Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Via Chicago

Our time in Chicago is coming to an end. We have accomplished a lot in a short time here:

- Time with family and friends. We have exhausted ourselves seeing and partying and chatting with everyone we know and most love here in Chicago. Isa and Viv have forged connections with their family and friends that are deep and lasting. We are so happy to have had these experiences.

- I have completed an entire draft of my dissertation in a mere 3 month period. Thanks to the incredible help of Charley, Mary Ellen, Anna, my mom and dad, Lindsey, Colin and Coco babysitting, I was able to write a 130-page document and even revised several chapters. It looks like it will only be revisions between now and my planned defense Fall 2018 - which is exactly what my goal was. Wahooooo! I am so incredibly grateful for the help with the girls. I was able to accomplish a major life goal in a short time, and they got to spend lovely time with the people they adore the most in the world. Win-win!

- Patrick worked his butt off and not only paid for our trip here (and the expensive $1k mistake that held us up at migrations in Uruguay), but put a little away into our savings. He also began working at Johns Hopkins here in Chicago, and will keep that job as we return.

- We bought stuff. One of our goals was to buy a bunch of stuff on Amazon for our house in Uruguay, and we did that. Curtains and sheets and storage bins and light fixtures and tools. You name it, and Amazon is probably advertising it to us right now.

- We got light! One of our goals was to be in Chicago long enough for Uruguay to connect our electricity in our home, making it a livable place (with plumbing!). Well, we bothered enough people while here that the plan is to install it Nov 3 *fingers crossed*!

We will miss everyone dearly here. But we will be back soon, I am sure!

Travel and belonging

It is hard to explain experiences to people. It is hard to explain what it is like living in other places, and the subtle ways it changes you. It is hard to describe feelings, sensations, psychological shifts. I say, "Uruguay is like people's imagined projections of 1950's culture in the U.S.: kids ride their bikes to school, there is little crime and violence, life is simple." But what does that feel like? It is so hard to say. 

What does it do to me, psychologically, to have friends who just show up for a quick visit? To chat with other parents as we drop off the kids at school and pick them up? To ride a scooter in the fresh air all year long? To listen to the sounds of birds at different parts of the day, and to see the minute differences in the land as the seasons change? How do I explain how that changes me?

I got hooked on travel and the experiences of it as soon as I got my first taste going to Rome in 2005. It's not just the experience of consuming new cultures, food, sights, sounds. It is who it makes me. I came back from Rome a different person than who went. Slightly more aware of difference in culture, more sure of what kind of life I wanted to pursue, excited about new and different foods and music and lifestyles. 

But travel and any new experiences can also serve to isolate. Who can relate to living on a different continent? Immigrants, of course, but we have so many other divergent experiences we cannot wholly share it all. Something happens, where your own experiences make you un-relatable. You don't really belong anywhere. You can't explain Uruguay to Chicagoans, and you can't explain Chicago to Uruguayans. You can generally get along and feel competent in many languages and cultures, but you are not deeply embedded in any one place.

I'm too far gone, too much changed now to go back to belonging in any one place. So, the only way forward is to embrace the cosmopolitan. To be able to fluidly navigate many worlds, and to make human connections everywhere. One of the insights of my travel (that is shared by many people who have taken journeys) is how much humanity has in common, despite our perceived differences. We all want peace, time in nature, love from others, companionship, to meet our needs, to not feel alienated or isolated or at war. We all like good food and a back scratch and laughter and cold water to drink on a hot day. 

Mark Twain put it best: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Why I love Patrick

I was lying in bed last night unable to sleep and began to think of all the significant things I love about my husband, and the list went on and on.

Often, around birthdays or anniversaries, people post something on social media about how their spouse is the best, most important, or their best friend. But what are the details behind those statements?

I don't think I have ever loved Patrick as much as I love him now, and it continues to grow. I hope that the love grows infinitely, but as I feel it so strongly in the moment, I want to write down what makes me so grateful to have him in my life.

He is an utterly devoted husband and father. Devoted. What does that look like? Changing diapers, feeding, clipping fingernails, putting the girls to sleep, running errands for me, doing things for all of us whose sole purpose is to make our lives easier and better. It is a sad fact that many husbands are not active in childcare. It is not just sad, it's pitiful. Both the fathers and children are missing out on something so important, the chance to at once build relationship and display equality in action. Patrick does this, without needing to be recognized for it, every day of his life. He and I do not show affection through gifts, but mostly through time and attention. When he sits with me and listens to me and gives me gentle direction when I feel I am at an impasse, he is giving me the gift of love, and he does this often. He always makes me feel pretty, even when I feel I look my worst. He has never once said something disparaging about my physical appearance, even at his most angry. That has done wonders for my self esteem. Paradoxically, the confidence from feeling beautiful makes me want to be healthier, and continue a virtuous cycle.

Patrick is in a state of constant improvement. He is a renaissance man, and I am forever interested by him and the new parts of life he is exploring. He taught himself languages, guitar, singing, golf, basketball, baseball, soccer, film making, and, most recently, magic. He is expert level at: teaching and running a classroom, Spanish, guitar, singing, Spanish language literature and art, golf, basketball and film critique. He can become at expert at anything he wants. He has projects on the horizon to learn more Portuguese, French and Russian, so he can read the classics in these original languages. He wants to make movies and has several scripts in his head already. He is mastering storyboarding, script writing, shooting, and editing films as well. He has been writing jokes for stand up as long as I remember. He sings and plays guitar for our family, and he fills our lives with jokes and music and stories. He does great accents! If you can get him to open up, he will spend hours displaying his accents from Northern Ireland to Spain to Australia to Chile to Jamaican. He loves to speak Spanish in an Australian accent. He does impersonations of everyone from people we know personally to public figures no one has ever heard of like Billy Ocasio, a Puerto Rican Alderman on Chicago's North Side. One of my favorite impersonations he does is Colin's impression of Scooby Doo.

Patrick is not only incredibly smart, talented, and motivated, he is good to look at. He has the most beautiful hair and beard and eyes. He is a very handsome man. People say he is a cross between Ryan Gosling and Edward Norton. He is a babe.

It's not only these things I can list that make me love him so much, it's the subtle, unnameable things. It's the way he thinks about things. His confidence in himself. His desire to live truly and fully. His ability to stay calm when I feel unease. The way he loves seeing the girls after a few hours away, and how he scoops them up and truly embraces them. In that moment, he is totally present in the way other people wish they could be. How honest he is with me, without ever being unnecessarily harsh. How he responds with strength to adversity, but somehow keeps his softness, and his ability to take in the world fully. His sensitivity to everything, and how I want to bring him to a place that will help him blossom further, because I can't imagine how great he could possibly be in a place that suits him and doesn't drag him down.

People don't talk too openly about their spouses, I've noticed. But I want to talk here about mine, while I feel it all.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

big world changes

I came across a book recently by prominent sociologist Ulrich Beck:

"We live in a world that is increasingly difficult to understand. It is not just changing: it is metamorphosing. Change implies that some things change but other things remain the same capitalism changes, but some aspects of capitalism remain as they always were. Metamorphosis implies a much more radical transformation in which the old certainties of modern society are falling away and something quite new is emerging. To grasp this metamorphosis of the world it is necessary to explore the new beginnings, to focus on what is emerging from the old and seek to grasp future structures and norms in the turmoil of the present."

I am shocked by the events/catastrophes/metamorphosis I am seeing that barely anyone is discussing as part of the same process:

Catalan secession
Harvey and Irma and the disproportionate rebuilding in Texas and Puerto Rico
Wildfires in Pacific NW
Earthquakes in Mexico

These events are part of a process of metamorphosis. A transition to a civilization that looks nothing like the world of a few decades ago. One of ruin and collapse and crisis and rebirth and reconceptions and reimaginings. 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Uruguay life July 2017 update - interdependence

We have accomplished so much in our 7 months here in Uruguay and the only way we were able to accomplish any of this is due to the kindness of others. People who helped us for no other reason than because they wanted us to succeed. The older I get the more I recognize the importance of solid relationships, a network of people for whom you cheer lead, and who cheer lead for you. We have only had success from interdependence.

Our house is ready to move in. We have been slowly moving things in, and getting the place livable for our return in November. If it wasn't for our lovely and helpful foreigner friends Magnus from Sweden and Patrick from Ireland, we wouldn't have had the success with the house that we did. Magnus let us learn from his experiences with container homes and steered us away from them, and Patrick suggested an isopanel house for speed of construction and ready-made insulation. Without them, we would never have such a nice livable house already ready and at a relatively low cost.

We have all sorts of home goods and things from the US due to the kindness of our visitors who brought big bags of stuff for us across the world. Two people stand out. The kindness and hard work of Colin (who packed 4 giant bags of stuff we shipped to the house for us) and Uncle Bill Seifert who bought us tons of tools here in Uruguay and sent an entire bag of tools he bought for us in the United States is really unrivaled. I am so grateful for their love and support. They get what we're doing, and they went above and beyond in helping our journey to get there. I think of Bill often, every time I need some tool for something and find that he already bought it for us. He has saved us so much trouble, as it is often difficult to find tools here, and if you do find them they are poor quality AND expensive. What a great gift he gave to us - that of his decades of experience in tinkering - in getting us needed things that will help us to help ourselves in this new place.

Our daughters are doing beautifully here. Thanks to the lovely and patient teachers and Uruguayan friends who take their time in helping all of us learn Uruguayan Spanish. I am thinking of Ambar's parents Gabi and Santi, our brew friends Matias and Andrea, and Matias' mom Selva who has been so patient with my terrible Spanish, and has offered me resources whenever we get stuck. And we all also feel the love from back in North America, especially thanks to the lovely monthly packages of treats from our Northern home from Gram and Poppy, the gifts from cousin Jamie, and all the messages on Whatsapp especially from Jamie, Lindsey, and Gram, who talk to Isa at least weekly and show their love remotely. The girls know about their far away family, and are connected to them, and that helps them to adjust to life here.

Our professional lives have developed quite a bit as well. I am in the end stages of contract signing with University of Idaho, which would be the first students to come to Rizoma Field School (thanks to a connection set up by my lovely former grad colleague Lauren Scott)! We have made all sorts of local contacts in organic agriculture, and have discovered that this is a hub for that sort of activity in the entire country. Patrick got a temporary job at Providence Catholic High School in Chicago as well as two other jobs: one teaching English to Chinese kids remotely, and one with Johns Hopkins University teaching Spanish to American kids, both very part time. I am also still teaching sociology online (only one class at the moment), and of course slowly but surely writing my dissertation. I have been published writing articles about Rizoma Field School on a couple of important networks of environmental scientists and activists, and I just recently had my first book chapter published!

We have set up quite a bit of infrastructure on our land, and have all our paperwork in for permanent residency and have finally gotten our national ID cards. All along the way our Irish neighbor Patrick has been integral in guiding us on the sometimes bewildering bureaucracy and advising us on home and farm decision-making. We would really be totally lost without him as a resource.

Finally, and most strangely, we are the beneficiaries of the human-centered policies of this lovely country of Uruguay. We have gotten taken care of for free by national doctors, including multiple midnight emergency visits for the girls with bad coughs. We enjoy lovely garbage pickup thrice weekly, well-cared for infrastructure, electricity being brought to our land via a national initiative, free school for Isa 4 hours daily at 3 years old, and a reasonable residency process that (although somewhat arduous in paperwork) is one of the easiest and most humane immigration processes in the world.

Looking back over our first foray into permanent life here, I can't help but attribute any and all success to others. With this realization comes immense gratitude and love.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

resilience: or, embracing the struggle

I have been thinking recently about the passing of Patrick's friend and former co-worker, Jim Horan. Jim was one of those people I am always attracted to. He took long walks in the wilderness only to plop down on a break to read Virgil. He played guitar and wrote letters. He sang and laughed and spouted wisdom every day. His daughter recounted an anecdote: One day in class an athlete was gooofing off. He stopped class, "scholar athlete or dumb jock? Choose now. It will effect the rest of your life." This is the kind of person Jim was. Making everyone better, but by their own choosing. Scores of students recounted stories in the wake of his passing, with a theme emerging: he always implored students to 'embrace the struggle.'

These words have been ringing in my ears for weeks. Here we are, in a foreign country, knowing nothing of the culture and customs, attempting to start a new life. It sucks sometimes. We can't communicate at times, even though we know the language. Everything here is different. People here live with the doors open and bugs fly in. Everything is jimmy-rigged. It's a DIY kind of country. But, in Jim's words, I am embracing the struggle.

Why? Why do this? Why not just go back to a place I know that's comfortable and clean and nice? Well, because I value resilience. And if you saw my post recently about this topic, you'd know that these little annoyances are likely necessary steps in embracing resilience.

Well, what is resilience really? The ability to bounce back? To deal? To just roll over and allow bad things to happen? I try to model my conception of resilience off the idea of ecological resilience: " the capacity of an ecosystem to respond to a perturbation or disturbance by resisting damage and recovering quickly."

The disturbance is this new country. But not just that, it's bugs and weather and new things. It's the struggle. And resilience is resisting damage in the face of struggle and recovering from it. It is embracing the struggle. Not being a victim of circumstance but a survivor of it. Empowered by it even. I know this intuitively from learning Spanish. Each time I feel uncomfortable, I get better. I grow in ability, simply by putting myself out there and failing a little, I become stronger, more capable, more resilient in language use.

So, I do it. I wake up and I deal. I survive. I grow. I embrace the struggle and I become resilient. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Immigrating to Uruguay update March 2017

People have been asking. What is going on with our progress? How is our land? Our home building? How are the kids adjusting? What's up with my study abroad idea? What else is new? I am going to attempt to give some basic updates here so I can share widely for those burning to know! :)

The land/house:
 Land: Since we got here we have planted on the land: a winter squash patch, a raspberry bush, lavender bush, rosemary bush, and a grape on the property. We have marked out where we want to place our home based on the movement of the summer sun. We have installed a swing. We have harvested all the pears from our pear tree and made: jam, canned whole pears, alcoholic pear cider, and made some friends with it (gave them away), besides eating the fresh pears as well. We attempted twice to make sun dried pear leather, but failed due to rainy days! We have harvested and are continuing to harvest walnuts. We eat these like candy, and feel very luxurious as we know how expensive shelled walnuts are. We have also made a little patio in a small grove of trees near our palm tree, for catching some shade during working hours. (of course all of this was done with the help of our visitors).

At our rental we planted some tomatoes and basil and other herbs and it's been nice to go out the door and grab some fresh greens. We just planted some fall crops: lettuce, spinach, brussels sprouts, cabbage, parsnips, turnips, kale, chard, that kind of thing, in containers. We are going to re-plant soon and maybe build some cold frames while we are at it.

We've also been going to these local auctions called remates and have been slowly acquiring necessary tools and furniture. We just bought a lovely hardwood desk for $12! We got a cider/wine press, tools, a small desk for Isa, a lovely hardwood china cabinet for under $20. So, working on getting things we need for cheap has been another task. Pat's uncle Bill has also been incredibly generous and not only bought us a mountain of tools while here, he also sent a suitcase full of tools with Colin! We have also been lucky to meet some Americans right at an opportune time when they were moving and have acquired from them: toys, a lovely large rug, a hardwood toy chest, a girls bike, and lavender stained glass ceiling shade and picture frames. Score!

House: We have decided to build a house out of this material called isopanel which is basically styrofoam between two sheets of thin-ish steel. We did this because we have heard bad things about the shipping container houses here, and because it is cheap and fast and automatically insulated. As of today, we are waiting on the builder to start. He is moving forward slowly because we are all waiting on the electrical company (state run) to bring our electricity from the state highway down our shared driveway road to the corner of our property. He needs electricial for building, especially for this electric welding equipment he has. The house will be 72 square meters with two bedrooms, one bathroom, a large open-concept kitchen and living area, and a walk-in pantry. It will be on a pier foundation. The piers will be concrete and the frame will be welded steel.

As of last week, the electrical company said it will be done within the month (riiiiight). So, we are looking into buying a generator and have been in contact with our builder to see what he thinks would be best. We are very anxious to get started on the house, as each month that passes is another ~$600 in rent and bills we are spending in our beach house. I'd rather put that money toward a generator that we can own and stop throwing our savings at a rental (even though it is lovely being at the beach).

Study abroad/work:
I (Ashley) am losing (or not being re-hired) for my online teaching gig at Washington State starting May, so at that point we will likely just be living on savings. That is fine, we planned for it, but it starts a ticking clock for us to get other streams of income going. I had a person I met at WSU that was very, very interested in partnering with us, and she prepared a big US State Department grant to develop a study abroad program, but at the last minute couldn't submit it due to technical issues and couldn't find any tech support through these government website that sent her in loops. Since then, she's gotten busy with the semester and things have stalled a bit.

After that stalled I worked on making the website look really nice and bought a domain name (go check it out!). Then I started shopping it around a bit.

I got in contact with a group called Gustolab International - a joint partnership between the University of Illinois and it's own entity in Rome. Their focus is on sustainability, food, and study abroad experiences - very similar to our mission! I had a conference call with them and the upshot is that they are looking to expand their program outside of Rome. They have two pilot programs in Vietnam and Japan and if those go well they are keen to make a partnership with us. They advised me to start visiting field sites and taking photos to deepen the website to give students an idea of what possibilities exist here in Uruguay.

Finally, a colleague of mine at WSU put me in touch with a friend of hers at the University of Idaho that is in charge of alternative spring and winter break programs where students go on their breaks and volunteer somewhere. She and I are moving forward with a potential Winter Break 2017-2018 plan for two weeks. There was a big flood here a few months back and plenty of families that lost everything in it. So, we could partner with a local church to get a list of families and maybe do some painting and restoration work. There is also a local organic ag organization here that works with low-income small scale farmers keeping them in business, which we could do some organic ag work with them. So, that is in development and would be cemented likely by June 2017 if it's going to happen.

Since so many of these things have very long timelines of development, we don't know when the actual paycheck will come for any of this work. But I am thinking this is the gamble of an entrepreneurial life! Stay tuned!

The (beautiful) girls:
First, let me say it has been an absolute joy to be with my girls here, with Patrick around as well. Our family is re-adjusting to a new life here where we all basically get to be together and get to spend our hours as we wish. What a dream! Of course, that doesn't mean we don't get stressed and don't have work to do, but we do get to plan our own days and prioritize caring for our children together, which is all I had ever dreamed of.

Isa as, as I type this, going to her first day of school in the town, Valdense. The short of it is: I really want her to go to the rural school (not the Valdense town school) because the rural school is set up like all the educational policy says is the best learning environment for kids (especially small ones). The rural school is a one-room schoolhouse with 15 kids between the ages of 4-11 and two teachers! The kids mostly play and work in groups (3,4,5/7,8,9/10,11). The teacher says it is basically like a family more than a school. What a dream! But the migration office requires that we enroll her in school and the rural school can't take her until she's 4 (July 2017 - not too far off). The Valdense town school has 3 classrooms of 3 year olds. It is well-run but it's crowded and it considers itself 'rigorous,' which to me means too many rules for a 3 year old. Patrick is going to stay with her and translate as needed for the first couple weeks as 'volunteer.' So we shall see how it all pans out. More than anything, I want her to have a smooth transition into speaking Spanish, something she is a bit anxious about at the moment.

Vivian is awesome. She is crawling and pulling up and we just got a rug from a lovely American missionary who didn't need it anymore, so she is protected from the hard tile!

What about friends?
Finally, the community. I think of a sign in the basement of the Fitz house, "it takes a long time to grow old friends.' Well, we have gotten a jump start on that! It seemed difficult for us to make deep connections with friends in the US. We've made a few along the way, but most were superficial and/or we never made time to see one another. The complete opposite is true here.

We instantly made friends with the local microbrewery guys who have been to our house and we've been to theirs at least a dozen times in the 2 months we've known each other. It is so easy and casual, and they just stop by or we stop in without making a date and I love it! We have also met/know that live in our area: an Irish/English retiree expat couple, a South African couple, their neighbors with two small girls, our neighbors a constructor and a lawyer with two small kids that live in the land next to ours, a German guy living on a boat/in a Chevy Astro, an American man/ Mexican woman couple that live within walking distance, one of the brew guys and his pregnant girlfriend who live within walking distance, a young Uruguayan hippy couple that have a 7 month old girl and drive a 1970's Renault, an Argentinean/Swedish couple that live about 90 mins away that have two small kids that live here year round, and an American couple that runs missionary trips that come here at least twice a year that have two girls 3 years old and 7 months!

On top of that, this weekend we met a whole group of young American families that live mostly in Montevideo, but I asked if they'd be interested in coming to our land for a Fall camping trip and they all seemed quite excited. So, just adding to the possibilities of friends. Maybe our Fall camping trip will be like the Chalet week or South Haven where we all get together the same time every year. It's a dream!

We certainly have ample opportunities for community here, and we are building it quickly and easily. In just a few years I can imagine many of these friends feeling like old friends. :)

We are also looking into travelling back to Chicago in this Summer/late Fall, but are anxious about spending money on tickets. I have a one-way ticket back to Chicago for July, but the one-way ticket back is exactly the same cost as the two way, so that doesn't do me much good. We also found out when flying here that lap infants aren't free, they cost something like 20% of a ticket, so that adds to the cost. So, going back to Chicago looks like it would cost somewhere between $4000 and $4500. We want badly to keep the connection alive with family and friends (Isa talks daily about Amelia, Molly, Craig, Mary Kate, Abby, the Daly kids and all her close relatives), but we can't justify spending $4500 of our savings on a trip when we have no set income on the horizon. So, Pat is applying to maternity leave Spanish teaching positions for Fall 2017 in Chicago and is also looking to work as a soccer ref in the Fall. He could likely work enough to cover his own ticket, but not enough for the rest of us. So, that is another moving piece.

Overall, immigration has been frustrating in some ways (learning the ins and outs of every institution), but rewarding and surprising in others (weather, people). We did find out recently that health care in the public system is entirely free. Just free. We just had to bring our income documents, our passports, and proof of residency, and voila we have health care. Vaccinations are covered by the state and they are on the exact same vax schedule as the US (no stress there). Doctors are nice and offices are clean and I feel well cared for in that department.

After reading through this, it feels like we've accomplished a lot. Some days I feel we get nothing done except keeping the kids alive and hanging out with our guests. But this is something, right? Now, we are without guests and we need to fall into a routine that includes me ever getting my dissertation done, on top of the 1000 other projects we are starting. But it's all good and lovely overall. It is what we were dreaming of. And each day we adjust more and it looks more and more like the dream we had. Just seeing our canned pears and pear cider and walnuts on the shelf and the pots with food growing outside. It is lovely to transition to the way of life I've been dreaming of for maybe a decade. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Feminism: or the right to be cleaned up after

Having seen some footage of signs and speeches (Ashley Judd!) from the women's marches around the world two days ago on January 21, I have some thoughts about feminism. I have had a long, ongoing relationship with the concept of feminism. I have interacted with many versions of it, and think I have finally come to what I think is feminism's most important message for me: it means the right to be cleaned up after.

I know this sounds lazy, but I assure you that to me is it profound. There are many iterations of feminism from the (very small minority) man-hating to the (very first wave) protecting women's basic rights to everything in between. While I do support the very public act of supporting women's issues, especially in the eyes of formal institutions like laws or economic privileges, the kind of feminism I am passionate about enacting takes place in the most private spaces: the home, within relationships, and in culture.

To illustrate my point, I am posting here a little story I read to my sociology 101 students when we get to the chapter on gender:

Conversation between a husband (H) and a psychologist (P):
Q: what do you do for a living Mr. Rogers?
H: I work as an accountant in a bank.
P: Your wife?
H: She doesn't work. She's a housewife.
Q: Who makes breakfast for your family?
H: My wife, because she doesn't work
Q: What time does your wife wake?
H: She wakes up early because it has to be organised. She organizes the lunch for the children, ensures that they are well-dressed and combed, if they had breakfast, if they brush their teeth and take all their school supplies. She wakes with the baby and changes diapers and clothes. Breastfeeds and makes snacks as well.
Q: How do your children get to school?
H: My wife takes them to school, because she doesn't work.
P: After taking their children to school, what does she do?
H: Usually takes a while to figure something out that she can do while she is out, so she doesn't have to pack and unpack the carseat too many times, like drop off bills or to make a stop at the supermarket. Sometimes she forgets something and has to make the trip all over again, baby in tow. Once back home, she has to feed the baby lunch and breastfeed again, get the baby's diaper changed and ready for a nap, sort the kitchen and then will take care of laundry and cleaning of the house. You know, because she doesn't work.
P: In the evening, after returning home from the office, what are you doing?
H: Rest, of course. Well, I'm tired after working all day in the bank.
Q: What does your wife do at night?
H: She makes dinner, serves my children and I, washes the dishes, orders once more the house, makes sure the dog is put away as well as any left over dinner. After helping children with HW she gets them prepared to sleep in pajamas and the baby is in fresh diapers, gives warm milk, verifies they brush their teeth. Once in bed she wakes frequently to continue to breastfeed and possibly change a diaper if needed while we rest. Because she doesn't have to get up for work.

Somebody asked her...
You are a woman who works or is it just "housewife"??
She replied:
I work as a wife of the home, 24 hours a day..
I am a mother,
I am a woman,
I am a daughter,
I'm the alarm clock,
I'm the cook,
I'm the maid,
I am the master,
I'm the bartender,
I'm the babysitter,
I'm a nurse,
I am a manual worker,
I'm a security officer,
I'm the advisor,
I am the comforter,
I don't have a vacation,
I don't have a licence for disease.
I don't have a day off
I work day and night,
I'm on duty all the time,
I do not receive salary and...
Even so, I often hear the phrase:
" but what do you do all day?"

So, feminism for me starts at this basic level of human interaction. It is the right to say 'I'm tired' and to be cleaned up after. To be taken care of, rather than taking care. It is the work that needs to be done to start equal rights, in my humble opinion. How do these leaders grow up and get the idea that women are worth less? It starts in their home. When they see their mama doing all of the above while the papa sits and relaxes. We all have a right to relax, to leave dishes dirty, to have a mind free from the invisible workload of keeping everything organized in the household. 

What does enacting this kind of feminism look like? It looks like a bunch of micro-interactions about dishes, childcare, laundry. It looks like leaving things dirty until they're cleaned up. It means not being the one who packs the diaper bag every time. It is doing these things free of guilt or anxiety (something I am working on constantly -- the guilt or anxiety has been placed there over years of socialization that this is a woman's duty). It is akin to the work in the previous post about tolerating discomfort (in being closer to nature). And it's hard to do. To re-make culture is a necessary and complicated way to revolutionize our world, to prepare for a future in which sexes are equal and we all live closer to the earth. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

repatterning civilization in Uruguay

I write this post sitting outside and a little green bug keeps jumping to different points of my body. It's annoying, but important, that I tolerate this little insect. A friend recently visited us here in Uruguay. She said, "I am going to have to get used to the heat. In the summer I move from air conditioned house to air conditioned train to air conditioned office." It is indeed an important (and unsustainable) part of our modern existence that we are alienated from nature. I don't mean this in the lofty sense. I mean it in a very practical one. We don't feel weather, we don't see bugs, our feet never get dirty, we never feel our skin respond to changes in temperature and humidity (unless in our outfitted, planned excursions to the gym). All that is different for us here in Uruguay, and it is the first step in getting close to nature, rather than trying to constantly defeat it.

I am on a listseve of what you might call environmental academics, and in a recent email chain a man named Ruben Nelson said the following:

To me what is most important... is [the] sense that the root patterns of our consciousness, cultures and form of civilization need to be re-conceived/re-patterned/reinvented.  That is, we need to re-pattern/reinvent the imagination by which we organize all of our experience, inside and out, including our formal organizations.  It is this wider, longer, deeper, more integral and more reflexive point, that we in the Modern/Industrial west are missing and resist.  We desperately want to "solve our problems" one piece at a time without having to even see, let alone think about and transform our unconsciously inherited Modern/Industrial patterns of consciousness, culture and forms of civilization.
We want sustainable forms of organization without having to pay the price of personal/cultural/civilizational transformation.  In Bonhoeffer's terms, we want cheap grace.  It was always thus.  Tragically, if we do not pay the price of a truly humane and sustainable future, we will not co-create one.
And to repeat the guts of my earlier post, the above is news that, at least to date, we in the Modern/Industrial West as well as most of the rest, are unwilling and, therefore unable, to see/hear.
In my view, developing the capacities -- personal, organizational, societal

-- to see, and undertake this wider and deeper civilizational-scale work is the most pressing issue of our day.  One cannot deal with a living complex human system one piece at a time.  But, bless us, we do try.

I see what we are doing here as the work of that personal cultural transformation that is so desperately needed if we (as a species? civilization? I am not sure exactly what form I mean) is going to survive. So, we learn how to live with imperfection, to tolerate the bugs and the sounds of birds and sweeping the leaves that are constantly dropping. To let your daughter play with the washed up sticks and stones on the beach (and to deal with a beach that hasn't been combed by the municipality). To feel the weather and be impacted by it ('run! get the clothes off the line!' is certainly something new to me).  To sweat and smell and do outdoor work. To work your day around the hot sun. To live life in the rhythms of a place. To make decisions based on the wind (can we swim at the beach today or are the waves too big?) or the clouds, or the hour of the day. It sounds dreamy, but when you are used to being immune to all of these considerations, it takes work to readjust. It is the work we are committed to doing - re-organizing our experience in a way the befits the impending future.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

self-directed education: our goal

This is what I plan to spend the first few years in Uruguay working to create:

Friday, September 30, 2016

The immigrant fitzgeralds

We have made the decision to immigrate. To Uruguay. On Dec 7, 2016!!!! The universe was throwing any and every possible sign at us to go: family strife, a very tumultuous and stressful postpartum period, multiple stress-related illnesses, lack of ability to work on my dissertation, this election, safety in our city deteriorating, and so many other smaller signs. So, swallowing our fears, we bought our one-way plane tickets. We are on our way. I am going to use this space to document our journey -- as it is a continuation of the journey I began 10 years ago with my first foray out of the United States. It was a journey from which I never did return, because I came back a different person entirely.

So, how does one emigrate to Uruguay? A lot of the nitty-gritty is here. But, ostensibly, we had to:
- Get Vivian's birth certificate and social security card so she could get a passport (done)
- Get fingerprinted and order a criminal background check from the FBI (done)
- Order a copy of all our birth certificates and Patrick and my marriage certificate (done)
- Take all this paperwork to a place to get an Apostille Stamp (not done yet, waiting for the FBI report). For all the Illinois documents we do this at the Secretary of State downtown. For Isa's birth certificate we had to send it to Washington (done).
- Take a bunch of passport pictures (not done with all of us yet)
- Print out/copy past W2's and a bunch of wage statements to bring (still to do)

Once we get there, we need to:
- Enter the country as a tourist and get a 90 day tourist visa (free)
- Bring birth/marriage certificate and FBI report to a public translator
- Get a 'fit for work' health certificate at a certified medical center
- Go to the migration office with all these documents and apply for a tramite, which is basically a paper that says you plan to apply for permanent residency and can therefore overstay your 90 day tourist visa. This tramite costs $60.
- Then you have 2 years to get an appointment to apply for permanent residency. Show up and they'll take your fingerprints and picture and will let you know when you'll get your cedula (permanent residency ID) which takes about a month.

In the meantime we have also decided that we will only bring what we can carry in suitcases. So, we can bring up to 15 50-pound suitcases on our trip. Now, our big goal is organizing and planning for our travel.

And so I said at the beginning that the universe was telling us to go, but not only that -- it was also telling us to come. Once we booked our tickets, I got word from WSU that they will give me online teaching in the Spring (until May 2017), which helps us to fulfill the permanent residency requirement of having an income of at least $1500/month. Then, we got word from our friend and real estate agent who sold us our land that he will rent us his beach house, without a contract. It is fully furnished, has internet, TV, air conditioning and heat, 3 bedrooms, and is walking distance to the beach. We are moving Dec 7, the equivalent of June 7 climatically-speaking. We are going to be spending our summer in the equivalent of South Haven, MI for $500/month. Then we get word from an Irish expat friend of ours that lives nearby that there's an opening for an English teacher at the local high school. And we also got in touch with a South African family that lives less than a mile from where we'll be staying at the beach who wants to be friends with us. They raise cattle and grow weed. So, yeah, the universe is telling us to come. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Radical leisure, or in defense of laziness

Lately I've been exploring the idea of how we spend our days. We have already decided that being stuck inside a job and selling our presence for money is not how we want to spend our lives, especially when we have young children to raise. But, then what? How do we want to spend our time? Well, I think it's in pursuit of learning naturally. That is, we could spend our days pursing things that interest us and our children: food gardening, keeping livestock, playing music, making art, dancing, writing screenplays, making beer and wine and cheese, the list goes on. See these articles below for a better explanation of what we have in mind:

"In consonance with what we might call this “leisure ethic” of pre-capitalism, which rejects the work-intensifying proclivities of bosses, the recorded history of early capitalist production in Europe and North America—at least outside of slavery—shows work as an integrated part of daily life, accompanied by eating and socializing, much to the chagrin of emerging industrialists. As Eric Wolf writes in his classic Europe and the People Without History, in European economies on the eve of industrialization, as long as industrial work was merely supplementary to the central work of keeping a farm, and had to compete with far more attractive recreational activities, such as holidays and family life, the organizers of industrial production would be searching for ways to “subdue the refractory tempers of work-people accustomed to irregular paroxysms of diligence,” in the words of one industrialist in 1835. The working-class life of balancing subsistence with leisure, which so irked the bourgeoisie, incorporated just enough production for capitalists as was necessary to satisfy a boss or tax man or to keep the wolf from the door, and no more."

Above, an unschooling version of this same argument. In other words, radical leisure for kids.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The End of Control

The End of Control

The End of Control

Posted by Kyle Cease on Sunday, December 27, 2015

Monday, January 11, 2016

Why we are leaving America for Uruguay - Part 1

So many people have asked me when hearing about our life plan: what made you want to leave America? and Why Uruguay? I feel it's time I sit down and explain the process from my perspective, in several parts. By the end, I hope to bring the process up to the present and explain where we're at in terms of making the decisions of how and when exactly to move.

Let me say from the outset, from a young age I never had much interest in travel. I was always afraid to go to camp, and really enjoyed being home in my bed after any family vacations. I like stability. I like the feeling of home. That is, when home felt like a safe and wonderful place to be.

The whole idea to move out of the US started for me with study abroad in Rome. I had never spent any time outside of the US, and this trip certainly changed the trajectory of my life. Not only did I meet people with whom I ended up having some of the closest relationships of my life on this trip, but I also saw the world anew. I saw that winter doesn't have to be hell, food doesn't have to be bland and highly processed, life isn't merely about working and consuming, but about enjoyment, experiencing a wild array of feelings and sensations. In other words, it opened me up to the idea that living in another place would make my life significantly different, and that it is actually possible to live somewhere besides Chicago, which had not really occurred to me up until that point.

When I returned -- well, pre-Rome me never did return. I was depressed being back in Chicago, and heard from others that was a common result in returning from study abroad. It became so clear to me that I was depressed because of Chicago in the winter, and because of the lifestyle I was missing out on in Rome, not because of some individual problem I was having. I realized that I can be happier in other places, and probably would not be happiest in Chicago. Not just happy, though. The goal was to find a place where I felt I belong, where I just fit.

The last two years of college was a barrage of bad news: environmental crises, political crises, global warming becomes well-known through An Inconvenient Truth, Hurricane Katrina wipes out New Orleans, crises in health care and education, debt rising astronomically. Then, a global financial meltdown and billions of dollars forked over to bankers in a back room deal. Imagine what it does to the psyche of a young person graduating into this disaster of a world. It makes you reconsider what you've been told to do. Get a job, a house, a mortgage, have kids, retire, die. All of that assumes stability. It assumes that maintenance of the status quo. I am not going to buy into that mess. I am not going to put my eggs there just to see it all taken away by some environmental or financial disaster. Doing what I've been told is, in other words, too risky! In these few formative years, I have seen too many people screwed by the system they so diligently and faithfully participated in. No, no, no. I need to find a life that's more stable, not able to be so easily overturned by environmental disaster or power outages or financial ruin.

Okay, so what else could there be? What alternatives exist to this accepted trajectory? I mean, this accepted trajectory is what got us into this mess, so what kind of life can I lead that takes me somewhere new?

Next time, travelling the world to find the answer.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

30th birthday reflection

I feel pretty good about turning 30. It marks some important milestones in my life, as well as excites me for the next series of life stages. My twenties were not easy for me personally. Despite that, I accomplished a whole lot. By my 30th birthday, I travelled to over 30 countries on my own babysitting-earned dime and nearly every U.S. state. I earned a CDL Class A driver’s license. I lived in Rome, San Francisco, near Yosemite National Park, Tuscany, in Chicago, Eastern and Western Washington. I got engaged in a cloud forest in Costa Rica and I got married! Patrick and I bought and own outright nine acres of gorgeous, productive land in an entirely different hemisphere. I had a baby and raised her into a beautiful, charming 2-year old. I earned my master’s degree in a field I had never before studied, and am about a year away from my PhD.

I herded goats in the Chianti Valley of Italy. I made wine in Montalcino. I swam in the blue grotto in Capri. I snorkeled the second greatest barrier reef in the world in Belize. I learned how to scuba dive in the Indian Ocean west of Thailand. I then dove deep into the Red Sea. All over the world I swam with so many unbelievably beautiful fish, living coral reefs, sting rays, sea turtles, an octopus, and eels. I escaped a sinking sailboat in the Caribbean Sea. I witnessed Bengal tigers and a cheetah in the wild in India, an Asian elephant in Thailand, so many species of monkey in Costa Rica. I swear I heard a jaguar in the cloud forest there.  I fed a rescued baby gibbon with a bottle in Thailand. I saw melting glaciers in Montana.  I saw sights that may not exist for my children to see; only in my stories and photos and books.

 I travelled overland from China to India, from Turkey to Morocco to Sweden, from Mexico to Guatemala, and from Egypt to Jordan. I saw the ruins of ancient civilizations in Ankor, Tikal, Greece, Italy, Thailand, India, Israel, Jordan. I studied the buildings that were slowly returning to the Earth, and asked, “What went wrong here?” and “How can I, as an individual, avoid societal collapse?” I learned how most people in the world live: simply and without much. But they’re happy. I learned why: deep community, exposure to nature, enjoying limited pleasures. I learned how little I need to survive: a warm bath, dry sheets, clean clothes and food. I learned how to bake bread from scratch, how to make beer and wine at home, how to cook food from around the world. I learned how to give birth to a gigantic baby with no drugs, how to feed her with my body, and what kind of parent I want to be.

I learned what kind of life I don’t want for myself and my family, and am pursuing the one I do want. My twenties were spent asking questions. My thirties will be pursuing the life that comes with the answers I found.  I feel much more secure now in myself and my own goals. Gone are the days when I am hurt by disapproving comments. I care less and less what others think about my life. Despite that, I am more open than ever to people and what I can learn from them. The chip on my shoulder is being worn away with time. I am overcoming barriers in order to share a laugh, an insight, a beer.  

In my thirties I plan to accomplish even more than my twenties - especially considering the restricted freedom that comes with settling in one place and having children. I hope to complete my PhD, to write and publish a book, to have a few more children, to build a house in Uruguay entirely without a mortgage.  I want to learn how to use a compost blackwater system and a greywater system. I want to be off the grid, to learn how to raise bees, pigs, goats and cows and truly husband them. To teach my children (and myself) how to notice the cycles of plants, water, energy and animals and how to care for it all as it cares for us. I need to take my big city upbringing and live off the land with very few incoming resources.  Jesus, I will learn to live my life in Spanish in an entirely different culture! 

More than all of that, I want to begin to leave a legacy in my thirties. I want to create a field school in order to expose a network of people (as well as my own children and family) to this particular life choice. I want our home to be a place where those travelers, life hackers, or searchers can come and be and learn. Like a monastery, or a refuge. I want to have a library and extra food and a warm place to bathe and sleep for these adventurers, so they can feel loved and cared for during their time passing through our home. And I want them to stay or go as their lives move them. But if they go, I want them to take a piece of us with them, so that they may see that they can live simply and promote healthy biological and social diversity wherever they choose to settle, as this is the mission we plan to promote. This world is too vulnerable without all kinds of diversity, and we hope to strengthen it by the work we do to make our corner of the world more diverse in terms of: plant and animal life, language, culture, agriculture, ideas, food production and so much more. 

It’s not so bad to turn 30. I feel so proud of my accomplishments and very driven to accomplish so much more in the decades to come. Plus, Patrick says women are the most attractive in their 30s. ;) It’s nice to think that some of my life’s most beautiful days – ones filled with the laughter of children, community, nature, and abundance – are the ones to come.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Michael Pollan on Psychadelics

Amazing article. What if you could take medicine one time that would permanently alter you for the better? Making you calmer, more at peace, addiction-free. There's some evidence that those drugs already exist, if we just open our minds to the benefits they provide.

I miss the village

I came across this article today, and love how it's written. Except, I envision this future where it's not just women, but the men, the boys, the old folks who live in the village together. Maybe we can find a way to make this work in Uruguay? Have some cabins and a common space where the kids run free on the farm and the adults work and play and laugh together all day. Having a child made me much more keenly aware of the isolation of the way our current society is set up. The single-family home and no one knows their neighbors. Ugh. It is many years away a lots of work in the making, but I think we can re-make the village. I know we can. I agree with the author that this is what we all actually want, but we don't know how to get there. I'm going to try.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Bars and Babies -- or Isolation, part two

I've been starting to get into the groove of motherhood. I usually know what Isa wants, I'm getting a sense of my own mothering style, and I am starting to know how to get on with my adult life with Isa in tow. But this past Tuesday I hit a major road block, one that really infuriated me and made me feel inferior again.

A friend of ours is leaving Pullman for good and moving back home to the Bay Area. He invited a bunch of people out to have a celebratory meal and drinks with him -- so we all decided on a bar that serves tacos, burgers, etc. to meet up. We came to this bar before when Isa was a little baby in the Summer when most of the students were out of town. They have a really good burger and a beer special, so we came for that. We ate and drank without incident over the Summer when the bar was mostly empty.

On Tuesday, we got to the door at 7 pm, and the bar had a decent amount of people in it, but everyone was mostly sitting and eating at tables (it's Taco Tuesday). The bouncer comes to the door and tells us, as if to chastise us, "You can't bring your baby in here. No." I asked, "Even if we're just coming to eat?"

"No, you can't come in here."

The large group had to scramble for ideas. I suggested just going home with Isa and letting Patrick stay out and about with the group. Everyone decided that we'd just go somewhere else without a problem. And we did, we went to a restaurant and everyone got to eat and drink there, but of course drinks were much more expensive at a restaurant, which I'm sure most people weren't happy about.

This whole experience left me feeling like I am inappropriate, a bad mother, or irresponsible in some way. Why would I ever want to bring my child to a bar? What was wrong with me?

I don't understand why having a child, in this society, makes you isolated from adult activities. Why, in this culture, is there such a puritan attitude toward drinking that children should not be allowed to see adults in this hedonistic state? In most of the UK, pubs (or public houses, called that way for a reason), let in children and you can even order a pint for your child as long as they're over 14 years old. What does this breed? An attitude toward drinking that is MODERATE instead of this idea that drinking is always something to be hidden from the view of children.

I am finding that it seems to be that the reason so many mothers experience depression is the intense isolation they experience once they have children. There are only so many places you're allowed to go with children, and they mostly suck (McDonald's Playplace? Mommy groups? 'family' restaurants?). Why can't children be a part of larger society and go where their parents go? Ugh. I've got to get out of this place.

loneliness, addiction and getting out

the real cause of addiction

the age of loneliness is killing us

I ran across a couple of articles today that impacted me. Ever since I began studying sociology, and even before, I have come to realize the power society and social institutions have over individuals. We are not the masters of our own universes, and are (mostly) not to blame for many of our individual problems. C. Wright Mills calls this having a sociological imagination. It is the ability to decipher between personal problems and public issues. It is the main message of the Sociology 101 course I teach.

However, this lesson is difficult for many of us to grasp, as is it so ingrained in us to think so much of what we experience is our individual problem. I keep on learning this lesson for different parts of life, and the two articles above continue to teach this same lesson.

The first makes the claim that addiction is not an individual's problem, and it's not even the problem of chemical impact on the brain. If you look, for example, at gambling addiction, it surely can't only be chemicals causing addiction. The author argues that it is in fact our loneliness and isolation (among other aspects of our society) that drives so many to addiction. And the solution to all this isn't to isolate addicts, but to love them and provide them with healthy relationships.

The second article is a treatise on the current century, calling it the Age of Loneliness. The statistics are dire. We are a lonely people and it is killing us.

These two articles are connected (the first cites the second) in that it is really the structure of our society that causes so much of what we think of as individual problems. Are you lonely because no one wants to be your friend or because no one sees each other anymore? Are you addicted (even to caffeine or alcohol or television) because you're lonely? Well, you're lonely because of how our society is set up.

I am reminded of something one of my favorite authors once said. He was attempting to live happily in American society and was finding it difficult. He told himself to simply be "a lotus in a cesspool." That is, even if the society is unhealthy, he could attempt to rise above it and be happy despite his surroundings. What he found, he says, is that he just ended up being "a dirty lotus" ( I like this anecdote because it captures the essence of the above articles and sociology in general. You cannot rise above your environment. Your environment makes you up. So, if you want to be different (or you don't want to become who this unhealthy society will make you up to be), then you have to find a place that you think aligns better with who you want to be, and move there. And this is not just the U.S. As the article states, it is at least in the U.K. and probably many other industrialized societies. Get out. Before you die of loneliness or addiction or both. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

We are blues people

Cornell West on America

"It’s not pessimistic, brother, because this is the blues. We are blues people. The blues aren’t pessimistic. We’re prisoners of hope but we tell the truth and the truth is dark. That’s different."

I am a blues person. At once accepting fate and reveling in truth, no matter how dark. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Goodbye Aunt Donna

Today I lost my godmother Donna. Here is a video of her at my wedding -- with all of her shining light, her beautiful energy, her hilariousness, her joy, her love. It is hard to come to grips with the fact that this wonderful person is no longer with us. But her love and support will shine through me for the rest of my life.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Feminists were wrong, part 2

A couple of years ago I wrote a post on this blog entitled "Feminists were wrong," and I have recently had some new thoughts on the issue and I'd like to amend what I wrote earlier. In that post I argued that the reason women felt dissatisfied with their roles as housewives and mothers in the post-WWII era was that so much of their meaning was meant to be obtained through their role as consumer. So many of what would be their daily activities of running a household were being subcontracted to corporations (i.e. no more cooking, now there are TV dinners) and so the only decision they had to make was what to buy. They lost a lot of the efficacy you feel from actually cooking a meal or tending a garden or nursing a baby and felt the solution to this is to go into the workforce.

I think that this is where they went wrong. The solution was not to be away from their homes and then further subcontract their roles as mother to lower-paid women. I think in this recessionary economy women are beginning to realize this and are re-embracing their role as mother or wife in a way that really makes them feel good.

Okay, so that's what I argued in that earlier post, and I still believe it. What I have learned in becoming a mother myself has changed this a little bit. Being alone in the home with this baby can be frustrating at times, and not simply because my role as mother has been subcontracted out to corporations. I nurse my baby, cook dinners myself, bake bread, tend a garden, among other things. Yet, I long for conversations with other adults, for jamming out to music, for time to tend to the garden or go to the store or type a paper. My day is so baby-centered, I am not able to be a part of the world I once inhabited -- the world of normal social and economic activities.

So, I started to look into what other societies have done with child-rearing and found that among hunter-gather societies. I found that not only is child-rearing a shared activity among many adults, but most women resume normal adult social and economic activity very soon after a baby is born. That is, they continue spending time with other adults, many of whom cared for their child for them, and resume activities such as gardening, weaving, et cetera right away. It is only a phenomenon of sedentary societies, especially those societies that have private households (rather than living in a tribal, communal setting), that experience what might be called "professional mothering" (a term I stole from Morris Berman's book Wandering God). Professional mothering has an isolating effect.

All of a sudden, once you are a mother you are banned from some adults-only activities (think: going to the movies, work) and are banished to "mommy-and-me" type activities, the thought of which make me want to gag. Not only are stay-at-home mothers isolated, but the children of working mothers are isolated to daycare centers and schools. This is why so many women lack experience with children before becoming mothers themselves -- children are allowed only in child-friendly settings.

What would be better? A world where children and parents are welcome and tolerated at work and at play -- any place adults are welcome. I'd also like to see other non-parent adults feeling free to care for a child when it is in these settings, without some explicit paid babysitting arrangement. I'm going to try to implement this myself, but as usual I am swimming against the tide in this society and will be met with resistance (as I was when I went to the movies with Isa when she was only a few weeks old and making some very small cooing noises as she slept).

So, in reference to my previous post, I want to give a little more credit to these post-WWII women. They lost the usefulness they felt in keeping a house because corporations were doing many of these things for them. But, maybe more importantly, they were isolated from other adults and left alone with this intense focus on their kids. Being isolated in that way can be very difficult. Again, I don't think the solution was to go to work and leave kids in their own isolated institutional settings (daycare and state-run education), but instead to incorporate their kids into a world that contains adults. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

medical 'progress' in pregnancy and childbirth

Now I am almost at the end of my pregnancy and I've learned a lot about the state of modern pregnancy and child birth. I feel now the responsibility to put here what I've learned.

Although I had an inkling of this tendency before, now I know for sure that our society leans toward science, technology, and what it calls "progress." We often assume this is good. Take the polio vaccination, for example. It basically wiped out what was once a disease which hurt many, many people. We often think of medical progress in terms of the polio vaccine. However medical progress often (especially in the United States) comes in the form of unnecessary interventions. There seems to be an attitude in the US that goes something like "well, let's just do it just in case," or "it won't hurt to do more, so let's do more."

But it does, in fact, hurt to do more. I've seen this first hand throughout my pregnancy. Pregnancy and childbirth are a great place to see the effects of this kinds of medical progressive thinking because this is a unique kind of medical need. Ideally, and in most cases, women's bodies are capable of handling all of pregnancy and childbirth without intervention. Yet, we go to doctors "just in case." We go to make sure that we're healthy and handling the pregnancy well, and we have them attend births in case something goes wrong. Yet, if nothing goes wrong, you really don't need the doctor at all, for anything.

Even though we don't really need the doctor, as I haven't, they seem to want to make themselves useful. So, they spend a lot of time telling you about the very, very minute risks you may be facing. Some of those risks include: gestational diabetes, a too-big baby, group B strep, placenta previa, a breech baby, toxoplasmosis, blindness from maternal gonorrhea or syphilis, a baby without the ability to clot blood, the list goes on. The likelihood of being affected by any ONE of these things is very, very low. For example, about .01% of babies get toxoplasmosis - a disease contracted from eating undercooked meat (like deli meat). So doctors tell you to COMPLETELY avoid all deli meats, any raw meats or cheeses (including soft cheeses like brie), hot dogs, or any meat that's been sitting out for more than a few hours. Yet, there is a lot of evidence that says it's very important for all people to eat varied diets with lots of different kinds of bacteria in it. We may be over-sanitizing our gastrointestinal systems.

Take another example. Every single baby is given a gel antibiotic ointment on their eyes at birth. They give this to babies in case their mothers have gonorrhea or syphilis. I don't mind saying here that my doctor tested me as part of a routine battery of tests at the beginning of my pregnancy and I don't have these diseases. So, there's really no reason to rub my baby's eyes with a gel which makes it difficult for them to see and may slightly traumatize them. But it's so routine to do this to ALL babies, that in some states the hospital can report you to child services for refusing to put the ointment on your baby's eyes. I put my preference for no gel on my birth plan, but I still don't know if I'll meet resistance for this preference at the hospital or if the nurses will follow my wishes. It is just so assumed that all babies should get this gel, "just in case," that it is almost assumed to be child abuse NOT to opt into this unnecessary intervention. Really, there isn't a huge downside, the baby will just be a little disoriented by it. But, there hasn't been large studies on the effect of the widespread use of this eye ointment, so for me it is riskier to use it than not to use it. I know I don't have these diseases and therefore don't need the ointment. What I don't know is the long-term effects of this ointment.

Another intervention I have been running up against is this idea of a "big baby," medically called macrosomia. Pregnant bellies are supposed to measure, on average, how many centimeters as you are weeks along, plus or minus 2 centimeters. During most of my third trimester, I've been measuring about 3 centimeters larger than the week I am in. Keep in mind that it is normal to be within 2 centimeters of your week. For example, if you are 33 weeks along, your belly should measure between 31 and 35 centimeters. At 33 weeks, I was measuring 36 centimeters. Really only 1 centimeter above the "normal" range. It is also important to note that Patrick and I were both above the 95th percentile for our gender when born. So, genetics tell you that it's likely that this baby will be on the large side of the normal range. Very far on the large size. Yet, at a few of my doctor's visits, the doctor expressed mild concern about the size of the baby. Enough so that she ordered another ultrasound to see how big the baby is. But in most cases, you bear a baby that your body can handle! Your body is a very capable machine! When I went home and looked up online what doctors do about big babies, they often suggest to women that they need a c-section because their bodies can't handle the size of the baby. Even though ultrasounds have been shown to be as much as 4 pounds off in guessing the baby's weight! I have not faced this from my doctor, but what an absurd way to approach childbirth! There is so much to be gained from a vaginal birth in terms of the baby's health outcomes, but so much medical progress thinking leads to a third of babies being born by c-section.

I haven't even gotten into the interventions associated with child birth. It is considered progress to numb yourself from the waist down, getting a catheter shoved into you, being hooked up to an IV, told not to eat or drink for as much as 24 hours, and pushing the baby out by being told by a computer screen that it's time to push. Why is this progress? I can't even count the number of times I've heard "oh, just take the drugs and sit back." These drugs are not without risk! Babies born to mothers who've had an epidural are more drowsy and full of the drug. They often have a hard time taking to breast feeding. What else might be the risk to these babies, we don't know! Why do we avoid all drugs like saints for nine months just to shoot up like addicts at the last moment? Why are we told there is no risk to the baby? Epidurals do effect the baby, and often can lead to more intervention. What if the baby's heart rate goes down due to being drugged up, the medical staff freaks out and orders a c-section? Or they give you pitocin to move your labor along more quickly and it effects the baby's health and again they send you to the operating table? That's what's happening. There's no other way to explain this insanely high c-section rate.

The final example I have to discuss is the very widespread belief that women should not eat or drink anything for the entirety of their labor, just in case they need to get general anesthesia. It is important to keep in mind that this is VERY RARELY used in childbirth, due to the need to have the mother awake during the process. More often, as with c-sections, a local anesthesia is used. So, ALL mothers are told to not eat or drink anything for sometimes as long as 24 hours just in case of this very, very rare situation. What might you feel like doing the equivalent to running a marathon and not eating or drinking for the entirety of this physical feat?   Why might mothers be challenged by this unnecessary rule? Again, the "just in case" thinking of medical progress just doesn't line up with the needs of MOST mothers.

I try to remember that my body is built to do this. It'll be nice to be in a hospital just in case something *naturally* goes wrong. But I don't want the hospital itself to be the source of something going wrong, due to unnecessary intervention. I will try to be vigilant, have Patrick aware of my concerns and be my advocate and the advocate of our baby. It is sad that this irrational and unnecessary thinking pervades our medical system. It is frustrating going into childbirth and having to be a warrior against intervention. What kind of message does this send? It tells the woman "you can't do this" or "you are incapable without our medical help." When in fact she is much more capable than any doctor at growing and delivering the healthiest, most robust baby. I am happy that I know this, but so many women unfortunately do not have access to the kinds of information that I do as a sociologist and a college-educated person. It is the responsibility of society to change this kind of thinking for better outcomes for our babies and pregnant mothers. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

insurance company woes

Over the past few months, I have had some of the most mind-blowing experiences with my insurance company, and I want to share a few of the details here. The insurance I have is part of my graduate student health care offered by WSU. The first of my experiences started when I received an email claiming that the university was going to raise the rates on our insurance, making us pay part of the annual fee. They were doing this while at the same time hiring a new football coach whose salary is 5 times that of the previous football coach (we're talking millions of dollars). Why did they want to raise the rates? Because the Obama health care act made it so the insurance company had to cover basic things like ambulance rides in case of emergency (without previous consent) or gynecological exams every year. Why else? Because we were actually using  the insurance. Yes, this was said to us by an administrator. Our insurance company wanted to charge the university more because we were making claims on it. If we made less claims, the price could stay the same. The university's plan? To defer the cost to us, the graduate students. That is, we would no longer get health care as a part of our package, it would be something we would have to pay a portion of. While the football coach is getting paid millions of dollars. Is this an institution of learning or sports? What is the point of our colleges anyways? This university would crumble without graduate students, yet they want to make us pay another $500 out of our poverty-level $10,000 per year salary.

Okay, example number 2. While I was out of town I went to the doctor for a UTI. The doctor said they didn't take my insurance so I paid up front, asking for a receipt so I could be reimbursed by the insurance for this covered service. When I submitted a receipt to the insurance they said they needed further documentation from the doctor. When the doctor gave them this documentation it was a bill for more money than I paid in cash at the time of service. The explanation from the doctor is that I was given a discount for paying in cash. Yet, the insurance company is now saying this is the new bill and issued a check to the doctor for the services I already paid for! When I asked the insurance company why they didn't just reimburse me, they said the doctor sent them a bill and they paid it. But the doctor didn't send them a bill, they asked for documentation of services that I already paid for! The doctor's office now claims that it was a bill, simply to get more money for the services. It is important to keep in mind during this whole process, from May 2012 until January 2013, I called the insurance company repeatedly (think: more than 50 times) without sensible explanation, sometimes being told that they simply do not reimburse people, sometimes being told that they made a mistake, or I did or the doctor did. Speaking with all different people with all different levels of competency and familiarity with the case. Each time, I had to re-explain the situation and never once was I transferred to a supervisor when asked (each time I was transferred I got a voicemail with no return call). Needless to say, I never got reimbursed for the services.

Final example. Patrick went to the student health center for what he thought was a broken wrist. This health center deals with our insurance constantly. After he went there, he got three separate bills in the mail that all charged him directly for the services. These bills were from: the health center from the doctor who saw him, the local hospital which administers the x-ray machine, and the radiologist in spokane that read the xray. Why wasn't the insurance billed for these services? And why was he getting three separate bills for one visit in the same building? Well, the insurance company has decided that for each claim the patient needs to fill out a separate claim form which basically asks you if there's any way this sickness/injury can be covered by any other place (worker's comp, previous insurance) every time you ask for them to pay for services.  So, they are simply providing another hurdle to paying for services by asking you to fill out this form on your own before the doctor can submit a claim. So, in order for the insurance to be billed for this one doctor's visit for Patrick, he had to download and print three of these claim forms, fill each of them out, find out the billing address for each institution and mail each of them to three separate institutions who can then finally submit a claim to the insurance. He is still in the process of completing this from a doctor's visit from October 2012. The most infuriating part is that this was a big investigation process to figure out why the insurance wasn't being billed and how to fix it. It took multiple emails, phone calls and bills to piece together this mystery. In the meantime, he is getting bills sent to his student account through the university where late fees are being applied, and bills that are threatening to send him to collections.

How did this system come to be? How can we be so alienated from one another? Just based on these few experiences, this is the least rational system for caring for the health of one another in society that I can imagine. Sociologist George Ritzer calls this the "irrationality of rationality" where several independent rational decisions add up to make an irrational system. But I don't think that's what's going on here. Whomever decided at the insurance company that patients needed to fill out a claim form every time was not making a rational decision; he/she was making a selfish one. The company does not want to pay claims. The insurance company's goal is to make money, not to provide health insurance for the medical needs of its customers. So, someone decided to include this hurdle to paying out claims. I think what's going on here is the irrationality of greed. Not only are people alienated from one another or from the consequences of their decisions by the division of labor, they are also making decisions based on the bottom line of this society: profit. So, that's how it comes to be that someone dies on the emergency room floor while waiting for care. This is how it comes to be that even when you have insurance and you follow all the rules, you're sent to collection for bills you were never meant to pay, keeping the powerless down in a cycle of poverty while the powerful reap the rewards. I've got to get out of this place.