Butter Alone

I am sleep deprived. Three kids with coughs are taking turns in steamy showers, propped up on pillows. Cool air for the croupy one, a nebulizer for the wheezy one and snuggling for the dramatic one.

I am somewhat happy to comply, so long it’s shared with a domesticated husband and a cooperative dog (she keeps the foot of the bed warm when I get up to help). I am accustomed to working nights in this job.

My trouble isn’t the kids. It’s mom’s heart and dad’s memory that make sleep elude me once I am awake. Heart and memory and relocation, pain and loss and depression. The vultures flying around what they have left—the Vet benefits that I can only hope come through before the death certificate. The elder care attorney, the total lack of Alzheimer’s care, the heart valve clinical trial consent form. The appointments. The medications. The forms. The health care system that doesn’t seem to understand age or disability, of all things!

Art by Helen Boggess

Art by Helen Boggess

My brain colluded with my uterus the minute I was pregnant and still marches onward full of love, most days (and nights). But I didn’t see my healthy, strong youthful parents’ infirmity coming out of left field until it struck me sideways. They were still my best babysitters up until the day of my mom’s stroke. Though she recovered, her heart and her husband will not.

In the morning I set to writing over a bowl of soup and a delicious roll at the coffee shop that’s quieter than my house. I peel gold foil from a pad of butter and stop before spreading it. “Wait,” I think. Dad we are trying to fatten up: he eats two. Mom can’t take the cholesterol; she gets ½ a pad. Child one is vegetarian; does not apply. Child three hates butter; DO NOT APPLY TO ROLL WITHOUT INSANE CONSEQUENCES. But I may eat one pad of butter.

I spread it on the bread, dip it in the soup, and finish every yummy bit.

Then I remember. It wasn’t the butter at all. Today I was going to eliminate carbs.

Lobbying for Breath


In St. Paul today, a consortium of clean energy advocates filed a motion with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), urging them to update the grossly outdated estimates of health, climate and environmental costs caused by electricity production that they use to plan Minnesota’s energy future. I had the opportunity to weigh in as an angry mom and children’s health advocate.

I can speak from a Public Health perspective, but I feel more driven to speak as a mom. I would like to put a human face, a child’s face, to the “morbidity and mortality benefits,” of this change. 90, 000 kids in MN have asthma, or 1 in 14 kids. I am the parent of 2 of those kids. Not all these kids have asthma because of air pollution, but air pollution certainly triggers asthmatic symptoms; which means medications, clinic visits, ER visits, hospitalization and occasionally loss of life, and always, stress.

As a Minnesotan this concerns me. As a mom it concerns me more. The costs involved in caring for these children can be measured in dollars, but there are also costs to health status, productivity and quality of life. In MN, asthma disparately affects non-white kids, kids who live in poverty, and kids who live nearest to our highest concentrations of air pollution; the urban heart. That also means that the brunt of these costs are being paid by the state of Minnesota and my hope is that if having the heart to do everything in our power to help our kids grow and flourish isn’t enough, the economic incentives to curb this trend will have that power.

As a mom, you can’t imagine the frustration involved in watching your child struggle to do something as basic as breath, knowing that although you have done everything you possibly can to create a healthy environment for them, the state has not. Industry, economic interests, energy consumption and simple lack of commitment to maintaining accurate cost values have won out for too long.

Now we have evidence that demonstrates the true costs of energy production to our health and climate. We know that infants and children are often more susceptible to the health effects of air pollution because their immune systems and organs are still immature, because they spend more time outside, and because they breath more air per pound of body weight than adults. We know toxic pollutants from coal power plants cause more subtle, but widespread health effects on children – including learning disabilities, developmental disorders, and lower IQs.

To put a face to this problem let me tell you more about us. We have 3 sons, and 2 have asthma symptoms. We estimate that in a bad asthma year, we can pay $11,000 more in health care costs per kid with asthma as compared to our son with more cooperative bronchioles. Imagine those costs spread across the state of Minnesota, and 90,000 asthmatic kids.

My kids have very mild asthma. But when its bad, especially when the air quality indices are high, I can hear a difference in their breathing. If they are outside they can’t run as fast as their friends, and when they are sleeping their breathing keeps me up at night. I support this clean energy consortium’s motion to update the cost values used for energy planning in Minnesota, but I don’t have much power and influence as a mom. I can only hope that the significance and quality of my kids’ breathing is also keeping up at night the people that have the power to make this change.