Friday, February 27, 2009


Some weeks at work are worse then others. The weeks when things are due are busy, and the weeks when multiple things are due? Oh yeah-- those are fun. This week was in fact one of the fun weeks, and next one is promising to be only marginally better. I am not exactly whining here, because I actually do like what I do, and daymn if it's not one fine-looking assignment we put out today,-- more like explaining why it only fully registered with me that the President was giving the speech that any other year would be called the State of the Union on the actual day of the speech, but more importantly why it's taken me since Tuesday to write of the thing that has been burning me since that night. (And why I am still behind on my blogs-- really hoping to fix that over the weekend.)

The thing bugging me? Predictably perhaps it was the Republican response, delivered by Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. Perhaps less predictable is why. Oh, sure I bristled at a lot of it, seeing as I prefer my logic left to do its thing rather than twisted into a pretzel and baked, whatever seasonings are involved. But believe it or not, I only yelled at the TV once during the speech. It was early on, in the section of the speech probably designated in the draft stage as "setting the mood." And let me tell you-- my mood was set, to fuming. As I still haven't simmered down (and as more professional people than I have pulled apart the meat of the speech, and as the good Governor was today forced to retract his personal involvement in the central anecdote of the speech), you get to read about my take on Governor Jindal's field of vision. Aren't you lucky? (Cue maniacal laughter.)

Here, without further ado, is Governor Jindal's birth story, in his own words:

Like the president's father, my own parents came to this country from a distant land. When they arrived in Baton Rouge, my mother was already 4-½-months pregnant. I was what folks in the insurance industry now call a "pre-existing condition." To find work, my dad picked up the yellow pages and started calling local businesses. Even after landing a job, he could still not afford to pay for my delivery, so he worked out an installment plan with the doctor. Fortunately for me, he never missed a payment.

Governor Jindal is without a doubt a very fortunate man. So fortunate, in fact, that he doesn't even begin to know where his fortune lies. His father never missing a payment wasn't his lucky break. That was perseverance, responsibility, determination. But determination and perseverance only carry you this far, and, sometimes, they don't carry you at all. A funneling cervix doesn't give a crap how determined you are not to have the baby until you reach full term. Curiously enough, pre-eclampsia doesn't seem moved by anyone's tale of perseverance, though it has been known to negotiate with magnesium on occasion. Pre-term labor happens, no matter how responsible you've been in your pregnancy, no matter how wanted the baby. You see where I am going now, don't you?

It's not his father meeting his fiscal obligations that was fortunate for Mr. Jindal. It was his mother not developing pre-eclampsia, not having an incompetent cervix, not going into pre-term labor, not having her membranes rupture prematurely, not having placenta previa, complete with a hospital bed rest and a c-section, or even just not needing any old regular c-section. Now that-- THAT was all extremely fortunate for the future Governor. As was not being born prematurely or with any condition that would've required developing a close relationship with a team of specialists. Or heck, not developing anything as minor and usually completely devoid of long-term consequences, but still requiring a short NICU stay, as, say, transient tachypnea of the newborn.

The funny thing is that the Governor is a poster child for the veil of ignorance concept, but he's been too fortunate in his life to realize that. I have to admit that because I was not a philosophy or government major, the first I heard of this concept was on The West Wing. Having now spent some time googling around for a concise explanation, I still like the one from the show better. "Imagine before you're born you don't know anything about who you'll be, your abilities, or your position. Now design a tax system."* Substitute health care for tax above, and you get my feelings exactly.

Health care is a human right. It just is.

The Cub started out in NICU. He was there for less than eight days, a short stay as these things go. And yet, if we had to pay out of pocket, I am not sure we would still have our home now, installment plan or not. We didn't, because we have great insurance. Shouldn't that be enough of an argument? Shouldn't we, as a matter of conscience, decide that no parent should ever worry both about their child's health and about how to pay for it? Shouldn't we decide that no child should ever worry about being a burden on the family, that no child should ever have to worry about the cost of their medication, or about whether the family can afford their trip to the ER?

I think we should. And I think that Governor Jindal would do well to try that veil on for size. He might just see how truly fortunate he has been.

*If you care, this is Season 4, episode 17, Red Haven's on Fire, and the scene comes almost at the end, where Will and his speech-writing interns finally click.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Show and Tell: Season Opener

I was going to show and tell something else, something that is six Sundays late now. But it will have to wait one more-- the pictures of it are on Monkey's camera, and the camera is with Monkey, and Monkey is off skiing with JD. Yup, call it Monkey and JD's excellent school vacation or speed demons' paradise, but the upshot is that they took off Thursday and won't be back until mid day tomorrow. Which left the Cub and me in the house that suddenly seems humongous.

We've lazied around, we've cuddled, we've laughed. At least one of us has been out of pajamas every day.

And yesterday, because the sun was shining and it wasn't outrageously cold, I had my the first coffee-on-the-deck of the season. And pst... I was the one in pajamas. What? They were warm pajamas. And I wore fluffy slippers I almost never wear otherwise.

The Cub kept me company. And what delightful company he is!

On the wall by the staircase leading up to the second floor we have this picture of Monkey barely younger than the Cub is now, sitting in this same pram, making faces at her grandfather. The Cub's been sitting unassisted for a bit now, so you can see how I just had to take a picture. And who can take just one?

Certainly not me. I have no self-control when it comes to my trusty SLR sidekick. And also chocolate. I have very little self-control left when chocolate is involved. And Trader Joe's was out of my low carb dark chocolate Friday. So it is their fault that I bought their store brand (which is decidedly not low carb), and that there is barely any of it left.

I was intending to have my coffee and read my blogs*, but I didn't make it through the whole cup out there. I took so long with the pictures that when the wind suddenly started both the Cub and I were already in the cool territory, and so it wasn't long until the Cub's nose was fit to enter a baby Rudolph contest. But I made it through more that half that huge cup there. I left the deck door open while we were out so that some of the fresh air percolated in, and it was nice to come back inside anyway. And may I report that the wind made the Cub laugh even more? I am guessing that the speed demons ski team might have a new member in a couple of years.

Today, by the way, it was raining. And there is talk of snow this week. It's ok. I can take it. In fact, I am not sure I am ready for it to be spring yet. Yeah, I know, my head is a mess-- winter is the mourning season, the hardest season, and yet I am not sure I am ready to have it go. Whatever-- we don't need no stinking logic.

Want more showing and telling? Stop by Miss Mel's classroom.

*And umm... nevermind the ugly stains on my laptop screen. They've been cleaned up now, I swear.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wordless Wednesday


Still here. Still trying to dig up from a mountain of work and a mountain of posts in my reader. Back with words soon, I hope.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


I haven't actually been mute for two weeks.

The demarcation line through my silence, with no words on one side and no time on the other (seriously, this past week at work was effing insane), runs through the day that brought, despite whatever it was that the world's most respected groundhog saw one fine sunny morning nearly a week before, a thaw so profound that it was simply beyond my ability to resist conscripting it for a metaphor, however glaringly obvious.

I went outside to photograph the patterns in the melting snow without bothering to put anything over the tanktop I was wearing in the house. It was just a bit chilly. And later that day, before we left for the dinner our friends put together by way of saying they were sorry for not calling us on the anniversary, yes, even before that dinner, I felt released. I felt that I could, once again, write.

The week I was mute felt like I was walking through molasses, energy sucked out of me by every.single.thing. But maybe, to go with the newly conscripted metaphor, I was frozen.

Everything that week was ordinary, unremarkable when my internal clock insisted that it should be, you know, most remarkable. And at the same time it was all a little off kilter. Starting with my house turning into stomach bug central, with JD out of it for most of the 31st, and my sister and brother-in-law both succumbing to the yuckies and not making it over for the dinner I planned to cook. So the dinner got scaled down, what with barely any stomachs fit for duty. But Monkey and I did make brownies. From scratch*.

She changed her mind. It used to be the cupcakes she wanted to make, but it switched to brownies some time in January. She couldn't really explain why, except for something about not wanting to make frosting. If I was to offer a guess as to the reason for the change, it would likely delve into the implications of having something that looks like an actual birthday cake for someone who is not here to partake. That's the thing that made me think last year that we are not a birthday cake kind of a bereaved family. I was pretty sure we are not. Until Monkey told me, sometime late spring-ish, that we should have cupcakes for A's next birthday. It came up a few more times since, and she was rather attached to that plan. But when, with a few weeks still to go, I asked her about what kind we should make, she changed it. Of course now she wants to make these very same brownies for one of her own several upcoming birthday parties. I guess it remains to be seen whether she insists on frosting then.

My mom was visiting for the weekend. Which was great for Monkey and the Cub, but, at times, too much for me-- I really felt the need to cut out the random chatter. (My mom mostly gets it. It's just that sometimes she doesn't get that even if not discussing something NOW means that we won't get to for a while, or in person, one must still let it go, for the sake of my headspace. But we also ended up having a good conversation about that, so it's all pretty much ok.)

Our friends didn't call. That was a twofer-- not only did it hurt, it also contributed greatly to that just an ordinary day feeling that was so maddeningly surreal. They all had different reasons-- one lost track of the dates, several didn't remember the dates anymore, just the general area of the dates, and one remembered, but couldn't figure out what to say,-- but I spent a good deal of the next week telling them all (individually) how hurtful it was. And whooo boy, was that ever draining. I think that for a good while there it was having these conversations that kept my blog mute button firmly pressed-- I only had energy for one or the other. To be fair to the friends in question, they rallied, albeit late, with an apology and a dinner for us, which is how people from the Old Country show contrition and make amends.

The day before the dinner, last Shabbat, was A's yahrtzeit-- anniversary by the Hebrew calendar. Because that calendar is lunar, the dates shift around a lot from year to year with respect to the Gregorian one we are used to. Last year the yahrtzeit was nearly two weeks before. This year-- a week later. Next year-- only days before. Yeah, I am sure that's going to be fun.

We went to synagogue, and we went up to the Torah, and the Rabbi did his shpiel, which was very nice. He talked about memory, and inspiration it brings, and the Cub was in the sling on my chest, and Monkey stood with us too, holding at first my hand, and then Cub's.

The next day the snow started to melt, and our friends put together a dinner for us, and somewhere between those two things I realized that I could write again, and breathe. If only that silly work thing didn't get in the way...

It's funny, I think, what sticks with you. Two years later I am not nearly as shellshocked as I was. I still don't think there is a cosmic reason, or that one good enough could possibly exist. But I am willing to examine my remodeled heart.

The day after A's birthday this year (check that out-- I can say birthday now; couldn't for the life of me last year) was insanely busy. It was the day I was to cook dinner for one hundred-- Monkey's school was having it's annual social action day, with community dinner to follow.

When I first volunteered, I thought it would be good to have something big to do the day after, that it would be just the thing to pull me through the anniversary. In the end, due to the all-mighty mission creep, it was a lot more work than I was thinking I was signing up for. Start with the shopping and the coordination beforehand, add the couple of hours of cooking I already put in Friday, cap it off with the whole stomach bug-induced lack of helpers for a good part of the day, and you can see how I was a bit spent by the end. That, and damn near bursting-- I brought the pump with me, but never had a chance to pump. That's right-- couldn't find twenty minutes in the nearly ten hours I spent at the school that day.

I cooked that dinner in A's memory and honor. I cooked it in a way that was never accomplished at the school before-- the dinner accommodated every single known food allergy at the school. A real community dinner.

The funny thing is that before Monkey started school food allergies were not at all on my radar, not even a little bit-- not a part of our lives, and not really at the forefront for anyone else we knew. And yet, slightly more than a year later I was volunteering to cook the dinner in large part so that I could demonstrate that with just a little thoughtful planning we don't have to leave anyone out.

Do you think bereavement changes us, or do you think that underneath we are still who we are? I know I've participated in this discussion before. And I know I've rallied against the silly notion that we shouldn't let our dead children change us. Why the hell not? Aren't we supposed to be forever changed by having a child? Doesn't it follow that having a dead child might change you just as much?

But maybe, as my friend Aite has said from the beginning, maybe we are the same us that people know, only now with a very shitty thing to have happened to us. I am beginning to see the wisdom of this view as I interrogate and disentangle my thoughts and emotions. And as it turns out, this issue is connected to A for me in the oddest of ways.

I have always had a sense of justice, and I have gotten myself in trouble more times than I care to admit due to this seriously inconvenient trait. (This is also, by the by, why I have such strong dislike for the people seeking to inject religion into science curriculum-- given how hard it is to correct misconceptions, these people are literally limiting kids' life potential, making them that much less likely to become doctors, scientists, even engineers. Ughhhh....) So by last summer it burned my hide that the Parent Association wouldn't change the format of their summer events to make sure that all families could attend (in the summer food gets on everything, so yeah, a serious reworking of the format would've been necessary), and by fall I was no longer willing to just hope they get it right. In the interest of full disclosure it is a friend's family who is most often affected by lack of accommodation, but even before she was a friend, I minded not at all any of the measures that the school and the classroom were taking to ensure safety without putting kids with issues into a you're not like everyone else box.

It took a good deal of digging around in my head for me to figure out why I am reacting this strongly. The way I have been able to articulate it to myself, it goes like this: my son never had a chance. It was an accident, unforeseen and unpredictable, that took away from him and from us every other chance he would've ever had in life. So it bothers me a great deal when people, be it through carelessness and thoughtlessness or with actual malice, limit a child's horizon.

I can't do much about it. But for one afternoon I could make it so that kids with allergies could sit at any which table and eat what everyone else was eating. (And maybe that other parents, the ones for whom allergies are not a part of their daily lives, see that inclusiveness is not that hard to achieve and, you know, decide to give it a try too...)

*They were raspberry truffle kind. We cut the sugar in half as suggested in the reviews, and we used Splenda baking blend, which has half the volume of sugar. So in total we reduced the volume of the sweetener by 3/4. All the better for the remaining volume to become one with the chocolate. Oh, and it turns out they are even better the next day, after the chips have the time to return to their self-contained ways.