On Last Weekend, Belatedly

So what have I been doing with my life?

Well…enjoying the nothingness of unscheduled weekends. I’ve found myself getting very aggravated lately when I have things that interrupt my two days of freedom. I had not realized how much I relish that time to myself, that time to let the days unfold as they will, to do what I want with no structure or demands on my time. It makes the weekends stretch on forever. We find ourselves doing everything, and nothing, and by the time the weekend ends, I have entirely forgotten the pressures of the previous work week.

Last weekend, I babysat on Friday night, so I took my 9-year old to get ice cream and then we decided to wander around the Denver Botanic Gardens. While we were there, we saw a few toads. Boyfriend grabbed one (because he’s not amphibian-phobic in any way, and apparently well-versed in the toad-holding methods I must have missed in biology), and held it out. She was nervous, but touched it hesitantly. From that point forward, the mission was toad-seeking. We saw another one – huge – and I was too nervous to catch it, so boyfriend caught it and then I held it. Toads pee on you, that is a scientific fact. So I got peed on but I held a toad! He was very wiggly and I think I may have been more scared than he was.

On Saturday, we woke up and made breakfast. I was in nap-mode, but boyfriend declared it “Activities Day,” and came to snuggle me while I protested activities day in favor of sleeping, but then he promptly fell asleep. I almost elbowed him awake, yelling “Activities Day!” but instead also fell asleep. Naps are fantastic. After the nap, we drove up to Boulder and went to the Celestial Seasonings Tea Factory. Oh man, what a letdown. My mom had reported to me that there was a “Mint Room.” Maybe it came from too many viewings of the original “Willy Wonka and Chocolate Factory,” but I went to the tea factory with this lovely pre-conceived idea that this magical mint room was an entire room full of lush, live and growing mint, green and light and leafy. Nope. Enter a concrete room full of bags of different mints. Pungent, to say the least. But so underwhelming. This fantasy of a room filled with mint is still alive in my mind, and actually, I’m thinking that maybe I’ll just plant mint plants all around my living room or something just to make the dream come true. (Like in “Patch Adams” when the lady swims in noodles…)

After that, we went and played a very competitive game of miniature golf at this fantastic place I haven’t been in ages. He told me after that it had been a test of sorts, because he had wanted to see how I was as a competitor. He told me that I’d passed, with flying colors. I laughed, because I love the idea of mini-golf and no one will ever go with me. We had fun. It was like a date – I got serious about it. We watched the families around us, with stone-faced parents who weren’t interacting with their children or each other. He made me promise that we’ll never be that boring. I promised. That’s a promise I can definitely keep.

I was exhausted. We went home and I curled up on the couch and we watched some episodes of a Canadian show that I’m starting to get into and fell asleep early like old people. We woke up on Sunday late – I slept hard, snuggling the cat, happy to have my baby back home. (He had a horrible week last week – I thought he was going to die, but in the end, it was a simple matter of draining my savings and giving some meds and fluids and an overnight stay at the vet. I’m still nervous – he’s lost weight, isn’t back to 100%, but he’s alive. So that pleases me greatly. He brought home a mouse the other day, even though he’s not eating as much as he should be. I’ve been trying to keep him inside so he doesn’t get into trouble in the real world, but he’s been crying and miserable about being inside. Ugh, the standing firm part of parenting is the worst. And he’s been in 100% snuggle mode lately. I think the night at the vet was a nice reminder that mom isn’t the worst guy.)

After coffee (necessary, always), we decided to paint my room! It’s been this horrible turquoise since we moved in and I made the mistake of not testing the paint I bought before painting the entire room. However, the idea of re-painting just always seemed like too much. But he hated that green color enough to motivate us to get it done. So we wandered down to Home Depot and I found (ahem, same way – pick up a paint swatch, immediately purchase gallons of paint) the perfect color. It’s called “Monet” and it’s a soft blue/gray blend with just a hint of lavender. I’m in love.

We went home, moved things around, taped a bit, and were off. By the end of the day, I had a new room! It was like extreme home makeover minus the overly-shoddy DIY creations. I still have stuff to do – next week is Organization Weekend. Ugh.

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On Kaiser, Revisionally

I wrote a post about being frustrated with Kaiser Permanente a few years ago, when we’d first switched over from UnitedHealthcare. I would like to take most of it back.

Before I launch into my apology and glowing reviews, I must say that I still think that whomever handled my initial intake via the telephone really colored my perceptions of the organization as a whole…and I would hope that everyone (including myself) can use that as a reminder that a first impression goes a long way. Being sour or rude or brusque can really taint a relationship or an interaction in a very negative way. I make sure that I go the extra mile to be upbeat and positive (especially with my clients) at all times, because I want to engender goodwill and happiness in them and create a good relationship.

Anyway….

I have been with Kaiser now for several years. We switched over while I was still covered under my mom’s insurance (seriously, thanks Obama!), and when I finally aged out but wasn’t able to obtain health coverage through my job (because I didn’t have one at the time), I went to the magical (not really) marketplace and got myself some continuing Kaiser coverage.

Even though I could technically get health insurance through work, it’d be through UnitedHealthcare and they are horrible about covering Adderall, which is something I need. Also, my Obamacare Kaiser plan is an amazingly extensive plan, for which I was paying $250 a month, but after my tax credit, I now only pay $184 — no deductible, no co-pays, very minimal additional cost, AND my Adderall is only $20 a month. (With my employer’s health coverage — which is laughable, at best — I’d be paying $160 a month and still having to pay $30 or more co-pays, deductibles, and god knows how much for my drugs which used to be over $100 per month.)

Anyway, Kaiser.

I picked my primary care provider’s name off of a random list. I lucked out. He’s amazing. He’s realistic, smart, funny, and totally cool. He’s a realist when it comes to the practice of medicine, he’s not pro-unnecessary testing, he’s all about information and acceptance, and I’ve found him to be very personable, even though I’ve only seen him a few times in my life. (We have to correspond regularly as part of the state-mandated control on regulated medication, so we do get to catch up pretty often.)

One of the last times I saw him, I had pneumonia. He told me I sounded like a 65-year old smoker and looked like hell (both true statements), and then diagnosed me with pneumonia and told me that he wasn’t going to do an x-ray because it was a waste of time and if the antibiotics didn’t cure me, we’d have a serious problem and definitely need more than an x-ray. I laughed, mostly because he’s got a great delivery, but also because I appreciate the elimination of the annoying process and wasteful procedures.

I’ve found him to be supportive, honest, and progressive. Progressive may be the wrong word, but I value a doctor who communicates and who is professional while remaining human (there’s no arrogance or grandiosity there, and I respect that). I appreciate his candor and his humor…that goes a long way in the practice of medicine. He also wears socks with his sandals, which endears him to me because he’s totally a super hippie nerd who once told me that he gets paid whether I come into his office or not, so if I’d like, I can just email him. So happy with that setup.

Yesterday, I went and switched out my IUD. (Haha, that makes it sound like a piece of cake…trust me, no cake was involved.) The nurse practitioner that I saw was fabulous. She was professional as well, but had the same human component that I seek – she was funny and laughed at my stupid, nervous jokes. She communicated to me exactly what she was doing and how she was doing it, and asked me several times how I was doing and attempted to mitigate the pain for me as much as she possibly could. She was genuinely excited when we started talking about IUDs as a magical, immensely viable method of birth control, and I was so happy to see her passion for her work.

As she left, I remarked that the experience had been as wonderful as it possibly could have been, and I genuinely meant that.

Side note — boyfriend deserves a million gold stars and boyfriend points because when I told him I was going, he immediately offered to come with me, saying that he wanted to be there to support me. 

I melted when he said that. I am beyond impressed. I can’t believe I found a human being who’s that kind, and I am grateful for that every single day.

Apparently, one of the nurses told him that they don’t see many men there to support women when they’re dealing with this, and she told him what a great guy he was and then said, “We ALL appreciate you.” (Awww…that was so sweet of her, and again, there’s a certain genuine quality to the interaction that I find so affirming.)

In short, I’m so happy with Kaiser and I would love to keep them as my health care provider for a long time to come. The internet interface is fabulous – I frequently re-order my prescriptions online, and then pick them up at the pharmacy closest to my house; I can email my doctor or whomever whenever; and I can pay my premiums and other assorted bills with a few random clicks and allowance of pop-ups. It’s so convenient. I’ve also found that Kaiser really does do a lot when it comes to preventative health care, and even though they’re a huge company, I feel as though I’m valued — which for me, is the ultimate feeling no matter the situation. I understand that I’m one fifteen-minute time slot – a tiny cog in a huge multi-wheel systems – and I appreciate that I never feel shuffled around or set aside or ignored.

The initial transition may have been annoying and bothersome, but now that I’m into it, I really appreciate and value the care that I get. I regularly recommend my particular plan because the value is so great. It’s not only cost effective, my coverage is extensive and fantastic. I would happily recommend Kaiser to anyone who’s looking or who needs/wants the level of care that we’ve been told is impossible to receive. The disillusionment with the system isn’t present here, and I’m a completely satisfied customer.

On Parenting and Educating, Symbiotically

I’m not a parent; I know that I have absolutely no ground to disparage parenting in any way. That being said, I’ve been a babysitter since I was twelve, and I’ve been around a number of very different parenting styles. While I understand the motivations behind each and every parenting choice that the parents I’ve worked for make, I really do question quite a few of them.

This article showcases an emerging trend in parenting psychology. It’s worth the read.

I babysit for one kid who struggles with social interaction and behavioral issues (I’ve babysat for many just like her), and I know that her mom struggles with “the problem” on a daily basis. Over the course of our time together, I’ve instituted a “no-nonsense” policy: if the kid is not going to do her homework, I calmly tell her that until we do the homework, we’re not going to do anything else. Then I sit down at the table and pull out the homework. I start doing it, slowly. (I realize this in itself is a problem.) I tell her that until she helps me with her homework, we’re not going to play, and I withhold the promise of dessert or playtime until she’s put in demonstrable effort. Lo and behold, it works. She ends up completing the homework, at which point, I give her double high-fives and tell her how proud of her I am.

If she’s going to say mean things to me, I’ll take a page from my mom’s book and tell that I find her speech to be inappropriate and hurtful and tell her that I’m not going to listen to her until she can speak to me in a more calm, polite manner. A few minutes of ignoring does a world of good – the kids want the attention, even negative attention, and so reminding them that they need to be respectful about it changes their approach immediately. Being ignored is the absolute worst, and when we continue to give the kids the negative reinforcement, we’re teaching them that attention can only be achieved through negative actions. Of course, this is a call to parents and caregivers to make sure that they are giving plenty of positive attention to children as well, so they don’t feel compelled to act out in order to get the attention that they crave.

On multiple occasions, I’ve pulled a kid aside, taken both of their hands into mine and looked into their eyes. I tell them that I know how hard it is to do things that we don’t want to do and how proud of them I am. I tell them that I appreciate their cooperation and compliment something in the homework that I think they’ve done fabulously, like counting or coloring or whatever. I want to reinforce the positives and applaud their choice to do the homework, not because I feel that they’ve done anything spectacular, but because I know that they’re not getting that reinforcement elsewhere and I want to at least entertain the idea that good work gets good results.

Sometimes, a child I’m babysitting for will get frustrated. Instead of trying to figure out a solution, they’ll dissolve into child-hysterics (duh, they’re children), crying and wailing without any real reason. I’ll calmly remind them that there’s another solution to their problem and I’ll ask them what they think will help solve it. We talk it out; we find a solution. If the jar won’t open or the toy won’t work, we look to see what might be done about it. (Personal note: only after exhausting most options are tears acceptable and sometimes encouraged. I get that. I’m all about a good cry-it-out session. Those sometimes are the best solutions.)

The same goes for diner. I have parents who cater to their children’s every demand when it comes to food, or alternately, completely ignore basic food groups and then wonder why their child is struggling with issues such as attention, energy, and general behavior. I have found that by limiting the choices but offering something that the kid will enjoy and eat (that’s simultaneously healthy or at the very least semi-nutritious) will go a long way towards obtaining the desired results.

I love children. I understand that each and every child has issues that need to be addressed individually.

At one of the adoption camps this summer, there was a little guy who was struggling on the second morning. He didn’t want to leave his dad, and it took me immense amounts of coaxing to get him to come with me. I promised him that I was not going to leave him until lunch (letting him know that he had someone that was going to be with him was important), and that if he didn’t want to, he didn’t have to have ANY fun. I ended up getting him away from his dad (“dad’s got to go to boring parent stuff; he’s not going to have any fun either.”) and getting him to hold my hand and come with me. He was apprehensive about joining the group, so he and I took a walk around the building and I tried to find some common ground. I asked him if he had any siblings. He told me he had a dog sister. I asked about the dog’s name and what she liked to do, and then I told him that I used to have a dog named Acorn. The little guy looked up at me quizzically, and then giggled when I told him that we used to call him “Corn dog.”

By the next session, I had worked him into the group and helped him make a car out of recycled materials. After that, he did some art therapy. By lunch, I brought him back to his dad and asked him if he’d had any fun at all that morning. He broke into a huge grin and said, “No.” I was so pleased. That’s the feedback I need, the feedback that makes all of that time worthwhile.

At the end of the day, the dad came up to me and thanked me for helping his son feel more comfortable. I answered honestly that I wouldn’t have had it any other way. One of the parents who was standing next to us turned to the dad and said, “That’s why we call her the ‘child whisperer.'” I blushed, filled with pride and happiness. I absolutely adore little kids and I do feel as though I am able to connect with them, simply because I understand what they need. They’re full of all the fear and apprehension that I felt as a kid, and so I think that’s what allows me to be able to respond to their individual needs.

That being said, I think we’re in a time where we overindulge our children. My mom worked really hard to create resilient children, and she did so through consistency, unconditional love, and determination/patience. Recently, one of my friends who has a terrible mother was going through a rough time and I insisted that we call my mom. My friend was crying and was terrified that she was going to “screw it up.” I told her that that’s the thing about moms, you can’t “screw it up.” You can call them crying (oh god, a million times have I called my mom in tears only to have her tell me that she can’t understand me and I’m going to have to use my words…) and they’re still going to love you.

By creating a space where we allow children the freedom to evaluate their own emotions and create genuinely productive responses to them, we create not only stable children but functional adults. By establishing systems and routines for assessing emotions, we allow children to plumb the often-neglected depth of their own feelings and provide the opportunity for them to help create a response that’s going to be fruitful not just now but in the future.

One of my mom’s favorite stories is from when I was very young. We were part of a camp or after-school program or something and we were at the local YMCA doing swimming. I remember being absolutely terrified (my general state of being as a small child), and she recounts that she came to pick me up and I looked at her and asked, “Why do I cry?” She knew immediately that we needed a new plan for swimming lessons, as the group setting wasn’t going to do it for me. By tailoring her response to my emotional assessment (such that it was), she was able to set me up for swimming success by giving me a different learning setting and a more tailored lesson plan.

That’s good parenting. It wasn’t indulging in tantrums or ridiculous behavior; it was catering to a specifically outlined need as a result of my own communication of my feelings. It allowed both of us to feel comfortable, although one of us ended up lighter in the pocketbook for it. But to this day, when I swim, I think of my swim teacher and I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to learn and grow at my own pace, rather than in a group setting that somehow made my child-self profoundly uncomfortable.

Schools and school staff are becoming increasingly more responsible for parenting. The integration of positive efforts to affect (and create the desire to effect, too) behavior and help regulate children’s emotions and reactions are more necessary than ever. I understand the frustration that a teacher might feel when they’re constantly obligated to single out a child for poor behavior in the classroom due to any number of factors, including learning disabilities, disorders, and home life, but I do believe that consistent application of tools – particularly emotion-based ones – can not only affect classroom stability, but the overall wellbeing of the child.

If we’re able to provide the resources, then why are we not implementing these programs as part of a well-rounded approach to learning? (We do waste enough money on ineffective programs, and I understand that there are budgetary constraints, but in order to create and maintain the results we desire, it’s imperative that we be proactive rather than reactive about our approach to educating the whole child….rather than teaching to test scores or attaining specific metrics. I firmly believe that we can attain the results we desire if we’re able to establish consistency, so let’s figure out how to allocate the funds for these programs….ugh, which is another issue, of course.)

Each child will face innumerable struggles between socialization, education, and personal growth, and it’s up to the parents as well as the school system to foster the links between all three. By endeavoring to create more awareness in our children, we’re allowing them to help be a part of the educational system and their own maturation, which is not only necessary, but entirely empowering.

On Hating Baseball, Passionately

I understand that baseball is America’s pastime. I understand the allure of drinking beer in the sunshine; in fact, that’s something that would constitute my sort of heaven. I understand how one might be intrigued by the significance of actually seemingly arbitrary statistics.

Even with that knowledge, I can’t help but just hate baseball.

Maybe it’s the ADHD. Or the fact that paying $8 for beer that will be warm and half spilled by the time I get back to my seat isn’t something that excites me. Or the fact that I can’t sit still for three hours watching tiny little men in pants run/stand around a giant lawn.

It’s probably that. I can do that for free pretty much anywhere.

I’m happiest when I’m trying to guess how fast the pitch is going to be. And even that loses its luster after like 7 minutes, or roughly 1/3 of an inning, which is like 3.8% of a game. (See, I did speculative math just to prove my point. That’s how intense my dislike is.)

Then what? Sunshine that I had to pay for? Or worse, a rain delay? Ha. I know we’re all terrified of the lightning strikes that have really just been a sweeping epidemic for baseball player deaths, but I think mud baseball would be way more interesting to watch. They’d slip and slide and it’d be way more interesting than the current quick jog to first and then maybe you’ll be out because you’re forced to run to second and everyone knows that’s where they’ll throw the ball. Oooh, double play. Interesting, for a split second. Much like a heart attack. Then back to the slow steady rhythm of the ball, strike, ball, strike, foul, ball, strike, ever consistent keeping of the count. It’s a baseline for boredom, an undercurrent of apathy, an elucidation of the reasons behind the effectiveness of Chinese water torture.

For some, it’s a near religious experience, a replacement for yoga, for meditation. For me, it’s nothing but sunburn and struggle.

My littles are going to the game today. My aunt told me that they get to go to school for the first half of the day and then they get to go to the game. They’re about 9 years old, and the little boy is the most passionate baseball fan I’ve ever seen. He loves it. He thrives on the game play, the player stats, the experience. I adore him, and I love that he loves it.

I finally understand how my mom feels about my cat.

Ah, well. I can avoid it as much as I like, which I do intend to keep doing. However, if I do find myself in a ballpark, I will be content to soak up sunshine and eat hot dogs, which are truly the only redeeming quality of the baseball experience.

(I’m mostly kidding – I do get bored easily, which is why baseball isn’t the sport for me. I don’t hate it as much as I pretend to, but I enjoy how riled up everyone gets when they’re defending it.)