Trust Vaccines? Then Please STFU

Kids should be vaccinated. My kids are vaccinated. My father-in-law is a polio survivor. My husband had a dangerous case of chicken pox as an adult. I have lived in third world countries and seen children disfigured by diseases that we don’t get in this country.

I was raised by scientists (well, they’re social scientists, but they will tell you that’s just as important as regular science, and also, they lack all the same social skills as regular scientists, so you know, they’re scientists). I believe in the scientific method and scientific evidence. I like my aromatherapy and my yoga and my pressure points, but when I have a cold bring on the Nyquil. I spent 8 weeks in Bradley Method classes. But after 36 hours of painful but going nowhere labor, pitocin was welcome. When my baby was stuck on my pelvis and we were both in danger of dying, I was pretty happy the midwife left and brought in a doctor with a suction cup. I believe in modern, Western medicine.

Here’s something that’s been shown by science, social science, but still, science. When someone has a firmly held belief, presenting them with facts to the contrary does not change their mind. In fact, it can cause them to cling to that belief more fiercely.

I understand that a sample size of two is not scientifically acceptable, but my kids have been conducting an experiment for years and the results may surprise you. Calling someone an idiot never gets them to do what you want them to do. Shocking I know, but my guess is that same thing holds true for adults. If you write a yelling, screaming blog post or newspaper article or Facebook status calling someone who doesn’t vaccinate their child an idiot they will not rush out and stick a needle that they firmly believe contains poison in to their child’s arm. It just won’t work.

I know that vaccines are safe and useful, but here’s something that may make you a little uncomfortable. Not everyone who thinks otherwise is an uninformed idiot. Yes, some people are being stupid and trendy. But as much as I believe in science, I also believe in history. History has made it pretty clear that sometimes doctors and scientists are wrong (remember thalidomide babies). Sometimes doctors and scientists make shit up (remember when autism was caused by cold-hearted moms).  Sometimes the government does not have our best interests at heart lies to us about science (hello Tuskeegee syphillis experiments). Sometimes pharmaceutical companies pay doctors to over-prescribe medicines (hi, ritalin).

It may feel great to toss off an angry post about stupid non-vaccinating parents. It may feel great to share angry posts on Facebook. I’ll be honest, I  read one too many of those angry posts this morning and it felt pretty good to write this, so I get the impulse.

But truly, what is that blog post or snarky Facebook post accomplishing? If you truly believe in science or you have any experience with human beings, you know that your snark, your anger, your name calling isn’t helping. Calling someone an idiot has not done a single thing to help prevent measles or polio or any other disease, and in fact, may make the situation worse.

I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know how we convince people who distrust medicine and science to do so.

I’m sure that my children will keep working on their name calling experiment if they come up with a workable, scientifically replicable solution I’ll let you know. Until then, maybe you know, just try not to be an ass.

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Snow Days

Fourth grade was a bad year for me.  I went from the loving embrace of Mrs. Minnis, a woman who defended my left-handedness by loudly telling everyone in class that her husband, an artist, was also left-handed, to the cold-fish grip of Mrs. Mackrel. Honestly, I don’t even know if that was her name. It might have been Mackle or Mackel, Mackeler?

But I know she was old, a year or so from retirement, and her hands had large blue veins. Every day I went from her boring classroom to a loud room down the hall marked LD. There were kids in that room I’d never seen before, kids I didn’t know went to my school, kids who threw things and yelled, kids who did not speak. I was supposed to go there daily to work on my handwriting and my math. It would have been bad enough even if Jack Jones (not his real name) had not decided to tell me one November day what LD stood for.

That night in tears, I asked my father if it was true, that I was learning disabled, retarded. My father said he didn’t find labels helpful and I went to bed knowing that it was in fact true, I was retarded. The next morning there was snow on the ground, almost unheard of in November in Louisville, KY and from that moment on the worst year of school became the best. There was a Thanksgiving blizzard, followed by snow in December. Louisville, KY is not like Chicago or New York, or honestly, any other normal place. Louisville persists in seeing itself as a southern city and so, like other southern cities, it refuses to buy appropriate snow removal equipment. The merest hint of snow can shut everything down for days.

That year, the early snow combined with a teacher’s strike, proved my savior. Days away from taunting classmates and confusing classrooms gave me room to recover and breathe. The next year, when I was moved to a different school for advanced placement classes, instead of LD, snow days were possibly more important.

We have a popular idea that those of us who grew up in the 1970s all spent our childhoods running in traffic, eating Oreos, and watching TV. That wasn’t my experience. I was over-scheduled and organically fed before it was cool. Violin lessons and Hebrew School twice a week (three times if you count Sundays), a house devoid of junk food except for Tab, summer camp and tightly controlled schedules.

But no one could control snow days. On a snowy night, I would watch the news and pray to see Jefferson County Public Closed scroll by on the bottom of the screen. If it didn’t, then the next morning I would stay in bed, radio on,  eyes squeezed closed, hoping the DJ on WACKY would say the magic words. Then, the choice, do I turn over and go back to sleep or bounce out of bed to make the most of the day?

TV, food, freedom. There was no one to tease me (well, except my sister) and with my parents at work no expectations at which to fail. Even in college, school would occasionally be canceled for snow and the feeling of freedom and release would make me giddy.

It’s one of the things I admire about my hometown, the ability to just stop. I think about that now that I’m in the most midwestern city, the city that works, or well, in a suburb of the city that works. I remember when my kids first started school hearing that our school district NEVER closed and being sad for them.

When my daughter was in first grade though, there was a blizzard, and school closed. I don’t remember what we did, except that we met another family for lunch at a restaurant we could both walk to. The next day though, everything was shoveled and clear and while others were happy to get back to work, I cried because no one else seemed to have a need to get off the path for a while.

Every year since then, blame Obama or blame climate change, school has been closed at least once a year for weather. People write op-eds about the wimpification of our culture. Parents complain. I hear parents and others try parse what causes the schools to close some days and not others.

I get it. I’m trying to work here, too.

But, I’ve decided that this year, I don’t care. Maybe it wasn’t cold enough yesterday and it is today. Maybe sometimes we cancel school when really, we probably could have gone. But we also hear all the time about how over-scheduled and over-pressured our kids are. We don’t hear quite as much about how over-scheduled and over-pressured most adults are, but they are.

Snow days are different than vacation days. Vacation days you plan for, vacation days cause their own level of excitement, yes, but also stress. Snow days are uncontrollable and unpredictable, and maybe, the idea that sometimes you have to stop, sometimes you have to let nature or a superintendent or something else be in control is just as important a lesson for adults as it is for kids.

 

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An Apology to Sports

I owe sports an apology.

I am not a sports person. I don’t come from a sporty family, I don’t like competition, I don’t like groups, and I am, to put it mildly, uncoordinated.

I think the way my family treated sports was probably pretty typical for a lefty academic family. In my family, professional sports was always seen as unimportant. Frank DeFord’s comments on NPR were something to get through to get to the real news. College sports were something that took money away from the real work of universities (anthropology and sociology according to my parents).

But, I married a sports fan, a former NCAA athlete (swimmer), a fan of pickup basketball games. A man who still loves to listen to Bears and Cubs games on the radio, who always finds another team to follow as an excuse to keep watching games. Then, I gave birth to a sports fan. A boy who taught himself to read so that he could read the Sports Page. He loves to play sports, he loves to watch sports, he loves sports.

My son has always brought me stories about sports that he thinks I’ll appreciate. Usually, it’s something showing people on different teams supporting or helping each other. Sometimes, it’s just something about U of L Basketball, or an athlete who is from Louisville, a short athlete, or a Jewish athlete.

A few years ago I brought him Chris Kluwe and Jason Collins. He brought me Michael Sam.

Then, a few weeks ago he brought me the St. Louis Rams management saying they wouldn’t ask their players to apologize for making the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” gesture. He brought me LeBron James in an “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirt. When we went to a Black Lives Matter solidarity march this weekend, that’s the sign he wanted to carry. Not just because an athlete had worn the shirt, but because the athlete had shown him how important it was to show your beliefs.

At the march a speaker talked about sports and America. He said Americans love sports because they’re fair. Larry Bird did not get more points for a basket than Michael Jordan. My son gave me a clear look of “I told you so.”

This morning I brought him Andrew Hawkins in his “Justice for Tamir Rice” shirt and told him about his statement refusing to apologize for the shirt. He asked me for more info on Tamir Rice.

A few years ago I realized that team sports, while still probably not a good fit for me, have been excellent for my kids. And now I realize my other mistake, professional sports are not a waste of time and money. Professional sports are part of our culture.

Yes, there are other people I could bring my son: Ray Rice, Michael Vick, Oscar Pistorious, Adrian Peterson. As horrible as their behavior is, it is still part of our culture. Like other entertainers and artists, athletes have a voice and how they use it is sometimes good and sometimes bad.

The actress Nichelle Nichols has told a story about wanting to quit Star Trek and being talked out of it by Martin Luther King, Jr. King told her that she needed to stay in the role, to show a future where a black woman was in a position of authority, to show a future where races worked together.

President Obama has said that his thoughts on gay marriage evolved in part because of TV shows like Will and Grace.

The Jungle, Grapes of Wrath, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, everyone can think of a book that helped change someone’s mind or a policy.

I get it now, sports has the same power.

So, I apologize, for all the cracks about dumb athletes and for all the rolling of eyes at sports talk.

But, I’m still only watching the Super Bowl for the commercials.

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Stepping Back

Any discussion of my daughter’s birth starts with the fact that she was two and a half weeks late. For some people this would be a joke about the fact that they’ve been late ever since. For my daughter, it’s a joke about her reluctance to leave my side.

For the first month of preschool, my husband or I stayed in the building. I used to joke that I’d be the only parent hanging out at high school parties. For many years she insisted that she would go to the nearby Catholic college, and live at home. We both put up with a lot of well-intentioned advice about our need to separate from each other.

But, by the first day of kindergarten she didn’t even look back at me as I walked out the door. Then came slumber parties and overnight camp. First, for two nights, then three, then five, now this year she’s declared she wants to go to two separate overnight camps for one week each. For her fifth grade outdoor ed trip she announced that I should not chaperone, since this was all about having a chance to get away from your parents. Of course, this came after her ten day trip to Paris, with her grandparents, not me.

Then, this weekend, she became upset that one day I will die and leave her alone. As soon as the words came out of her mouth she burst in to tears and has been only intermittently consolable for the past few days.

I am healthy. My daughter still has all four grandparents, several great aunts and uncles, and even one great-great aunt. She is not worried about me, she doesn’t think I am dying any time soon. But she is sad about the eventuality of us being separated.

I think for a lot of kids, this realization, this phase, comes earlier. Maybe her relative good luck with older relatives has delayed it for my daughter. I think it’s being spurred by her fascination with what she terms “devastating fiction,” in which a parent or sibling is always killed. I think it’s being spurred by a Thanksgiving weekend with my husband’s family, including his adult cousins whose father is very ill.

But I think mainly it’s coming from the same place that a meltdown a few weeks ago came from. The meltdown was over  the proposed renovations to our house. She has always wanted her own room, but she does not want our cozy house to change.

She is ten and she is changing in ways visible and invisible. Neither she nor I can control the changes. I think she is sad not because she truly thinks she will be unable to function without me, but because she believes what I told her last night. She believes me that while she will never be happy about my dying, one day she will grow to a point where she’s ok with it.

Years ago she never would have believed she could go to dance class, let alone Paris without me. In less time than it took to get here, she’ll be leaving for college without me and deep down she knows that one day she will live without me.

I know that it is my job to make sure that one day she can walk in this world without me. But we are not there yet. So, we are both taking a little step backward on our journey. We are spending less time stressing independence and maturity and more time hand in hand, snuggled together. We are putting aside the “devastating fiction.” We are not yet starting the copy of “Are You There God It’s Me Margaret” I bought recently at a used bookstore. Instead, we’re going back to old favorites with talking animals, read together under a blanket.

We are also going back to extra songs, tucking ins, and sleeping together at night. I am not worried, it will not last, she and I both know now, everything changes.

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Are You Working for Free

A hula hoop artist (I’ll wait)

A hula hoop artist named Revolva (ok, I’ll wait again)

A hula hoop artist named Revolva recently wrote an open letter to Oprah. Oprah’s people asked Revolva if she would like to perform as an opening act for Oprah’s tour. After her initial excitement, Revolva learned that she would be performing on a stage outside, not actually with Oprah, and would not be paid for her performance. She declined and instead wrote Oprah a letter.

Internet outrage erupted. How dare Oprah, she of the millions, ask anyone to do anything for free?

When this subject erupts, I always feel a little conflicted. On the one hand, as a writer, I’m part of a group that is frequently asked to do things for free or less than a living wage. On the other hand, as a content marketer, I frequently work with writers who willingly create work for me for free. On the third hand, some of the groups I write for most frequently, small business owners, entertainers, and wedding vendors are among the most abused by the idea that people should work for “exposure.” On the fourth hand, I’ve seen that exposure really pay off for some people.

I completely understand and support anyone not feeling like they should work for “exposure.” I’m thrilled that this woman managed to turn an offer to work for “exposure” in to much more exposure than she would ever get if she had accepted the job. But I don’t get the Internet’s collective outrage at this.

If Revolva had been a musician with a CD to sell, that she was allowed to sell at the event, accepting this job for free might have been worth it. If Revolva had been offered a chance to perform on Oprah’s TV show, even with no payment, the “exposure” might actually have made sense for her. I am not a big Oprah fan, but there is no denying the “Oprah” effect. If Oprah blesses you, it is worth a lot of money.

Revolva was made an offer. She (rightly) decided that this offer wasn’t in her best interests as a professional. Most of us have been offered jobs that we don’t want, for salaries we don’t want. Yes, it stings a little. It stings a little when people don’t realize that your career has passed the point where you need that kind of work. It stings a little when people don’t offer you the big bucks. But I fail to see how that sting rises to the level of insult.

Revolva didn’t want that “job.” She didn’t take it. You can bet someone else who thought it made sense for them did take it. Is it really working for free if you actually do stand to gain something from it? Revolva was quite right that she didn’t really stand to profit from the job, but is that true of every artist?

I noticed on Revolva’s blog post that she has 198 comments, most of them thanking her for writing what she wrote. I also noticed that her blog has a “Tip Me” function allowing people who like her writing to pay her for it. I’ll be curious to learn in coming days how many of the people who feel so strongly that Oprah should pay Revolva paid her themselves.

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Cars and Goodbyes

In 1999 I was 30 years old. I was thin, single, and much more professionally successful than anyone with a MA in literature ever thinks she will be. I had been driving a 1977 Nissan Sentra and one winter day, it finally died. The death was not unexpected. For a while that year little things would go wrong and various guys I worked with would fix them for me. On days the car wouldn’t work a friend I worked with would kindly pick me up in the mornings.

At the time that my car died I had been thinking a lot about what it would take for me to be a single adult woman. Obviously, I’d always been single, but in my 20s that had seemed like it was  a temporary thing. At 30, almost 31, being single seemed less temporary. I thought of myself as independent. I had been living alone for ten years, but I also knew that I always asked a guy to change the light bulbs in my apartment, open jars, and fix my car.

I decided one of the necessary steps for being a successful, single woman was to own a reliable car. I knew that women routinely paid more for cars than men, but I decided it was important not to ask a guy to help me buy a car, so I decided to buy a Saturn, no negotiating required or possible. A friend (OK, yes, a guy) drove me to the dealer and two days later I was the proud owner of a 1999 Green Saturn SL1.

It was the first new car I’d ever owned. It was the first car I’d ever bought without my father’s help, financial or otherwise. It was the first car I had ever owned that was built in the same decade I was driving it. That didn’t last long.

I turned 31, then the year 2000 came and I wanted to make a change. I wanted to take advantage of  my independence. I wanted to do something, anything.  A few months after I bought the car I quit my job to go run a hotel in the desert for six months.

My Saturn and I drove for two weeks across the country, with no cell phone and no hotel reservations. I picked up a hitchiker in the Badlands, I fell in love with Mount Rushmore, I hiked and shopped and sang songs at the top of my voice. While I drove I wrote a complicated dissertation in my head about Laura Ingalls Wilder and Jack Kerouac that I wish I could remember. I occasionally stopped to visit friends. I saw Shakespeare in Montana and Seattle and the first X-Men movie in San Francisco.

The trip and my time in the desert remain the most important, and best, decisions I have ever made. After six months alone, writing and thinking, after six months of meeting people I never would have met otherwise, after six months of intense and amazing friendships with slightly older women who had been where I was, after six months of a really great, but possibly ill-advised and definitely future-free love affair, I decided I wasn’t quite as ready as I thought to commit to a life alone.

I drove my green Saturn, now with a Desert Hot Springs license plate holder home. I followed as much of Route 66 as I could, reversing the course of settlers before me. I got in my car and I left the golden land. I was stopped under suspicion of drug smuggling. I visited Lincoln’s home, and then one February day there I was, not just in Chicago, but in my old office.

Three months later I met Danny and a year later, I married him. Less than two years after that we drove our daughter home from the hospital in my green Saturn and less than two years after that we installed the second car seat and brought home our son. For years, the Saturn was the “good car,” the one we used for transporting the kids. It was still my car.

When my husband’s car of the same age died, I got a mom car and he took my Saturn. I rarely drove my Saturn and was possibly a little resentful when I had to do so, preferring the more comfortable, quieter microvan.

I can’t say that I’m a “car person.” I believe you should buy the most reliable, least expensive car you can and drive it in to the ground. I do not stop and look at cars on the street or dream about car features.

But, a week or so ago the Saturn started to go. Then, the other day, it died. Today, after 15 years of faithful service, after bringing me first to independence and freedom and later to love and family, my green Saturn is headed for the junk yard, and I’m a little more sad than I have any right to be.

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Eric’s Eulogy

Note: Today should have been Eric’s 47th birthday, but in November 2009 he left us. We still miss him deeply. My husband Danny was thinking of his friend today and wanted to share the eulogy he delivered at Eric’s funeral, but since one blogger in the family is enough he didn’t have a platform for it. So I publish it here for him, unedited.

I think I remember meeting Eric, but I  may just be remembering my Dad telling me the story. I had just turned 2. It was 1969. We were both playing in a playground, in the sandbox I think, in Lincoln Park. My Dad saw Eric and his Dad, and Dads being kind of unusual at the playground, especially then, looked at me and said, “Danny, that looks like a nice boy for you to play with.” You know what, he was right. So right, in fact, that we kept on playing together for 40 years.

At my 6th birthday party, we both knew that we were moving to Evanston, me from Uptown, him from far-suburban Woodstock, where he had moved. We ran down the street singing “We’re moving to Evanston.” Every once in a while, when we got together, we’d stage a re-enactment of this event, as recently as this August. When we were ten or eleven Eric and I had a phone conversation for an hour and a half without words…both of us just made “boingy boing” sounds the whole time. We were trying to see how long this would go. I think my parents finally put an end to it.

Despite both growing up in Evanston, we didn’t go to the same school until high school. In high school, we never had a class together and never even had the same lunch hour. The closest I came to an art class was when I signed up for drawing my senior year. I dropped it to take AP European History, a move Eric never did understand. Despite all this, we were able to maintain being close friends. Not going to the same schools, I didn’t know Eric’s other friends very well, but whenever I was over Eric made sure I felt part of the group. This characteristic, of knowing when someone might be in a situation where they might be a bit uncomfortable, and acting to bring that person in, to create an atmosphere that makes them feel at home, was one of his greatest characteristics, and one I learned from even as a child.

Eric in high school was like no one else. He spent hours painting, often working through his lunch hour. We spent hours together at the Art Institute or endlessly looking through the records at the used record store, although we could only afford to buy one or two a month. But he wasn’t a recluse. We had a close-knit group of friends, often centered at John Quinn’s house, where there always seemed to be fresh baked cookies or fudge.

Later, sometimes we would somehow go months without speaking to each other. But, when we did it was the most comfortable thing in the world. After I graduated college, Eric was in his final year at U of I. I went there for my master’s. We were roommates for a semester.   I had this idea coming in that Eric would introduce me to dozens of Champaign art-babes and we would be out at parties every night. Instead, Eric spent the entire semester, including many Friday and Saturday nights, finishing two paintings, including one that covered an entire 10 x 12 foot wall, and a sculpture. Despite a little disappointment on the lack of partying, we got along wonderfully…my memory of that time is just contentment.

Incidentally, the sculpture and the other painting were on a potato theme. Eric was given an assignment to create something useable. Eric created a large pyramid shaped sculpture that held one potato, and an accompanying painting of a potato. He also created a long spiel that he told art professors and others on the significance and symbolism of the potato….which didn’t seem to be really based on anything other than getting a grade…but when Eric gave that spiel he a twinkle in his eye that said I may be serious…or again I may not be…and either way it will be fun to listen and you might learn something.

Since that time, I moved to LA for a while, then Oklahoma, then back to Chicago. Eric met and married Ali. Later, I met and married my wife Marta and then had two kids. Though all of this, visits to Eric’s, and later Eric and Ali’s, house were like sitting in a comfy easy chair. It was so relaxing that we would plan to come for a short trip to the beach and lunch and would wind up returning to our house twelve hours later. While it didn’t really seem like any effort had gone into it, food and wine we all liked was always available and the music playing always seemed to be picked out for us without us ever being asked.

The people at these events were from all parts of Eric’s life. Neighbors, old friends like me, friends of friends, friends who became friends through Eric, work friends, friends from college and grad school, all gathered in the house, on the patio, or on the beach below. Eric created community.

Recently, when we were over at Eric and Ali’s, Eric got my 3-year old Joey, to stop whining by suggesting making peanut butter sandwiches out of rocks and sand. They eventually had a whole operation going on. Two months later, Joey mentioned out of the blue “That Eric…he’s silly,” which is about as big a compliment as you can get from a 3 year old except perhaps for my shy 5-year old daughter who said when leaving their house that no Mommy, I don’t want to hold your hand on the way down to the car, I want to hold Eric’s.

From break-up’s to family deaths, Eric was always there in times of trouble too. The last time I saw Eric was in September at my grandmother’s shiva, a Jewish wake. My parents were worried that no one would show up. Eric showed up, he brought food, and he stayed.

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