I’ve been writing this post in my head for over a month, so sit back and enjoy the ride.
The importance of being heard? What, hunh? It’s simple; once you strip away all of the nuance, the line-in-the-sand- advice, the pleas, the heartfelt and/or open letters to the media masses, the temper tantrums, the stubborn adherence to strict doctrine, the foundation mortared together with noise, what’s left is a grinding need to be heard.
I listened to the stories during our first read through and spent the rest of the evening completely overwhelmed at the depth of my emotional attachment to the stories of these women.
Imagine meeting your favorite viral post in person– it was like that.
In the weeks that followed I just couldn’t get the thought out of my head. That from the first drawing on a cave wall, the first wail of a baby’s cry, the last breath before death, every moment in between centers around wanting to be heard.
The newborn baby cries for all of the reasons babies cry– hungry, wet, tired, scared, bored. Prior to identifying anything else about its surroundings, baby, barely more than an un-uterused fetus, already instinctively knows the vital importance of being heard.
The toddler crashes full-body to the ground, face purple with rage, arms and legs jabbing at you like a prison shank. Screaming with all of the twisted, powerful emotions coursing through his little body. Indignant, righteous fury at this injustice– neither relevance, nor rationality need apply– toddler asserts loudly, publicly about the importance of being heard.
See where I’m going here?
The elementary-aged children, beginning to learn in earnest the adult method of self-containment. My first grader reminds me of a can of biscuits– life rolls along, pleasant and calm and then BOOM. I’m surprised even when I know the can’s about to explode; more so when it occurs spontaneously from the backseat. It’s tricky, navigating this age. They struggle to balance the importance of them being heard, with the natural need for autonomy.
For two months I listened to my kid mumble grumpily about not having lots of stuff, about how haaarrrddd my husband and I are on him. For two months, any moment of consumerism requiring his participation filled me with irritation beginning at the first click of the fastening seatbelt. Until, finally, he confessed to being jealous of a classmate who had bragged about a 600 dollar a week allowance, and a 5-story house– neither of which containing a speck of truth.
Now from memory– mine– the middle- and high school children. Struggling through the importance of being heard by the right people, at the right time. At an age where being overheard by the wrong people, at the wrong time very much feels like the end of the world as you know it. My parents offered the well-intentioned advice on a how a future me would be completely unaffected by these humiliating horrors in contrast to my pre-teen/teenaged insistence that the only solution involved leaving the state. Their (true of most parents deep in battle with hormonal overlords) inability to hear me created a world where the importance of being heard transformed into the importance of remaining silent.
Nothing– none of this– goes away (or gets easier) as we grow older; as we settle into a young adult’s life of facebook, and twitter, and tumblr, and reddit. We being to navigate interpersonal relationships, boundaries within our own control. Sorta. Little things become Huge Things; simple tasks, like proper towel folding become a metaphor for demonstrative emotion.
When a gazillion people share a post about stopping holiday madness, and another gazillion people get self-righteous in their justification of house-destroying leprechauns, the original message of being overwhelmed gets swallowed by the static.
It’s not about everyone drinking a homogenized Hippie Peace and Patouchili smoothie, either. I can be comfortable in my paint-covered shorts while another mom is comfortable in her designer white pants. We can both wonder at how the other manages without the addition of scorn.
For me, the importance in being heard has nothing to do with anyone else’s priority list at all. It’s about strengthening my own voice, comfortably tucking into my own confidence, seeking my own council, and accepting that everyone just wants to be heard.
Now the challenge for me is not in the hearing, but in the listening. Double bonus points if I could learn to listen without offering solutions or advice.
Y’all know how I feel about the chemicals… the **unregulated TOXIC chemicals that the chemical industry slides into infant pajamas because babies are oh-so-flammable**.
Any-who, Toxic Hot Seat happens to be playing tomorrow night at the Carmike 15 in Raleigh (5501 Atlantic Springs Rd., Raleigh, NC, 27616). I plan to attend, even after spending the day at the zoo with 126 of my favorite first graders, and one Elliot.
I also understand that millions of dollars and scientific research hours were wasted on testing the safety of vaccines when a nation became horrified by the thought of injecting their small children with teeny tiny bits of chemicals. What I struggle with accepting is that this is the same nation of people that overspend for their BPA-free water bottles, because SAFETY, without ever realizing that these plastics are all now BPS-full.
You know what? I refuse to accept that I have to just sit back and take my spoonful of toxic sludge with my petroleum-laden food dyed sugar. Just. No.
At no other time in history have we the consumer had the opportunity to immediately point the finger at the corporations that are trying to dupe us in favor of their profit margin.
Here’s a funny– The American Chemistry Council works with PETA to make sure any legislation passed doesn’t needlessly harm innocent animals with unnecessary safety tests. Why pay for lab rats when they get our children for free?
Small Sofa? Settee? Large Chair? I’m going with sofa. This post will show you how to repurpose a crib into a mid-century inspired sofa. Taking trash to treasure ranks in my Top 10 of all favorite things.
Not even an expensive, convertible crib. Nope, nothing but the least-expensive-but-still-safe sleep prison for my precious darlings.
I ended up spending $80 total– for a gallon of paint, two new brushes, and $30 bucks a yard upholstery fabric (then 50% off!) and some extra foam. To date, I’ve spent a max of $7 a yard, it took me several days to work up the nerve to even cut the fabric!
My office needed a chair, but not an overflowing monstrosity like the one above. Something comfy, but practical. Something, um, free.
I’ve seen many crib-into-bench ideas and since the mattress also sat in my basement, I decked it out at a little couch.
It looked like a crib and crib mattresses aren’t particularly comfortable to sit on when one weighs more than a baby.
I poked around the internet, looking at couches, choosing a few mid-century modern couch designs as inspiration. Nice clean lines– furniture whose footprint matches its function, nary a superfluous poofy cushion in sight.
I’m going to tell you the truth- if you’ve ever cut a piece of wood with a power tool; sewn a semi-straight line; and used a stapler– this project is doable.
Step 1: Shape the arms of your sofa.
Our crib had those high, arched sides. No good. I used a jig saw and cut down at an angle. I like easy, so the highest point of my incline meets the back of the sofa.
Step 2: Let’s Get Stable!
You weigh more than a baby; is the crib sturdy enough? You can see the original bottom of the crib under the cedar bunkie boards (yup, had those in the basement; I got them for $5 at a thrift store 3 years ago). If you don’t have random bunkie boards, cut 2 x 4s to length, and screw them into the frame.
Glue and nail a thin piece of wood to stabilize the wobbly spikes to stabilize your arms. This also gives the flat, mid-century modern form when you start to shape with the foam.
Step 3: Foam strip, a lot of glue, and even more tape.
Sidebar: Some 13ish years ago, adventurous friends helped me take a reciprocating saw to an over-stuffed couch, which is when we all learned that even pre-made furniture is largely shaped with cardboard.
Step 4: Cardboard for shape. Cardboard for stability. Cardboard 4 life.
Your goal here is to give a solid foundation to shape the cushions. I had a few heavy duty shipping boxes (see above about not throwing things away).
Step 5: Padding
Turtles? What the what? So. My mom made custom crib bumpers for the still-gestating first grandbaby. I tied them so tight– no choking!– that they had to be sliced off with a very sharp knife, rendering them useless as crib bumpers. For years they’ve hung out in my scrap fabric project box just waiting… to be put back together with the crib. I used the bumpers to fill in the padding on the sofas arms. Reunited, and it feels so good.
Step 6: Assemble the first layer of padding.
Padding inserted, everything’s nailed or glued down. Incidentally, this is about when I headed downstairs to look for a heavy-duty stapler. That stapler is my new BFF. Get a good stapler. Tack nails and tape cannot replace a good stapler. If they take my stapler then I’ll set the building on fire*…
Step 7: Estimate your fabric needs by making a pattern.
Large sheets make great slipcover/upholstery pattern pieces. Unless, like me, you choose a fitted sheet. You can’t fold fitted sheets into neat squares because they are the devil’s work. Therefore, if you can’t fold it into a square, they will not make nice rectangles. But it did help me estimate my yardage (a king sized sheet is about 3 yards; I bought 4).
I ended up asking my first grader* about vertices and then drew out the geometry. At the most basic, most furniture is nothing more than a simple quadrilateral.
*I’m only sort of kidding.
Step 8: A little more cushion, please.
Cardboard and thin foam isn’t very snuggly. I intended to make a padded cushion with extra lower back support using scrap “mom, that’s too babyish for us” fabric and some of the 5 pound box of fiberfill I got on sale– 2 years ago. THIS WOULD HAVE BEEN EASIER HAD I JUST BOUGHT FOAM*. Unless you are trying to prove something to yourself, just buy the foam.
*That deserved a yell. I overstuffed the back cushion only to really notice the lopsidedness when I dry-fitted the upholstery fabric. I’m not a perfectionist, but it was bad even by my standards and I had to rip out some of my precious staples to adjust the cushion stuffing because sofa Spanx doesn’t exist. Lumpy is neither mid-century modern, nor comfy. When I reupholster other furniture, I will just buy the foam.
Step 9: Embrace flexibility.
Remember how fitted sheets can’t become rectangles? This is when old patterns come in handy. Speaking of– have I mentioned that I can’t sew by following a pattern? I can take stuff apart and make new things from it; I can look at an object and determine how to make the fabric piece together, but patterns– with their darts and seam allowances– make me all sorts of weepy.
Step 10: Foam on top
Take coupon and buy 2 yards of foam to smooth out the pillow. Hey– they DO make soda Spanx! I stapled this stuff on top of my scrap-fabric cushion.
Step 11: Attachment
Staples– too many is not enough; so many 3/8 inch staples in this bad boy. The fabric on the arms took the longest. It’s in two pieces– the inner trapezium* meets the flat top of the outer trapezium.
*Seriously, that one I did learn from 1st grade common core math.
Step 12: Remember
You’ll say to yourself, naw– I’ve pulled the fabric too tight (you didn’t), and I’ve got enough staples (you don’t).
As for the edges? I found it helpful to think about neatly wrapping a present (not something I do much of– the neat part). It’s the same sort of concept when wrapping a sofa.
Step 13: Details
I found button making thingys (that is the scientific name for them– my brain is spent after trapezium) on clearance for 97 cents. I find absurd joy in making buttons. I could make buttons ALL DAY LONG.
Step 14: Get a mascot and “borrow” your oldest child’s sonic screwdriver.
I haven’t put the knob back on the TARDIS door yet, which means you can’t get in without a flat-edged tool. It’s funny until you actually lock yourself in there without a screwdriver one evening.
A few weeks ago I locked myself in on purpose as the boys left for karate.
Elliot: “Daaa–aaaddd! Mom locked herself in her TARDIS again!”
Zach: “Mom’s just gone to another dimension. She’ll be back by breakfast.”
Which would be hilarious enough, right? Until several hours later, when this happened:
Elliot on his way to bed whispers through the door: “Breakfast is at 7, Mom. Don’t be late.”
Pure childhood memory gold, right? Yes– except Elliot, at 5, has a grasp on reality somewhere in between loosey and goosey. A few days after my dimension field trip, Grumpy Cat (aka Tartar Sauce, aka TARDIS Sauce) showed up on my sewing table. Why? BECAUSE I NEEDED A COMPANION. Hard not to love that kid; he thinks JUST LIKE ME.
Perhaps you, as one of my 15 loyal readers, remember that I spent spring break last year creating a fort of my own in the basement? My quiet spot to write that book I’ve been working on (define “work”) for a year?
And if I ever get around to removing that paper pile off of my once-clean standing desk and sewing the grown up pillows for my new MTV crib (get it? Because I’m a DIY rockstar and it’s a crib? I crack myself up) I’ll post pictures. The DIY process isn’t what this post is about though. Gotcha!
So why DID I need TARDIS?
Have you ever wondered why Mr. Roger’s put on a sweater and changed his shoes at the beginning of every show? A symbolic nod to a shift of persona, of turning into himself into…well, himself. These types of actions are a part of asserting situational control. Notice next time you go to a big meeting– does the speaker lower (or raise) the blinds? Adjust the lights? They are asserting their control over the room.
I need to write. My youngest enters kindergarten in 6 short months and the husband has started dropping hints about all of the ways I might start to earn an income. I like employment; I’ve really enjoyed opportunities that challenge my brain. Being paid for my brain seems like the next logical step.
But I really don’t want to sit in a cube and write TPS reports. Not again.
I read those posts after I read my fiction. Fiction? Hard.
Last year I won an editing auction. Meaning that Chuck Wendig would read, and then rip apart, 5000 of my words. All I had (have) to do is write them. I have my fingers crossed that there isn’t an expiration date because… cough.
Over the course of a year, I wrote an outline and several really rough draft chapters of a novel that I can objectively declare as a 1st class passenger boarding the Sucking the Suck Suckage Train.
It is disappointing to realize your great contribution to literature promises to read as a formulaic, stereotypical, poorly written romance triangle. And in between my pity party and my resulting rally, my state imploded with legislated stupidity demanding both my time and attention.
Do you remember Melvin’s line– ”You make me want to be a better man” from As Good As It Gets? Reading the terribleminds posts over the summer made me want to be a better writer.
I had characters, but no content; personalities without prose. Things in my head don’t like to shut up– even fictional things– and I eventually started scribbling lines again. A story formed. One that, if I sit my ass down and write it, bombs the fuck out of the Sucking the Suck Suckage Train.
Internal self-discipline– a huge problem of mine. But it’s one that I can control.
Now I walk through my personal TARDIS to go write. I can symbolically shed the trappings that like to poop on my creativity. Like having to clear the table before forcing children to eat food that I didn’t want to cook and that they don’t want to eat. Or feeding the bearded dragon that literally likes to poop on my things.
“I’m going to paint my office door to look like the TARDIS,” I said to my husband the other night.
“MMMhmmm, ” he muttered never lifting his eyes away from his precious, the college basketball.
Thus notified he offered no argument which therefore implies consent (I also watch Law and Order).
The door– like all of its matching friends– pays homage to the late Sixties obsession with brown paneling. So ugly.
I used scrap printer paper to hold the places for the beveled panels.
Using dark paint in one corner creates the illusion of beveling on a flat surface. I will use this trick again.
I used shiny laminate paper for the top panels since I had, you know, accidentally painted them blue instead of leaving them white.
I had about two hours before needing to pick up my oldest from school. The hall looked so bare around my TARDIS. It needed…something. A painting of a planet and its moon*, yes.
*No I’m not giving you a step by step of this part. I didn’t use spray paint, but otherwise followed the steps in the aforementioned link.
I could have stopped, but the planet and moon looked lonely. It needed something more. Something intergalactic for the planetary. Like a nebula!
Nebulae (see what I did there? Fancy!) are really shockingly simple to paint. I did all of this with acrylic paint and lots of blotting with paper towels.
My kids wanted to make their own outer space paintings (naturally). Here’s a pictorial on How to Make a Space Nebula in 9 Frames (the planet instructions are on that other link; no need for me to repeat her work.)
Doing a crappy job with spray paint (e.g., creating the stars) proved to the most complicated part of the entire thing.
I love it. Everyone should enter their office via a TARDIS flying through a nebula toward the Planet Orangeish Thing. And how glad am I to have Beastie Boys as my background music, finally displacing the week-long ear worm of “Everyone is Awesome”?
Here are the Before and After pictures of my DIY Intergalactic Planetary TARDIS Office.
I spent Saturday morning protesting the direction of NC politics with the HKonJ’s People’s Assembly. Friday, I spent the day at a women-in-politics training given by Lillian and Emily’s List .
Fascinating stuff, politics. It’s been a strange week.
A threat of cold and rain made me leave the boys home with Joel, which instead allowed me the freedom to tigger-bounce through the whole march, taking lots of pictures (like I do). I came home battling a migraine, but took a minute to flip through the files, noticing a clear story path written in the signage. I do like words. But it was while I slept in that hazy sleep/non-sleep of a migraine that I thought, “hey, I should make this into a movie real quick“.
Following the 2012 elections, North Carolina saw its first Republican-led one party government since the Reconstruction. The amount of destruction that has followed makes us a regular laughingstock of the nation. In so many ways our government has intentionally turned our reality the butt of someone else’s joke.
They have systematically cut Medicaid, food stamp and unemployment benefits proving again that it’s the fetus and not the child that deserves life.
They did not change the $1500 tax cap on yacht purchases. The tax shelters and cuts made for corporations in this state could fill a… deficit.
Like pin-strip-suited Vikings they have raided public school budgets, demoralizing our teachers and students while increasing the availability of Charter Schools.
They have written ambiguous environmental laws, created giant tax shelters for developers and padded those agencies designed to protect our public health with members that make profit off of environmental disasters.
Not only are their actions an affront to common sensibilities, their heavy-handed, corporate-led legislation is driving our state’s economic decline (for those us not buying yachts) with a speed worthy of NASCAR.
Most importantly, these lawmakers have no issue with calling us morons, or refusing to listen to our valid concerns. They have forgotten who they work for and it’s past time to fix that.
Which leads to my story of how the Affordable Care Act has affected me. In truth, not at all. My husband has a great job for a company that chooses to provide its employees (and their families) with that famed Cadillac health insurance.
As a matter of fact, in all of my years on Earth– 37 and counting– I have never been without health insurance. My Dad’s military career covered me as a college student until I was 25. When it finally expired–and oh, how I mourned the loss of my dependent ID– I picked up insurance through my full time retail job. Less impressive, my insurance coverage cost me $60 every two weeks, which might sound like a pittance, but is a lot of money for a worker earning $9 an hour.
I carried that insurance to cover any potential catastrophic health crises. However, high deductibles and co-pays still sent me to planned parenthood for my yearly gynecological exams and the birth control not covered by my prescription plan (though it DID cover viagra, which no amount of arguing with the claims department could change).
In between my retail years and my stay-at-home-mom years, I worked at the same company my husband works for now.
So how has a lifetime of having affordable health care affected me? A few days after high school graduation I suffered reoccurring hives that spread across my whole body and down my throat. I spent a little less than a week in the hospital, being pumped with high-dose steroids and anti-histamines. They ran allergy tests, blood tests, and urine tests. The total cost of that hospital visit– and I remember because my dad forgot his checkbook, so I had to pay– less than $15.
During the pre-kid working years when a really nasty cough and extreme shortness of breath sent me to a doctor, then to a lung x-ray; my cost, $75 dollars. My cost for the mental health provider necessary for medicating my ADD, and the cost for the ADD medication, both of which a requirement for my quality of life; $35 dollars a month.
The cost of my husband’s surgery to remove a huge paratoid tumor in his neck; less than $500.
The entire maternity cost of my first child– $1100. And I thought that was really expensive until I saw the line item cost on the EOB.
When intense uterine cramps sent me to both a doctor and a radiologist– both of which would have saved my life had that ovarian fibroid been an ovarian tumor instead, cost less than $100. And the month I spent suffering from extreme dizzy spells that swept me off my feet? Several doctor trips and tests provided a solution: I am the only person to whom my doctor has recommended eat more salt (I have low blood pressure).
When I went to an out-of-town-ER with pain that I was fairly certain would be fatal? Even after several hours in the ER, a CAT scan, IV drugs (y’all kidney stones–even small ones–are brutal) my cost was almost nothing.
So how has having affordable health care affected me?
I have never once had to hesitate to bring either of my children to the doctor, or the two times we’ve gone, to the emergency department. I have never once had to worry about an illness bankrupting my family. Now, thanks the Affordable Care Act legislation, I never will.
I spent a long time on the phone with my cousin– weeks out from delivering her first child–watching my eyes roll in the mirror. Then a wince.
At myself and the words my brain kept pushing out of my mouth. I started remembering about being a new mom and then thinking about how I’ve been to new moms.
Ladies, do y’all remember being pregnant with your first child? The unsolicited bad advice, such as when my Nanny recommended I keep smoking to help my nerves; the unsolicited horror stories, such as the one co-worker that talked about things like 5th degree tear and infected stitches. And if those don’t have enough hot air to raise your balloon, then there’s the Let Me Tell You What You Have to Do Because I’ve Done This Beforeadvice.
Us Old Moms, we can’t help it can we? Most (not all) of us don’t mean it the way it sounds; we certainly don’t mean to sound as if we are—or were– in any way competent or infallible.
New Moms, we don’t mean to get so excited about your impending birth of those teeny-tiny babies; the mewling creatures that demand everything from you and, in return, hand over an ocean of rapidly rising responsibility. Maybe that excitement for you lies in a break from our gaping responsibility of not-tiny, slightly-smelly, limit-testing, hormone-laden (or worse– grown and gone) children.
We don’t mean to suggest to you, New Mom, that you are somehow wrong or abnormal for feeling a certain measure of ambivalence about the impending expulsion of the child from your womb. That place where the vast majority of women keep Baby safe and warm with very little extra effort. Old Moms don’t mean to demand that you be excited by the irrevocable life-altering circumstance of parenting—even while telling you all the reasons you should be terrified. We don’t mean to sound affronted when your smile seems strained, or to at all suggest that you are somehow less prepared for motherhood for feeling this way.
New Moms, we don’t mean to forget– and the further away from the demand of an infant the more obnoxious we’ll sound. I still remember how hard– how ridiculously, freakishly, annoyingly hard it was to mediate between logic and reality. Logically, I kept telling myself how easy Home Economics and Motherhood should be, even when my reality resembled an ugly mix of Intervention and Hoarders.
I kept waiting to feel the magic-fairy enchantment and became increasingly more depressed, guilty, and angry for the lack– both times.
I can tell New Moms that it’s cool (and sane) to be scared of childbirth. But that there is a finite end. Women don’t labor for 4 days anymore; modern medicine is good to us in that way.
I can tell New Moms that it’s not tapping out by getting pain meds; that no secret society delivers a special medal for making it all the way through naturally. I can tell New Moms that my (unplanned) natural childbirth with Elliot hurt to a degree that cannot be described, but that A) my very small kidney stone hurt way more, and B) 30 minutes of IM-GONNA-DIE was still better than the 5 days of stitches that felt IM-GONNA-DIE every time I had to go Number 2. And that neither one mattered much a month later.
I can tell New Mom that sharing L&D stories—amazing or awful—with other women is something she’ll do for a long time.
I can tell New Moms that my overall attitude toward sleep was one of by any means necessary—because as soon as they stop asking “are you ready for that baby?” so will begin “is baby sleeping through the night?”.
I can tell New Moms that it’s safe to co-sleep and that my successful easy-nursing-in-my-sleep with the one kid was rejected in entirety by the second kid. I can also tell them I ignored those that worried about smothering the baby–they were wrong. After all the generation that worried (MOM!) about my co-sleeping let me ride without carseat, and with a chain-smoking father.
I can tell New Moms that I breastfed both kids, neither of them for a full year. I can ALSO tell New Moms that breastfeeding wouldn’t have lasted even that long had its success depended on a breastpump.
I can tell New Moms that yes, Breast is Best—biology not judgement—but that does not, in any way, imply Formula is Fail.
I can tell New Moms the value of ear plugs (they work) when compared to that of stretch mark repair (sorry, no). Babies process tone of voice and facial expression. If you want to tell Baby how you feel about colic with nicely spoken words in the dark… Enough said.
I can tell New Moms that Old Moms have the luxury of selective memory. Any Old Mom that acts as if she’s never spent a night frozen with doubt about her skills is either lying, or not doing a very good job.
I can tell New Moms that vaccinations are good and flame-retardant footie pajamas are bad. The advantage to vaccines is that whole no-disease-thing; I’ve yet to see any pajamas that prevent whooping cough. Avoid toxic chemicals responsibly.
Shrug, I’m an Old Mom—offering unsolicited advice… Fraka-kaka-kaka-kaka-kow!
Would I lie about an alien abduction? Choosing to run an ad-free, sponsor-free blog leaves me blissfully unfettered when it comes to posting, but even I wouldn’t neglect my precious for 2 months.
So yeah, alien abduction. Just a few days after the turn of the New Year I laid myself out on the sun warmed concrete after failing to convince E that he wanted to help me weave a wreath from the grapevines I pulled off a gasping crepe myrtle. I watched my youngest child stack chairs to climb the tree and contemplated the symbolic meaning of circles.
Heavy stuff, circles.
A gust of wind whooshed my hair off my neck in time with Elliot’s gasp, and I felt the chill of a retreating sun even before noticing the increasing creep of a large shadow. Grabbing a stick, I stood and turned, readying to attack whatever crazed mountain bear threatened my baby. On the street, parked like a dutifully registered motor vehicle, hovered the shiny metal spaceship of my Spielberg/Lucas/Roddenberry childhood. I scooted to Elliot and pulled him out of his tree perch, whispering for him run and hide in the closet.
Straightening, I watched the door slide open; a warrior mom prepared to protect her progeny from what would surely be a warp speed attack from Reese’s Pieces gone to the Dark Side. But no amount of preparation could prevent the choking cough of reality.
It had attempted to mimic the most innocuous of humanity; a sweater, a blazer, casual pants. The uniformed clothing of one meaning to soothe and reassure.
It could have worn an apron while delivering cookies to me in the street without achieving a reassuring visage. Its face as dominated by a mouth flapped open in a rictus of forced cheer, its skin mottled and discolored like that of a person with lots of access to toxins and no access to healthcare. It was terrifying even before it spoke– moreso after.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I might have lost a little tinkle from my bladder. But its voice, gratingly mocking, delivered words of such jumbled insanity that I feared it spoke in a cipher whose decoding would determine my survival.
It skulked closer to me continuing to speak with increasing volume as its ire raised with my obvious confusion. I finally blurted out that I knew of the words it spoke--concepts and strategy and theory and also facts– but that none of my university-acquired critical thinking and inference abilities could apply a sensible meaning to its statement.
Y’all, it became enraged; shrieking so loud that every dog in the neighborhood howled in answer. One bony hand reached toward me, waving in my face and demanding I show something that sounded like “identification”, but surely meant something else in its language-that-sounded-like-mine-but-wasn’t. I dragged my feet against the concrete wanting to slow its pull on my person, finally pushing away my fear to yell, ”Dammit, I have rights”. Then it stopped, turning its dead eyes to my house muttering insensibly again; because what sense can be found in vaginal motorcycle education charters?
However the mention of education reminded me of my children thus I choose to enter its ship despite my fear of an unwanted probe. As the doors closed behind me, it suddenly freed of its grip and disappeared. I stood, peacefully trying to assemble myself back to right when an intense vertical lurch had my loud exclamation of FRACK echoing off the ship’s granite walls.
My time as its prisoner was fraught with confused ambiguity. Its friends came over for fancy parties, sometimes staying after as part of the ship staff. And while I rarely understood their conversations, I knew I was not part of the inner circle, that my relative comfort existed only on their whim. One night they all giggled as one of its friend dropped a bag of knitting supplies on my lap. I never got the joke because I don’t knit, but they all laughed for hours.
When I was finally returned to earth, I was shocked to learn that what had felt like 4 never-ending years had really only been a few months. But my experiences had forever altered my perspective; never again would I laze in the sun without fearing being taken hostage by one more powerful than I.
North Carolina, a riddle: How do you know your state policy making has gone insane? When a blogger can write an alien abduction story from the key outcomes.
It’s March 2001 and a British man steps out of a blue police box and says that I will someday be grateful for the acute myelogenous leukemia (Agent Orange- related cancer) that has just killed my father. He promises that the next half-dozen years my mother and I will spend spinning in the revolving door of the Veteran’s Administration (VA) will benefit me later. He whispers that I need to pay attention to the draft Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA) legislation in 2013.
If only, right? Almost 13 years and two children after my father’s death, I can appreciate how much that past informed the present. His death fueled that first tank of moral outrage. But it was the 7 years of cycling Request/Response/Wait with the VA, the writing and copying of a forest-worth of appeals, and the knowledge gained from working in the biostatistics department of a local CRO that kept the tank full.
From 2002 to 2004 the thousands of hours spent reading scientific articles full of words necessitating both conventional and medical dictionaries made three facts clear:
chemicals are not required to undergo any safety testing before being sent out into the populace,
the average human has far more exposure to toxic chemicals than they realize, and
regular exposure to toxic chemicals is not healthy.
My family is safe because I buy organic foods. None of this applies to me.
Both of my children have food allergies; I can read a label to avoid the eggs that will send one of them to the ER. As a consumer I can (and do) choose to avoid foods with food dye, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
I can choose to purchase organic diced tomatoes to avoid eating the pesticides, completely ignorant of the fact that no law that regulates what’s in the actual can.
This is why CSIA applies to all of us– even the eaters of organic foods–irrespective of race, political leaning, gender, socioeconomic status, sexuality, or geography. We are equal in our inability to opt out of toxic chemical exposure.
I share a birth year, 1976, with the Toxic Substance Control Act– TSCA (toss-ka), the law written to regulate the chemical industry. TSCA passed– and with it an automatic exemption for the 60,000 chemicals already on the market. Since 1976, an additional 24,000 chemicals have come to market. About 15% of the 24,000 new chemical submissions included any health-and-safety data.
In an astonishingly abrupt difference, should I find myself diagnosed with cancer tomorrow, I cannot take a pharmaceutical drug without it first having passed trials for both safety and efficacy. I can go online and read the data from the clinical trials of an approved drug. I can (and have) read thousands of pages listing adverse side effects of investigational study drugs. Extensive examination of data is required before a drug can be sent to market and, should post-market safety concerns develop, the FDA can pull the drug.
I’m concerned that similar requirements haven’t been established for the chemicals that stain every surface of a modern America household. I can’t flip over my couch cushion and see a listing of the chemicals used to make it flame retardant. I can’t choose. As a parent and a consumer, that’s not okay.
I gave birth to my first son in 2006. During an infant safety class, the nurse looked out at the sea of mounded bellies, protected by elastic-waist pants and folded hands, and warned us that using soap would wash the flame retardant off baby’s clothes.
I asked her what it was about babies that made them more flammable, thus requiring flame retardant clothing. Her answer was that “newborns, being immobile, can’t move themselves away from a fire.” After nights of being woken by an indignantly wet, screaming newborn I felt confident that, should he find himself suddenly on fire, we’d be well-informed. No longer concerned about his increased risk of spontaneously bursting into flame, we eliminated treated pajamas.
Then, as I nursed 3 month old Zach, I read an article that mentioned how disposable baby diapers contain dioxin—an unavoidable byproduct of the paper bleaching process. I thought we had been pathologically cautious– testing the paint and pipes for lead in our 1969 home, choosing low-VOC paints, unscented baby shampoo and lotions, vaccinating, breastfeeding—only to find out that we had been laying dioxin next to his bare baby skin.
We switched to cloth diapers.
Zach spent a year playing with/chewing on what would later become known as Thomas the Toxic-Lead-Paint Engine. 2007, the year of massive toy recalls for lead paint (and other) violations, cemented my child’s natural love of cardboard boxes; it was difficult for me not to see each plastic toy as the next toxin-bearing Trojan Horse.
Why I’m grateful for cancer–
Wait- did you just say you were grateful for cancer?
Yes, I did. My 18 year old father’s firebase experienced heavy deforestation from Agent Orange (AO) giving multiple AO-related diseases a chance at his mortality. If it was going to be something, I’m grateful it was AML. You see, my father’s death had already informed me of the chemicals that lurked– largely unregulated– in every corner of modern life. But my peer group at the time– young adults whose parents had not been military– were unaffected, and therefore unimpressed, by the irresponsible behavior of the chemical industry.
I cheered over the public outcry against Bisphenol-A (BPA)—and, for a minute, felt pride over the chemical manufacturing industry’s response. Victorious fist-bumps spread as baby bottles started to show up with BPA-FREE labels.
That’s true—we don’t know the human health effects of long-term exposure to low level chemicals, because safety tests are not required of new chemicals, and for the past 37 years the only data available have been those voluntarily given by the industry writing the rules intended to regulate it.
No, I’m not going to go all Jenny-McCarthy and say that I know for certain that living with low levels of multiple chemicals deemed as “possible” and “probable” human carcinogens causes negative health outcomes. It’s hard enough to identify association, let alone causation. What I do know for a fact is that children have more years of future life than adults; more years for their developing bodies to accumulate the byproducts of almost 80,000 untested chemicals. I also know exposure measured for a 37 year old is different from that measured for a 7 year old, a 3 year old, a 2 month old, and a fetus. I know that measuring the chemicals causing early puberty will not yield accurate results for an adult well beyond puberty.
I know that children are at a current—and future—risk for unknown health effects simply because we do not require safety testing.
Now I’m terrified of my couch and grocery receipts, and I think I saw a tumor growing on my foot. What is my government doing about this?
Which leads us to 2013 and the introduction of the “bipartisan effort to update embarrassingly outdated legislation”, aka the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA). Bipartisan cooperation, being the shiny snowflake twinkling against the Unicorn’s horn it is these days, is both appreciated and even encouraged by the voting public. Notwithstanding, I do NOT intend to encourage the passage of tepid, ineffective legislation for the sake of bipartisanship cooperation.
As it’s written—and yes, I read each overly comma’ed and semi-colon’ed paragraph— the first draft of the CSIA scores big for The Bill Most Likely to Define Governmental Ambiguity. The current version of CSIA sacrifices the opportunity to protect health and environment in favor of protecting profit. CSIA forfeits my freedom as a consumer to make informed choices.
CSIA legislation requires the EPA assess exposure in vulnerable subpopulations (such as children and at-risk workers) for the safety assessments. It fails to define what should be done to protect a subpopulation should they be found to be at an increased risk. This is similar to acknowledging that children are a greater risk for lead-exposure related illness and then doing nothing about lead.
CSIA creates multiple layers of bureaucratic red tape for the EPA with the use of phrases like “time to time” (my favorite), “timely”, and “within a reasonable time” as the definition for key deadlines and timelines.
CSIA requires that a chemical product be defined as either high or low risk. If the EPA cannot prove a chemical to be high risk, then that chemical is automatically categorized as low risk. I don’t consider unstudied to be the same as low risk.
This is not an example of a socialist agenda against free enterprise. A fair number of chemicals are vitally important to the continuation of humans world-wide. I don’t want to write legislation that cripples the innovation of the chemical industry. But I do want legislation written that stops toxic chemicals from slithering all over children.