Monday, May 28, 2018

On separating children from parents

We pause from the lighthearted stuff for a little while. Here's a letter I am sending to my senators and congressperson. After this letter, for this blog, I added some links at the end to places that are "on the ground" -- a senate report, a report from a refugee commission, and a set of question/answer cards from a previous immigration surge.


Dear Senator/Congressperson X,

I am writing to you a citizen who is deeply troubled by the recent announcement of Jeff Sessions that my government is implementing and enforcing a policy of separating children from their parents at our borders. This policy is likely to create incredible lasting harm and trauma for many thousands of children, and I am deeply disturbed that my elected officials would have any part in promoting or condoning such actions.

I am the mother of six children, three of whom we adopted, two of them from the foster-to-adopt program. I am personally very familiar with, and grateful to, the Pennsylvania SWAN (State-Wide Adoption Network) for their support in our adoption and their work with children in foster care. And yet I have seen in my own children and in the other foster children I have come to know how incredibly damaging it is to be separated from a birth parent, and how much care and patience it requires --- for years and decades after that separation --- to help the child learn to manage such a painful and disorienting transition.

Removing children from their parents by force does unconscionable harm to the children, and my country should have no part in that. This statement is not just an opinion from a random parent; it is also grounded in medical expertise: the American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that authorities should “exercise caution to ensure that the emotional and physical stress children experience as they seek refuge in the United States is not exacerbated by the additional trauma of being separated from their siblings, parents or other relatives and caregivers.”

I know from my years of parenting step-children and adopted children that even when a parent is neglectful, abusive, or incapacitated, children usually want nothing more to be back with that parent. How much worse is it, then, to remove a child from parents who are trying to help their family escape from poverty, strife, and danger? This policy---which is promoted as “prosecuting” and punishing adults who have “cross[ed] the border unlawfully”---traumatizes the children and has the potential for life-long damage.

In addition to the proposal being morally unconscionable, the proposal seems to me to contradict many of our own country’s laws and guiding principles. As the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) has noted,

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the right to family unity is “perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by [the Supreme] Court.” Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 65 (2000). Further, the Supreme Court has held that a parent’s right to the care and custody of his or her child “has been deemed essential, [a] basic civil right of man, and rights far more precious than property rights.” Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 651, 92 S.Ct. 1208, 31 L.Ed.2d 551 (1972).

And in spite of Session’s claims that this proposal targets people who enter the country “illegally”, the evidence from numerous groups, including the WRC and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), is that families are separated after they legally “turned themselves in to seek asylum”.

I am heartened at past efforts our legislators have taken to monitor and mitigate the harm that comes to children who come under the jurisdiction of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). I’m grateful in particular that Senators Portman (R, Ohio) and McCaskill (D, Missouri) spearheaded the report on HHS weaknesses in properly caring for “Unaccompanied Alien Children”. I know that our system is already burdened -- indeed, overburdened -- caring for children who enter the U.S. without their families. We should have no part in adding to the burden of these institutions by asking these same organizations to take on the task of overseeing children whose families accompanied them.

There has to be a better solution.

Here's a link to the United States Senate Report that describes the 1400+ children who were "lost" by HHS. It's a a 51-page report, but the executive summary is only 3 pages and very readable.

Here's a link to the recent WRC (Women's Refugee Commission) report. The report ends with 15 ``representative'' cases in which asylum seekers presenting themselves and their passports legally were separated from family members. It begins with a formal complaint indicating that these cases are part of a much larger, and more troubling pictures.
The complaint highlights an alarming number of instances in which family members who arrived together at the U.S. border appeared to have been separated by U.S. immigration officials without a clear or reasonable justification, as a means of punishment and/or deterrence, and with few mechanisms to locate, contact, or reunite with family members. The complaint also includes case examples of separation involving toddlers as young as two years old who were effectively rendered “unaccompanied” due to separation from their parents.

Here's a link to a set of Question/answer cards from VOX on an earlier immigration crunch (in 2014). This was a situation that seemed superficially similar, with a large increase in people entering the U.S. from the south, and with President Obama opening mass detention centers for families with children. The VOX cards (which were compiled in 2015) have 12 questions and answers, including, "What happened to families that got caught trying to enter the US in 2014?" and "When did the child migrant crisis end, and why?" I found this set of questions to be refreshingly straightforward.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Miser Family update: good energy version

Life continues to be rich and full of good energy here in the Miser Family Household. 

Where to begin?  Well, I know it's been a really long time since we had a picture of our whole family together, and to rectify that lack, here's a picture of us all, supplied by A-child.  I think I'm the faint one on the left, a little tilted to one side (more on that, later).

Tuesday night, J-son stayed over, and in the morning he and I went running together and then had an awesome mediation session together.  It was good to see him, even if Prewash was a total traitor and followed him around instead of being appropriately subserviently loyal to me.   It was also good to run and smell the fresh air and then practice breathing and then eating salad for breakfast.   J-son has a lot of good structure when he's at his former foster mom's house, but she's not a healthy-living nut like I am, and surprisingly enough, J-son kinda misses that. 

(yoga +acrobatics)
K-daughter has taken on a new job, in addition to her work at the Y; she's working at a nearby new restaurant/bar.  The disadvantage is that the job doesn't come with free childcare; but the upside to the job is that the people who hired her (a) think she's wonderful,  and (b) actually tell her so, and (c) actually act like it's so, and keep giving her more responsibility and lessons.  She sends me texts full of exclamation points:  "IM LEARNING HOW TO MAKE COCKTAILS TODAY!!!!! I'm so excited! One step closer!"

My husband continues his eclectic mish-mash of activities: attending synagogue and church, protest activities and chemistry celebrations, bike riding and yoga, and bringing home mounds and mounds of dishes to wash after an ESL end-of-year party.  He also [and this is the good energy part] moved the drying rack out of the basement into the garage, where clothes can dry more quickly in the summer heat.  If I were to have my way, we'd sell the electric dryer to wandering gypsies and hang-dry our clothes all year long.  My husband, however, in his role as Lord of the Laundry, reigns over the dryer.  So I have to appreciate the slight increase in use of solar/wind laundry power that comes with the summer. 

I love the fluttery arms! 
N-son surprised us by, out-of-the-blue, finding a local baseball league and signing up for it.  Way to take initiative, N-son!  He told us then that he needed to get a bat and some cleats.  When I asked him if he'd rather have me or his dad take him shopping, he chose . . . his dad.  Anybody surprised?

I-daughter has been rehearsing in earnest with our local theater company.  And I've been hammering away at math, plus the residual parts of my committee work.   Both of the theater and the math are great experiences --- taking a lot of energy, but giving us a lot of energy back. 

And late in the week we had our annual family Ayo-de-Mayo dinner.  (We almost never get around to it on the Cinco-de-, so we just renamed it).  Awesome food.   Several* of us did large amounts of dancing -- Despacito, Bailando, Que Te Pasa, La Bamba, and Do the Conga
(Okay, by "several", I mean "A-child and I" 
did large amounts of dancing).  

Somehow, part of the evening turned into a demonstration of yoga-batics, where K-daughter and A-child showed off their stuff.  It looked like so much fun!

And that's the news from our family, which continues to be wealthy in our adventures.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous. 

Here are three of us, tilting to one side. 
Like A-child's picture of me.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Dishing up faith and charity

A few of the plates we've washed yesterday and today.
Washing a giant pile of dishes the other day made me realize how much charity is connected to faith. Not faith like, "only holy people who have faith in X religion can truly be charitable" --- I don't mean that at all.   No, I mean that it struck me, as I was washing a pile of plates that I'd given to my church, that giving away my money (time, energy, whatever) to try to make the world a better place takes a bunch of faith that my gift will actually make a difference.

I'm pretty sure we all wonder about this.  That's part of why sites like Charity Navigator and GiveWell exist; to help people figure out whether, or to what extent, their money might actually feed people, or cure people, or provide education/environmental protections/emotional healing/etc.

Giving locally makes it possible to close the feedback loop a bit more tightly -- that is, to see the actual effect that a donation has.  A few years ago, I donated 100 reusable, washable plates to my church, in hopes that I could reduce the bags and bags of trash that accompanied our occasional communal meals.  Our church doesn't have a dishwasher, so I also offered (and continue to offer) my services in washing those dishes.  But even so, the gift came with a bit of cross-fingers on my part.  Would people be willing to use these plates instead of the more "convenient" disposable paper plates?  Or would they grumble at the hassle of storing these plates, of setting up collection bins after meals, of sorting plates and silverware into one bin, cloth napkins (oh, yeah, I got those for the church, too) in another bin, and landfill-bound trash in another?
Tableware (on the table) waiting to be wrapped in
clean cloth napkins(in the laundry basket on the ground).
Prewash the Dog lurks expectantly in the background.

Well, those plates were successful enough that the church lunches grew in size, and I ended up ordering and donating even more plates.  More napkins.  More tableware.

People at church started telling me that they think about the trash they throw out at home because of me. I'm not sure they're changing anything they do, but at least they're thinking.

Then, when our church ESL classes kicked into high gear, I ordered/donated a bunch of stackable mugs, which these days make an almost-weekly trek between the church and our dishwasher.

People have used my plates for weddings.  For funerals. For general gatherings.  I have to say, I'm so happy.  I'm happy even though I'm surrounded yesterday and today by piles of dirty dishes.   It's just wonderful to know that this action of mine is making a difference outside of my own home.

Many of the cleaned dishes,
just about ready to go back to church.
This year, the ESL team decided to use the plates for their end-of-year party --- a party that in previous years has generated bag-upon-bag of landfill-bound trash.  The challenge is that this was with a group of people who are unfamiliar with a lot of aspects of the environmental movement, and who understandably appreciate the convenience of disposable items.  Why bother to haul plates around, wash, dry, stack, when you could just toss something in a bin and be done?

And there's no denying it's a bunch of work cleaning up for a dinner that serves more than 100 people.  We ended up doing a giant laundry load of napkins, and five dishwasher loads of dishes.

And yet, the work was worth it, as you can see from an email from my Grasshopper at ESL:
 The total trash output of the evening was about one large bag, and it was mostly plastic tablecloths that weren't within our control.  Remembering the absolute mound of trash from last year, I'd say we did well!! 
I even think that folks are coming around to the "fun" of it; several asked how much trash we ended up with since we were all being so very aware of where to place what.  AWESOME!
It's super gratifying to be able to see the effect I'm having by sharing my money (and my trash-averse rants) locally.   I miss having that kind of feedback when I send my money farther afield.

Which is where the faith comes in.  I know that sharing money locally helps people who are -- by global standards -- already pretty darned well off.  So I'm just going to have to extrapolate, cross fingers, that the checks I write for refugees, orphans, plants and animals, and struggling entrepreneurs in other parts of the world will be as effective.    And maybe the trash we didn't send to the landfill this week will slow the degradation of this planet we all share.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Miser Family update: travel & togetherness version

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Household.  This week I was particularly rich in car time.  Because my office is only 2 or 3 blocks from my home, I'm hardly ever in a car (especially compared to other people I know).  So the sheer amount of time I spent in our little old Prius this week is really unusual for me. 

Cars weren't our only big transportation modes this week, either.  There was still a wealth of walking, a riot of running, and a bit of buses, a ton of trains, and (of course) a bunch of biking.   On Tuesday, in particular, we did just about all of those modes -- N-son took a bus to school while I biked to our local rescue mission. Then my husband I and took trains (he, to Tuesday with Toomey, and me to give a talk at another university).  After school, N-son walked over to the local polling place and voted for his first time ever!

The car got put into serious service later in the week.  On Thursday, my husband picked up J-son, who came into town in the morning to take care of some important paperwork; after that administrative stuff was taken care of, we went to N-son's school to have lunch with him. It's awesome having a child in culinary school, right?  This was the first time the boys had seen each other in months, and they were glad to be back together. After lunch, we drove J-son back to his current home with his former foster mom.   So for me, that was 76 miles in the car, with 3-4 co-passengers.  Phew!

But the next day made Thursday seem tame by comparison:  164 miles in the car, with 4-5 co-passengers [my husband took the train one way, and joined us in the car on the way back]. Because that day we traveled out to see the Savoy company perform Iolanthe, that totally awesome Gilbert&Sullivan operetta.  It was K-daughter's first time seeing the show, and she was really surprised -- she'd been expecting something lofty and weighty like Carmen or Madame Butterfly, not like the Three Stooges with British accents and fancy music and intellectual depth.  The rest of us have seen it, like, a gazillion times because of family connections.  We had a blast together, getting to appreciate something we love, while simultaneously seeing it for the first time through K-daughter's eyes. 
Nothing venture, nothing win –
Blood is thick, but water's thin –
In for a penny, in for a pound –
It's Love that makes the world go round!

And we got home after midnight . . . tired but super happy.  Saturday was super rainy, and so I spent much of the day peacefully at home, enjoying staying dry.
When tempests wreck thy bark,
And all is drear and dark,
If thou shouldst need an Ark,
⁠I'll give thee one!
And that's the news from the Miser Family, which continues to be wealthy in our adventures.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous.   

Monday, May 14, 2018

Wenches with wrenches, for Mother's day

Okay, I know that I'm not exactly mainstream when it comes to gift giving.  I wasn't really terribly surprised, then, to hear that my daughter's best friend was horrified and offended by the Christmas present I gave my daughter.  What kind of mother would give her kid radiation sickness pills for Christmas? she wanted to know.  (Um, . . . maybe the kind of mom who doesn't want her daughter to die from radiation poisoning?  I mean, that would be my answer.)  So, yeah, maybe not all parents give their children emergency preparedness kits as a way of saying "Happy Holidays".  I get that.

Although I do think it was an awesome gift, and kind of funny, too. 

I tread carefully when it comes to gift giving, because I really don't want to spend money on stupid excessive waste that just adds to landfills, or promote mindless consumption of non-renewable resources.  On the other hand, I don't really want to go around offending people either.   So it was with a bit of trepidation, a few weeks ago, that I asked I-daughter what she wanted for her upcoming birthday.

She didn't even hesitate one second.  "I'm SO glad you asked!"  I heard this and wondered if this meant I'd be headed for the mall for the first time in . . . I dunno, a decade.  But instead she said, "One of the boards in my back porch stairs is starting to rot, and I was hoping you could replace it."

A birthday gift for my daughter: a new stair tread.
K-daughter, sitting nearby, overheard this and immediately joined in, "Oh, now I'm jealous!  That's the kind of thing I want to ask for, but I don't have back porch stairs that someone could fix."

So, apparently I raised my daughters right.  Or at least, right for me.  Yay!

It turns out that I-daughter's front porch stairs also need to be replaced, and we turned this into a Mother's Day gathering.  Eventually, we'll need to get new lumber and replace the whole set of stairs, but this past Sunday the three of us gathered to take measurements and shore up the existing stairs to make things more steady.  The old fence around my yard that I dismantled a few years ago keeps being reincarnated in new forms; the latest form is porch stairs, apparently.

Me watching K-daughter use the
circular saw.
I think I really look like
*my* mom in this photo!
It was good to be together.  K-daughter loves to work on projects with me, and so I led her through using the circular saw, and the cordless drill, and -- because the battery on the cordless drill died -- how to use a chuck to switch out drill bits on a very old but very serviceable corded drill.  (It is possible that my daughters might have gotten future Christmas gift ideas from this experience, but I'll let that be a surprise to me and/or others in the future.)

It was also good to futz around with an imperfect repair before we bought supplies for the replacement steps.  We spent no money, but got valuable insights that will help make the eventual, more permanent stairs, better (the ground slopes so the supports need to be at different heights, etc).

I-daughter says that her neighbors have priced out getting a new porch roof (she'll go in on this with them, because it's a duplex and therefore they share the roof). She says they also priced out getting new porch stairs, and the estimate was $2000.  So I could do the whole yada-yada thing and say I gave her one of the most expensive gifts blah blah . . .

But really, the gift was a big mutual one.  It's the gift of time we spend together as a family, even with my "kids" grown and out of the house.  It's the gift that we actually like spending time together, which is kind of a miracle, I figure.   It's the gift of getting psyched about using power tools, or about finding needs that we can somehow fulfill.  It's the gift that my daughters give me by loving me for who I am, mall-phobic and all.

I-daughter and K-daughter on the stairs, with my fancy
"construction vehicle" in front.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Miser Family update: sticker version

Life continues to be rich and full in the Miser Family Household.

When I was a kid, my grandfather used to send me and my sisters letters on manilla paper, with hand-drawn pictures and stickers.  I loved the manilla paper, because I always thought people were saying "vanilla".  And the stickers were absolutely the most wonderful thing I could imagine putting in a letter!  It's hard to imagine, what with modern-day scrapbooking and craft stores selling stickers left-and-right, but stickers were a rare and wonderful treat in my childhood.  I have such fond memories of getting mail from Grandpa.

That being said, here's my husband's Tuesday morning email message to me, written because he left the house before I got back from serving breakfast at the mission:
I left for the train 🚂 at 815 so I left dog 🐕 out assuming you would be home soon. I did not feed her. I have the usual protest followed by a Friends of the Earth 🌏 protest followed by phone ☎️ banking. See you around 945. Love ❤️ N
My husband isn't that far in age from my grandfather's age when he was writing those letters. What goes around, comes around, I guess.  My husband has been busy in Philly with the get out the vote movements.  Don't forget to vote on Tuesday!
My guy says:  "This is me with candidates mother.
She is younger than me."
N-son had a big, final squash match this weekend, and specifically asked me to take this picture of him as he got ready to take the train to his match.  He won his very last match 3 games to 2.

As for me, I'm in the stage that always seems to happen in May: there's all this metaphorical dust that I'd swept under the metaphorical rug during the semester, and these weeks in May involve lots of random spring-cleaning type activities to get that dust back out and cleaned up properly.  I wrapped up a bunch of committee work, sent out a paper (yay!), got seeds in the ground and pulled weeds, took care of some email archeology, and did other random things that kept me busy in ways that are mostly non-newsworthy.   But even if it's not newsworthy, it might be sticker-worthy.  I'll think on that. 

That's the  📭 from the Miser Family, which continues to be 🔆 in our adventures.  May you and yours be similarly 🔌.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Miser Family Update: Big Day version

Well, life certainly continues rich and full in the Miser Family household!  In recent times, we got to go to N-son's end-of-year squash banquet, and see him give a speech.  Woot!
N-son explains why he loves playing squash.  
By "we", I mean his adoring mom and dad, two of his adoring sisters, and his one-and-only (adorable) niece.
A-child knows the future is so bright,
she's gotta wear shades.
J-son went to his senior prom (but I don't have photos of that yet).   My husband successfully advanced in years, and so now I'm officially married to a senior citizen.  I-daughter also successfully advanced in years, to the point that she's a mathematically perfect age.  The next time she'll be this perfect, she'll be 496 years old, so we knew we had to celebrate big. 

How did we celebrate?  Well, we went to a rock-n-roll theater show that had at least one of us dancing in the aisles.  Also, I gave her a new porch stair for her birthday.  (She asked for it.  Don't be jealous, y'all!)

Also, I dressed (with the help of my granddaughter's costume bucket, advice from I-daughter, and a yellow umbrella that doubles as a light saber) for a "Jedi Mindfulness" workshop.  Costumes were encouraged, and at the urgings of my daughters, I managed to get a blurry photo with all the other people who were in costume.
T-shirts are costumes, too, say my friends.
And that's the latest news from our family, who continue to be wealthy in our adventures.  May you and yours be similarly prosperous.