I started this blog shortly after having my son. My first year as a mother was challenging, humbling, humorous… human. So I wrote to remember it, I wrote to focus on it, I wrote to be inspired by it, I wrote to connect with it. It was a year to focus inward.
This last year has been the year of my daughter. My first year of a mother of two has been challenging, humbling, humorous and human. I have barely written, I still attempt to shower, feed little people a lot, clean the big things a little, and I constantly try to sleep. Yet, this has been a year of looking out.
I was happy giving my son all of my attention, focusing on how to support him becoming the person he‘ll eventually want to be, as well as figuring out how to have a rewarding trip to the store (Losing our Chicken). There were days where I’d roam the trails behind our house (Leaves) and watch my son. Time would pass in ways that made me smile: with sticks and leaves as brooms and rakes. Nap times were times for sitting, grocery lists, cooking and cleaning. There was space for needs and time to think.
I would also be happy giving my daughter all of my attention, focusing on how to support her becoming the person she’ll eventually want to be, as well as figuring out how to have a rewarding trip to the store. There are still days out back when toddlers play chase on tennis courts. Sticks are swords and wands and pointers. The birds are cheerful. The wind is cool, and there is peace in joy. But it is fleeting.
There are chores to do. Inevitably, when one wants to play the other needs sleep. Here, time gets lost in the business of caretaking and masks beauty of life. There is less opportunity for impromptu anything. Looking at what chubby hands point to or following their eager feet. A momma must master the tasks and also the information so who has time to play after that?
My son’s first was my year to rebuild my foundation (Laying Stones); and my daughter’s first has been a year of realizations… also emotions, a good deal of frustration, but mostly a sobering knowing that I am not enough.
So I look out. I lean on a new preschool, on a gym, on old friends who’ve weathered time, on the family that still catch us, and on kindness whenever it lands.
This year many have called the America of this almost election a stranger. But I have felt you creep through a steady hum of frustration from tasks lists so long and choices whose ripples vibrate deep. On the surface, the progress toward inclusion and prosperity we’re making…
- First African American President elected (Barack Obama Elected as America’s First Black President)
- Marriage equality (Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Same-Sex Marriage Nationwide)
- A first attempt at national universal health care (Making History: House Passes Health Care Reform)
- Job creation on the rise (Guess What: Barack Obama has been a Great President for Job Creation )
But quietly under the surface we are pressed against the tide. Americans, like new parents, are entangled with the business of providing. Endless choices meet limited impact; expectations crush us when inevitably with actuality, they clash.
Are We Worse off than our Parents?
A recent study by Fortune magazine (Most Millennials Think They’ll be Worse off than their Parents) found that 76% of all employees surveyed and 80% of millennials (largest percent of working population) believe they will be worse of then their parents. Are Millennials Really the First Generation to do Worse than their Parents? described the economic forces working against millennials.
- Cost of attending collage rose 54% from 1998 to 2008
- Median household incomes from 2000-2010 fell for the first time since WWII
This rise in cost coupled with decreased income produced record breaking debt for each graduate, who graduated during an economic recession. This unfortunate timing will likely mean unemployment for many. Studies have shown that previous generations who faced this dilemma earned less than older and younger counter parts for 20 years. That doesn’t mean that young workers, who hold debt and are paid less are working less.
- Worker productivity is up 37.6 percent since 1995, but median real wages only rose 9.6 percent
- A 30-year-old in 2013 is worth 21 percent less than a 30-year-old in 1983.
- Meanwhile the net worth of the average 60-year-old today is more than twice as high as 1983
According to the article Are Millennials Really the First Generation to do Worse than their Parents? they are doing more work and receiving less compensation.
How did we get here?
It’s not just millennials who are making do with less. Most households are impacted and it has to do with our health and our health care. Which begs the question, how healthy are we?
How Much Does Health Care Cost (Pre-affordable Health care)
We are feeling dizziness from being our and our families the case managers. We choose whether or not to take the advice of medical experts and health insurance decides whether or not to help us pay. We feel pinch of our choices. The premiums slightly hidden in pay checks, but the co-pays are often an unpredictable surprise. They arrive uninvited after the party of office visits, specialists, procedures, emergency rooms , and medication.
According to an article in Forbes: (Annual Healthcare Cost for Family of Four Now at $24,671)
- The average cost of health care for a family of four with PPO coverage more than doubled since 2002. There was an 8% increase to employees (overall) and a 5% increase to employers in 2015. The primary reason given for this high spending is the increasing cost of prescription drugs.
Express scripts detailed and commented on the increase in prescription drugs in Super Spending: U.S. Trends in High-Cost Medication Use :
“An estimated 576,000 Americans spent more than the median household income on prescription medications in 2014. This population of patients grew an astounding 63% from 2013. Further, the population of patients with costs of $100,000 or more nearly tripled during the same time period, to nearly 140,000 people. The total cost impact to payers from both patient populations is an unsustainable $52 billion a year.”
According to an Article in Health Affairs: (A Decade of Health Care Cost Growth has Wiped Out Real Income Gains for an Average US Family)
- Between 1999 and 2009 inflation grew 29% while wages grew by 30%, a typical family’s monthly premium for private health insurance grew by 128%, out-of-pocket spending grew 78%, copays grew from 3-6 times what they were 10 years earlier and new fees (hospital visits) were added. The government also spent 140 percent at the federal level and 76 percent at the state level more in the same time period. So despite the fact that gross national income increased from 1999 and 2009, individuals are likely in a deficit as a result of health care expense.
Not surprisingly experts have concluded that health care costs may be widening inequality and reducing take home pay. (Do Health Care Costs Fuel Economic Inequality in the United States?)
The Case of the Epi Pen
It happens in our house. A raise, a bonus, a tax return bring about a discussion of all of the exciting things on which to spend our money. A trip, we think. A home improvement, we envision. A business we had thought to start… No, despite our valiant war against eggs, the most egregious allergen in our house, the health care costs have won the pot. We and the vegan mayonnaise, baking powder pancakes, flaxseed meatloaf and avocado cupcakes are losing the war.
Our most recent battle wound egg was the $1180.25 trip to the ER, the $448.29 epi pen. The allergist recommended getting 3 packages of epi pens. We got one. I will escort it to all of my son’s activities.
Threats to World Health
In the U.S. as the debate for universal health care raged most people became vaguely aware of just how expensive our health care is. Many of us justified this cost with our reputation for cutting edge healthcare. But cutting edge health procedures don’t address the issues that The World Health Organization (WHO) discusses when they talk about the global public health threats for the 21st Century. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) World Health Report Overview infectious diseases are spreading faster and appearing more quickly than ever before:
- 1 new disease per year
- 40 diseases unknown a generation ago
- 1100 verified epidemics in the last 5 years
- Diseases are showing antimicrobial resistance makes them epidemic prone.
WebMD published an article (World’s Population Is Getting Sicker, Study Shows) in 2015 which contends that as a result of lack of impact on disease worldwide people are actually sicker now than they were in the 1990s. Likely the cutting edge healthcare that we were counting on to justify our health care expenses and our resulting quality of life is not benefiting us because they do not address the risks that we actually face.
The Case of Ebola in the U.S.
In October 2014 I was 7 months pregnant and a toddler mom. Few things existed other than doctors’ appointments and play dates, but even I was aware of the fear and non-stop coverage when a Texas hospital worker contracted Ebola in the U.S. Living in Northern Virginia means we have the advantage of being a short distance from D.C. and all of its national treasures. But we knew what else was near Northern Virginia:
- leading medical treatment centers, which were among the earliest prepared to treat Ebola
- international airports, which carry passengers from countries with Ebola epidemics like Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea
Yes, it was scary. It is scary to realize how close we are to any illness. It can be scary to be reminded how intertwined we are. It was scarier to witness the lists of lawmakers who believed they could control an epidemic by relocating it, as if we all didn’t breathe the same air. (List: Lawmakers Backing Travel Ban, Smells like Quarantine Spirit: Governors Push for Stronger Ebola Policies than the CDC) The Ebola transmission on American soil reminded everyone that our health care system’s capacity for global public health threats matter.
Who Invests in Health Care?
OK, you might think, I still don’t think I need to worry about the global threats that WHO outlined. I’m much more worried about cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. I’d be willing to spend an incredible amount of money and have an increasing number of expenses passed on to me as an individual, if it means that I or someone in my family receive a better health outcome in the U.S. than in other countries.
Unfortunately, I think we’re becoming aware that that isn’t actually what we’re seeing. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology article describes the status of NIH spending. In the 2016 budget proposed by the President the NIH would receive a 3.3% increase over the FY2015 spending, which is good news. However it is only the third time since FY2003 that the NIH budget has increased more than the cost of research. Not only has the government chosen to make lower investments in health care research, but rising costs mean the government’s buying power is reduced. Meanwhile a 2014 article in U.S. News and World Report (U.S. Medical Research Spending Drops while Asia Makes Gains) drew attention to the reduced NIH funding as well as reduced corporate funding for health research. We have become invested in our reputation for cutting edge health, but who will invest in health research if corporations and government are cutting spending?
The Case of Genetic Disease
Nathan Harney was born on March 23, 2010 and died on June 18, 2014. Every day in between he blessed us on Earth. He remains his parents’ beloved son and my beautiful nephew.
He was perfect, but his body would not stay that way. A defect in a gene on chromosome 15 meant that he would live briefly and die of Tay-Sachs disease. A blood test could have informed Nathan’s parents that they were carriers of Tay-sachs disease, but they weren’t identified as individuals who were at risk. They never knew that they could have prevented a disease that could not be treated.
Nathan’s Legacy is one of grace and inspiration, as well as education and fundraising. We can’t choose our diseases. We aren’t given a key to our genes, but we can choose to prioritize improving health.
Tay-Sach’s is rare. About 16 people a year are diagnosed with it in the U.S. according to Kids Health. Not surprisingly it is not a priority of NIH. It is a priority to Nathan’s parents, friends and community as well as all families of Tay-Sachs children. The Cure Tay-Sachs Foundation (CTSF) was started by the father of a Tay-Sachs child in June 2007. Since then CTSF has done what NIH could not do. It has raised $3,916,891 and issued $1,989,504 in research grants (http://www.curetay-sachs.org/ ). Research improves treatment and cures diseases. The value of investment in research is immeasurable.
Can U.S. Health Care Compete?
Not surprisingly numerous articles confirm what Americans have suspected: the quality of our healthcare system lags behind that of other countries. In a 2014 article in Forbes.com (U.S. Healthcare Ranked Dead Last Compared to 10 Other Countries) the Commonwealth Fund’s survey on overall health care concluded that the U.S. performed poorly with regard to administrative costs and hassles, unnecessary emergency room use and duplicative medical testing.
A subsequent brief from the Commonwealth Fund (U.S. Health Care from a Global Perspective) comparing the U.S. to 13 other high income countries between the period of 1980-2013 concluded the following disturbing facts about U.S. healthcare relative to the other countries:
Quality of life:
- has the LOWEST life expectancy, the HIGHEST mortality.
- has the highest prevalence of chronic disease (highest obesity rates…obesity has been linked to numerous chronic diseases)
- has the highest rates of adverse outcomes from diabetes.
- Devotes at least 50 percent MORE of our economy to health care than do other countries.
- has the HIGHEST health care spending as a % of Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
- has the HIGHEST PRIVATE(personal) spending on health care
- invests the smallest share of our economy(%GDP) on social spending.
- ranks a very close second highest for PUBLIC spending on healthcare. (And we are only covering about 34% of residents (Medicare, Medicade) even though all other countries studies have universal health care.)
- has fewer practicing physicians, doctor visits and hospital beds
- has some of the highest rates of medical technology, and pharmaceutical use.
Our health and well-being along with that of our friends and family takes an extraordinary physical, emotional, social and financial impact on us. It impacts our abilities, productivity, perspective and pocket book.
The Case of the $1493 Juice Box
This was our “I know you said not to touch it but it looked like jelly so I ate it” trip to the ER. Though he assured me while spitting in the garbage can that he could fix it, the poison control line assure me that he could not; and did in fact need emergency medical attention. The ER doctors, who prescribed no treatment, presumably monitored the $1493 juice box drinking, the mind-blowingly expensive daddy/son bonding time. I meanwhile, had sympathy heart palpitations, which I did not seek medical attention for because I knew we couldn’t afford it.
How Healthy is America?
In America we believe in outliers, in anything is possible, in the power of social mobility. We love to cheer on the underdog and when as they say, “push comes to shove” we have never failed to come together. But we build society on the backs of individuals -individuals who have less money, worse health care and more responsibility- so we must ask ourselves how healthy is this American we have building?
Bankruptcy on the Rise
Not surprisingly, these high cost health expenses result in what you might imagine: bankruptcies. Debt.org points out that the number of bankruptcy filings has been increasing- especially between 1980-2005. In 1980 there were more corporations filing for bankruptcy and today the majority of the filings are by individuals. According to a study of a sample population in the American Journal of Medicine Medical Bankruptcy in the United States, 2007: Results of a National Study and an article in The Commonwealth Fund (Do Health Care Costs Fuel Economic Inequality in the United States?) most bankruptcies filed were as a result of a medical illness or expenses. Both articles found the debtors to be middle class and have health insurance. Debt.org estimated that the number of bankruptcies due to medical bills were slightly less than 50% and that the debtors were typically lower income, less educated individuals who were unable to deal with medical bills or job loss.
But our culture has other less obvious costs.
Losing our Faith
Our faith in organized religion is eroding. A 2015 article in Business Insider (Religion in America is on the Decline) reports on a Gallup poll highlighting the lack of trust in organized religion is part of a decades long trend. In the 1970s 68% of Americans reported “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in organized religion or the Church, but in the most recent poll only 42% of Americans responded in a similar manner. The Washington Post published an article (Christianity Faces Sharp Decline as Americans are Becoming Even Less Affiliated with Religion ) based on a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, which arrived at similar conclusion. The number of individuals who described themselves as Christian has dropped sharply over the last 7 years. There are more adults who describe themselves as “religiously unaffiliated” than Catholics or mainline Protestants. The country is becoming less religiously affiliated as a whole and particularly among millennials, who are remaining less religiously affiliated as they age. It is striking is that individuals who do not identifying as an organized religion, also report that they don’t value religion. There is also evidence that older generations are disavowing organized religion in larger numbers as well. Slowly but surely, we are losing our faith.
Controlling the Experience
Religious affiliation is often accompanied by a sense of community, a prioritization of values and an aspiration for a utopian experience. Along with the documentation of a decline in the importance of religion and in some cases the actual religious population, there are a number of secular movements popping up that seek to produce control over aspects of people’s lives.
- Mindfulness: a way of thinking intended to shift ones internal thinking patterns and allow for more control over one’s experiences. Mindfulness focuses on reflection, allowing space to process thoughts.
- Minimalism: a lifestyle that enables the practitioner more physical, emotional and financial freedom by encouraging him to consciously choose what to include or exclude in his life.
- Tiny house movement: way of living that can enable better control of finances, less impact on the environment and result in a feeling of increased autonomy
These movements all focus on the self not the community and the ways in which individuals can change their experience with American culture.
Data is the cruelest of mirrors. It hides no wrinkles and, when fully examined, holds no flattering light. During contentious political times such as this we often ask if all is really as bad as it appears. How we relate to each other is a powerful view into the psyche of a culture.
We question what the rise in police shooting videos and headlines mean. An article on CNN.com (We’re Not Seeing More Police Shootings, Just More News Coverage) asks if we are seeing a rise in shootings or just coverage. We wonder if we’re racist. We wonder why we don’t know how many police shootings there are. We wonder if the police are looking to intentionally hurt some of us. We wonder if the police feel under attack.
We fear attack: some of by police, some by terrorists, some by neighbors.
The number of mass shootings has risen dramatically (F.B.I. Confirms a Sharp Rise in Mass Shootings Since 2000; Mass Shootings Have Become More Common in the U.S.: But overall gun homicides have declined). In one article (Rate of Mass Shootings Has Tripled Since 2011, Harvard Research Shows) on MotherJones.com even estimates that mass shootings tripled between 2011 and 2014. We increasingly relate to each other as strangers, react to each other as potential threats and feel burdened by responsibilities for the individual who lacks the resources and hope to make their lives better.
So when they say:
- Trump rallies are violent (Trump Can’t Tell the Truth About Violence at His Rallies, US election 2016: What Trump says about protesters at his rallies)
- Trump insights violence (Trump Can’t Tell the Truth About Violence at His Rallies, Trump Hate map, Donald Trump Just Threatened More Violence. Only this Time, it’s Directed at the GOP)
- Trump lied (Trump Can’t Tell the Truth About Violence at His Rallies; Donald Trump Made Up Stuff 71 Times in an Hour; All Pants on Fire! statements involving Donald Trump; Trump’s Week of Errors, Exaggerations and Flat-out Falsehoods)
- Trump spreads racism (Trump Can’t Tell the Truth About Violence at His Rallies, Donald Trump: ‘I think Islam hates us’, Donald Trump: Ban all Muslim travel to U.S., Why Donald Trump Sends a Chill Through My Muslim-American Body: Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric is even more dangerous than it seems)
Yes, I have heard them creep… followers of this politician who builds solidarity by exploiting frustration, isolating feelings of hate and fear, and finding blame where there is none.
My feet are planted firmly on the tennis court we love. My eyes are clouding past the vision of my kids, who still run free and call to me, but there’s so much in my head. There are bills and facts and thank you cards. There’s a dinner list and a little dread that what’s left to do will be hard for me. So I breathe. I look at the trees, so strong and sure and comforting. Not like me, I feel weak.
I once heard Dr. Phil say the three most expensive words in the English language are, “might as well.” “Could you just” cost me the most this year. Could you just be quiet, could you just put your clothes on first, could you just wait, could you just eat this, could you just listen, could you just give me a break. Every time I honored the “me” instead of the “we” this year it cost me the most. I got lost in what HAD to happen and missed what WAS happening. I made space for blame and it held on to me.
There’s not enough of me. The court is wide and the day is long. I stand small. I refocus me. On this court an Indian neighbor invited my shy toddler to join his children in a game without knowing me. In this town a college aged girl’s momma, who caught me in a “could you just” moment held my baby and spoke kindly to me as she parted the sea of had to happen and happening. At a picnic in a nearby town my husband interrupted an extended community gathering and asked what they were cooking. A kind and gentle man responded with skewers of Afghany barbeque to share with our family. On this year when my son could choose how to spend his birthday he asked for a small party. So it was that old friends, new friends, friends like family joined us at the museum of Natural History. On that day after the attacks in Paris those who gathered just so happened to be four families: Catholic, Episcopalian, Muslim and Mormon. They were all good people; their religion meant nothing bad to me.
These will be the stereotypes for me. I am weak when it seems that all that stands between my kids and hate is me. I am not enough. I stand small. No matter how softly they creep I can’t let any politician rewrite that for me. It isn’t right. It isn’t healthy.
I am but a tributary. Whether we stay strong like the Mississippi River and flow toward the sea or end in muddy ruin like the Colorado River (Not All Rivers Reach the Sea; The Colorado River Runs Dry: Dams, irrigation and now climate change have drastically reduced the once-mighty river. Is it a sign of things to come?) is yet to be seen. Even for the mighty Colorado there is hope it seems (A Sacred Reunion: The Colorado River Returns to the Sea).
I hope for the same for me. I stand small, but I hope not alone for long.