Month: December 2012

The End Is Near! Again.

Not yet at least...

Not yet at least…

I snagged this shot while walking past the Fox News building in Manhattan on May 21, 2011. It was pure luck, I happened to look up and saw the news headline regarding the apocalypse, or rather lack thereof. If you know me, I almost always have my phone at the ready to take a photo. I was quite happy that I caught it at this exact point, “it did not end…Preach”. True, it went on to say “Preacher” around the corner, but the timing here could not have been better for this day. I recall people being actually concerned over this nonsense. I even remember some being surprised I was leaving the house, and of all places going to New York City. Don’t worry, I had many retorts to such comments.

With the possibility of end-times happening again tomorrow, I thought this quite fitting to post today. Funny enough, I’ll be headed into New York for another supposed end-of-the-world. Cue the R.E.M., once more! Although, my daughter has been sure to tell everyone that the Mayans did not factor leap years into their estimations, so based on their calculations, the end would have occurred months ago. I’m relieved. See you all tomorrow, all being well, I suppose.

The Hobbit (An Unexpected Journey, There and Back Again)

The Hobbit Movie

We saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on Saturday. It was a wonderful distraction in light of Friday’s tragedy. Aside from that, I greatly enjoyed the film. We saw it in 3-D IMAX HFR in Manhattan. The theater was specifically chosen so we could see the special nine minute Star Trek trailer (which was awesome!). I didn’t feel motion-sick at all, so I’m not sure what the big fuss was about. Hype, I suppose. My tween really loved the film, she read the book last year. My younger kiddo found the movie too scary and had her eyes covered half the time. I will warn, the movie is far more frightening than the book. The supplemental information and history that Peter Jackson added to it was interesting, and added a nice touch to the book’s content. The dwarves were entertaining, and I felt Martin Freeman was perfect as Bilbo Baggins. Disclaimer: I’m a pretty huge Martin Freeman fan. I think my favorite part was the opening of the movie, it does an incredible job of introducing the story of The Hobbit into the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I look forward to the next installment.

Before seeing the movie, my tween insisted I read the book. I borrowed the book from my daughter earlier this fall and planned to read it. Days passed, she kept asking, and I hadn’t read any. My companion, T.K. (The boyfriend’s official blog identity!), had recently read it and he too was insisting I finish the book before we see the movie. Finally, I read the first chapter, but then put the book aside for a couple of days. My to-do list this time of year seems never-ending; reading for pleasure just wasn’t a priority. I then signed on as a Bookworm on Nerdspan. My first assignment was to review The Hobbit. The pressure was officially on and now reading wasn’t just to pass the time. So I read the first part, and ended up listening to the rest of it (thanks to T.K.!) on Audible. Multi-tasking during the holidays is the only way to get anything done, right? I really enjoyed the book and strongly recommend you read it, whether you’ve seen the movie already or not. Here’s an excerpt from my review.

The Hobbit tells the story of Bilbo Baggins as he travels on the adventure of a lifetime. On his journey, Bilbo discovers a magical ring which holds a far greater significance than the hobbit realizes upon finding it. As he travels, he must out-riddle the cunning and creepy Gollum, battle giant spiders, evil wargs, and Smaug, a terrifying dragon. The “burglar” hobbit witnesses even more epic battles along the way. For one who prefers relaxing at home with a full belly, Bilbo Baggins continually finds himself in the most uncomfortable of situations.

The Hobbit book cover

A quick note: Between out-of-town guests, last-minute holiday preparations, colds and illness around our house, and just life in general, I’ve decided to go lightly here the rest of this week. I’ve much to say, on so many matters. Shocker, eh? I may take a little break over the next two weeks as well, and return in the new year with more commentary of the funny, the sad, the confusing, and whatever else I come across while out here on the lam. See you sooner rather than later, either way. Thanks, LAM

Newtown

I honestly thought I’d have a piece on the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut by now. I’ve contemplated the events and considered what I’d write about for the last couple of days. My emotions on the subject are still too raw to put it all properly into words. Perhaps later this week my thoughts will meet the keyboard the way I’d like them to. I was shocked on Friday, I think I still am. My heart breaks for the families of those who were killed, and the children and community who is left to try and put the pieces back together. I could not wait to hug my children when they arrived home from school on Friday. I spent the weekend avoiding media, and just enjoying the time with them.

Today, I tried to get past the shock and hurt, and begin writing letters and placing phone calls to my government representatives. As I tweeted earlier today, “It’s a lot easier to talk about turning our sadness and fears into action and change than it is to actually do so. I for one am a little stuck.” I still am. I hope tomorrow or in another day or two, this feeling of sorrow will turn into a fiery passion. I know it will, I’m just not certain how long that will take. I feel the time to discuss the issue of gun control and mental healthcare in our country is now. It is my belief that the best way to honor those lost, especially the twenty children who died, is to ensure nothing like that ever happens again. We owe it to all our children.

I took a deep breath this morning as I dropped my kids off at school. I know they are safe. I hope they are safe. I told myself it was all okay. It was when I walked up to the school with my middle-schooler that I saw the flag at half mast. My heart immediately got heavy. I sighed to myself and chatted to my daughter about the weather. I said goodbye to her just outside the school office. As I watched her walk down the hallway to her class, I saw a police officer in a SWAT-style uniform patrolling the school lobby. I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. I had to take another deep breath and compose myself. This should never be normal for our children.

Remembering The Victims

Price Check on Aisle D35

An aisle worth browsing...

An aisle worth browsing…

I took this picture while Christmas shopping in 2008. I was quite amused when I first saw the sign at Target, and it still makes me laugh. I’m often amazed when signage such as this goes unnoticed by companies and employees. Or, perhaps, the joke is on all us and they are quite aware…?

We’re not living on the moon…

…but I can have an online-date for five hours with my boyfriend, and that makes the future, the now, pretty rad. My boyfriend lives in New York, I’m in New Jersey. We’re usually able to see each other at least once a week. Lately though, due to wonky logistics on my end, this hasn’t happened. Okay, it’s just been over two weeks since I saw him, but you know, I’m rather fond of him and we have a lot of fun together. So, I’d love to spend more of my time with him. Until that’s possible, we’ve been utilizing something I’m fairly new to: Google Hangout. And it’s pretty awesome. And yes, I realize I’m late to this party.

My MacBook missed an OS update or three, and it’s kind of on its last leg so at this point to invest in it is fairly pointless. It’s so out of date, I can’t get Chrome on it! Major geek fail, I know. So while I can Skype on my Mac, I can’t access Google+ or do this nifty Hangout stuff. I first discovered this a month or so ago when the boyfriend (trying to think of a better title for him…) asked me to join him on one so I could meet some of his friends. I quickly realized my Mac couldn’t hack it so I hit up the PC, which I then found out did not have a webcam. WHAT? I did not purchase this computer, and hadn’t used it much until last week. Anyway, I did get to experience the Hangout, without a camera, simply watching them and talking through my special gentleman friend’s phone.

Last week, I did that HuffPost Live thingy, and I had to find and test the webcam we had sitting around. So the night before, The Dude and I had our first official Hangout. I loved it. It was great seeing him, sharing videos, goofing off with the different apps it offers. It was so close to having a real date, it delighted me. We had a second one later in the week, and again it was hours of laughing and chatting and enjoying time together. Finally, a reason for that rush of excitement I felt when I first opened my Google+ account, and how so many of my friends were initially thrilled about all that could be (before it all seemed to fall away and become no man’s land). I love that my manfriend and I have this for times when it’s not possible to be next to one another. I also hope to use this with my friends who live in different states. Perhaps I’ll even be able to get my mom to try it out, I know my kids would love to chat with her in this form. Skype is fine; this is just plain fun and offers so much more. If you haven’t had a Google Hangout yet, go for it. The usefulness of it seems limitless. This makes me happy, to see social media fulfilling its ultimate purpose–to bring people together. It’s tools like this that make me want to give technology the biggest of bear hugs.

So hooray for technology and hooray for geeking out on dates over the Internet! This past week was pretty heavy in the “issues” writing. Sometimes it just happens that way. Smiles to anyone who actually read to here. If you have visited my blog prior to the last week or so, you’ve seen more casual and random posts such as this. I throw them in quite often. Why not? Also, here’s a taste of some of the funny videos (NSFW) we watched during our Hangouts. I took out the political ones, trying to keep this light. Have a laugh! I’m off to wrap some presents and do some work.

(And I promise to come up with one term of endearment for the bahhhfriend and stick with it!)

The Enormous Elephant In Society’s Living Room

[CN: sexual assault, rape culture]

I went on to Tumblr for a little break, and a bit of inspiration found me. I ended up writing a blog post there, but I wanted to share it here as well. Wil Wheaton posted a story by Stacey May Fowles, entitled What can’t be published from The National Post. Ms. Fowles writes:

The week the Bloor and Christie suspect was revealed by the police, a male friend walked me home through the neighbourhood where the attacks took place. It was late on a Friday night, and he insisted on accompanying me after sharing dinner and ice cream, noting the sheer lunacy of me doing it myself after the constant reports, tweets, blog posts, Take Back The Night and self-defence course invitations.

While we were walking past Bloor and Grace, where one of the assaults reportedly occurred, two extremely drunk boys, estimated to be in their teens, staggered towards us and slurred their directions. We obliged them, and watched as they stumbled on their way, towards the subway.

In that moment, I realized they were enjoying a freedom I had never had and could never have. Blind drunk and exposed in the middle of the night, they wandered gleefully, happily and safely, conversing with strangers and inviting attention. The very things the written words that week had told me I wasn’t allowed to do.

The entire article stuck a nerve; I relate to it in so many ways. From being a woman who is constantly told how to protect myself from men to someone who has just started speaking out and writing candidly about my own sexual assault, Fowles’ words spoke to me. I hope you will read the entire article, these are the stories that need to be told and heard. Here is my own response.

We’ve far to go to bring society to put the blame on the rapists, and teach men that they should not rape. I hope in my lifetime that mentality replaces the past, and unfortunately still current, views of teaching girls to be careful & not get raped. Today’s standard of how we treat rape only perpetuates the idea that victims are somehow responsible. What a tremendous burden for a victim to carry, in addition to the myriad of emotions experienced and injuries endured during and after a rape.

Why more men aren’t outraged by this is beyond me. If women were constantly portrayed as unable to control ourselves, and that men had to constantly be on the look-out because I or my friends may attack them, I’d be disgusted. I would never want the rest of the world to see me in that way, as an animal. I can still remember from adolescence learning how if a guy had an erection, it had to be taken care of. He’d end up in miserable pain, even possibly have medical problems if he didn’t ejaculate. Yes, that myth was still alive and well not too long ago, and I assume still is in the halls of middle and high schools. As a teen, I was scared to even kiss a boy for this reason; the pressure of knowing I’d have to touch him, no matter what because that’s just how it goes, was too intense for me. As an adult, I’ve had experiences where grown men still claimed this same rule, that if they were aroused, it was my duty to “help” them out. There’s few things more pathetic than a grown man sitting there telling you how painful it is or begging you to just jerk him off because “look what you did to me” as he points to the bulge in his pants. And men are not entirely to blame here. These ideas were taught, either directly or indirectly, by society.

I think a major reason why the disconnect exists is because when it comes to sexual assault, we don’t talk about it enough and there is far too much shame (on the victim/survivor’s part) involved. I’ve been told before to not speak about my rape, even warned that others may use it to harass me. So not only does society tell me I’m somehow at fault for getting assaulted in the first place, but now I must hush up or else others will try to inflict additional harm? Rape is the enormous elephant in society’s living room. In order for everyone to understand exactly what rape is and the legacy it leaves, we need to continue to speak out, and speak loudly. Women, I beg of you, tell your stories; from catcalls to sexual assaults, get vocal and be heard. It is never your fault. We must keep doing so until this shift occurs and men are taught to be held accountable for all of their actions.

Disclosure & Exposure

In my past blogging experience, I kept many aspects of my life undercover. For the most part, it was necessary to maintain the theme of my blog, which was autism advocacy. I focused solely on the role of parenting a special-needs child and advocating as such. It was at times political and controversial, and even posts that were more personal lacked many details about life outside of parenting my autistic child. I wanted to shield my kids from being displayed on a blog for the world to see, and at the time didn’t want myself out there either. However I felt compelled to write my message, and so I did, albeit slightly hidden away.

Flash forward a few years to a very new chapter of my life. While I still don’t feel comfortable posting pictures of my kids or even discussing them in detail, I have the confidence and desire to put myself out there. I was still quite hesitant when I set up this blog over a year ago, and I was still finding my voice. I thought perhaps I’d keep it focused on my adventures and travels, small and big. But over the past few months, I found myself wanting to write about issues relevant to me and my experiences. Some important, some funny, some just because. I had this hangup about a blog needing to be specific. What would I focus on?

My life is anything but specific, it is all over the map. I’m an artist and a photographer, I’m a woman, I’m a single mom, and that’s just the top layer. Dig deeper and there are so many things I am and so many directions my life travels in, how could I focus on one small bit? I then became comfortable with writing whatever I wanted to. I want this to be real. otherwise, why bother? At the start, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep this more anonymous, as that’s the only way I’ve actively blogged in the past. In the last couple months, I began to feel if I was to undertake this, I had to be open and have it reflect all the parts of my life, and with that comes exposing myself. Whether I’m recalling something from my past or reflecting on this morning’s news, it should be me, my voice, my life. Honesty is key. So then what parts of your life do you leave out? Should you? That’s still something I’m debating. I think ultimately I’ll be sharing more than holding back. There are stories I have to tell that I feel might help others or serve a bigger purpose being out in the open instead of stuck in my head.

Once I was comfortable with the idea of writing openly about my life and that which I’m passionate about, I had to consider those who are in my life and how I would, or would not, include those individuals. I had already decided that my children, at this point, will be mentioned only when necessary to get a point across or tell a story accurately. But for now, I don’t feel entirely comfortable disclosing much about them. They’ll have their own stories to tell, and that should be up to them. Mentioning other members of my family isn’t something I had to think too hard about; if warranted, I’ll do so but I would run it by them before sharing anything deeply personal. The next decision was regarding my boyfriend and how much more I would reveal about him and our relationship. My first concern was if this was akin to getting a tattoo with his name on it–am I tempting fate by mentioning him or us? Then I thought that’s fairly ridiculous. I’ve been in relationships where things were purposely kept under lock and key, and for no good reason. I’m done with that.

When done properly, and tastefully, I think being outwardly expressive about your relationship only strengthens it. It’s not about full-disclosure on all fronts, I don’t think that would ever go well. There is a balance to be found, for sure. When we first started dating, I still wasn’t sure if and how I was going to be utilizing my blog, as it continued to evolve. So I hadn’t mentioned it to him and since I had yet to connect it to any of my other social media accounts, he was not aware of its existence. When I finally was comfortable with the direction, and openness, I wanted to head in, I had to see how my boyfriend felt about disclosure. So, it came time to tell him that I had this little blog, oh and that I might have mentioned him a time or two, and that I was still sorting the whole thing out and whether I’d include him and us in it…and if I did do that, would he mind? (Yes, that’s pretty much how the run-on email I sent him went.) I wanted to make sure he was down for some inclusion, and because he’s awesome, he said sure. This will never be a lovesick-ode-to-a-lover sort of blog because that’s just not my style. But I’m blogging about my life here, and he’s in it. I’m happy to have his encouragement with this, and in so many aspects of my life.

#SingleMomProblems: Life, Work, & Benefits

This is partly an off-shoot of my prior discussions regarding the fiscal cliff and women, and partly a vent. Four years ago I found myself back in New Jersey, where I grew up, starting a new life. In nearly every way, this was a good thing. One exception was my lack of healthcare. I looked at various options, and paying for my own insurance was not something I could afford. At the time I was attending school, and even through the college the only insurance I was eligible for was “accident insurance.” I never fully understood how much was covered and how much help it would have been had I utilized its benefits, but it was only for certain types of accidents. I finally decided to go to Planned Parenthood since I was due for my yearly exam and I knew that was the only place I could actually afford to do so. There I was, at 31 years of age going to Planned Parenthood for the first time. I’ve been going there for my yearly exams since. As I said previously, it’s my sole assurance that I’m in good health. I am a freelancer, mostly in the field of art and writing, but I’ve also worked with special-needs children. None of my jobs have included benefits of any kind.

Some may say the simple solution is then for me to shut up and get a traditional job with benefits and be done with this whole discussion. That’s not so simple. For starters, I was out of the workplace for ten years as I was a stay-at-home mom. This was the first strike against me, followed by my lack of a college degree, which I’m still working toward. Essentially the jobs I’m most capable of getting are in the retail sector and involve committing to nights and weekends. This is not an option as childcare during those hours is impossible to find, let alone afford. The other issue with such jobs is that most will only hire you for up to 39 hours so they do not have to offer you benefits. Oh, and the pay? As low as $7.25 an hour. I would be paying a sitter more to watch my kids than I was actually earning each hour I worked. That simply doesn’t compute. As a freelancer, I have a higher hourly pay and am able to be there for my kids. It’s seemingly the best of all words–if only the work was more guaranteed and health benefits were affordable.

I am a single mom raising two young children on my own. I don’t have the luxury of having every other weekend and a weeknight or two each week free to work. I am the only parent available when the school nurse calls to say one of my kids is sick. I’m the only one able to take them to a doctor’s appointment or care for them while they are ill. To further complicate things, my youngest child has some special needs. She is currently mainstreamed in school, only receiving speech therapy for her articulation disorder; she has come far and continues to make progress. She is still followed by a couple of specialists, but thankfully many of her health problems have improved with age. She had a feeding tube until a year and a half ago, just as an example of how severe her conditions were and how recent. Two of her major issues now are migraines and a weaker immune system. Because of this, she misses more days of school than the average child, almost fifty last year in fact. I am unable to have a traditional 40-hour a week job outside of the home because of this. Every time I consider taking a more traditional job, I’m reminded of how frequently I need to stay home and care for her, and of course the times her sister is sick as well. No employer would allow someone three, four, or more days off each month for this. Simply put, my options are limited.

Strictly speaking in terms of medical coverage, it’s something that becomes a greater priority with each passing day. I feel like my health is a ticking time bomb at this point. I’ve been lucky in the past couple of years that I haven’t had any serious illnesses. I’d like to have insurance as an option so that I am able to better care for myself and not have to fear getting sick. That is why I’m adamant about universal healthcare. While I may struggle at times to find work that allows me to be flexible, I’d prefer to stay with my current career and have the opportunity to also have benefits. My priority is being able to care for my children, in particular my youngest when she is ill and requires medical treatment.

So that is my dilemma; figuring out how to make life and work and, hopefully, benefits all work out. It really shouldn’t be so hard.

Ah, the 80’s…

Me, sometime around 1985 I’d guess.

This is one of my favorite pictures from my childhood, mostly because it’s just so ridiculous. No doubt my three older sisters had a part in this: the red heels, the gold purse, and that pose. I consider myself quite the introvert, so I laugh thinking I was ever that much of a ham!

Women and the Fiscal Cliff: Getting Sick Is Not An Option

I mentioned on Tuesday that I hesitated and missed out on making a  couple other points regarding women and the fiscal cliff. On the HuffPost Live segment, host Alicia Menendez asked how this issue effects women and children. Helaine Olen and Joan Entmacher both offered great responses that incorporated the economic effect this has on families and society. I should have chimed in on the personal. For me, getting sick is a terrifying idea. I don’t mean a simple cold. Even the flu doesn’t frighten me quite as much as a disease such as cancer or an accident. If I think too much about it, I’d never sleep at night. The financial, physical, and psychological toll that such an event would have on my children and me is unfathomable. I think it’s a tragedy that in our country single moms cannot find affordable healthcare, and that the few programs that do exist and benefit us are at risk of being cut.

For nearly four years now, I have gone without health insurance. I’ve learned to be proactive in my own health. I was an avid mountain and road biker a couple years ago. It was not only great physical exercise, it was also a great stress-reliever. I had two falls that I thankfully walked away from with only a few bumps and scrapes. However, I took that as a warning and stopped biking. It not only was an activity that put me at additional risk of injury, a major accident from biking would land me in the hospital and with broken bones. I could never afford the medical care required for this. So, I stopped the activity. I have made every attempt to eat and live healthily. I am back to a mostly vegan diet, I don’t exercise like I should but I’m working to get back to that. I don’t smoke and as of the last couple months no longer drink either. I’m doing as much preventative care as possible within my means. However, I know it’s not enough. There are things beyond my control, including a family history of disease from diabetes to heart disease.

I can’t even think, let alone write, too much on the thought of if I got sick. From the medical bills to my not being available to care for my children, our life would be tossed upside down. At the end of the day, I am it for my two daughters. I get a lot of support from my family and my friends; I have no doubt they would once again be there for us. But it is a nightmare to consider the ripple effect this would have on my children’s lives. The bottom line is simply that I cannot get sick. The effect it would have on my children would be devastating. None of us can completely prevent illness, even with the best healthcare. But the difference would be early detection, treatment (as heartbreaking documented in The Education of Dee Dee Ricks), likelihood of survival, and the financial burden I would then have to carry for, most likely, the rest of my life. This clearly would impact my children’s lives, from having enough money to keep a roof over our heads and food in their mouths to the daily stress of them knowing we were financially struggling. Poverty begets poverty. One major illness is all that stands between me and poverty; and far worse to me, is that my kids would then face such a fate.

When Alicia asked me what would I do if Planned Parenthood lost funding, it did cause me to pause. I struggled to come up with an answer, a plan, an alternative, but ultimately, I don’t know what I would do. It’s been my bit peace of mind I’ve carried for the past four years with regard to my health; at the very least, I am being screened for cancer, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. It was startling to imagine losing that. The fact that outside of Planned Parenthood I don’t have regular medical care does frighten me. I worry that perhaps something outside of their scope could be missed. I am hopeful that universal healthcare will kick in and I’ll be able to once again have coverage and be able to seek out medical care when needed, and have equal access to preventative care. It’s disgusting to me that in 2012, in the United States of America, working people cannot afford healthcare. How do we as a country have no shame about this? How do we allow single moms who are working and struggling to raise their children go without healthcare? We need to move forward instead of backwards. I am not a number, I am very real, and I hope our politicians remember that as they navigate the fiscal cliff.