Friday, August 7, 2015

Disagree with Love

I have had a very hard time writing here this summer. In part from having all the kids here 24/7, but almost more so, because of the extreme funk I found myself in with the craziness I have seen circulating on social media. I am talking about the "discussions" (if we can even use that term) on racism in the police force, the SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriages, and the first rising tide of what I anticipate to be an intense presidential election season. The things I have seen voiced "out loud" on all sides of debates have been offensive, hurtful and down right intolerant.

I could tackle any one of those subjects, and in fact I already tackled election-time behavior back in 2012 with, Applying the Mom Pledge to the 2012 Election. But, despite voluminous articles (most of which I read) on the subject, I decided to explore my point through the lens of same-sex marriage. Ultimately the subject matter itself is not what I want you to focus on, but the process. There are too many people in America to expect us ever to be in total consensus, decisions are never going to please everyone, but I promise- there really is a way to disagree respectfully with love.

The day of the landmark SCOTUS decision legitimizing same-sex marriage, my Facebook feed was filled with celebration....and mourning. The hardest thing for me was watching as the celebratory joy that many of my friends felt as their families found a stronger foothold in the ability to speak out on their rights as caregiving workers (which is what this blog, and my grassroots Facebook group Valuing Families: A Social Movement are all about), was circumvented by the discomfort at the vocal disappointment from those in favor of "traditional marriage."

The joyfulness that I saw was quickly replaced by vitriolic hate that was spewed forth on both sides of the issue. Within the day, my Facebook feed had devolved to name calling and base insults. Some of my friends were painfully boastful, and others were uncomfortably bitter and resentful. My depression set in as I saw friends and family, people I love dearly, attack each other in an effort to "win" the argument for their side. Some of the things I saw flung at people I love were truly painful to see. The hate, the anger, the disgust. How could this be coming from people I cherish?

It took me a long time to process through these feelings and wrestle them onto "paper," and I am here to tell you, the truth I have come to is- there is no "side." We each speak the truth that we feel, and we each arrive at our own truths through our own experiences, education, culture, family and from plumbing (or not) the depth of our own hearts. You can argue, you can rail, you can even scream or threaten harm, but what you can't do is change their minds.

As an anthropologist I will tell you that for my first paper in graduate school, I was tasked to write a 10 page paper on the definition of marriage. The catch was, I had to make it universal for all faiths and cultures that we had read about thus far in our class. It has been a long time, but if I remember correctly there was a tribe of people from the Amazon rainforest who raided neighboring villages and stole their wives, who then became the one bride for all the male brothers in a lineage. We had to explain marriages in the sub-Sahara and Africa where resources are scarce so the males migrate regularly, and as a result, a woman would take more than one husband to provide income for her family. We read about marriage in the United States, both monogamous and polygamous and we read about the Arab traditions of taking multiple wives.

The list was much more extensive, but in each case we looked at the benefits to individuals and the surrounding area that each marriage system provided. We looked at children who were considered legitimate and illegitimate, and why, and how that affected their life outcomes. We looked at how each system helped individuals be successful in their particular culture and economy and what it would look like in that economy, or what would have to change, in order to superimpose our American ideal of one man-one woman in a monogamous marriage. In many cases, the local economy, or the ability to access resources would become untenable under a nuclear family lifestyle. Marriage systems clearly developed around what would provide the best possible survival for the people in question.

My thesis to this paper has stuck with me for years, and to this day guides how I perceive the concept of family. I especially see it being true in America, where family is undergoing such a dramatic (and scary and uncomfortable for some) transition to include families it would have never accepted 100 years ago. Today, our American ideal no longer (or usually does not) punish people for getting divorced, for becoming single parents, or teen parents, for interracial families, same-sex families, blended families, or families of open adoption. We have even grown to accept that people with disabilities have the capability to make decisions on their own lives in regards to love, reproduction and marriage.

My thesis was simple; the definition of marriage is the way a culture codifies sexual behavior, defines family responsibility and legitimizes children in the larger culture's eyes. In other words, we use the definition of marriage, regardless of the specifics, across the globe to dictate whether or not a child would be considered "bastardized" within the larger culture, to codify familial roles and responsibilities and who it is acceptable to be having "relations" with.

The stance of The Two-Penny Soapbox, and myself as its author, is that any definition of marriage that removes stigma from children and allows them to be accepted as treasured members of society, with the same rights, accesses, and opportunities as those whose parents are not divorced, young, old, blended, single, inter-racial, living with a disability or in a non-traditional relationship, is a definition that I will whole heartedly embrace.

But, defining marriage is not the point of this piece. The point of this piece is, that you will never change some people's minds about something unless they come to it in their own time and in their own way. I say this to my friends and family who find discomfort and anger in someone saying, "I condemn your lifestyle," or "being [LGBTQ] is a choice." I say this to some of my dear, dear friends who believe, all the way to their core, that God sanctioned marriage only between one man and one woman. Any other culture in the world that does not practice this, for them, is just a culture that has not been missionized yet. To all of you, please, be respectful. If you must, state your case with kindness, listen with an open mind, and then if you are not moved, agree to disagree. Name calling, threats, violence, hatred, fear, animosity- these things are not okay. Ever. Someone is not an idiot just because their world view profoundly differs from yours.

In my mind, finding God's grace and the spirit of Jesus is the single most important thing in the world. True love and acceptance comes when you can look at someone, someone who believes something so fundamentally different from you that it seems impossible that you can co-exist peacefully, and you listen to their story. Listen without forming the argument in your mind and waiting for your turn to speak. I mean, really, truly listen to the truth that is them, and then try to understand their viewpoint. When you do, you may find from time to time that you can connect with something within their argument that makes a grain of sense. Hold on to that grain and you will have discovered the common ground to try and love them for who they are and where they are coming from.

The world is full of breathtaking moments of glorified diversity. And in that diversity there is beauty, there is peace, there is the divine. There are people in the world that, despite what most would consider the unassailable evidence of science, still believe that babies are created by standing on a sacred spot, facing the sea and inviting their ancestors into themselves. Who are we to take that from them? What a beautiful belief system. A belief in the interconnectedness and joy of coming and becoming from a single line of people. Who am I to point to a diagram in the book of reproduction and say, "You are an idiot. You are wrong. You are ignorant and uneducated. Thank goodness I am here to show you the right way to believe"?

So please, in the wake of recent social unrest around racism, homophobia, and religious intolerance and the hatred born from fear that is rampaging social media- please take a moment and try to love your neighbor. Love them even if it hurts to look on them. Love them even as you fear their actions. Love them for the divine light that exists inside of them and accept that they have to follow what is true and evident to them, even as you do. Inequality exists. Hatred exists. Differences exist. But, what a beautiful world it could be if we all found a way to connect on a different level.

As humans, we are set adrift in a universe that provides life as diverse as it is populous. Embrace the beauty in the diversity. Look past the details and find the humanity underneath. You may find you are less angry, less fearful and more loving. And wouldn't that be a better place for all of us to be?

With that, dear reader, I leave you with this;

I love you. I love you for your faith. I love you for your choices. I love the way God made you. I love the burdens you carry, the fears you harbor and the hopes you have for your vision of the future. I love that the world you forsee is a better place, even if we can't agree on what that looks like. I love you for your heart. I love you for your friendship. I love you, just as you are.

As we always hear - kindness costs nothing and love is free.

So mind your words. Speak with respect. Disagree with love.

Friday, July 17, 2015

MAVEN Provides Quality Solutions for Time-Crunched Moms

A recent conversation with a good friend about healthcare got me to thinking about how much time is lost by working Moms, caregivers and busy families with simple visits to the doctor’s office. The conversation that sparked this research involved a good friend of mine who was lamenting her third trip to the doctor’s office that week for a sinus/ear infection that was circulating through her very large family.
“I am going to have to take off yet another whole afternoon of work just to take my daughter in so that they can give her the same antibiotic ear drops they gave to the other three. The same thing happened last month when they all got pink eye…. I miss my old pediatrician. She used to just automatically call in prescriptions for all of the kids for certain things. This new one requires I bring each child in.”
After that conversation, I began to think there had to be a better way to handle simple healthcare requests than taking 2-3 hours out of a busy day to drive to school, pick up the child, head to the doctor’s office, sitting in the waiting room, being seen by the doctor, checking out and heading home, or back to work and school.
As it turns out, an emerging market known as telehealth is primed to answer that very need. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Telehealth is simply using digital information and communication technologies, such as computers and mobile devices, to manage your health and well-being.”  Telehealth practitioners rely heavily on video based appointments, a technology that more and more Americans are becoming familiar with thanks to applications like Skype and Facetime.  Video based appointments are still a relatively new phenomenon, but as more consumers are seeing the benefits of using these emerging companies and are embracing the benefits that technology, insurance companies are increasingly embracing them as well. In 2013 US News published a report on the convenience of this new technology, “Telehealth: The Ultimate in Convenience Care.”
Like any new technology, the regulation and laws are working hard to keep up, but thus far the telehealth industry has proven that the convenience and benefits are significant, the cost savings to the health industry substantial and the tendency for fraud and misrepresentation to be no higher than in traditional health care settings.
One new company joining the existing ranks of telehealth is Maven. The company focuses primarily on women’s health, specifically prenatal, post-partum, lactation consulting, pediatric needs and nutrition and mental health needs.
I had the pleasure of giving Maven a try, courtesy of the incredibly kind and engaging owners and managing staff.  I found the application to be easy to use. First I downloaded the application with a simple click. After navigating through the customer friendly website I found it very simple to find a Nutritionist that I thought sounded like a good fit. I made the appointment filled out the pre-appointment forms in less than 5 minutes. The process of connecting was also very user friendly (and this is coming from someone who is somewhat of a technophobe). All I had to do was to click launch appointment and allow the program access to my camera and microphone.
The practitioner I spoke with was extremely professional, kind and knowledgeable. We discussed some issues I have been having with finding the right diet to help with some current health problems. She listened and then provided me some good suggestions I could implement immediately, as well as options for on-going monitoring and support.
The only frustration that I experienced during my appointment time was the stilted video feed and the fact that we lost connectivity twice. The first time I panicked when my I-pad dropped the signal, but I quickly realized that reconnecting was as easy as retouching the “launch appointment” button again.
As a user, I was extremely impressed with the openness of the practitioner to provide email and telephone information, as well as a plan for ongoing monitoring if I was interested. At no point did I feel like I was just a “patient,” but instead I really felt like a person.
I admit, I was somewhat skeptical about the benefits of telehealth, but after experiencing it for myself, I feel that these telehealth options could very well be the answer for families already strapped for time and money. The application is affordable, relationship based, user-friendly and extremely convenient from a time perspective.
The Two-Penny Soapbox is not typically a site that provides reviews, or advertisements, but in this case I feel that the benefit to my readers outweighs my objections to product endorsement. I will definitely be using Maven again in the future. While telehealth is never going to fully replace in-person healthcare, when it comes to everyday health questions, using telehealth services just makes sense.
So, as a conclusion, let me run-down of the benefits and drawbacks of Maven’s application.
  • Exclusively on Apple/ Android devices not yet supported
  • Connectivity issues

Yep, I only found two drawbacks. The benefits, on the other hand are significantly higher in number;

  • The application is simple to download, simple to use
  • Compiling your health history is automatic and easy to access
  • Providers make themselves very available
  • Extended communication and post-appointment notes create a relationship based health care
  • Appointments are affordable
  • While not currently supported on Maven, telehealth options are increasingly being accepted and utilized by insurance companies
  • Even when connectivity is lost, reconnecting is as simple as clicking a button
  • A free forum where providers answer questions is available in addition to video appointments
  • The time savings are immeasurable

So, as a gift to all my readers, Maven has provided me with an access code that allows you to try out the Maven application. Just use your special reader code TWOPENNYSOAPBOX for $25 (one free appointment). I promise you won’t be disappointed. And while this doesn’t let businesses off the hook in regards to the need for more family-friendly policies, the telehealth industry provides a much needed time-saving solution for busy families while we are waiting. 

Note: Maven in no way paid for this endorsement. The only benefit I received was the same free appointment that I am extending to all my delightfully loyal readers.

Friday, June 26, 2015

How America is Shooting Itself in the Foot

As an anthropologist, I have become frustrated by certain subjects that have come up in recent news stories. News stories about things like; the dangers of technology for children under 12, the growing obesity epidemic, the increased awareness of fat shaming, how the American work week has increased in hours, and of course, the previously discussed topic of pressure on parents to supervise their children 100% of the time.

What I see, from an anthropological perspective, is that all of these disparate things are actually all very intimately interlinked with each other. There is not one issue on that list that is not caused by, affected by, or is the causal effect for something else on the list. America is shooting itself in the foot by focusing on the symptoms, but not recognizing the underlying issue.

Americans are putting more hours in, for less buying power and less vacation/sick time than at any point in history. Because of this, we are experiencing a severe time crunch in regards to outside of work activities (not to mention a spike in stress and depression related illnesses and a decrease in overall health-but that is a topic for another day).

With the expansion of the 9 to 5 workday to a more typical, 8 to 6 schedule, a casualty has been the time to make from-scratch, home-cooked meals. Convenience meals are great for speed and efficiency, but they are typically higher in sodium, fat and chemicals than meals that are prepared from scratch. Also, they are typically higher in price per serving.

We complain about obesity and yet we live in a fast-food, convenience food culture. Our culture demands that workers eat to live vs. live to eat. Take certain European cultures like France, Spain or Greece in contrast. These countries have a thriving culture of  the importance of experiencing food as a family event. Because of this, business set aside specific hours to honor that. In America, your average retail worker gets 30 min for "lunch,"  which depending on the schedule, can often be at odd times of the day. Our workplaces are not concerned about our health or our enjoyment of our nourishment, it is merely a means to an end, a necessary step to productivity.

With people having less free time and eating more instant food, or restaurant food, we have a growing problem with obesity in this country. Childhood obesity has specifically be targeted as something that America needs to address imminently. As a result, a host of organizations have sprung up in the past decade in attempt to change things. In rare, but increasing cases, governing agencies have removed children from their parents for being too obese.

The most common answer to childhood obesity? Encourage parents to make sure their kids get outside as much as possible. Then add in all the stressors on parents about not letting children experience too much "screen time" and exposing them to more nature. These articles frequently come in fear-mongering style about how without more nature and less technology your child will end up fat, stupid and riddled with issues like ADD, Sensory Processing Disorder, depression, anxiety, and technology addiction.

But wait! You are absolutely NOT allowed to let them outside without proper supervision, which means that you need go outside with them. They should only have 30 minutes to 1 hour of screen time, which means a huge chunk of time should apparently be given to supervised outdoor play. If you send your child outside or up to the park unsupervised, beware. You will probably receive a visit from Child Protective Services for neglectful parenting because limiting screen time is really only a secondary priority to constant supervision.

Now let's revisit the first paragraph. As previously mentioned, parents are in a time crunch. They barely have time for family and caregiving as is, and they certainly aren't given the space or opportunity to really sit down and make and enjoy a good meal. So how the heck are they going to supervise their children outside for large periods of time? That right, they aren't. Parents can barely skate through their existing responsibilities, much less add intense child supervision to their list.

So, out of fear of that well-meaning call from a well-meaning neighbor to social services about children running around unsupervised, parents lock their kids up inside and pacify them with screens. This is done out of survival, not out of laziness. Then we are bombarded with  guilt that we are failing our child somehow. We feel victorious when we get something on the table that doesn't come from a box, and where everyone sits and eats at the same time. We constantly feel pushed and pulled between what we "should do" vs. what we "can do."

Use of convenience foods and lack of exercise lead to obesity. Obesity leads to fat shaming and lack of opportunity. Lack of opportunity leads to long hours in poorly paid jobs.....and we have come full circle. The only way we are going to break this ridiculous cycle is when businesses step back and realize that taking care of caregivers and families, or in other words, taking care of their employees as people, is the sole path to change.

Start "Valuing Families" and many of these "American problems" will self-correct themselves. So writers, I beg you, stop writing about how parents or society can do better and focus on how businesses can do better. Focusing on caring for employees can strengthen a business in the long run, obtain higher productivity and less time out for health issues. It really is a win-win for everyone.