Princess for a Day

Today on the way home from school I readied my kids for a trip to the bakery by giving them each $2. As I was getting out of my car a woman asked me, “can you give me enough money to buy my kids and I a loaf of bread?” I don’t always give money to the men (it’s usually men) on the corner we pass in our car everyday. They stand on the wrong side of the street for me to give them money–which is a nice excuse for me to avoid deciding if I think I should give them any.

But she asked me on foot and in front of my kids. She was so brave and so polite, standing a safe distance with her hands in her pockets. At first, with iPhone in one hand and credit card in the other, I told her I didn’t have any cash. This is also a convenient excuse.

She said, “Ok thank you. Have a good day.”

What am I to say in response? “You have a great day too?”

I remembered I had a coin purse in my car that had been there since the coin meters were replaced downtown. Money I could put aside and forget about for years.

“Actually, can you wait a second?” I climbed in my car. “Thank you so much,” she responded.

“Do you know what a loaf of bread costs these days?” Because I don’t. I just throw it in my cart (I think to myself).

“I’m sorry but it’s probably over $2.50 at this store. We just moved here and it hasn’t been working out like I hoped.” She kicks the dirt as I search. “My kids and I are staying with my sister but we’re homeless. I tried Family Partnership but they weren’t that helpful.”

I just spent the morning at the Minnesota Legislature on behalf of parents everywhere. I’ve done this kind of work in committees across health, environment and education over the last decade. Today I observed the House Education Innovation Policy Committee. In this moment it hits me that the whole reason I am at the Capitol is to do what I can to make sure money gets put into the hands of the people that need it most.

I have my opinions on how that money should get allocated: early learning scholarships, career and technical education, smaller class sizes, better assessments of student growth, teacher development, concurrent enrollment, American Indian education, special education, free breakfast, help, hellllllpppp HELP!!!!! It is so incredibly complicated.

And here, I almost missed an opportunity to put money directly into the hand of a parent who needed it.

We chatted a bit. I gave her some ideas. Told her not to give up on Minnesota. We take care of our own here.

At least I want to believe that we do. Most days, the truth is, it seems so hard with such limited resources to get the people the help that they need. Sharing is hard work.

I sometimes wonder why I care so much. Why can’t I quit these kinds of jobs and sell cupcakes?

UnknownWe were watching Star Wars with our kids a few weeks ago when Princess Leia bent down and put the message in R2D2. The Princess. The wise and brave Princess–daughter of a Senator–she would save the world. I loved her. I said to my six year old as we watched together, “I think I’ve always wanted to be Princess Leia.” He looked up at me, “If you are the Princess, I am your clone.”

And when it was over I said to my ten year old, “I’ve been to church, I’ve been to the Capitol, I watch the President on TV, I travel, I search and I wonder, where are the wise people, the great and noble Senate that is trying to save the world? Maybe there isn’t one!” The kid doesn’t skip a beat. “Oh there is, mom, don’t worry. It’s just in a galaxy far far away.”

She turned left to the grocery store with my quarters and we turned right to the bakery. “Oh shoot boys; it’s closed! It wasn’t our turn today.”

In 20 fast steps they catch up to her and give her their $4.00.

Just for a day–the Princess and her clones.

It was so easy.

Response to Matt Walsh on Sex Ed

photo-18I have been a fan of yours for awhile, Matt Walsh; a big fan.  Before becoming a full-time stay at home parent I was a health educator in the public schools.  I wish I thought your perceptions of comprehensive sex education were accurate, but I respectfully do not.  I would like to believe that parents who are incapable of teaching their children healthy, universal lessons about human sexuality are an “aberration,” but research shows we have not yet evolved to that level of competence as a society.  Since your arguments are not actually based in research or evidence, allow me to speak from the heart as you do.  In my experience, and I know that you are speaking from your experience, I believe comprehensive sex education in schools saves/improves/protects lives.  This is what I have witnessed:  1) Human sexuality is a part of biological science, which is taught in schools.  We do not restrict information about other sciences based upon the cultural beliefs of students.  We give them the facts.  2) What we teach in schools does not restrict what parents can teach kids at home.  If they are capable, loving parents, lessons from home will be primary, not secondary, to lessons learned at school.  3) You suggest we have a case of parentphobia.  Please consider whether you have a case of teacherphobia.  Health educators are professionals, and “most of them are…capable.  Most [teachers] love their [students].  Most [teachers] would do anything for their [students]. Most [teachers] know what’s best for their [classrooms].”  Teachers aren’t the government…I encourage you to have a little faith in them.  In fact, perhaps you still have some things to learn from teachers that will help you navigate the parenting “minefield” of which you speak.  Sometimes we need expert guidance from people who are trained professionals.   4)  One of our biggest failures as a society is our tendency to trust our assertion that “I can look around me” and see everything that’s going on out there. We need to doubt our beliefs about “most of us” because that is usually biased by what we see.  When we make decisions about the needs of our society as a whole, we have to remember, respectfully, that “most of us” don’t interact daily with a representative sample of the population.  Matt, we need to doubt ourselves every time we use the phrase “most of us.”  Herein lies the intended and constructive purpose of statistics; science and research that can help us make decisions about what kids as a population need.  “Most” researchers are good, smart people that have the very best for young people at heart.  As parents, we cringe at the idea of our kids rendered to numbers, but these numbers have the ability to remove our blinders when all we can see is what is around us.  The evidence, in this case, suggests that comprehensive sex education in schools has reduced the rate of unintended pregnancy, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.  As a health educator, I can tell you that everyday I had that job, I went home feeling like I improved the outcome of someone’s life that day.  As a citizen, when I send my kids to public school I choose to be willing to have my children educated in such a way that is best for the common good.  And as a parent, I welcome the challenge to teach my kids what I want them to know about their sexuality in the context of what they learn in school, on the playground, and in conversation with other kids and adults.  I encourage you to broaden your view, doubt your assertions, and then tell us all what you think is best for our children.  Here are some resources:

Lobbying for Breath

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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.