08 October 2010

Prudential and The Class Action Lawsuit

When you enlist in the armed services, one of the first sets of paperwork you'll fill in during training is for the Servicemember's Group Life Insurance (SGLI). It is still optional and sadly, many young enlistees opt out of it - to their families' detriment later down the line.

I, however, did not. I carried the highest premium I could (which effectively made me worth a whole lot more dead than alive) and I even carried the SGLI Spouse policy (therefore making my husband worth far more dead than alive too - call it mutually assured continued existence if you will). (I kid!!!)

I had no idea, however, what games Prudential has been playing with our money. And I also had no idea that once the company was contacted to pay out, the beneficiary could also opt for lump sum payment or payment over time, as this rather less than objective article states. It turns out that the plaintiffs in this case were allowed to choose for themselves even though the form has never changed and we, the servicemember's, make that selection when we fill it in.

I don't know how I feel about this. For one thing, I didn't even know that Prudential was the insurer. It was just the SGLI and I paid 37 bucks a month to have it. I wanted to know that my family would be very well kept if the worst should happen during a deployment, a training accident, or, for that matter, any accident.

I suppose I do feel like we're being used as a money market for this company if these allegations are true. We're a profit maker. And I loathe the idea that my money has earned them money that my family could certainly use and would most certainly never see if the worst happened. The average age of the policy holder is probably around 22 or 23. Healthy kids, too. There is some risk here yes, but it seems to me that the risk is nominal compared to the rewards this company appears to be reaping.

I also feel like I should have known about this when I elected to carry the SGLI. It may have made me think harder about it and perhaps even made me shop around way back when I first elected to carry it (I carry life insurance through work as well and it does NOT cost me 37 dollars a month for a nearly identical pay out - that just dawned on me actually...). Something stinks here and I hate feeling like I've been had simply by virtue of my profession and my concern for my family's financial well-being if they lost the primary income earner.

I suppose it will be interesting to see how this all plays out - and another lesson to be added to the ever expanding Box of Lessons to Pass Along to My Offspring.

06 October 2010

Who's Really the Nincompoop Here?

First, let it be known that because I have the sense of humor of a 4-year old, the word nincompoop still cracks me up. Mostly because it contains the word, "poop". Obviously, that, coupled with my obsession over all things helicopter parenting meant that I had to read this: Are We Raising a Generation of Nicompoops? It is currently the most e-mailed article on Boston.com - and has been for over 5 days.

On reading however, I was sorely disappointed in what I found. Rather than another interesting commentary on the ill effects of helicopter parenting as children come of age, it was an unintentional slam on the parents themselves. So, I thought it would be fun to dissect the article here (feel free to play along and add your two cents!):

1. Susan Maushart, a mother of three, says her teenage daughter "literally does not know how to use a can opener. Most cans come with pull-tops these days. I see her reaching for a can that requires a can opener, and her shoulders slump and she goes for something else."

My Thoughts: Um...your daughter literally will not know how to use a can opener if she's never been shown. Clearly, you have one in your home because you have inferred here that not all cans in your larder have pop-tops. You have witnessed the dejected sag of her slender shoulders as she realizes that, yet again, she is foiled by a can and may not partake of her snack of choice. And yet...you have not stepped in to demonstrate the fine art of utilizing the most ancient of all tools - the can opener?!

You, Ma'am, have failed.

Nincompoop Score:
Kids - 0
Parents - 1

2. Teenagers are so accustomed to either throwing their clothes on the floor or hanging them on hooks that Maushart says her "kids actually struggle with the mechanics of a clothes hanger."

My Thoughts: You allow your kids the luxury of throwing their clothing on the floor. I will assume here that you pick them up for them. You've given them pegs to utilize. You admit to have seen them struggle with a hanger. Please see comment #1. Again, Ma'am, you have failed.

Nincompoop Score:
Kids - 0
Parents - 2

3. Many kids never learn to do ordinary household tasks. They have no chores. Take-out and drive-through meals have replaced home cooking. And busy families who can afford it often outsource house-cleaning and lawn care.

My Thoughts: How? Why? Our toddler has "chores" if you count the fact that we ask her to put her sneakers in the hallway after she takes them off, and we ask her to clean up her toys at the end of the day. I'll have her put her dirty clothes in her hamper and she throws away rubbish without being asked. Age appropriate chores, but in a sense, chores nonetheless.

Drive through and take away are luxuries - expensive and unhealthy ones 9 times out of 10. Even families I know who have 12 hour days before they get home and start dinner typically cook, especially now, especially in this economy. Granted, that's anecdotal. But it's my experience and the concepts in this paragraph are so foreign to me that I'm afraid the parents lose this round again. Clearly, chores and home cooked meals can happen. These parents simply choose to not have them happen.

Nincompoop Score:
Kids - 0
Parents - 3

4. "It's so all laid out for them," said Maushart, author of the forthcoming book "The Winter of Our Disconnect," about her efforts to wean her family from its dependence on technology. "Having so much comfort and ease is what has led to this situation -- the Velcro sneakers, the Pull-Ups generation. You can pee in your pants and we'll take care of it for you!"

My Thoughts: So, Miss Maushart is actually trying to wean her family off of the technology that she chose to raise them with. Interesting. That aside: Velcro is great for right now. Our 2 year old can fasten her own shoes. However, I do note that shoes with laces are still in great abundance (and velcro was around when I was a wee lass, yet I still know how to tie my shoes...) and as kids age, there's nothing stopping a parent from buying them.

Pull-ups factor heavily in our lives at  the moment - or perhaps they don't? After all, it's only during very long car rides, naps, or bedtime that Miss A wears them. She's getting goood at this "using a toilet" thing. And she's only 2! Imagine that. Teching a kid that peeing in your pants isn't for life...wow.

[sigh] This is really getting depressing.

Nincompoop Score:
Kids - 0
Parents - 4

5. The issue hit home for me when a visiting 12-year-old took an ice-cube tray out of my freezer, then stared at it helplessly. Raised in a world where refrigerators have push-button ice-makers, he'd never had to get cubes out of a tray -- in the same way that kids growing up with pull-tab cans don't understand can openers.

My Thoughts: OK. Really?! 99% of the homes I've been in, either my own or friends' or acquaintances, have normal fridges with freezers that require ice cube trays. In fact, my own fridge does have an ice maker (though it's not an "in-door" model), but we have no water line to connect it to. So, we use ice cube trays. Just like most of the canned goods in our larder, and so many others, require an opener (have you noticed that a pop top actually adds a buck or more to the price?!), so we must suffer in what's apparently viewed as neolithic servitude - slaves to our manual kitchens that do nothing for us, never mind wipe our bums too.

Nincompoop Score:
Kids - 0
Parents - 5

This is too depressing. I think I'll stop here and call it a loss for the parents.

Now, while I'm the first to gleefully admit that I can't wait to be of that age where I can scream at kids to get off'n my lawn...and I've certainly been known to go off on my own, "KIDS THESE DAYS CONSARN'T" rants and raves (usually after a cherub-faced 6 year old tells me to "F**k off"), I will also be the first to come to the defense of the youth of today when they are unfairly maligned.

It's not the kids who are the nincompoops here. It's the parents who never taught them; who never made the time; who value the material and ease over anything else. I also suspect that the number of kids who are like those in the scenarios culled from the original article and noted above is vastly smaller than those who aren't - and it's totally unfair to use them to paint a generational picture like this. Let's call it like it is: There Is a Generation of Nincompoops Passing Their Nincompoopery Along to Their Offspring.

04 October 2010

Making Sense of the Senseless

I'll be the first to admit that when violence grips the most violent parts of this fair metro area of mine, I'm rarely surprised and never truly shocked. Even when it hits close to home, at the other end of the city, I'm not surprised. After all, the truth of the matter is this: I don't feel safe in my neighborhood, particularly after dark. There are a large number of addicts living around us and, while our street is generally safe and neighborly, 30 seconds around the corner(s) yields another place that is not.

I was, however, angered at the brief but seemingly random spate of violence that my own community experienced over Labor Day weekend - 24 hours of gun violence that left 3 people dead, in two unrelated shootings. The first happened about half a mile from our house, the second happened closer to home - and that headline is already too old. Within 48-hours of that event, a second man died from his injuries.

My anger has barely calmed to a simmer if only because our Mayor has dismissed these acts as "some bad actors who came to Malden", and said nothing more. There have been no updates on the investigation(s) and I suspect that we'll never know whether anyone will be brought to justice in the case of the victim from Stoneham.

Almost a month later, a section of Boston that I've never visited and probably never will...a section that I've always seen as dangerous and no stranger to the violence that's making it's way to the suburbs of Boston (can our community truly be a suburb when it's about 3 miles from the city-proper's limits, 2 T stops away, and the skyline is quite visible from certain vantage points? Boston is eating it's suburbs like a beast, incorporating them into itself...), experienced an event that rattled me. Last week, 3 men, 1 woman, and 1 toddler were gunned down in the streets. All but one of the men was killed, and he is currently on life support, not expected to live.

Boston Globe columnist, Brian McGrory, summed up my feelings about this better than I ever could have. A child killed in his mother's arms; men stripped naked and shot in the back of the head in the dark of night, on the streets...

It's too surreal. Just like a firefight just down the road from where I live is too surreal. Nevertheless, both events happened.

I understand the price we pay in choosing to live in an urban area - crime will be more in evidence, including violent crime. I don't understand the stubborn silence of my mayor and his persistent refusal to acknowledge a significant increase in crime in our city or at least parts of our city. I don't understand the extremely foreign feeling act of ultra-violence that occurred in Mattapan last week - almost a culmination to a growing number of depraved murders this year in Dorchester and Roxbury.

Mostly, I don't understand how, as my own daughter grows, to even begin to talk to her about these types of things that she will see and hear about. The crack heads and heroin addicts we see too often are easy topics to handle. Even the not-so-surreptitious drug deals on the corner can be dealt with fairly simply. This other stuff though? I can barely wrap my head around it. I'm not sure I could possibly explain the why's and wherefor's of these acts.

It's not about gun control. It's not even about crime control. There are far more deep seated issues that ultimately drive people to commit these most vicious of crimes or have to battle for their lives in self-defense (though a gunfight in a tight, urban neighborhood, even when it's home or self-defense, is still a dangerous venture for anyone to engage in what with stray bullets and all...).

Moving is not an option nor is it a solution. I suppose the best I can do is the Right Thing (as Top Telly used to say to me. Constantly.) where our daughter is concerned - and give her the tools she needs to navigate all of this. After all, soon, the cameras will be gone. In the case of our Labor Day Extravaganza, they left in what seemed like minutes after arrival, especially as it became clear that Mayor Howard is no Mayor Menino, and has not spoken out and demanded justice at any cost. No news there. Just another day in Malden. But in Mattapan, after all the outrage has been aired, all of the talking heads have said all that they can say, life will go on as well.

How much will any of these events, here or there, change anything? The best we can do is keep on teaching - street savvy, street smarts, and keeping away as best one can from a lifestyle that begets violence.

It's all I can think to do.

01 October 2010

This week has been longer than most. Obviously, since it's been 10 days since my last post and for that, I am a bad blogger. Seriously though? M and I were just talking a little while ago about how loooong this week has been - and not in a good way. We were sagging with relief at it's end, breathing deeply, when what should we hear from another room? "Uh-oh. Mommy Daddy I have a pooop!"


As we flew in to the bathroom, we were greeted by the following scene: A pull-up on the floor. A poop...next to the potty. On the floor. A girl-child with her pants around her ankles and her mouth completely covered in...black?

I did not even know where to begin. Clearly, she had been eating markers. Clearly, she had missed the potty but tried really hard not to. Clearly, I should not have been trying to take a moment's worth of deep breathing before she was in bed.

M went to work on the poop on the floor. I went to work on her face. And then checked myself and cleaned off her bum. And then her face. But here's the dirty secret about Rose Art's water soluble, washable markers: THEY AREN'T. Even after the bathroom and the girl-child's bum were de-poopified, the face, the teeth, the tongue...were not.

I don't think I've ever had her brush her teeth for that long. Or rinse and spit so many times.

It seemed a most fitting end to this work week though, arguably one of the longest work weeks in the history of work weeks. Truly, there is nothing more perspective inducing than seeing your toddler literally covered, head-to-toe, in a giant mess.

I'm grateful that it's over.

The ray of sunshine in all of it? The fact that she really did try to make it to the potty in time. Were it not for the fact that I forgot to lift up the lid on her little pot, she probably would have done well. So, I do take that responsibility.

It's time to breathe out now.

20 September 2010

A First Kiss

Over on my personal Live Journal, I'm doing a 30-Day Meme to get me back into the habit of writing daily. It's been working well for the most part, but today's question, "Your First Kiss, In Great Detail" stumped me.

It took me a while, and in the end I drew inspiration not from a torrid and wonderful, love laced past or doe eyed adolescence, but from an amazing few days in which I've been thanked for a perspective on adoption by a local adoptive mom...and cried on during a chance and wonderful encounter with a birth mom. She is a woman I've known for a while, a woman I never knew had a son she gave up, and who is back in her life, as her son in adulthood. Our stories are different, but needless to say, both encounters gave me serious pause to reflect, once again, on this topic.

So, I'm sharing a version of my meme response here today. It's pertinent to the topic, from my perspective as an adoptee.

Read on...

Your First Kiss. In great detail?!

I think that the immediate conclusion one feels they should make from the question posed is that they must dredge the recesses of their memories to find the file marked, "My First Time Kissing a Boy/Girl Based on Sexual Preferences Exhibited in Early Childhood".

I disagree. A kiss is a kiss, unless it has a meaning behind it. Truthfully, I have memories swimming in the miasma of time of kissing a boy in pre-school when I was about 3. He ran up to me and stole a kiss on the playground. We were toddlers. It was also the day that he came to pre-school wearing his sister's barrettes in his hair. I'm not even sure that such an encounter could possibly count as a first kiss. After all, how seriously can you take a boy with barrettes in his hair?

Trudging ahead, there is a memory, but I'm not even sure that it's truly real, of kissing my neighbor when I was probably around 12. He must have been 13 or so. It was a "real" kiss. But even then, my memory tells me that I thought it was rather meaningless. It was an experiment. We had passed the Making Out With Our Pillow stage of adolescence and wanted to try the real thing. We'd known each other since childhood, but we weren't close and didn't play together as young children. Yet, it was a safe kiss. There were no sparks. I don't really remember ever kissing him again.

I could even say that my "first" kiss was one I'd already written about in another entry in my Live Journal. It was a first kiss from M. It had meaning. There weren't just sparks, there were lightening storms. But it wasn't my first kiss ever. Just the first one that I remember meaning much of anything at all. And in some way I can't help but wonder if every first kiss, in every past relationship doesn't somehow count as "your first kiss".

Maybe I'm just stalling because I never really liked kissing before I met M. Maybe my body knew what my brain did not fully realize (that I didn't care for kissing) until I met M and my life changed forever, and so before that point, my body chose to give me a mildly repulsed reaction to the act of kissing?

Ultimately though, I know when my first real kiss was. This is it, in great detail. Brace yourselves...

It is a day in April 1975. I have spent almost a month between a hospital and then, a foster home. I am brand new to this world and I don't think I've found a home or a bond that will last. I don't know what my foster mother or father look like. I don't know if I've kept them up each night, as newborns do. I don't know what room I am in, what my crib or bassinet is like, or even where I really am.

I know that I am fed formula. A lot. And on this day in April 1975, I am bundled into a blanket, and then into a car. 

I am taken somewhere else. There is a hand over to someone else. And then another one, again.

A woman takes me, with something like tears in her eyes. She looks into my blanket and I look back. She looks happy, shocked. And then she kisses me softly on my forhead and says, "Hello, little girl. I'm your mother."
 She is not the woman I was born to almost a month ago. She is not the woman that has been feeding me and changing my diapers for the last month. She is, in fact, my very own, real mommy. For the first time in my short life, I am kissed by own mommy. It is the most enduring first kiss that any child will ever have and it lasts forever.

I don't know that it actually happened that way, but I like to think that it did.

What do you think?

16 September 2010

On Poop

There are a great many things that I never thought I would say in my lifetime...and among them, the following utterance probably ranked right near the top: "Now remember, don't pee on Ni Hao honey. It will make her saaaad."

So began our final journey into a diaper free world last Sunday. It's been almost a year since A bought her own potty, but last week, she also picked her own underpants.

For the record: Ni Hao was the compromise. Even though she doesn't watch Dora the Explorer, she knows who Dora is. I hate Dora. We both agreed on Ni Hao. (And don't talk to me about Dora being the same as Ni Hao. They're not. I don't hate Ni Hao.)

Fortunately, play skool also potty trains. And of course, because she's an angel at play skool, she's a champion potty-goer there too. But at home, especially this weekend, after a week in underpants, we've had more out of the potty than in, or so it seems. She refuses to poop in the potty at all here, although I'm bribing her with sparkly, shiny stickers as of todaytty, so who knows.

Last Monday, I spent 40 minutes in the bathroom waiting for a poop. I showed her how to make the  "I'M POOPING!" face; I sang the pooping song. I applauded poop. And I thought to myself, when I used to say I was in the shit, especially overseas, I never thought that someday it would come to mean this. My, how the toughest do fall...

That was the first, and last, potty poop thus far.

Now, I am so tired of poop. I know we're in the beginning stages, but poop is poop and I have "potty trained" enough puppies in my day to know that I'm so damn done with cleaning up accidents, especially poop. If I never see another poop where it doesn't belong again, it will be too soon. Even my own mother, mother of all mothers, sent me a text on Monday that said, "Potty training is a good form of birth control."

I texted back saying that was true, but it's also a milestone, and almost typed millstone instead.

I know we'll get there. She's great with not peeing on Ni Hao, Yo Gabba Gabba, or her frogs. It's just that I don't like poop. I really don't like poop.

Tips or tricks on potty training you'd like to share?

14 September 2010

Down Home Wisdom - Not Always Wise

There is a saying, probably as old as the hills. It is a saying that, for some reason, middle-aged women often lay before me in conversation. It is: "If Momma ain't happy, ain't no one happy!" In every instance, it's followed up with a knowing wink, a little nudge-nudge, and an, "Amiright?"

I hate that saying. In fact, the next time someone throws it out there in conversation, I'm going to respond, "NO! You are NOT right!!"

Let's nevermind the fact that I believe that any unhappy family member will, to a greater or lesser degree, affect the general happiness of the entire family. In the last couple of weeks especially, I have come to determine that ultimately, in families with young toddlers, the real saying should be, "If baby ain't happy, ain't no one happy."

Never had I dreamt of the power of a two year old. She does determine when we will be happy and when we will not. If misery loves company, then there are many days where she's got close companions in this household for sure.

An irate, irritable, or just plain stubborn two year old is capable of pegging the family's Happy Meter at zero. In fact, there are times when I'm fairly sure that she's engineering the Happy Meter to reach into the negative numbers.

I understand the age. I understand the push and pull, the Jekyll and Hyde, the love and loathing. I've just never experienced it so acutely, so clearly, as I have lately. I mean, it's bad enough that we are, apparently, nothing more than trained circus bears, here for her amusement ("MOMMY! SING A SONG!" - mentally, I always add a "DIDI MAU" to this, and the many other like it, demand(s))...

Now, we're only allowed happiness when she is happy.

Nope. Mothers do not mandate the mood in their households. Their children do. And while it is possible to remain happy in spite of a tiny whirling dervish's best efforts, they are still at the forefront of Mood Control.

Best of luck with that. And the next time someone starts to say to you, "If Momma ain't..." - slap them for me, will you?

12 September 2010

Like a Bucket of Ice

I am an emergency responder. A attends day care at my place of work. These two facts don't seem, on the surface, to be at all related and in fact, I had neatly compartmentalized them into two separate bins myself...until a couple of weeks ago.

When I dropped A off, her teacher said, "Hey, big day tomorrow, Miss A!" and looked at me. "She doesn't do well with evacuations. It scares her."

Because I was currently rummaging about in the "Dropping of fat Daycare" bin in my brain, I gave her a blank look. "Um, and what's tomorrow?"

She looked at me funny in turn. "The active shooter exercise? You know? The whole base?"

Oh. Damn. I did know. I knew because my job puts me in the nerve center for response and command and control. But then, I didn't know because daycare is...well, not located in that mental compartment.

I knew when A was evacuated, twice the week prior, for smell of smoke in the facility. And I knew about what had happened during the first evacuation. But I wasn't part of that because it was small in scale and easily handled by first responders. I also knew that she, along with many other kids, didn't do well with it. So, we talked about it on the way home and now, she's walking us through fire drills. She doesn't like the alarms, but she's working through it.

What I never really considered though, was the simple fact that, if something does happen here that requires a full reponse, I'll be, well, responding. I suppose that some people might find that comforting, but the problem I see with it is that my job mandates that I know what's going on. Most other parents with children in day care don't know what's going on until a while after it's happened.

And then I did the unthinkable in this particular situation: I started to think, as I drove from daycare to my office, about high impact targets on the base. And if I were a gunman, I'd go for the heart and soul. And to me, that's the kids. It was like I'd been punched in the stomach.

What danger have I unthinkingly put my daughter in? It gnawed at me all day and most of that night. I also berated myself for not thinking about it before. What kind of parent am I?

The exercise, however, came and went. Instead of dwelling on my daughter, hunkering down in the designated safe room with the rest of the class, my focus was on command and control and what was happening out there and what we needed to do in here.

In the end, the kids, including my daughter, did well. They played games involving being quiet and actually had fun. They had no idea what was happening, or why. As it should have been. I try not to think too much about it either, but sometimes, it creeps up on me. I work on a potential target for bad people to do bad things, moreso than most other places of business. My daughter is growing up in many ways there too. The benefits outweigh the risk, but what sort of parent am I that I never before thought of that risk?

What do you think? Is civilian daycare safer than military daycare or are military parents inherently more at risk?

07 September 2010

I Never Thought I Would See This Day...

As A and I walked out into the beautiful, sunlight afternoon today, I looked down at her while she trotted alongside me, watching her feet for anything interesting they might happen across. I stroked her golden hair and thought, I did this for you. No one else but you.

Today was a bittersweet day. In my last post, I made brief mention of the fact that I would probably be going into the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). There's no more probably about it. I submitted my letter requesting the transfer today, knowing that I had my commander's verbal authorization already.

I don't know how I feel right now. The idea of not wearing a uniform for a period of years is foreign to me and it makes my skin crawl. Knowing that I can come back (and will) isn't exactly the consolation prize that I had hoped for. I do, after all, have 11 years of my life invested in this endeavor and part of me feels like I should have my boots in the sand right now - not my butt in a comfy chair.

Yet, I know that I'm doing this for all of the right reasons. I can't operate effectively when I'm needed at home in the way that I have been. So even though I feel adrift and more than just a little lost right now, I also feel a sense of relief and freedom. I'll have more time here. More time to just be here, with her. With M. More time to support them without worrying, even if it was only subconsciously. If something happens, I'll be here. There won't be any more conflicting work schedules to worry about for a long time. It is a relief.

And yet...

I can't fully express how hard this decision was for me. I put off the letter for as long as I could. But it's done, with no takesies-backsies. I'm not sure when I'll return yet, or even where I'll return to. But I will come back. I have to.

Just...not now. Not while I have this golden haired viking's tiny little hand still holding so tightly to mine. Not at this time in her life.


04 September 2010

Labor Day Again?!

I'm not ready for this. Even though it's not the official End of Summer, it's really...the End of Summer. Even as Un-Hurricane Earl passed last night, the oppressive summer weather we'd had for...well...ever, evaporated literally overnight in his wake.

More importantly, it was actually only yesterday that we celebrated A's second birthday. That was at the beginning of spring and I just refuse to believe that the summer passed us by that quickly.

Granted, August was a whirling dervish of weddings, work, TDY, and out of country guests. I expected it to go quickly. And June and July were, well, spent in a cocoon of hospitals and doctors.

So even though we're not packing A off to Kindergarten, and I didn't have to shop for school supplies, I still feel like I've been ripped off and am owed a summer. Granted, the oppressive humidity was enough to make me welcome autumn weather. And yes, I'm looking forward to crunchy leaves, pumpkins, and apples. Because I'm a bit soppy when it comes to autumn and I require these rather trite, traditional things. Perhaps moreso now that I'm a parent.

Yet...this also means that in just over a half year's time, we'll be ramping up for a third birthday. I'm not loving this time flying thing that comes with parenthood.

On the other hand, I'll soon be an Individual Ready Reservist as opposed to a traditional reservist. This may help time slow a little. I won't live drill-to-drill, tour-to-tour. I'll be able to focus on where I'm most needed which, at the moment, is still here. But it won't get me my summer back.

I demand a refund!!