Sunday, August 9, 2015

#DONTPUNISHTHECHILD

I don't know where to start with this post. I'm angry, which usually doesn't bode well for me when it comes to writing something with any hope of it turning out at all coherent. So I guess I'll just dive right in and see what happens.

I saw a post on Facebook (of course) that bothered me so much that I actually woke up in the middle of the night stewing about it. It was a rant about buying school supplies and how in the world one child could possibly need or use as much as was on the list. I get it. School supplies are expensive. I'm shocked every single year when I get through the check out line and watch my total grow and grow...and grow. It's amazing how paper and notebooks and folders and pencils and erasers and scissors and gluesticks add up so quickly. I'd be lying if I said I never perused one of my children's  school supply lists and begrudgingly thought to myself, "Seriously?!?" But here's the thing. I'm pretty damn fortunate - as are my children - that we can walk down the school supply aisle and I am able to tell them to pick out whatever glittery folder and bedazzled pencil case they'd like. That we can go over one aisle and pick out a new backpack that doesn't have stains all over it or rips along the seams, complete with a matching lunchbox if their heart so desires.

Remember that Facebook post I mentioned? Here's the part where I get pissed. It didn't end with a simple complaint about how much money was spent on the supplies. It went on to say that they were going to write their child's name on "every single thing" so that when one of the other kids used it they would "know who to thank". Wait. What??

There are children who arrive to school on the first day empty handed, and WELL aware of it, as they watch their classmates waltz in donning new clothes and shoes, a brand new backpack strapped over their shoulders, carrying grocery bags full of supplies that they proudly hand over to the teacher as they walk in the classroom. I'd be willing to bet serious money that the child who quietly sits at her desk on the first day with not one single gluestick to contribute to the pile didn't make that decision on her own. But yes, let's make sure she's even more aware that she is using something that isn't hers by putting our name on everything that is OURS with the expectation of receiving credit for our "generosity".




What is this "What's mine is mine" mentality teaching our children, anyway? Is this going to be the line of thinking for future generations? I realize that people who aren't willing to do their part are a drain on society. But why is it so hard for some people to see that IT IS NOT THE FAULT OF THE CHILD. The unfortunate truth is that deadbeats exist and sometimes (all too frequently) they procreate and that poor child did not get a choice in the matter when they were brought into this world!

I should have stopped while I was ahead and not read the comments to that Facebook post. But I'm me, so I did read them, and of course came across something else that enraged me. It said something along the lines of, "Not only do we buy the school supplies those kids need but most of their food as well! Even at home! " Are. you. kidding. me?

While he didn't specifically name the program he was speaking of, I have to assume the "even at home" part he was referring to was food stamps. This issue is a major hot button for a lot of people because "I WORK TOO HARD FOR MY TAX DOLLARS TO BE PAYING FOR SOME ASSHOLE WHO IS TOO LAZY TO GET OFF THE COUCH AND GET A JOB!" Right? We've all heard that rant. We've also all been witness to those people in line ahead of us at the grocery store who fit the cliche of "welfare queen" with their perfectly manicured nails and expensive purse and the latest and greatest smart phone, but then proceed to whip out their government issued food card. I won't lie - that business is annoying. But have you ever seen a woman in line with holes in her shoes holding a toddler dressed in pajamas that were too small and loading up the checkout belt with diapers and milk and baby food? I have. I've actually seen that scenario more frequently than the former but no one seems to want to talk about it because it might make these programs seem legitimate and heaven forbid a single cent of our tax dollars go to people who are less fortunate than ourselves. After all, there are people who are abusing the privilege so we should just get rid of it altogether.

I could write this entire post on pure emotion, but facts are far more effective. So I did some research. It was hard to know where to start so I decided to go with averages. I used non-partisan websites and information so as not to run into biases. I found here that the average american worker pays approximately 31% in income and payroll taxes. That means if you make $50,000/year you would pay approximately $15,500 in taxes (keep in mind these are estimates and don't take things like itemized deductions into consideration). That money gets divided up between different areas of government spending, the biggest chunk being the military (approximately 27 cents per tax dollar). The rest is divided (unequally) among things like healthcare, interest on debt, social security, veterans benefits, food and agriculture, education (a depressingly low percentage), and a few other programs that have a percentage so minimal they aren't worth mentioning.

Food stamps are included in the category of "Food and Agriculture", which is estimated to use 4.3 cents of every tax dollar. That particular category also includes Federal Crop Insurance (which I admit to not knowing much about), so only a portion of that 4.3 cents is actually put toward food stamps. At the end of the article where I found the information I just cited, they offered a link to a calculator that breaks down where your tax dollars are most likely spent. An itemized "receipt" of sorts. Pretty cool, eh? So, I clicked on it, entered in the $15,500 that I've used as an example here and found that approximately $463.63 of those annual tax dollars would go towards the food stamp program. That is roughly $1.27 per day. In my opinion, that seems like a very small amount to give in exchange for knowing a child might get a hot meal a few nights a week, but I'm betting there's still a lot of moaning going on right now in regards to that number. So let's take a minute to further examine it.

According to this article, as of September 2014 there were approximately 22.7 million households receiving food stamps. Divide the $463.63 we established earlier by that number of households. That comes out to .00002 cents. So, in paying $15,500 in taxes, you are contributing…well, not even close to one whole cent per household on food stamps. Still pissed?  How many times have you left a penny in the "extra change" bowl at the convenient store? Thrown one in a fountain and made a wish? Or how about dropped one and just left it on the ground?

Still not convinced? Okay. Let's say you go out to dinner at a mid-priced restaurant once a month and spend $8 on your meal. We'll assume you don't lick the plate clean and leave a bite of your burger and some fries - approximately 10% of your meal - on the plate. If you take the 80 cents that you didn't eat and divide it by the 365 days in the year, you've just figured out that you've donated more per day to the dumpster behind your favorite eatery than you contributed per family on food stamps.

I get that people work hard for a living and that there are lazy, no-gooders who do nothing more than sit around and wait for handouts. But as much as we complain about having to pick up the slack for those who give the less fortunate a bad name, there are people - LOTS of people - who are honestly down on their luck and could use a helping hand. So say what you will about welfare and food stamps and the "lazy" people who use them. There are and always will be flaws and loopholes in the system that allow dishonest people to take what they don't deserve. It's just the way of things and, yeah, it sucks. You can be pissed off about the fact that you have to buy more school supplies than you should because some other kid's parents wouldn't (or couldn't), and you can get your panties in a twist because you have to pay the government a couple of dollars a day to feed some other family that isn't your "responsibility". But I'm personally pretty freakin' proud to live in a country who has programs put in place to help people who need it - ESPECIALLY CHILDREN…even if those programs aren't perfect.



Monday, April 13, 2015

Bubble Wrap or Billboard

Changes are on the horizon in our home. My daughter is in her last couple of months of junior high, which means high school is right around the corner. Please pass the wine.

We moved to California a little over 3 years ago. It was the middle of the school year and up to that point, they had attended a public charter school. After visiting several schools in the area, we chose to put our children in a small, private Christian school. There were a variety of factors that came into play when making that decision - the fact that we are Christian being one of them, of course - but if I'm being honest, it was mostly because the overall "feel" of the school felt similar to the one they were leaving, and we felt it would be the easiest transition. 

Now that my daughter is about to enter high school, we have decided that we want to move her to public school. Again, there are a variety of factors coming in to play here, but simply put - we just think it's what's best. Like all decisions we make as parents, we could soon learn that we made the wrong one. I think that may have happened one or eighty-seven other times but who's counting? For now we're listening to our heads and our hearts and trusting that God has a little something to do with how we feel. 

As you can imagine, my daughter is apprehensive. She's got friends - a lot of them, actually - who aren't leaving her current school. The new school is close to 10 times the size of her current one. As far as we know, she'll only know a few people when she first starts out. These are very real, and very legitimate fears. We've told her this and we don't expect her to suppress them. 

But one night recently as we were discussing her anxieties about the move and why she was so skeptical she said something that really broke my heart. She said…deep breath…"But, Mom. There are going to be kids there who aren't…Christian." 

Oh, sweet girl. 

My mouth gaped open for a minute. I shut my eyes and shook my head. She knew immediately that what she said bothered me. 

"I'm sorry! I'm not trying to be mean!" 

I know you're not. But what a disservice I have done for you and I'm disappointed in myself. Somewhere in my attempt to teach you how to be a good Christian, I apparently neglected the most important part! You see, when Jesus gathered his disciples he did NOT say, "Listen up, y'all. We all agree that this Christianity thing is awesome, right? Well, I really think it'd be super cool to keep this club exclusive, so don't go telling anyone else and for sure don't hang out with anyone else. Yuck. Now grab a coffee and talk amongst yourselves."

Nope. Not how things worked AT ALL (I mean, besides the obvious).

I  know lots of people who are Christians, obviously. Most of them walk the walk. They follow God's word and they "do unto others". But some of them…well, let's just say they don't paint us in the best light. They spend a lot of time congratulating themselves on being "Christian" and looking down on everyone who happens to be different. Those people frustrate me a little because that's really not the best recruitment strategy if you think about it. 

I also have friends who aren't Christian. I can think of one specifically, who is a different religion and her set of beliefs is quite different than mine. But let me tell you, she is a wonderful person. She is funny and hard working and talented and brilliant, and she is also one of the most philanthropic people I know. She's just lovely. If I went through life opting to only interact with people who think exactly like I do, I wouldn't know her. And I would really be missing out.

I know you're not perfect, but you've got such a big heart. So big that sometimes I swear I can see it beating. I see it when you're willing to help classmates with their homework even though they haven't been a good friend to you. I see it when you come to me and ask if you can invite a girl over who you don't usually hang out with because you know she's having a hard time and could use a friend. I see it when you see something sad on television and then come wake me up in the middle of the night because you can't stop thinking about it. I see it when you feel sorry for the homeless people you see on the side of the road and when you want to save every stray dog you see - even when we're on vacation and our hotel doesn't allow pets.  

As much as I'd like to (and trust me - I'd really, really like to), it's not fair to keep people with hearts like yours all wrapped up tight in a safe little bubble. Hearts like yours are the biggest, flashiest billboards that Christianity could hope for. Hearts like yours are meant to go out in the world and be seen. Even when it's a little bit scary...for both of us. 




Saturday, January 3, 2015

Get Out Your Red Pen

In the 39+ years I've spent with me, I've learned by now that making resolutions is a pointless exercise (speaking for myself, of course). Although this year I actually considered some pretty lofty ones there for a minute.

"This year I WILL clean out the kitchen junk drawer(s) and throw away all of the pens that don't work."

Then I couldn't accuse everyone of stealing all my good pens. Also it has the word "clean" in it. Nope.

"This year I WILL go through all of the mail in a timely matter and not let it junk up my kitchen counter/table/every surface in the house."

Well, that's not even a little bit reasonable.

"This year I will NOT drive for miles and miles after my low fuel light comes on every single time and have to hold my breath until I get to a gas station."

Ridiculous.

"This year I will fold and put away the laundry when it comes out of the dryer instead of letting it accumulate in one million baskets scattered around the house."

Now I've officially gone off the rails. I should stop.

I'm not a huge fan of the whole New Year's mentality anyway. It's too much pressure. Like it's supposed to be some magic reset button on life. And if something goes wrong on day one, the whole rest of the year is screwed. I don't like that - not one bit. Maybe in part because I say I'm going to "eat healthy" and then I go and do things like eat Chick-Fil-A and Taco Bell and frozen pizza and Ghirardelli toffee squares on January 1st right out of the gate.

No, seriously. I actually did that.

Whatever. It was a delicious day.

On New Year's Eve several people in my newsfeed posted a quote that said, "Tomorrow is the first page of a 365 page book. Write a good one." The idea behind that quote is great, and I'm not knocking it or the people who shared it. But there's something about it that just doesn't sit well with me.

When I write a blog post, I spend about an hour editing before publishing it. I know, right? ONLY an hour for edits? These masterpieces should take much longer than that! You're really too kind.

Even after spending all that time going over and over…AND OVER what I've written, I still go back and find spelling mistakes and grammar mistakes and countless ways I should have worded something differently. If the first draft was the final indicator of how good the finished product was going to be, every writer in the history of ever would probably starve to death.

My point is (believe it or not I do have one) - if you screw up on day 1, or day 5, or day 364…there's always room for edits.





So this year, whenever I screw up - AND I WILL - I will resolve to remember that EVERY day is the first page of my new book.