Thursday, April 25, 2013

Just some things I realized this week

I have developed an addiction to Pinterest.  I know lots of people suffer similar addictions, but here's the thing: I don't cook.  I don't sew. I don't own a home. I'm not crafty.  I don't have kids or a partner.  I simply scroll through other people's lives and covet their food and their homes and their families and their ability to sort of "have it all."  It's pretty damn mesmerizing and time consuming.  Come to think of it, maybe my Pinterest addiction is somehow connected to my own empty life.  Why live it when you can watch it?  Or something like that.

It's the end of April and I'm still freezing.  I actually wore gloves to the dog park yesterday afternoon.  And yet, while I stood there wrapped as if for a late fall day, I was eaten alive by black flies.  How very incongruous that was.  I can't help but feel like this is Mother Nature's way of flipping us all the bird.  I don't know what her problem is, but as my own personal brand of rebellion, I am thinking of chucking a #2 plastic bottle out of my car window at an illegally high rate of speed and yelling "Save yourself, Mother Nature!"  This is merely a fantasy of course, since I cannot tolerate littering or people who engage in it.  Still, it's fun to dream.

The other day when I took Beckett for a walk at the Crossings, I watched a little boy of about 4 years old pointing and jumping and wildly telling his father about the ducks in the pond.  "Daddy, they're swimming!" he screamed.  Followed by "They're coming right toward us!"  Sad thing is, daddy was so busy texting, with his phone in his face and his back to his little boy, that all he could honestly do - and all he made the effort to do - was nod halfheartedly while mumbling "Uh huh.  Good deal, bud."  I don't know who I felt sorrier for, the little boy, whose father clearly couldn't be bothered, or the father, who will someday know the pain of an adult child who can't be bothered, either.  Whatever the case, texting while your kid is begging for your attention?  Shitty parenting move, 100% of the time.  As the years go by, don't even waste your time pretending to wonder why your kid doesn't call or come home when given the choice.  Kids never forget anything.

There truly are two kinds of people in this world:  People who watch and people who do.  I think both have value. I guess the trick is being the right kind of person at the right time.

I'm trying very hard to take a news-and-politics moratorium. It may be overly indulgent to decide that I simply don't want to sit glued to my television and computer watching day after day of gruesome violence and destruction and scandal, but there it is.  I'm checking out of it all for as long as my "need to know" mentality will allow.

I'm putting the final, FINAL (she said, for the millionth time) finishing touches on my thesis and dropping it in the mail to my thesis reader this weekend. About two weeks early. Because why not? I think it's ready, even though I'm not. And I guess that's the lesson for this week, folks - learning when to let go of something, knowing when it's time, when it's right, when every cue the universe is sending seems to be saying the same thing: "Let.Go." I actually wrote on someone's Facebook page yesterday, in response to a quote she had posted: "Accepting and releasing are the two essentials to living a free and authentic life."  Then I had one of those "Did I actually say that?" moments when I read it back and realized I generally don't live my life that way - I suck at releasing anything, even when that thing is serving me in a negative way, or not at all, and is well past its expiration date. And acceptance?  Well, that one remains as abstract as Pi. Still, I figure I have a better shot at learning acceptance than solving Pi, so I persevere.

Happy freezing cold last week in April!

Til next time,

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Trusting Instincts

Yesterday was a Sunday like any other - I was working on my Masters thesis and transferring various loads of laundry from washer to dryer and contemplating vacuuming my house instead of watching The Golden Girls marathon on tvland (The Golden Girls won, by the way) when I remembered that my dog Beckett was out of his favorite beef-flavored treats. Since there is very little Beckett can eat thanks to a finicky digestive system that is probably the combined result of his slow-to-develop “runt of the litter” organs and my reliance on the most natural (read: most expensive) foods and treats on the market, I didn’t want him to go through the week without the little freeze dried chews he looks forward to whenever he goes into his crate. So, even though I contemplated staying inside where it was warm and quiet, my “mommy guilt” got the best of me as I grabbed Beckett’s harness and leash. “Wanna go to Petco?” I asked. An unnecessary question, since I could barely get him into the car he was so excited.

The second we walked into the store, Beckett, who has memorized the layout and is, like me, a creature of habit, dragged me over to our regular first stop: the ferret cages. We always visit them first, and he loves to stand on his hind legs and peer at them while they slither around and play with each other and pretend to ignore him. He whines and paws and seems to think they can’t see him, though I suspect they fancy themselves better than him, as they turn their little noses up toward the ceiling and go about the business of simply being ferrets. As usual, though, his attention for the ferrets was short-lived yesterday, and within minutes he was pulling me toward the bird cages. Once again, he was on his hind legs, front paws in the air, head titling from side to side whenever the birds tweeted at him. I can never tell whether he is happy or sad to be outside their cages while they are locked inside, and I often wonder, when I look at him wanting so desperately to play with his little friends, which side seems more like captivity to him.

After Beckett sniffed a cute little cocker spaniel and failed to amuse an older, lethargic looking golden retriever, I finally coaxed him into the “cookie aisle” where he enjoyed his usual sniffing expedition of all the rawhides and meat-scented chewy things displayed at nose level. While I searched for the correct package and contemplated a new brand of biscuits, Beckett smelled and groaned and did his best to lick everything his little tongue could reach. Finally, I pulled the regular cookies off the shelf and did my best to tug Beckett toward the cash register. As usual, I had planned on a quick in-and-out, and, as usual, Beckett had planned on tasting everything (and everyone) in his midst.

As we headed to the front of the store, I stopped to price a package of squeaky toys hanging on the end of an aisle. And that was when a woman who looked to be about my age approached me.

“He’s a sweet dog,” she smiled and nodded toward Beckett, who by then was frantically pawing at the pork bones just beyond his paws.

I thanked her, always worrying that I sound immodest when I admit that I actually do, in fact, have the sweetest dog on the planet.

“Is he good with children?” she went on. I wasn’t expecting that question, so I stuttered a bit before responding that, yes, he loves children, though he tends to jump and lick any person short enough to serve as a potential playmate, so perhaps not all children would agree that Beckett is, to quote the woman, "good."  In fact, he can be quite the jumper/licker/freaker-outer, at times.

“Well, my little boy … was wondering ...” she hesitated. “He asked if he could pet the black doggie. So I just thought I’d see …”

“Oh of course he can,” I replied, saving her from what seemed to be an awkwardness I couldn’t quite understand. After all, I was dressed in my Sunday sweat pants, unimposing pony tail, feeling relaxed and approachable and open to conversation (which isn’t always the case, I admit with some regret), so I wasn’t sure where her discomfort was coming from.

Until her son walked around the corner. He was a beautiful little boy dressed in overalls and a turtleneck. He had a sweet, diamond-shaped face that looked too small for his large, square glasses. And he would not – could not – look at me, even when I said hello. He did, however, fix his gaze on Beckett while he pointed and repeated “pet the black doggie, pet the black doggie, pet the black doggie” over and over and over again.

“Yes,” his mother said. “You can pet the black doggie.”

Then she looked at me, seeming to struggle for words, until she was finally able to explain that her adorable son, who is seven, was diagnosed with autism several years ago. She and her husband had been wanting to get him a therapy dog, but he was so terrified of dogs that he become inconsolable and often aggressive anytime a dog was nearby. On the advice of one of the child’s counselors, the parents had been bringing him to Petco as a way of gradually exposing him to leashed, well-behaved dogs in a controlled environment, and so far, the mother told me, it had been working pretty well. The little boy could now walk through the store, could see and hear and even be in the same aisle with another dog, and not get upset. “Most of the time,” she added with a chuckle.

“But your dog is the first one he has ever wanted to pet,” she almost whispered. She was trying not to cry, and, in all honesty, I was fighting back some tears myself.

“How wonderful,” was all I could manage, before squatting a safe distance away from the little boy so I didn’t crowd him. “His name is Beckett,” I said. “And he would love for you to pet him.”

Inside I was panicking. At seventeen months of age, Beckett is just now coming to terms with some of his training – probably because, after fifteen months as Beckett’s mom, I have finally learned how to train him (which first involved training myself). Even so, he still suffers occasional lapses, particularly in public places where he is overstimulated and more than willing to suffer the inevitable “Time Out” later for the sheer pleasure of misbehaving now. But this moment was critical. A lapse for Beckett could become a lifelong fear of dogs that this little boy would always trace back to today.

As I thought about all the things that could go wrong in this scenario, imagining every possible negative outcome, I suddenly realized that Beckett had stopped sniffing and pulling and begging for the bones and toys spilling out of the rack above him. Instead, while I had been talking to the boy’s mother, Beckett had been sitting perfectly still, staring at the little boy, the little boy staring back at him, both of them looking away from each other now and then, but neither of them reacting to anything outside of whatever communication they were having. Not even when other dogs walked by.

So I did the only thing I could do. I knelt beside Beckett and said “It’s ok, buddy. Approach.” I was ready to pull his leash tight if he started to jump, but I could see, without a doubt, that he knew. He couldn’t jump. Not this time. And he wouldn’t. Instead, he approached the little boy slowly, gently, pushing his nose toward the tiny, outstretched hand until, eventually, child and dog touched. The little boy wiggled his fingers and Beckett licked them. The little boy waved his arms and Beckett followed them. The little boy crossed his legs and Beckett laid beside them. The little boy put his hands in his lap, and Beckett rested his head on top of them.

And we stayed like this, in silence, for twenty minutes. There was nothing else in the world except a mother and me, watching a little boy stroke Beckett’s head, his back, his tail.

“We’ve been working on this for years,” was all she seemed able to say. Though she was doing better than I was, as I stood there speechless, relieved, proud, inspired.

Before we parted, I gave the mom my phone number and told her that I would be happy to arrange get-togethers between her son and Beckett, if she thought it would help. She thanked me and assured me that she would call. And I hope she does. But more than anything, I hope that this beautiful little boy will now be open to the possibility of a therapy dog, and I like to think, if he is, that maybe Beckett had something to do with that.

It’s funny how, even though instinct never fails me when I pay attention to it, I often doubt myself and others, always letting my fears interrupt the natural flow of things. Thankfully, Beckett knew what to do yesterday. And, despite my panic, I knew it was time to let him try. Even the mother who approached me knew that, scary as it was, she had to let her son pet a strange dog, and she had to have faith that he would be alright. Still, it was the little boy who taught all of us to put away our worries and our preconceived ideas and our fears about what may have happened in the past. To simply experience that single moment, when his instincts told him that Beckett was safe, when his instincts told me that all I needed to do was believe in my dog and trust that he would do the right thing. I am so glad I listened.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Some thoughts on Monkey Mind

Last week, I finished the book Monkey Mind, by Daniel Smith. The title, based on the Buddhist term meaning "unsettled/restless/indecisive/uncontrollable," is a sort of whimsical play on what can feel like a very serious topic we all know as anxiety. And I’m not talking about every day, bearable old situational kinds of worry, like “I’m gonna miss my bus” or “I can’t find my car keys.” I’m talking about chronic, life-altering, at times debilitating Anxiety (yeah, the kind that deserves a capital “A”). Also referred to as generalized anxiety disorder and/or panic disorder, Anxiety is different from fear, though close enough to be fear’s first cousin. In fact, Smith suggests that the accumulation of fear often leads to anxiety, and that the presence of anxiety often compounds our fears. Here’s an example from my own life to better illustrate this point:
  • My fear: Death.
  • My reaction/action: There’s a strange little bump on my neck (ever so small and totally painless, and one I detected only through my obligatory daily “body check” ritual).
  • My Anxiety: My inability to find a similar bump on other side of my neck confirms it: Cancer. I have cancer.  
  • My follow-up fear: I’m going to die a painful, lonely death.
Yup. The voices in my head follow a pretty predictable script. Sure, the story varies a little – sometimes I have lupus, or MS. Once I actually had Morgellons disease, a condition I only became aware of after some blurred vision and dry skin led me on a a wild Google search for the most painful worst case scenario.
All this is to say that in reading a book like Smith’s, I was comforted to know that not only am I not alone in some of what I see as my own borderline insanity at times, I actually find myself funny. Maybe more absurd than funny, but I was laughing as I read Monkey Mind and pictured myself in many of its scenarios.
Just when I thought I was uniquely crazy, I find out I’m pretty much a garden variety anxiety sufferer. We’re everywhere, it seems, even though we often feel rather paralyzed and alone with our rituals and our worries, our feelings of impending doom and our constant prayers for relief.
So there you have it. Anxiety – not so unusual after all. But the book will shed new light on an old problem, and may even lead you to appreciate the undeniable humor in your own misery.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Some thoughts on Boston. And flag poles.

Like most of America, I awoke this morning consumed by thoughts of Boston, with both the question and the answer playing over and over in my head: “Did that really happen?” And “Yes, it did.”

Since I live almost four hours away from Boston, I feel, in some sense, like a spectator searching for highlights, updates, whatever soundbites the media will provide. At the same time, I recognize the luxury of being able to decide when “enough is enough,” when the bloody images become too graphic, or the explosion replays too anxiety-provoking, and I am able to indulge in a change of the channel or a head-clearing walk with my dog, or the broken sleep that got me through last night, where I was safe and warm and tucked away in the familiar comfort of my apartment, my bed, my pajamas. While I don’t generally consider myself particularly privileged, and, in fact, occasionally dwell on Woe- is-me Street, I realize – as I’m sure so many others do – that the blessing of an ordinary day is worth acknowledging and appreciating whenever we are fortunate to have one. After all, nothing in life is a guarantee, and the arrival of tomorrow, though a hope, is never a promise.

After yesterday, words like “routine” and “common” and “everyday” suddenly have million-dollar value as I imagine how many marathoners, how many Boston residents, how many first responders and politicians and grieving loved ones must be longing for the predictability of a normal day. If given the chance to glimpse yesterday’s tragedy in advance, I’d like to think that most of us would have noticed the seemingly minute details of our lives – the ticking of clocks, the opening of blossoms, the nods of strangers, the sounds of traffic – all the things that happen so often and so naturally that we passively go along with the noises and the sights like passengers sleeping our way through life, too busy and too tired to bother or be bothered.

At the same time, it says so much about our country that in times of tragedy we come together. Yesterday, countless people reacted without hesitation, from the superhuman strength and bravery of our first responders to the selfless offers of food, shelter, and transportation that have flooded Boston’s helplines since last night. It makes me proud to live in a place and time that may value the individual, but that prioritizes the irreplaceable value of community and of human life.

This morning, when I walked past the New York State Capitol on the way into my office, I actually looked – for the first time ever – at the American flag waving high above me. Since my building is located in a veritable wind tunnel, the flag was whipping and flapping as the wind slapped it back and forth, wrinkling and folding it this way and that. How like a dance, I thought, as flag and wind pushed and pulled, gave and took, opened and closed this symbol of freedom I had never before stopped to notice. While the material itself looked pliable, almost flimsy going up against nature’s blows, it was the flag pole – that nondescript, run-of-the mill piece of metal jutting out of the roof – that held my attention. Despite the weather, the pole remained solid, unmoving, fulfilling its sole purpose: to anchor and support the flag while letting it soar.

I used to think that the flag was the representation of all that America stands for, and I haven’t changed my mind about that. But I have suddenly developed a new appreciation for the pole behind (or beneath) the flag, if you will. A symbol in its own right, it is the unsung hero that stands, silently and dutifully, so that the flag can flutter and fly above us. And more than anything, it is a reminder, to notice the things we often ignore, to appreciate the moments we often take for granted, and to slow down, gaze toward the sky, and see what we often overlook.

Love and healing to all who have been impacted by yesterday’s tragedy. May you know peace and freedom, may you feel loved and supported, may you find strength and courage to survive and to live again in the face of tragedy.

~ Hasky

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Got some stairs and 20 minutes? Then yes, you DO have time to exercise!

Happy Saturday.  And in the interest of spending as much of my weekend as possible not hiding behind my computer screen, I'll make this quick.

Yesterday at work, I was talking with a bunch of coworkers about - what else? - diet and exercise. Doesn't matter that I do both to the extreme while most of them seem to avoid both to the extreme, we all have our struggles, our desires to be better, do better, eat better, live better than we do right now.  And as usual, in the absence of fixing my own warped sense of these things, I am full of solutions for other people's "problems."  Especially when what they present isn't so much a problem as it is a situation that could benefit from a little strategizing.  So when one of my coworkers insisted that she simply couldn't find the time to exercise, I asked her how she spent her lunch break.

"Most days I just eat at my desk and keep working," she admitted.  I'm not judging. I  do the same thing.  But I also get up every day, without fail, to work out at 4:30 am.  She, on the other hand, has a built-in solution staring her in the face.

"How about eating and working a half hour later, and using your actual lunch break to take a break?"  I asked.

"I can't get a real workout in 30 minutes?" she laughed.

And that was it.  The challenge.  Anyone who knows me knows that, master of excuses and sophisticated procratination techniques that I often tend to be, I can't stand to watch anyone deprive him/herself of exercise, and at the slightest opening, I will barge in and try to help.

"I bet you can," was all I said.  And within the hour, I sent her the following.  (Keep in mind that we work on the 11th floor of a 32-story highrise, so this works for her.  If you don't have access to stairs ... what am I saying?  Everyone has access to stairs!)

Time (Mins)
*RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion)
Warm-up: Walk up and down stairs  - as many flights as you need to use up 3 minutes.
Skip up every other step before jogging back down. Repeat until you hit minute 5.
Run up stairs for 30 seconds without stopping.  Think SPRINT!  Then jog back down for the remaining 30 seconds.
*Curtseys (see below). Do a minute on each side.
Run up stairs for 1 minute without stopping. Think SPRINT again! Then jog back down for the remaining minute.
Walk up stairs sideways for 1 minute, then switch sides, leading with the opposite leg, for minute 2.  Jog down and repeat until you reach minute 11.
Repeat minutes 5-11
Cool down: walk up and down stairs

Do you see what I see?  Yes, that's right, she can do this not in 30 minutes (the length of her lunch break) but in 20.  So really, what's the excuse?  Three times a week, minimum, will give her enough of a burn to build muscle, melt fat, increase metabolism and energy, and - let's face it - get her away from her desk for a while.  For a nice change of scenery, take it outside on the weekends, or if you're lucky enough to have outside stairs at work.

To define some terms from the chart above:

*RPE, or Rate of Perceived Exertion is really just a fancy schmancy phrase for "how hard you  believe (perceive) yourself to be working (exerting)."  If you are one of those people who needs an "official definition" for everything, you can read  about RPE here. But since I am actually an AFAA-certified personal trainer (through the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America), you can trust me when I say that RPE is nothing more than your perception of how hard your heart and systems are working, usually based (as above) on a scale of 1-10, with 1 feeling like you are exerting almost no effort at all, and 10 feeling like you're at the absolute max you can possibly handle, where breathing is labored, muscles feel fatigued, and you can't even carry on a broken conversation (which, in some cases, brings sweet relief when all you want is to be left alone so you can finish your workout, already!).  Anyway, I digress as usual, but for obvious, and very different health and safety reasons, you don't want to remain at either a 1 or a 10 for very long.

*Curtseys are pretty much what you think they are.  Imagine yourself meeting a dignitary - the President of the United States, the Queen of England, Sir Elton John - and drop into your deepest curtsey.  And hold it.  Make it count.  Because really, the only dignitary in your midst is you, so respect yourself and make an effort here.  Stand at the bottom of the stairs, facing upstairs. Your feet should be pointed forward, about hip-width apart, hands on your hips. Then do the following:
  1. Right foot: steps behind left foot
  2. Both knees: bend
  3. Maintain straight posture from the waist up while you lower from the hips and sink into the curtsey.
  4. After a few seconds, lower a little more.  You want to feel fatigue but NOT pain (be mindful of knees here and straighten out of the bend if you start to feel knee pain)
  5. Then, straighten the knees and kick (gently, people, this isn't a street fight!) your right leg out to the right side with your foot flexed (toes pointed toward you) and return to starting position.
If I can figure out a way to video this, I'll attach a short instructional video here in a bit. But it's probably pretty easy - we've been curtesying all our lives, haven't we?  Or am I the only one that has probably had way too many occassions to experience that?

Either way, there you have it. A 20-minute, no excuses (as long as you're relatively healthy and have no serious knee or hip joint issues) workout that eliminates the "I don't have time before or after work" excuse.  If you want 40 minutes, double the above.  Only have time for a quick 10-minute break?  Cut the times in half.  And who knows, maybe 10 more minutes will present themselves later in the day.  Hint: if you log more than 5 television commercials in a day, you have 10 minutes to put your health on your "to do" list too.  Or perhaps instead. Just sayin.

So enjoy, and remember to breathe and hydrate and smile while you're doing this - all three have been known to save lives. Or at least make them more enjoyable.

Til next time,
~ Hasky

Friday, April 12, 2013

Making time

Last night I heard myself telling a new writer friend that I'm bummed to be getting a haircut this Saturday afternoon "because I have nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one to see afterward."  In my world, haircut day is pretty much a guaranteed kick ass hair day.  And since even mediocre hair days are a rarity lately, I hate wasting a really good (costly but worth it) hair day by going home to clean my apartment and walk my (center-of-my-world but totally uninterested in my hair) Schnoodle.  The irony is, I am usually totally uninterested in my hair, too.  I've never been a high-maintenance girly-girl.  I'm a wash-comb-style-spray woman who avoids mirrors at all costs and can barely be bothered to slap on a little mascara on my way out the door every morning.  Which is why I think this is probably about more than a haircut - a good thing, I guess, since emotionally stable epiphanies and business-as-usual conversations don't generally make for very blog-worthy posts.

I'm thinking - as I explained to my new writer friend, who had just finished sharing the sad complexities of her ongoing custody battle from her first marriage  - that this is really about a sort of vague, planned, scripted existence.  For the past two years, I have used my marriage to my recently-completed Masters thesis to justify what has actually been a decades-long sort of self-imposed isolation.  Like a character out of an Oz of my own creation, my days involve getting up early (think 4am), working long hours, writing during every free moment, and showering the Beckett Schnoodle with all the play time and love time and couch time he demands.  But now that my thesis is basically done, my Masters program is winding down, the nicer spring weather has shortened my work commute just slightly, and even Beckett is often more content to annihilate a cardboard box than he is in my attention and affection, I find that time has opened up a little bit, forcing me to admit that I am not only at a loss as to how I should fill the minutes, the hours, the days, the months, but that, often, I don't actually have the desire to fill time in at all.  Fantastic.  Is this depression?  Would a Prozac or an iron-heavy diet and some Vitamin D supplementation fix this?  And why did I ever stop doing yoga and meditation?  I probably convinced myself I didn't have time.

Always the list maker/scheduler, I recently attempted to address this problem (because I do see it as a problem) by separating life's components into categories to better focus on each of them with "mindful intention" (a phrase I am just now learning to appreciate as the most effective route to personal fulfillment).  But, as usual, I haven't really followed through.  To apply one of my many kitchen/food-related analogies here, I am kind of that person who takes out the recipe, buys all the ingredients, then craps out on the actual baking and dishes-washing stuff, even though I really do long for the finished product - a cake, a batch of cookies, a turkey dinner, whatever it is I crave - to simply materialize and satisfy me.  I wonder if I'm alone with this "I know what I need to do to get what I want but I often don't want to do it" syndrome.  My sense is that it's pretty universal, but when it's happening, when I'm actively engaged in hiding from my own truth, it feels very specific to me and very much along the lines of "nobody would understand this."  Hence, more self-imposed isolation.

Anyway, short of solving what appears to be a lifelong, multi-layered dilemma with myself, I think I have come up with a plan for tomorrow. I've been wanting to see the movie 42 for some reason.  I don't like baseball, and I'm not a particular fan of the actors in this movie, but every time I see the previews, my reaction is simply, singularly: "I really want to see that."  So, counter-intuitive as it may seem to go sit alone in a dark theater as a way of maximizing a good hair day (well, hair afternoon), I'm just going to go enjoy myself.  Because I actually do have the time.  And because it will plop me dead center in a room full of people in a kind of faux social engagement.  And because - added bonus - I plan to stash my own snacks (think rice cakes and fruit) into my over-sized purse in an act of purely delicious rebellion.  After all, why waste a perfectly awesome hair day by following the rules.  I live by enough of those, and it rarely pays off.

Happy Friday to you. I hope you find some time - or make some time - to celebrate something about yourself today.

Til next time,
~ Hasky

Friday, April 5, 2013

Massachusetts Middle School Denies Students Lunch

This afternoon, as usual, I read the news while eating lunch at my desk. Most workdays, I do this, searching through yahoo and msn and the New York Times looking for things that catch my eye or that seem interesting, or that make me curious to read more. So when I spotted the headline: "Middle School Students Denied School Lunch," I clicked on the link. The irony, of course, was that I was enjoying a meal of healthy vegetables and sweet potato while I read about how Coelho Middle School in Massachusetts denied lunch to twenty-five children who were unable to pay for their food. According to the article, "students who couldn't pay or who were behind on their pre-paid accounts were flat out denied lunch by an employee of the district's lunch supplier. Some students cried and others were forced to throw their perfectly good food in the garbage when it was determined that they couldn't pay." While the "responsible official" who denied the children food was allegedly put on "administrative leave" (which could mean anything from a few days of spring vacation to a working from home situation, neither of which necessarily means a suspension in pay, only in on-site duties), the school actually said that "[when] students are unable to pay for lunch they should be offered a cheese sandwich and milk."

And it was the "cheese sandwich and milk" comment that actually put me over the edge.

First of all, loading childrens' developing bodies with full fat dairy and white carbs is not a viable solution, it is one more contributing factor to our country's out-of-control obesity epidemic. Second, and more immediately upsetting, "cheese sandwich and milk" is a screaming visual that labels certain children "poor" and "different" and "other than" in the most humiliating way possible. While their money-carrying peers have access to the "normal" school lunches, these already disadvantaged children have the "poor kid" lunches, the "lesser than" foods. And the school has created a perfect set-up for low self-esteem and bullying.

What I don't understand, more than anything, is how an entity that is designed for the sole purpose of working with and supporting and molding children into healthy, functioning adults can make healthy food available to certain children and deny the children who probably need it most, who probably - at least in some cases - aren't getting it at home, what their bodies and minds need in order to grow. To thrive. To succeed.

I don't yet know how I intend to respond to this but I know in my heart that I am at least going to write the school a letter sharing my opinion and offering some reasonable, fair, manageable alternatives to the unacceptable "cheese sandwich and milk." Schools are communities, after all. Why aren't we raising our children to share, or to advocate for their less fortunate peers? As adults - whether teachers or not - why aren't we modelling the compassion and the equality we would like to see in the world? And why are we - at least in some cases - so intent on winning these arbitrary power struggles that we would sooner starve and shame a child to the point of tears than give him/her the dollar that would allow him/her to eat the same healthy lunch as everyone else?

I'd love you to share your thoughts here, but I prefer you to share your thoughtful, workable solutions with Coelho Middle School instead. That's what I'll be doing this week:

Robert J. Coelho Middle School
99 Brown Street
Attleboro, MA 02703

Bon appetit, til next time.
~ Hasky

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Mondays and Kevin Ware and April Snow

Today is my Monday, since I took the day off yesterday. While I love that I gave myself the thoughtful Easter gift of a lovely three-day weekend, coming back to work after even more Heathertime than usual is making for a rough transition. And it confirms what I know to be true: Monday is a mentality.

Perhaps the fact that my day started with the jarring image of Kevin Ware's leg injury was the set up for a crabbier-than-usual mood. My Monday morning mood, I call it. Now, I've never been an athlete or much of a sports fan for that matter (I used to joke that I was an athletic supporter but I got sick of the ::crickets:: reactions to that failed attempt at humor), but the footage of this guy's bone literally protruding through his skin for all the world to see is simply horrifying. Of course, for me, it speaks to the larger issue of glorified violence and of our human ability to completely detach from one another's pain, our willingness to market one another's vulnerability, in the interest of a little voyeuristic pleasure. And money.  I'm pretty sure that combination of things sent me reeling before I even left the house today.  If there's a silver lining, I guess it could be my improved awareness of how things like this impact me, so that, instead of stress eating my way through a package of low-salt, organic rice cakes by 10am (you have your binge foods, I'll have mine, thank you very much), I am able to sit back and take an honest look at what's happening around me, and then decide whether and how I want to spend my limited time and attention.  I'm so very sorry for Kevin Ware, and I wish him speedy healing and a full recovery. That said, I won't be watching the graphic replays or discussing the specifics of a situation that seems to exist for the sole purpose of increasing life's "eww" factor.

Speaking of injury and recovery, I am enjoying my cast-free life as my left foot continues to heal from the break it sustained almost six weeks ago.  Four weeks in a cast and walking boot was more than I ever wanted to experience as far as broken bones go, so hopefully I'm all caught up for life, now.  Still, since my orthopedist decided I did not need post-cast physical therapy, I am concerned about the ongoing stiffness that prevents me from flexing my damaged foot in certain directions and at certain angles. I struggle with things like this, because my inner hypochondriac is always on duty, while my logical inner parent only shows up intermittently. I'm pretty sure that less than six weeks after a break, stiffness is pretty normal and expected.  And I must be pretty sure, since I haven't yet started Googling things like "Abnormal foot alignment syndromes" and "Mid-line foot fracture: what's the worst that could happen?"  Sometimes I think hypochondria is my last remaining link to crazy, the thing I cling to because it is so familiar, so commonplace for me, and something that keeps me from ever getting too cocky and thinking "I'm so in control of my life it isn't funny."

I'm still trying to psych myself up for the new foods I agreed to try after last week's appointment with Laurie, the dietician. I committed to salmon, Greek yogurt (1 or 2 a day), legumes (think: kidney beans and chick peas), and whole grain crackers as snacks.  So far I'm batting zero on this one - It's been an oatmeal and pumpkin seeds kinda morning (I  blame the Kevin Ware mania for that, too.)  I guess I should get on this, complete with accompanying journal about what and how much I ate and how I felt after (I think this is mainly to make sure I'm doing what I need to do, and to see whether I have any allergic responses to any of the new foods I'm adding back in).  I do have issues with food journalling, though.  After decades of eating disorders, intentional food restricting, exercise addiction, weight loss and gain and maintenance, fat and carb and calorie counting, and always simply feeling "like a failure" no matter what or when or how much I ate, the thought of having to put food-related stuff on paper once again literally makes me yawn with exhaustion as I try to slink away from myself in another failed attempt to escape from my own body.  I know, I know - I could have it worse.  Many people do.  Not that I think it's helpful to tell a middle class, pretty privledged white chick who struggles in her own ways that there are children starving in Africa (not sure why no one ever talks about the homeless people starving right outside said white chick's office window - I assume real life sorta ruins the "glamour factor"). But perspective does aid in healing.  And sometimes, in the absence of feeling ok about my own life, it does help to practice compassion for others who suffer, and to explore gratitude for all that I do have, despite what I may lack.

I guess, for today, I'm simply happy not to be Kevin Ware.

Finally, I have decided to reframe the three inches of snow that fell last night.  Today is April 2nd.  We should not be waking up to snow.  We should not be shoveling and scraping and plowing anymore.  But instead of getting angry and annoyed and bummed out and convincing myself that winter plans to linger forever, like the uninvited, unwanted house guest it is rapidly becoming, I have decided that this latest snow dump was Mother Nature's April Fool's joke on the world.  Or at least on the Central New York area.  And all I can say to that is: Well played, Mother Nature.  Well played.  You win this round, but don't push me. I've been known not to recycle on occasion, and I've got several "plastic #2" bottles at home just dying to get out of that big blue bin and hop a ride to the landfill.

Happy Tuesday - 
Til next time,
~ Hasky