Friday, August 28, 2009

7 Quick Takes-Politics Edition

I don't usually get on a soapbox and rant on this blog. But I am sort of in the mood to do it. I am just overcome by the craziness in our culture right now. Visit Jen at Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes, many of which are not rants and are better than this post.

1. Have you read my post about health care yet? If not, quit reading this, and go do it. I am totally lost on this issue and really do want some help. It is so hard to find arguments for either side that are based on reason and not trying to manipulate my emotions. Tell me what you think and why. Convince me.

2. I am sure Senator Kennedy wasn't a horrible person. I am also sure he was not a great person. He championed a lot of causes he believed in, but he also seemed to be just a sleazy as the next politician, especially when it came to women. Really, I don't like making people into saints just because they die. And I especially don't understand why feminists would weep over the senator's passing. I just don't get it. I hope he came to the end of his life with an honest view of his rights and wrongs and a spirit of humility and repentance. I hope I can do the same, acknowledging my faults before God, dependent on His grace, and knowing that I have done some good. Please, don't feel the need to say things about me that aren't true, just because I am dead.

3. Have you read about the 13-year-old Dutch girl who wants to sail around the world? The government has taken temporary custody of her, and psychologists are saying the isolation of the two-year-trip would be bad for her and that she is too young to attempt it. Maybe she is too young, but she was born on a boat, has sailed alone since 10, and is supported in this by her parents. It seems to me that being separated from girls her own age right now, attempting something so incredibly challenging, and gaining a broad perspective on life would be a GREAT thing for a teenage girl to do. I certainly think her parents, and not state courts and psychologists should be able to decide this one.

4. Want to do something good in the world of politics? Go here and let the Army Corps of Engineers know you don't approve of permits for Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining. Yep, I'm asking again. Why? Because it is the worst environmental disaster in our country, hands down. Help. Please!

5. I am slowly working my way through Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety. And it is fascinating. I don't agree with everything, and I am not sure I am going to agree with the author's solution of better government programs. I do agree with her assessment of American overparenting. We have such an obsession with arranging our children's learning environments, their experiences and activities, to create successful, perfect people. We have forgotten how to let our kids be kids. I am seeing the fruits of this now, with Calvin, who just needs me to back off and let him do his thing. Linus is such a different, and more well-adjusted, child because I haven't obsessed over him so much.

6. Did you know Reading Rainbow is no longer going to be made? So many issues come up in this article. I was devastated when my local PBS station stopped showing Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood except at 6:30 on Saturday mornings. I don't like ANY of the new shows on PBS. They are so flashy and quick and assaulting to senses. I don't think television should be used to teach reading, as the article mentions. Children don't need to learn to read before they are in school; they need to learn it in school. Reading Rainbow simply encouraged a love of books. It was a good show. Now no one is willing to pay to keep it on because we need one more ugly cartoon to teach kids phonics? I think this ties into the Perfect Madness book somehow. I may have a longer post here.

7. I heard on my local NPR station yesterday that parents should be on the lookout for flu-like symptoms in children starting back to school. Apparently, the swine flu is expected to go around, and, get this, BE JUST LIKE ANY OTHER FLU. It may spread more easily, but it poses no more threat to the majority of the population than other seasonal flu strains. Just one more reason 24-hour media is a bad idea. When there was nothing to talk about, H1N1 was the next great plague. Now that we have Kennedy's death, Jackson's homicide, universal health care, and all sorts of things to talk about, it is just another seasonal illness that may be a bit worse than most.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Let's Talk Health Care

It has been a rough few weeks of illness around here, which we finally decided was some undiagnosable GI bug (which is currently giving sweet Linus a fever and stomach pain). As I was sitting in the ER Friday morning with Hobbes, trying to find the source of two days and two nights of stomach cramps every 20 minutes, I thought about a lot of things.

I thought about how much I love my middle son, that impish, mischievous, quirky way he has about him. And I though about how perfect our family is because he is right there in the middle, driving Calvin crazy when he needs to be and bonding with Linus in the most adorable way.

I thought about how much I hate hospitals. I am glad we have such good health care in this country, but I am even more glad that I have rarely needed it.

I thought about how annoying it is that so many ridiculous tests have to be run, so much time and money wasted, just so that malpractice lawyers can't sue doctors, the majority of whom are competent, caring individuals.

I thought about my dad, who was an amazing doctor who loved bringing new babies into the world and caring for women. And I looked at the kind doctors in the pediatric ER and knew that they were there for the same reasons my dad had been, to take care of sick people, to bring healing...NOT to make money. I knew that they would serve my son, screaming in pain in my arms, whether we had health coverage or not.

I thought about this article and how the health care reform could drive some really good people out of a profession they love. Let's face it, how many people would give up the prime years of their lives and many hours of sleep, time with family, and a life outside of work to work in an inefficient system with poor pay? Money did not make up for the time I didn't have with my father, but the lack of fair wages may have kept him and many others out of medicine. Even really good people will not go into a profession that sucks year of a life away if there is no fair compensation.

I thought about our crappy, unethical health insurance provider and wondered if they would pay this bill. We have good coverage through my husband's work, but we have to fight to get every big bill paid, including Calvin's heart surgery, for which we had an approval letter from them. That bill took over six months, and I knew how to navigate the system since I had once filed insurance for a doctor. Still, we had to call my husband's HR person to get it paid. What do people do who don't know how to work the system?

I wondered what that morning would look like under the new health care plan. Would we have to wait days for access to tests to find out if Hobbes' pain was something more serious that a virus? Or would things stay the same? Would people who weren't able to afford good care now be able to get it? We are lucky, I know.

This are the things I was thinking about. I am pretty conflicted on the health care issue, and I have yet to find a good, balanced perspective on it. If you can give me some thoughtful, balanced ideas on this, please do, but don't try to sway me with emotional arguments. I want facts.

I am pretty traditionally conservative when it comes to my view of the government running things. In general, I think more government bureaucracy leads to greater inefficiency and poorer quality. Things generally do better when run on a local level and tailored to the needs of a local community.

I have no problem with going after health insurance companies, which I think are a totally unethical and corrupt group of businesses, with a few exceptions. If they only reason folks are fighting universal health care is to protect these guys, then I say it's not worth it.

I respect and trust doctors and think they give up a lot in order to serve the common good. They should be able to work in an environment that rewards them for their sacrifice and allows them to choose to offer services or not based on their conscience.

I think that all of those 18-30ish uninsured adults out there who have decided the cost savings are worth the risk should be allowed to opt out of health insurance.

I don't believe we have a right to immortality, but I do believe we have a duty to provide basic health care to our citizens.

I am conflicted. But I am very glad that Hobbes only had a virus.

Monday, August 17, 2009


I provide the Q. You provide the A.

1. Should I "homeschool" Calvin and how much?

He is in Chinese preschool two mornings a week again with the possibility of staying for their extended day program those two days if I choose. Auntie M is also coming one half day a week to do "Auntie Em School" with the boys, which will consist of art and nature and science and whatever fun they can come up with. They will also be at the in-laws' farm one day most weeks.

That leaves me with two and a half unplanned days. It doesn't seem like much, but I think Calvin really needs some structured activities. He is ready to learn. He also needs to be free to play. What would you do with a five-year-old boy who is reading chapter books and doing basic math?

2. What do I do with Hobbes?

If I do homeschool Calvin, should I also work out some sort of curriculum for Hobbes? Any suggestions for a three-year-old? Yes, I know I should have been thinking about this months ago. I am a slacker like that.

3. Are reward charts a good idea?

They are sort of time-honored, but I also know plenty of people who think kids needs to learn to be motivated from within. Not sure how that works. Stickers and rewards for full charts DO seem to work. But can I use them for chores or just for good behaviors we are working on? Should chores just be expected and not rewarded? Thoughts?

4. What can I feed Linus?

He got over baby food a long time ago, but he still has no teeth. I put a lot of our food through the food mill for him at dinner, but I am running out of healthy breakfast and lunch ideas for him to gum up into swallowable pieces. We already do oatmeal, yogurt, bagels, cheese, rice cakes, toast, soft veggies, and fruit. Any creative ideas are appreciated. He eats A LOT, and if he doesn't get enough, he wakes up hungry at night.

Just some of what's on my mind this week.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

7 Quick Takes-Review Edition

Though I have not managed to write much over the past three weeks, I have managed to read a few books and watch a few movies. Most of those during vacation at the beach. Since it doesn't look like I'll be having much time to write real reviews anytime soon, here are my abbreviated versions. For more Quick Takes, visit Jen.

1. Doubt was an excellent film! I had avoided seeing it because I assumed any movie about the Catholic church that Hollywood actually liked would just be a thinly veiled attack on the church. Also, Phillip Seymour Hoffman creeps me out in real life. It is a testament to this film (and therefore to the play upon which it is based), that I managed to stay up way past my bedtime discussing it with my husband. Usually nothing keeps me up past my bedtime.

The movie was brilliantly acted, and I was blown away, once again, by Meryl Streep. That woman is amazing! I actually found myself liking Hoffman's character in some scenes. (See above statement about being creeped out.) And, although I would like to see Amy Adams play something other than the sweet, innocent young woman, I do love her. (I have loved her since Junebug, which is another movie you should definitely see, especially if you are from North Carolina...or not from NC. It simultaneously affirms your stereotypes about Southerners and blows them out of the water.)

Anyway, some have criticized Doubt for being too stiff and literary and reliant on symbolism. It IS based on a play, and I like literary movies full of symbolism. I didn't completely agree with the playwright's premise, too much nihilism for me. But I do think that doubt which leads to faith or away from it is an important topic. Watch it. Come away with a lot of questions. And let me know what you think.

2. I read The Last Chinese Chef for a bookclub with other moms at the boys' Chinese school. It was a fun read, perfect for summer, and I learned so much about traditional Chinese cuisine that I didn't know. Since I have experience with real (non-Americanized) Chinese food, the descriptions of the meals left my mouth watering and made me excited to move to China. I suppose the plot was good, but the novel seemed mostly just an excuse to explore the world of Chinese cooking, definitely a topic worth exploring!

3. In case you missed it, I have three boys. When someone gave me Raising Cain to read, I was reluctant. I didn't want yet another expert telling me that boys need to learn to express their feminine side and quell their natural tendency toward aggression rather than channeling it somewhere healthy.

I was very pleasantly surprised by Kindlon and Thompson's book. It takes a look at the main problems facing boys in today's American culture, like violence, anger, depression, substance abuse, and immature relationships, and looks at some of the ways our culture keeps boys from realizing their full potential as men. The authors, both psychologists with school counseling experience, use examples of boys they have counseled to show how the culture of cruelty and the pressure to "be a man" keep boys from forming meaningful and emotionally mature relationships with one another.

There is so much good information in there, along with some important warnings from the lives of boys. This is the best book I have read so far on helping boys to become mature, emotionally secure men while still recognizing the difference between men and women. I highly recommend it!

4. On a lighter note, I read The Mysterious Benedict Society last summer at the beach, so I picked up the second in the series to read this year. They are super-fun juvenile fiction with smart, weird, misfit kids as heroes. I am definitely holding onto these for my boys!

5. I grew up loving the Frances books, so when I realized we didn't own any, I went out and bought Bedtime for Frances for the boys. Hobbes has asked me to read it again, and again, and again. If you don't own these, check them out.

6. I finally started Perfect Madness, and while I already don't agree with everything the author assumes, I am finding it a fascinating read. The biggest issue I have is that I don't assume that children shouldn't get in the way of living my adult life. The selfish attitude that has led to a declining birth rate in Western Europe is not necessarily a good thing. At the same time, I think our child-centered mothering culture, where we worry more about affirming our children's self-esteem and making them the center of the universe than teaching them to respect authority, can learn something from Europe. There is a balance somewhere in there of accepting children as a gift and responsibility that will mess up your life a bit while not making them the total focus. Maybe I will write more once I have read the whole book. I'd love to hear from anyone else who has read it.

7. Finally, did I mention that my husband and I just finished watching Brideshead Revisited? We watched the miniseries from the 80's. Do NOT watch the new movie. The series was long and often painful, and I was certain there was no good reason to watch it. Over and over again, we almost stopped. But we just couldn't. The characters were too intriguing. Also, many people we respected had said it was well worth watching. It was, in the end, a profound statement about God's grace and His ability to work through and in the very screwed up lives of His church. I almost want to go back and watch it again. Almost. I would need a lot of time.


Calvin has a fever. Hobbes is whining. They are starting to fight. Linus is on the floor crying. The breakfast and lunch dishes are scattered over the table and counters and sink. The dining room floor is covered in filthy crumbs. Laundry sits in the washer and dryer needing to be switched out and folded. Clean dishes are still in the dishwasher. The bathrooms haven't been cleaned in weeks. In fact, none of the house has been cleaned in at least a week, most of it much longer than that. Beds are unmade. No one has napped well. Every surface of the house is covered in papers and books and toys and mess. The "spare" room has not been spared and is cluttered with projects half completed. The yard is a jungle, well over a week past due for a mowing. The "garden" is a few sick tomato plants managing to produce some fruit amid the crabgrass. We need groceries. I have not prayed regularly or exercised or eaten well in weeks. I have alternately yelled at my kids and ignored them.

Just in case you have any illusions about my life. This is what it is like more often than I would like these days. Constant travel and the end of summer, ready for a schedule and school blues have not helped.

Just living up to my imperfect blog title. Here's to a more peaceful, orderly, meaningful Fall. Oh, and to football...soon.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

"Screws fall out all the time."

"The world's an imperfect place." John Hughes is dead.

I have seen The Breakfast Club more than any other movie. Much more. Ask my college roommates. I am pretty sure I watched it once a week in college. I quote it all the time. My two best guy friends in high school often bugged me by calling me Claire. It is brilliant on so many levels, but most of all, it is brilliant because it captures so truly and perfectly the high school experience. Johns Hughes understood teenagers and took them seriously, not too seriously, but just seriously enough. Others have said it better than I.

I am sad. May God's peace be with him and his family. I will leave it at that.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

He has more important things to do.

Sunday was Calvin's fifth birthday! Maybe I will write more on that later. We celebrated at the beach on Friday night, but I called him Sunday to wish him a "Happy Birthday." He was in the car with my mom, just returning from church where half of my relatives probably wished him the same.

"Happy Birthday, Calvin!"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's what everybody says to me."

End of conversation.

He's five now. He has more important things to do.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Knock, Knock

Is anyone home?

She peers sheepishly around the corner.

We just returned from a week at the beach. Calvin and Hobbes went back to Tennessee with my mom for a few days. We have more travel coming up. I hope you'll excuse me if I take the next week or so off to get some work done in real life. I may stop by to say, "hi," but it isn't likely. It's not often I have only the baby and can actually tackle big projects around the house. Maybe I will show up with some movie or book suggestions now and then. See you closer to the school year.