Saturday, January 21, 2017

A Better Way: Policies That Might Actually End Abortion In America

Just as we blame an abusive partner for pressuring women into abortion, I wonder if our country's family-related policies (or lack thereof) inadvertently pressure women into abortion. 

I wonder if, in some way, we will be held complicit, if not for participation in the killing of a child in utero, then for ignoring the poor as they feel cornered by this choice.

For those who are serious about ending abortion in America, please consider these adjustments to our country's approach to family:

1. Pregnancy and childbirth will be categorized as reproductive wellness care. As with all wellness care, it will be covered for free by insurance. No longer will it be cheaper to get an abortion than to have a baby. 

2. Medicaid and CHIP will be expanded to cover all children, regardless of income, because no parent should have to care for a sick child while unable to afford a doctor’s visit or prescription. 

3. Maternity, Paternity, and Adoption leave will be paid. Any worker is eligible, regardless of whether they are full-time, part-time, or contract.

4. Minimum wage will be established at a livable wage and linked to the inflation index to secure future increases, so parents can support their families.

5. Childcare will be subsidized for families up to 300% of the poverty level, and any family over this threshold can receive a tax credit – not a tax deduction, a refundable tax credit – for all childcare expenses. 

6. All adoption expenses will also be eligible for refundable tax credits. No family should lose money for opening their hearts to children who need a home. 

7. Children with disabilities will receive the best healthcare, the most advanced therapy, and specialized quality childcare, so their parents know they are embraced by our country, and their children have a promising future. It is a tragedy that parents feel it's better for their children to die in utero than to live with a disability in the United States of America. Some of the most brilliant, most creative, most loving, most influential, strongest individuals are on the spectrum of physical and mental disabilities. We will set the international standard for special education and services for those who are differently-abled.

Some in our nation will say these policies are too much. Even some who profess to be pro-life have already said to me, ‘These expenses are untenable. We cannot afford as a nation to support children in this way!’ 

Then now, perhaps, as you contemplate these overwhelming expenses for the national budget, you can understand how the cost of parenting might be overwhelming for many in our country. 

If we want parents to choose life, let’s talk about how to lighten their load, so they can.



Sunday, December 4, 2016

Life Hacks For Large Families On A Budget

For anyone who's curious about how we live our lives with five kids six and younger... 

KIDS' ARTWORK

I'm a compulsive trasher. When there's clutter on the countertop, it's really satisfying to just sweep it all into the trash can. Our younger kids' artwork pretty much goes straight to the recycling bin, except for some handprints on the fridge. Our older kids each have a folder in which they can save papers. They know Mom trashes anything that's left around. 

SHOES

Each kid has three pairs of shoes at any given time: sandals, tennis shoes, and church shoes. I keep a box of extra shoes in the closet to save for hand-me-downs.

SHOES WHILE TRAVELING

Each child travels with one pair of shoes. For summer travel, their sandals are their church shoes. For winter travel, their tennis shoes are their church shoes. 

SOCKS

We buy one type of sock. It's black, so it's good with tennis shoes and church shoes. This is our sock pile after sorting the rest of the laundry: 



GATES

Our house looks like children live in it. But we can comfortably let kids play unsupervised in a room, knowing they won't break anything [valuable] or hurt themselves. Still, it's amazing what they find to break, and how any wall can cause a concussion.


Living Room (toddler play room) looking into Dining Room (kinder play room)

PRAY FOR IT

We pray for stuff, and God has provided in some pretty awesome ways. I can't tell you the things I've mentioned to the Lord in prayer that have shown up timely via a friend's hand-me-downs or a neighbor's trash pile -- a kickstand for my son's bike, a desk, an umbrella stroller, a pair of size 8 toddler tennis shoes, a play gate, a rain coat... And we join the circle of sharing too, passing on extras and anything that's still in good condition. (These prayers for stuff aren't fancy: "Lord, a desk would be nice, instead of this tray table and stack of boxes. But You know, whatever.")

NAP TIME / QUIET TIME

I insist on quiet time, if not nap time. As an introvert mom, I need a solid two hours without kids after lunch. Everyone is in their beds from 12-2 pm. Sometimes I let the older kids read instead of rest -- but still in their beds. 

Each bedroom has blackout curtains (or basic curtains doubled with a repurposed bed sheet). 

We're currently at two kids per bedroom, with the baby in the master with us. 

HAIRCUTS

We cut our own hair. You can buy clippers on Amazon for under $10. We spent a little more on some similar to this, because there's not time to change guides when cutting kids' hair. I'm sure there are YouTube videos to help, but we just kind of figure it out as we go along. 


And if all else fails, just put a hat on.
STUFF

We have a "To Repair" box in the laundry room and a "To Donate" box in a closet.

OUTERWEAR 

Each child has one sweatshirt, one light jacket, and one heavy coat. We live in Houston, so this is sufficient. No doubt colder climates would need more. 

CLOTHES

My ideal child's closet: 4 pairs of shorts, 4 pairs of pants, 4 short-sleeve shirts, 4 long-sleeve shirts, 4 pairs of pajamas, 4 pairs of socks, 4 pairs of underwear. 

I store extra clothes in labeled boxes. Anything that doesn't fit in the box is given away. 



PAJAMAS

We fold pajama shirts into their matching pajama pants, so the kids can easily find a matched set. This is kind of silly. Really, kids could just wear whatever they want to bed.


A stack of PJs. We store kids' clothes on shelves, just because we have more shelving than dressers. It's also easier to keep a pulse on clothing issues with open shelving.

BABY PAJAMAS

This is not a thing. The baby wears any combination of cotton shirts, onesies, and pants, and only gets an outfit change when he spits up or leaks a diaper (approx. every 12-18 hours). 

TOYS

We rotate toys and play stations. Whatever is in a room will end up all over the floor, so I try to limit the chaos. Current toys are...

Toddler Play Room (living room): Duplo Blocks, Kitchen + Kitchen Food, a Plastic Nativity Set, and a couple of cars.

Kinder Play Room (dining room): Wooden Train Tracks, Matchbox Cars, and a Train Table 

Patio: 2 Bounce Balls, 2 Tennis Balls, 2 Ride-Along Cars, 2 Lacrosse Sticks, 2 Baseball Bats, Plastic Slide

Craft Cabinet: Play-Do, Paper, Crayons, Markers, Pencils, Paint, Scissors, Glue, Stickers, Puzzles. (If it doesn't fit neatly in the craft cabinet, I give it away. Once kids are done with a craft at the table, all the pieces go back in the box, and the box goes back in the cabinet.)




Toy Closet (front entry coat closet): Lego, Nerf guns, Marble Runway, Stuffed Animals, Baby Toys. I'm the only one allowed in the Toy Closet.




BEDDING

Each bed has a fitted sheet, one blanket, one pillow, and one stuffed animal. The kids can trade for a different stuffed animal from the Stuffed Animal Box, but they only get one at a time. (I don't even like one stuffed animal on the bed, because all I can imagine is the dust, allergens, snot, and germs that they absorb and leech all over the house. I also like to keep laundry to a minimum when kids pee or throw up all over whatever is in their bed.) 

POTTY TRAINING

Potty training kids have this set-up next to their bed, because going to the actual bathroom is too scary at night:



MUD ROOM

We don't have a dedicated mud room, but there's a shelf in our laundry room, en route to the garage that holds all the kids' shoes and socks. This prevents that 20-minute scattering throughout the house that happens when everyone needs to put their shoes on five minutes before we leave. 



TUPPERWARE

I have two types of Tupperware. When I run out of Tupperware, we have an empty-the-fridge dinner.



BOOKS

We cycle kids' books like we cycle toys. There's a large box in the toy closet for books we're not currently reading. We also regularly pull out books to donate to their teachers and school. 



GROCERY SHOPPING

We mostly shop at Aldi, because the prices are really unbeatable. And there's an Aldi a mile down the sidewalk from us, and the walk wears out the kids for nap time. 

I only buy boneless meat at $2 or less per pound, because I can't handle the time or energy of removing bones. (But I tell myself it's because bones could be dangerous to the babies.) When someone's selling ground turkey for $1 a pound, I fill our freezer. Turkey's like tofu. You can pretty much flavor it to taste like anything.

Sometimes I'll go to Kroger if I'm shopping with *just* one or two kids and feeling classy. The fuel rewards are a good deal.

COOKING

We rotate through several basic meals, cooking with whatever meat is on sale or stocked in the freezer -- tacos, pasta, grilled sandwiches, enchiladas, taco salad, sliders -- and always willing to sub PB&J, cheese & crackers, or eggs & toast. I'll make a large cut of meat in the crock pot at the beginning of the week, and then use it for different meals throughout the week. For me, cooking is more a chore than a hobby, so I'm okay cutting corners here. 

KITCHEN TABLE 

The 3 kids who are 2 and younger sit in a row of booster seats with trays, next to the 4-person table. It's easy to serve baby-friendly food in one area of the kitchen and limit the mess. For me, it's easier to wash a tray in the sink with soapy water than to scrub a table where the baby sat and mashed beans into the woodgrain. 



PIT STOPS

We ride with our own potty chair. We use disposable diaper doublers (cheaper than diapers) to keep pee from splashing out en route to the next trash/gas stop. The potty chair doubles as a step stool for the back row carseats.



I hesitate to share any kind of "Best Practices," because when it comes to home and families, everyone's different, and everyone's homes will reflect whatever style of life and love they live. But if any of our systems can help others, then we're happy to share!


Friday, November 25, 2016

Watching Slums Burn: Why Privatization Can't Fix Our Fire Departments (Or Our Schools)

Our new town has a serious problem with the fire department. 

It's poorly managed, morale is dangerously low, and the most important needs -- training and equipment -- are consistently under-funded. In reviewing last year's budget, an obscene amount of public funding is wasted on an elite firefighter sports league, which even included a new athletic complex (ironically, closed to the public). 

One councilman likes to point out that the new bird-watching trail in The Woodlands received more public support, campaigning, and funding than a much-needed upgrade to the city's original Fire Station #1 built over 100 years ago, and still serving our downtown neighborhood. 

Rather than replace the fire chief and a few captains, and rather than support our firefighters by paying a solid livelihood, several community special interest groups successfully pushed legislation that diverts public funds toward private fire safety initiatives.

Below are four case studies from the new program: 

1. The most interesting story to come out concerns the 24-acre estate of an oil exec just inside city limits. He applied for (and received!) public funding to set up his own personal fire safety system. 

To his credit, it's a very innovative and already successful automated advanced warning system. The nearby fire chief (whose station had its budget cut to help fund these private grants) said the estate's fire safety system would be an ideal addition to any home, but homeowners would need a significant amount of personal capital, in addition to the fire safety subsidy.

2. In an unsurprising outcome of this new program, the gated community a few blocks to our north hired private firefighters and built their own station by combining neighborhood HOA funds with a private grant from the newly established public fire safety fund. 

Within the first two months of establishing their own department, the community lost a house to fire, because it was delinquent on HOA fees, and therefore not eligible for coverage by the private station. 

In a calamity of unfortunate events, the nearby city department responded in plenty of time, but a hose malfunctioned, and firefighters could only pull the family to safety, as the house burned. An investigation is pending, since the defective hose failed inspection two months ago, but has yet to receive approval or funding for replacement.

In an irate statement to the press, the city fire chief blamed private fire safety initiatives for siphoning funds away from basic supplies and staffing needs for his public stations. 

The neighborhood HOA president is stepping back from candid remarks made to a local news crew covering the fire: 

"While it is unfortunate to lose a house in our neighborhood, we are thankful everyone is safe. I really believe this fire is a blessing in disguise for this family. I mean, now they are free from those HOA fees that they couldn't afford anyway! And it's probably for the best that they just move to a neighborhood that's, um, more affordable for them. They'll still have the public fire station any time they need it! I mean, the public station didn't help them this time, with that hose problem and all, but um, I'm sure they'll be fine! It's just so important for people to understand their financial responsibilities when they move to a neighborhood like this, even with a publicly-funded private fire station. It's such a special neighborhood, and everyone just cares for everyone else in such a special way."

Needless to say, plenty of YouTube tribute videos are already satirizing her comments over a slideshow of burning infernos, with much social media criticism for the pillaging of public safety funds for private neighborhood safety programs.

3. A volunteer fire department formed in one of our middle class neighborhoods. They used a grant from the public safety fund to daisy-chain hoses and splice into nearly every spigot on the block. While the fire chief has openly condemned their methodology as outdated and ineffective, this neighborhood's response time and success rate far exceeds the public fire stations.
Unfortunately, neighbors with disabilities can't participate, since the co-op system depends on a base of participants with the physical and mental capacity to actually fight fires. 

Also, any family with two working parents isn't allowed to participate in this style of public-funded fire protection, because someone must be home at all times and available to fight fires as they occur.

4. Finally, there's a very devout Christian community on the far east side of town. The city built a special fire station to service this area, but since it was a government building, the firefighters couldn't put up religious articles or host Bible studies on site, so with a grant from the new public fire safety fund, the community built a secondary "Christian" fire department nearby. It actually serves as a very popular community center as well, in addition to their neighborhood church.

With necessary budget cuts to the public program, to allow for the funding of these private fire safety programs, the original fire station servicing this area needed to close. It wouldn't have been a big deal, but some livestock were just killed in a barn fire last weekend, because the Christian fire department is closed on Sundays.

By Kpahor (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Just to clarify, I fully support letting people in our town take whatever personal measures they feel are necessary for fire safety, whether it's a private, co-op, or religious solution. 

I just can't understand why we're funding their private endeavors that are incapable of serving the safety needs of everyone in the community, instead of investing in the personnel and infrastructure we already have to fairly distribute fire safety services to everyone. 

Alright, I'm not talking about fire departments. I'm talking about schools, and the popularization of a national voucher program allocating public funds for private or homeschool education. 

An education voucher system diverts money from fixing a good and necessary program into an inherently unequal distribution of special interests. It ignores -- and worse, dismisses -- the needs of the most vulnerable:  children of extreme poverty (who can now get a voucher to a more exclusive school but still can't afford the transportation across town, uniforms, supplies, lunch, or after-school care), and those with physical and mental disabilities who are regularly turned away from private school options. 

As a final thought, the voucher system does to education what Obamacare did to healthcare: provide government subsidies to private companies in an attempt to provide basic services for everyone. Prices skyrocketed, services fell, and while the elderly and poor could fall into safety nets of Medicaid and Medicare, and the rich could get by as the rich always gets by, the middle class loses.