy into the theory that the conservative movement seeks to maintain or grow the underclass (and I don't want to believe that is true), I can’t find any reasons that make sense to not educate women and men about birth control. Why would our society refuse to condone abortion, yet also refuse to condone family planning? If society wishes to protect all children, shouldn’t we do whatever it takes to educate people about the many forms of birth control and family planning so that children are wanted, loved and properly cared for? I’m not even talking about parenting skills here—that’s a huge issue on it’s own—I’m talking about helping young women (and men) understand that whether they have a child is something they can control, and never even have to consider abortion. Sure, abstinence is the obvious way to prevent abortion, but since that clearly is not working (almost 15% of all Greene County babies were born to teens in 2001) we should make a serious effort to teach how to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Rocking pitifully thin, sad and unresponsive babies, unable get a smile or a cuddle, reminds me how urgent it is that we teach women and men to use birth control until they are really, really ready to raise a child.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Sometimes the system works

"Brittany" was barely three when I first met her. Blonde hair, blue eyed, with cherubic cheeks, Brittany looked like cotton candy on a peppermint stick. The sweetness was tempered a bit when she would sink her teeth into her baby brother's chubby arms.

DFS had been out to see the family a few times after repeated hotline calls, and all the do-gooders were trying very hard to keep the children with their mom. Brittany, though, was showing signs that she'd been sexually abused. Her speech was delayed so it was hard to know exactly what, if anything, had happened at first. A SAFE exam later made it all too clear.

When she started putting crayons and pencils inside her diaper and inside her body, and when cockroaches were found crawling over the younger sibling's baby bottle and inside the baby's breathing machine, the state took custody.

It was a long story of numerous attempts, over a period of years, to place the kids back with mom. She tried so hard, but she just couldn't keep them safe. After one weekend visit, Brittany used Barbie and Ken dolls in a play therapy session to show how her father had beaten her mother. Brittany was hiding in a corner during the beating, afraid she'd be next.

Brittany was acting out sexually in her various foster homes, especially after visits. There were too many foster homes to count during those days--even the most well meaning foster parents were unable to cope with her behavior, and eventually would call DFS and tell them to come and get her.

It was a long, long road, ending when the state terminated the parental rights of Brittany's mom and dad, and she was adopted by what would be her last foster home.

It has been six years since I last saw Brittany. Six years of wondering how she was--if she was doing okay in school, if she was able to bond with her adoptive parents, if she was happy, if she was healthy.

Through an odd twist of fate, something like three degrees of separation, I got an update the other day. I can't even describe the feeling when I learned that Brittany is happy. She is healthy. She makes good grades, has friendships replete with sleepovers and Bratz dolls. She still looks like cotton candy on a peppermint stick.

She's okay.

Wouldn't it be great if all the stories ended this way?