Homelessness: No Place For Children

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In my writing today I am going to step outside my comfort zone. Usually I write about my own experiences and I stick to that. Today I would like to talk somebody else’s story and how it relates to a bigger question, “Is ending homelessness even possible?”
The other day I read a five part New York Times article entitled “Invisible Child: Dasani’s Homeless Life.” It detailed a beautiful, responsible, smart, talented, independent, determined eleven year old girl who lived with seven younger siblings and her parents who are recovering addicts in public rodent infested housing described as, “no place for children.”
I was immediately drawn in to Dasani’s personal story, (which I suggest everybody read immediately when you are done here), but in the days since I read the article I also thought about what her story says about the greater problem of homelessness. Issues of poverty, addiction, access to food and education and avoiding the constant “shelternization” of the spirit so that one might gather the resources to climb out of the hole is a difficult task. The psychological impact of being poor takes its toll and causes people to do irrational or financially irresponsible things that contradict progress toward financial stability. The heartache of poverty causes self destruction, teen pregnancy, school dropout, addiction, and violence.
On an individual basis recovering from homelessness as an adult seems impossible enough, but when we zoom out to a bigger picture and we realize that there are 22,000 Dasanis, homeless children in New York, and there are many more nationwide, suddenly the future becomes overwhelming.
Dasani’s parents, Chanel and Supreme, are not represented as being financially responsible and it is clearly stated that they rely on a methadone clinic to cope. For these reasons I believe that it is reasonable to assume that the cycle of homelessness is more likely to end with Dasani than her parents. I suspect this is true of many homeless children.
To beat the odds Dasani has to escape the pitfalls of violence, teen pregnancy and addiction. Her salvation will be education. The NY Times describes Dasani’s resilient determination, “She likes being small because “I can slip through things.” In the blur of her city’s crowded streets, she is just another face. What people do not see is a homeless girl whose mother succumbed to crack more than once, whose father went to prison for selling drugs, and whose cousins and aunts have become the anonymous casualties of gang shootings, AIDS and domestic violence…“That’s not gonna be me,” she says. “Nuh-uh. Nope.”
Oh, Dasani. We can only hope you will remember those words and let them steer you past the drugs and sex and violence that so often comfort those who have so very little. When you are raised to be the one who takes care of children and tolerates addiction and fights for basic survival it is hard to put these things in their place and recognize them as the staggering hurdles to success that they are.
Every day Dasani has to battle the stigma of poverty, hiding the fact that she is homeless as long as she can and then acting out of character by fist fighting when she is found out:
Soon, all of Dasani’s uniforms are stained. At school, she is now wearing donated clothes and her hair is unkempt, inviting the dreaded designation of “nappy.” Rumors are circulating about where she lives. Only six of the middle school’s 157 students reside in shelters.
When the truth about Dasani emerges, she does nothing to contradict it. She is a proud girl. She must find a way to turn the truth, like other unforeseeable calamities, in her favor.
She begins calling herself “ghetto.” She dares the girls to fight her and challenges the boys to arm-wrestle, flexing the biceps she has built doing pull-ups in Fort Greene Park. The boys watch slack-jawed as Dasani demonstrates the push-ups she has also mastered, earning her the nickname “muscle girl.”
Her teachers are flummoxed. They assume that she has shed her uniform because she is trying to act tough. In fact, the reverse is true.

As a mom who raises two boys in my own version of poverty, I know how hard I work to ensure that they always have haircuts and clean cloths so that the people outside our home don’t know that we have to go without. I am sure there are times my efforts fail and I dread what shame they must feel for things that are never their fault, for shortcomings that are only mine.
16.4 million children live in poverty in our nation. I wonder how many of them hide stains on their shirts or tuck long hair behind their ears or shove their feet into too small shoes? I wonder how many come home with scrapes and bruises and detention slips after defending their honor.
Dasani could easily loose the little she has. If one of her parents went back to using drugs everything could come crumbling down, “Dasani learned to spot a social worker on the street by the person’s bag (large enough to hold files). She became expert at the complex psychic task of managing strangers — of reading facial expressions and interpreting intonations, of knowing when to say the right thing or to avoid the wrong one.
Too much responsibility falls on Dasani’s shoulders as she becomes a third parent to her seven siblings due to the consequences of her parent’s addiction, “In the crib is Baby Lele, who is tended to by Dasani when her parents are listless from their daily dose of methadone.
Chanel and Supreme take the synthetic opioid as part of their drug treament program. It has essentially become a substitute addiction
The more time they spend in this room, the smaller it feels. Nothing stays in order. Everything is exposed — marital spats, frayed underwear, the onset of puberty, the mischief other children hide behind closed doors. Supreme paces erratically. Chanel cannot check her temper. For Dasani and her siblings, to act like rambunctious children is to risk a beating
.”
Every day families like Dasani’s are crammed into single rooms, forced to live on shoestring budgets, battling demons like addiction and abuse and poverty feel like they are pushed to their wits end. The supreme, the head of household, the top of the food chain; they don’t pay the consequences, the littlest do. The weakest do. The wives, the children, the babies who cry and don’t stop- they pay the consequences and sometimes the stakes are high – according to the NY Times, in the Institution where adasani’s family stayed, “Just this year, there have been some 350 calls to 911 from the shelter — including 24 reported assaults, four calls about possible child abuse and one reporting a rape.”
Living in the shelter is hard. It is hard to do anything, especially to get decent food. Even though the family receives food stamps they can not cook food or even own a microwave in the small room they occupy. They eat in a soup kitchen-like cafeteria instead. This means that Dasani’s three meals a day come from an institutionalized cafeteria setting, breakfast at the shelter, lunch at school and dinner at the shelter. For three years she has not had a home cooked meal.
As far as eating while homeless goes many would say they are lucky to have what they do at least. Even if homeless families are able to qualify for benefits like food stamps not being able to cook, not having access to food storage and other impediments keeps them from having any kind of quality nutrition at all. Many children who are homeless live in cars and eat breakfasts like canned fruit and brush their teeth with water in gas station bathrooms so perhaps, in the scheme of things, Dansani is lucky.
Even though Dasani is an honor roll student, she has seven younger siblings to care for and this holds her back, like many other kids like her. The article tells us that, “New York’s homeless children have an abysmal average attendance rate of 82 percent, well below what is typically needed to advance to the next grade. Since the start of the school year, Dasani has already missed a week of class and arrived late 13 times.”
Dasani’s fierce independece, fighting spirit and determination are a product of her surroundings and in spite of her surroundings she surviving but I worry for her future
, “Dasani and her siblings have grown numb to life at the shelter, where knife fights break out and crack pipes are left on the bathroom floor. In the words of their mother, they have “become the place.” She has a verb for it: shelternized.

I wonder; How is it even possible her family to climb out? Assume they gather the money for a first and last months rent, say they have a deposit… Then what? Dasani’s parents ask the same question:
The problem for Chanel and Supreme comes down to basic math: Even with two full-time jobs, on minimum wage, they would have combined salaries of only $2,300 per month — just enough to cover the average rent for a studio in Brooklyn.”
It probably seems like an impossible hope to Dasani to dream that she will ever live outside public housing. She has spent one third of her life there, three years, and it seems that every time any amount of money comes into the family it immediately goes out:
Suddenly, Supreme leaps into the air. His monthly benefits have arrived, announced by a recording on his prepaid welfare phone. He sets off to reclaim his gold teeth from the pawnshop and buy new boots for the children at Cookie’s, a favored discount store in Fulton Mall. The money will be gone by week’s end.
Supreme and Chanel have been scolded about their lack of financial discipline in countless meetings with the city agencies that monitor the family.
But when that monthly check arrives, Supreme and Chanel do not think about abstractions like “responsibility” and “self-reliance.” They lose themselves in the delirium that a round of ice creams brings. They feel the sudden, exquisite release born of wearing those gold fronts again — of appearing like a person who has rather than lack”

I can understand this. I buy things I know I shouldn’t because I am tired of telling myself no, tired of telling my kids no, all the time. What is the point of paying a bill, you know you’ll never pay off anyway, when you know you can buy the brand name cereal your kids want for once? Why pay the interest on the bill that will still be there next week when you can splurge on the snow boots they’ve needed since last month?
It is hard to save money when you haven’t got any money left at the end of the week and the creditors are still calling. It is hard to prioritize the needs against the wants with the constant incoming flow of both. It is hard enough when you have just enough to cling to an apartment or a duplex… But when you are in a shelter trying to scrape together what it takes to get a place it must seem impossible.
What breaks my heart is the fact that so many children have to live with the heartache and worry in their guts wondering if their parents are ever going to pull it together. It makes one wonder if and when children should be removed and given to foster families with homes and meals and stability.
On one hand it seems cruel to leave these kids in a state of constant limbo, always wondering when they will have a meal, when they will have a home or if they will have a bed or how many siblings they will have to share it with. It seems even worse to continue to put them in situations where they grow up learning how to be homeless adults instead of successfull contributors to society. On the other hand, when asked what she thought about this issue, Dasani, “pauses, “I love my parents. They’re tough, but I should not be taken away from them.”
In the end, I trust her.
When considering the issues of homelessnes it is easy to get caught up in thinking of the panhandler on the street and not the those left behind at the shelter, in the car, or in the alley. There are literally millions of families living far below poverty, with vermin in shelters in various states of disrepair and filth. They bathe their babies in sinks and their children sleep two and three to a bed before they prepare for school in public restrooms and heat frozen breakfasts in shelter microwaves after standing in line for twenty minutes. They hide stains from lack of laundry access and braid their hair so no one can tell it is dirty. They scarf down free school lunches and fight for their dignity. These are the invisible children, the millions of invisible children of America.
To end homelessness in America we have to give these kids a fighting chance. When you are poor, you get sucked into the things that are cheap that make quick money, that give you reputation, and that make you feel good. These are things that other people buy with money. Instead, poor people often turn to drugs for quick money, sex to feel good, and violence for reputation. We have to help homeless kids break these cycles of poverty and take the different routes to self satisfaction that lead to more financially responsible standards of living.
We have to reduce their dropout rates by giving kids in poor neighborhoods quality educations that rival those in the neighborhoods just blocks away. We need to make school lunches in these schools competitively nutritious too. We need to work hard and put in the effort it takes to prevent teen pregnency. We need to give these girls the opportunity to trade diapers for diplomas.
We need to give our young men positive role models. I think this means putting positive educated, male teachers in the classrooms. It means funding guidance councilors, funding extra curricular activities, doing what it takes to give kids of both genders an alternative to violence, sex, and addiction.
When I make these generalizations I am not trying to say that all homeless people are dropouts or addicts. I am trying to say that these are hurdles that some young homeless children face, particularly those who live in urban environments like Dasani does. To end homelessness for people like Dasani and her family we need to use whole system thinking. We need to address what is wrong with the whole community, not just what is wrong with Dasani or her family.
We need to look at both individuals and communities when we ask ourselves how to heal the wounds of homelessness. We need to ask ourselves about our responsibility to indiviuals like little girls who have untapped and unlimited potential like Dasani does when we do our analysis of what we can and should do to fix the problem.
Building more shelters is a nice and perhaps a necessary quick fix but in the long run it will take a whole lot more investment in the families and the youth of our communities to heal homelessness. It will take investment in education, especially in the poverty stricken areas. It will take finding quality role models like the teachers who keep Dasani afloat, and offering opportunity for people to survive by raising minimum wage so that Supreme and Chanel could work full time, pay rent and survive. It seems fair that our community find a way for this to happen.
Until we work to fix our whole community, beautiful individuals who are willing to give wholly of themselves; people who are smart and capable and determined, people who could change the world, people like Dasani, might fall through the cracks… and be lost forever. And that is a shame, a shame on all of us.

Poverty

Being poor isn’t a moral failing. Acting poor isn’t either.
It is easy to judge, when I spend money on vices like beer or soda or cigarettes, but when you live a life without extravagance, a cold one on a hot day, or the single glow of red ember on a coffee break, seems like a lifeline.
When you have to pay to cash checks at Walmart because your credit score prevents you from having a bank account, conveniences like free checking and frequent flier miles are bonuses reserved for some part of the middle class higher up the middle than you. It feels like basic survival is higher up the ladder than can be achieved from rock bottom.
Being poor dictates irrational behavior. When you’re living on minimum wage with a hundred grand in medical bills, worrying about credit scores is a joke. Making budgets that cover every bill is impossible. The choice isn’t to pay or not to pay. The choice is to pay or eat, pay or buy medicine, pay or give your children shoes. It doesn’t matter how many credit points a ten dollar monthly payment is worth when there are no foodstuffs in the pantry or freezer. Being poor means we whittle away our wealth at check into cash scams and pawn shops.
Yes, we buy dollar store nail polish and earrings, yes, we buy boxed hair dye and cheap clothes trying to keep up with the Joneses. But we don’t buy them to spoil ourselves. We buy them so we don’t embarrass our kids on PTA night, so we have a fighting chance at a better job, so we don’t have to hide our hands in the grocery line.
We don’t go to Black Friday sales or Small Business Saturday events. No matter how much you discount it, we still can’t afford it. Instead we shuffle in with hung heads and sign up with hopeful and shamed hearts for adopt a family programs and community holiday meals.
We don’t deck the halls, we scrimp for a Christmas tree. We don’t make four course Thanksgiving meals, we stand guard, at work, selling forgotten whipped cream and marshmallows and chocolate and soda and wine and gas to people who have the luxury of holiday.
It’s easy to judge, from the heated seat of an Escalade, or a McMansion on a hill, or a benefited job with opportunity for advancement. It’s easy to say that somebody who is poor is somebody who screwed up.
What takes character is admitting that being poor is much more a matter of fate and luck than poor choices or lapses in morality. It takes character to have everything… including gratitude.
It takes character to recognize and respect those who work day after tireless day knowing that tomorrow, and the next, will be as broken and difficult and scary and lonely as the rest.
It takes character to remember that riches don’t bring righteousness. Poverty doesn’t represent failure.
I think maybe, it is easier to believe poor people did something to deserve poverty because that enforces the belief that the correct behavior will begat wealth instead of acknowledging that even the most honorable efforts, even the most well laid plans, can fall through. The bottom can always fall out and it is scary to admit that no matter how high your horse, the damn thing can still lose its footing.

What I Have Learned From 30 Years Of Migraine Experience

Ten facts about Migraines:
10) Migraine pain can be so severe it can damage your brain!
Whenever I am asked why I seek treatment in the ER for severe migraine pain, I explain that I know that pain alone can physically harm me and I don’t think that being tough is the correct way to approach the problem of per meant damage due to severe pain.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070430102025.html

9) No two Migraines are alike.

Don’t allow your doctor to treat you the same as every other patient,you are your own person, your situation is unique, your treatment plan should be custom tailored to what works for you and it takes time to find the right plan.

http://migraine.com/blog/migraine-perspective-no-two-migraineurs-are-alike/

8) Migraines have the same symptoms as Trans Ischemic Attack.

Sometimes migraines are not migraines. Sometimes they are Trans Ischemic Attacks, or TIAs. The more common name for this is a mini stroke. Mini strokes, like large ones, can cause permanent damage and need emergent medical care. Only your doctor can tell the difference between a migraine and TIA.

http://www.healthcentral.com/migraine/related-conditions-540118-5.html

7) Migraines are not invisible or undetectable.

Many people think that migraines are unseen pain that can easily be faked but there are many ways to “see” a migraine. A PET scan can “see” an aura occur in the brainstem, but even a nurse performing basic triage should “see” the migraine too:
Normal vital sign ranges for the average healthy adult while resting are:
Blood pressure: 90/60 mm/Hg to 120/80 mm/Hg
Breathing: 12 – 18 breaths per minute
Pulse: 60 – 100 beats per minute
Temperature: 97.8 – 99.1 degrees Fahrenheit / average 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit

Though temperature doesn’t usually vary with a migraine other signs do. Blood pressure in, my case, can raise between 135/95 and 175/140 mm/Hg
Respiration increases, so much that hyperventilation is common in Migraine patients.
Pulse increases with pain, in my worst pain mine might be as much as 130 beats per minute. Many nurses say that the fifth vital sign is pain and many migraines hurt so badly that they seem to defy the 1-10 pain scale offered as a standard pain assessment tool, for many patients, the pain is so bad that it causes vomiting. This is another way to “see” a migraine.

http://www.drugs.com/enc/vital-signs.html

6) Food and drink can cause migraines, but so can scents, change in barometric pressure, change in altitude, stress, hormones, lack of sleep and other triggers.

Often doctors are aware and may advise patients to avoid different foods, but many of them are unaware of the less common triggers like the smell of asphalt or a thunderstorm, or stressful news. Another thing to consider is the compounded effects of many triggers hitting at once. An example for me, was crying at the therapist’s office where she was burning scented candles after not eating or sleeping well, then driving over a mountain pass to visit my mom. That’s five triggers and it resulted in a helluva migraine.

5) Specific migraine types react differently to different medications.

Cluster migraines can be prevented completely with calcium channel blockers. Menstrual migraines without aura can be prevented by certain birth controls.
Some migraines can be aborted by medications like Triptans or Ergotomine. Some are treated simply with aspirin and caffeine. Others react well to a “cocktail” of anti nausea, anti inflammatory and antihistamine type medications. As a last resort, some migraines need IV fluids, the “cocktail” above AND narcotic pain medication.
It is important to remember that some treatments, can harm some migraine patients. For instance, in the case of Basiler artery type and hemiplegic migraines Triptans of all types are contraindicated.

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/migraine-headache/DS00120/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs

4) Some home treatments work better than many medical options.

Following the theory that migraines are related to the dilation of veins in the head, using heat and/or cold to treat the pain is often very effective. I am told that for some, cold compresses on the back of the neck, or over the forehead and eyes helps the pain. I prefer hot bath or hot compresses on my head. Sometimes even soaking my feet in hot water helps.

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/migraines/HE00004

3) While many doctors will say that they cannot prescribe narcotics because they can cause bounce back headaches, they should be reminded that EVERY treatment for migraines has this potential except non-treatment. Over the counter meds like excedrine , Tylenol, and ibuprofren, can all have this effect. Triptans, Ergotomine and other “abortive” medications can have this effect. Nausea meds like ZofrN can too.
While this risk must be weighed, your own knowledge of your own pain patterns and your own reactions to medication must be considered. Only you and your well informed doctor can know what risks are worth the benefits. Be your own advocate and communicate clearly. Make sure what you’ve decided on and learned is documented in your medical file, and consider keeping some documentation with you for emergent use.

http://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/medications-that-can-cause-headache

2). While nothing is more insulting than being told that the migraine is “all in your head” it is important to consider counseling or psychiatric help when you suffer chronic migraines or any kind of chronic pain.

Pain wears on the spirit and the body. Every day pain makes emergent pain even more unbearable. It can cause chronic hypertension. It can limit the patient’s ability to participate in their daily life and special occasions. Of some people this can cause depression and anxiety. Depression and anxiety can worsen pain too. It is a vicious cycle and patients need every it of medical and mental health aid that can be offered to treat chronic pain.

http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/11/pain-management.aspx

1). As with all chronic pain conditions, migraines cause two reactions from people. One is a stigma, a belief that the pain is less than described or doesn’t exist at all and is nothing but a cry for drugs and attention. The other is empathy and a desire to help.
For the second group, let me say that your good intentions sometimes hurt. Even tough you mean well when you ask if we are doing better, it is frustrating to admit that nothing has improved. Even though you are trying to help, it is hard to see the emails suggesting new and improved treatments, even if we haven’t already tried it… It gets awful tiresome to always be the Guinea Pig. If you want to support us, do it when we are down and in pain and voiceless, make sure we suffer as little as possible, help our families when we are sick, and trust us to know what’s best for our bodies.

Hunger In America: The Spaghetti Data

Ten years ago, I was so hungry that I stole a pound of hamburger from a neighbor’s freezer. It was humiliating and the only time I ever stole. Later that week, I went to a food bank for the first time. I remember coming home to empty cupboards and random non perishable food and setting my mind to the task of creating meals from the meager food I had.
Eventually, I gave up and applied for WIC and food stamps when my husband and I became unexpectedly pregnant. I remember the sporadic ingredients that I was given, milk, eggs, peanut butter, cheese and some times fresh produce, combined with whatever the food bank offered made meal planning a culinary impossibility sometimes. It was difficult to feed my husband and I and the kids in the early years and it hasn’t gotten easier as our two boys have grown older. I have, on many occasions, tried to create a meal from nothing – my favorite was using two slices of bacon, canned potatoes and instant mashed potatoes to make potato soup. I have become proud of my resourcefulness.
I have had to raise my family below poverty because I am disabled but my life wasn’t always that hard. As a child, i used to live in a family that made three to four times what mine currently lives on. My parents had things like new cars, decent housing, access to farmers markets and the money and time for home gardens. I grew up eating whatever I wanted, and my body was healthier.
Even then, I had friends who made as much as ten times what my parents did and I remember being jealous of how they ate like kings. Their parents always had the best, most researched and healthiest diets. They either didn’t eat meat or they focused on ideas like hormone free, organic, free range, and dolphin safe food. They were healthy, thin, had clear skin and often participated in sports or physical activity.
I recently conducted a series of short interviews with three women of different economic classes and it provided valuable insight on the subject of living (and eating) in today’s economy. I calculated the cost of each woman’s recipe for spaghetti. Though it is obvious that most people don’t purchase certain pantry items for every meal; I included items like olive oil and oregano that are stored and used in multiple meals, because it is important to recognize the effects of opportunity for food budgets don’t always provide the opportunity to have access to healthier, and tastier, foods.
Our first mom is a low income mother, she provided her grocery list to make a spaghetti meal in her home: spaghetti noodles, pre packaged frozen garlic bread, milk, prepared spaghetti sauce and (if they can afford it) parmesan cheese. It costs her $22 to make her meal.
The second mom, who is middle class, has the opportunity to add lean beef, cook with virgin olive oil and fresh onions and garlic. She uses milk, margarine, and grocery bakery bread to complete her meal. It costs about $60
The third mother is, no doubt, very well off. She hires a cook to go to the local farmer’s market for fresh, organic, local herbs, garlic, tomatoes and maybe even wine, butter fresj bakery bread and high quality parmesan cheese. Her recipe uses free range ground turkey, fresh cracked black pepper, Caesar salad and extra virgin olive oil. Not including labor, it costs as much as $130 to prepare this meal from scratch with an empty pantry.
I would argue that each increase in cost has the potential to be an increase in health. The cheaper canned sauce and frozen bread contain high amounts of sugars, salts, preservatives and fewer nutrients than locally grown home roasted tomatoes and lean turkey burger.
There are many studies that tell us that kids who live in poverty are more likely to have health problems like diabetes. We know that psychologically, our basic needs for food, shelter and health must be met before a person can learn or contribute to society. I can personally vouch that it is incredibly distracting when you have to worry about where your next meal is coming from. This is a discomfort that is compounded by instances when I am forced to wonder how and what I will feed my children. Nothing wrenches my heart more than saying, “I am sorry, this is all we have.”
So long as we have a society that shames people who work full time and still need help buying food, so long as the rich fill their tables with food destined for the garbage disposal, so long as the middle class loses sleep over the impending possibility of food shortages in their home… We live in a shameful society.
We should and could do better. We could mandate living wages. We could increase rather than decrease food stamp budgets. We could decrease cost of food with cleaner, cheaper transportation costs and more local Food production and sales. We could be better than this.
Tomorrow morning, my sons will ride to school early so that they can eat a free breakfast before their peers arrive. I am embarrassed I can’t afford their food. I am ashamed to face the PTA or my son’s teachers… But the other choice is to make my children go hungry and I won’t do that, so we live our lives knowing that others look down on us, that they judge us, that they put labels on my kids as if my lack of money makes them bad people.
That’s what food shortage feels like. For my family these are the repercussions of disability and unfair wages. America is better than this. Our congress wants to shut down our government in an attempt to curb government spending. They want to cut the funding for food stamp programs. They want to cut WIC, Headstart (where many poor toddlers receive a free lunch and breakfast every day), free and reduced lunch programs in public schools and welfare programs for poor families. They want to make it so that even if you work as many hours as you can, you won’t be able to buy healthcare or food for you or your family unless you are in the upper class.
When I was 19 I wed my high school sweetheart. I told myself that we could live on love. In many ways, for the last decade, we have. We have given all we’ve got to making our little boys realize that the world isn’t out to get them; because we know that everyday they are implicitly told that they are less than the kid next to them at school every time it’s snack day and we bring off brand crackers instead of bagels and cream cheese, every time the other kids get off the buss and my boys are already in the cafeteria eating breakfast because they haven’t any at home, every time they go through the lunch line and don’t pay like the others do… My kids are judged.
When I go back, in my mind, to trace the path I have followed, and I try to assign the blame for my poverty I can only blame fate. I did every thing I was supposed to do. I graduated from high school with honors, and college too. I married my best friend, a hard working man. We had two beautiful kids and I went on to graduate school too; and then I got sick. With all we invested in my education and all my illness has caused, I have created a cesspool of debt.
I have heard, that “poverty is like being punished for a crime you didn’t commit.” When I watch my husband fall asleep on the couch in his u inform with his boots on, and then watch him switch uniforms at 5 a.m. just to go to work again; I think maybe that’s true. Shouldn’t this kind of hardworking, ethic, determination and grit be enough? My husband is thirty but his hands are fifty. They are worn and calloused and scarred. The sweet hands of my high school love are long gone, traded for food and electricity bills and rent and medicine.
I started out by telling you about spaghetti dinners. Now I ask you to multiply that concept to everything we do. The way poor people ride busses and the rich drive lexis’, the way poor kids play in the street and the rich play little league, the poor go to jail, the army, and early deaths while the rich head Ivy League, big business and pseudo celebrity. This isn’t a secret. I tell my sons that they’ll have to work twice as hard for half as much as the rich kid across the coloring table from him and I know that I am underestimating what it will take for them to climb out of poverty.
All I can do to console myself, when I feel guilty for our poverty, is to remember that every choice I made was made with love. Every time I had a chance, I bet on me and my family. I didn’t always win but I will never switch my bet. A long time ago, I decided to live on love and my kids pay the price every day. They eat crappy spaghetti and smile because they’ve never known better. I remember once, my youngest, Timothy, said, “‘Mom, your spaghetti is superb.” Never have I been so proud of a can of Prego seasoned only with love.

Speech for We Are women, Colorado – Healing from Trauma

Before I begin today, I feel like maybe I should tell you a little about who I am.. I am a a wife, mom, daughter and sister. I am a political writer, an advocate, and an activist. I am who I love, what I chose to do and have, and how I live.

I am a collector of strays and lost boys. I live with my husband, my 21 year old brother in law, three rescue dogs, two rescue cats and two monkeys who eat like wolves and whine like hyenas — monkeys that we lovingly refer to as our children, who are 7 and 9, and who start school tomorrow.

Now I will to tell you about some things that have happened to me:

One day, when I was four, I hit my head on the pavement at the zoo.
When I was 9, I fell off the swing set I wasn’t supposed to be climbing.
I was 10 when I smuggled two baby chickens home onto the school bus and kept them alive in my closet for two days before my sister ratted me out.
At a sleepover when I was 11, my friend’s brother raped me.
When I was 12 I had my first kiss.
When I was 14 I won a beauty pageant.
When I was almost 15, my high school science teacher solicited me to have sex with him.
When I was 16 my first kiss became my bully when he filed court documents and hired the sleepover rapist to deliver them.
When I was 17, I got my driver’s license and began to go to college and HS at the same time.
While I was still 17 my boyfriend beat and raped me for asking him to wear protection.
When I was 18 I was working with WA governor Gary Locke to write anti bully bills. I was also working with ny’s mayor Guilioni to send books and money to a school affected by 9/11.
When I was 19…
No, never mind… I don’t need to detail every assault to make the point that these are things that happened to me and they have little to do with who I am, they are just things that happened. In fact, and if the bad things say anything about anyone, they say a whole lot more about my assailants, and than they do me.

This was the first thing I had to learn in my journey in healing from trauma. Before I could even begin; I had to draw a line, and never forget to keep who I am on one side of that line — and what happened to me on the other.

I learned this by recognizing that my mental and physical disabilities can be traumas also. When I sit and tell my psychologist that I am ashamed of my Post-traumatic stress disorder, — or of my migraines she reminds me that I am not my disability. I am a mom, not a migraine. I am an activist, not PTSD.

I remember watching my dying grandma pulling the handle of a slot machines with the only good hand she had left. She won every time… I choose to think of her in that image — not as a parapeligic but a winner, a grandma, a mother, a wife, a daughter…. She is someone people defined by who she loved, what she chose to do and have, and how she lived. I know that because when she left us that day in July two decades ago, I sat at her funeral and listened. Nobody talked about the diseases that killed her. They talked about the grace with which she fought them.

I have my own traumas and heartaches and grievances. I am not as graceful with my dance with survival as grandma was. She smiled and kept her hair straight and did what she loved and kept people she loved around her and made a good life in spite of severe physical trauma.

Meanwhile, I scream and cry in fits and I fling blame at people I love and suffer as though shame could actually scald my skin. It’s selfish really, because Grandma knew she was never getting better and I am afraid I won’t – but only one of us has control over Our life.

It has been 20 years since my friend’s older brother smothered me with a pillow and raped me. Last week, I cried and hyperventilated because my husband was tickling me and my face got too smothered by the blankets on our bed. For a moment, I was afraid of the love of my life.

Sometimes, I think that I see the boyfriend from the summer I turned 17, and I am afraid… Even though I know he is in jail a thousand miles away for other crimes. I sweat when I smell old spice. I am a shallow example of a true survivor, but I have a big mouth so I signed up and this is the best advice I can offer, and that is my truth…

Truthfully, I am terrified that I will never, ever, be able say, that I am healed.

I am afraid I will always feel this way. I will always have a lump of shame in my throat. I will always have fire in my heart from blame. I will always have anger in my fists….

But that isn’t me. Please don’t define me by my past or things that happened to me. Define me by here and now and who I love, what I choose to do and have, and how I live.

When I am strong enough, which is on most days, I swallow the lump in my throat and quell the fire in my heart and I unclench my fists. As time goes by, I get lost in wildflowers with my children on picicks. I sit with hot coffee on a sunny porch. I get puppy kisses when I come home from a long day. I cuddle up to my husband an quarrel over the tv late at night. I sleep in on foggy mornings…

I wish I had enough strength to believe that the hard part ever ends. But right now I don’t have that strength. What I do believe is that maybe I have just enough strength in me to survive even if it doesn’t end.

I believe I have the strength, the ability and the opportunity to ensure that even if tomorrow isn’t always better, more days will be good than bad, especially if I spend more time enjoying today and less time salting the wounds of yesterday.

Because every minute that I give to blame and shame and anger I give to the trauma, to the men who inflicted it, and to time gone by.

The sign in my shrink’s office says, “the future is always spotless.” That does not mean that every tomorrow will be better than yesterday, or even better than today. It means that every tomorrow has the potential of being good, and I am willing to take responsibility for my own healing by doing my best to keep the past behind me, to remember that I am not what happens to me, and to give each day a fighting chance.

I can’t tell you I have healed. I can only say this — that I am a a wife, mom, daughter and sister. I am a political writer, an advocate, and an activist. I am who I love, what I chose to do and have, and how I live.

I am a collector of strays and lost boys. I live with my husband, my 21 year old brother in law, three rescue dogs, two rescue cats and two monkeys who eat like wolves and whine like hyenas — two monkeys that we lovingly refer to as our children, who are 7 and 9, and start school tomorrow.

I am no longer somebody’s victim and I am in charge of my spotless future. I haven’t completely healed, but I am healing a little bit most days and I can live with that.

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Travon, Obama, and My Son

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This is my baby. He is the child I for whom I wept, every night of those six weeks that I was on bed rest while we waited for it to be safe for him to enter the world. This is my baby, the one I rocked and held, even though he screamed and hollered, through six months of colic.

This is my child, the one I swing over my shoulder and pat on the back after a fabulous ninja kick or soccer goal. The one I nag, every single gosh darned night, “Did you brush your teeth?” as I smack big kisses all over his face.

This is my son, a young man to whom my loyalty is limited, because in truth it lies with a great man someplace in the future. My son, a boy that will be a man that makes his mamma proud. My son, a man who will have a whole lifetime of experiences, some of which I will be blessed to share with him and none of which I can predict except to say I will stand by him always.

This is my baby, my child, my son… A future great man. A man that will make the world better, just by walking through it. (My world at least.)

The president reminds us that Trayvon Martin’s parents rocked a colicky brown eyed baby too. They coddled and cuddled and scolded and nagged. They provided and prevented and poked and prodded. They hoped and dreamed and imagined and expected.

He reminds us that Trayvon was their baby, their child, their son and… They will never have the chance to know what kind of man he would have been.
All of us ought to think about that, when Mr. Obama says, “he could have been me,” he reminds us that the man Trayvon could have been, might have been a a great man.

In this moment, I set the sin of the man who took Trayvon from us aside. I chose to acknowledge not just the loss of a fine young man, a child, a son, someone’s baby… But OUR loss. The world will never again be better just because Travon walks in it. His footsteps, his choice, his opportunity, his power, and his responsibility were stolen from him, and from us.

With great sorrow, I cede to the knowledge that there are no words to offer a woman who has buried her child or watched his killer walk free. I speak only for the rest of us as I grieve for a world where the best destiny of a child, not so very different from mine, is lost to something inexplicable, something awful.

I grieve that we will never know the man Trayvon could have been and I hope against hope with a greedy heart that I never know how his parents feel tonight. I think that these are hopes and greedy dreams than can and should cross the lines of race. The empathy for a mother with a child lost and justice gone with him; the heartache for a father who has to sit on national tv and describe losing his child five days after the killer walks free; these are feelings we should all share, regardless of race.
Skin color does not define or contain the depths of my grief for the loss of this young man. I don’t even want to think about the things our nation should have done for him, and all those like him living and dying in America today. The idea of the effort it will take to make this right boggles my mind. It makes my heart ache. The journey is still long, it is still hard. It doesn’t matter how far we have come today, since the sixties, or how far a man of the sixties came from the century before that. What matters is how far we have left to go and ow quickly we are willing to finish the job of abolishing discrimination, and finding Dr. King’s dream. We all know that we are a long time till all the crooked places are made straight, all the rough places made plain. We know it today as we watch our leader, our president, remind us that because my baby, child, and my son, will face a totally different life, with different risks, and different responses to walking with skittles and a hoodie than a black child will and that means that our work is not yet done.
My grief, should I lose my baby, would not be deeper than TracyMartin’s or Sybrina Fultons’. Their baby is as valuable as mine and yours. The idea of looking at an empty bed and unfinished college applications, and an unmoving basketball on the closet floor is unbearable, unapproachable in my mind and that is true for every parent. Skin color doesn’t limit or change that.
president Obama reminds us of these truths and he reminds us that we have work to do. We have effort to make. We have love and life and forgiveness to offer. The time isn’t now. The time was long ago, so we have time to make up. Let’s get going.

Liz Cheney Wrong For Wyoming Senate

Liz Cheney, is a woman who spends so little time in Wyoming that one might list her as a missing person around here, perhaps even paste her on a milk jug with a photo from whenever she was here last next to an aged progression of how she looks now. The second photo would be easier to find.

Of all the folks that could throw their hat into the ring for a Wyoming Senatorship, it seems like we’d pick somebody who had a Stetson to throw. Liz Cheney hasn’t got the Wyoming credentials to win except that Wyomingites swoon at celebrity and they’ve been fooled to worshipping the Cheney name.

For my whole life, I have been trying my damnedest to understand Wyoming. That means I have thirty years of study about a place where Miss Cheney wouldn’t pass a trivia quiz on the Little America children’s menu and I won’t lie, I don’t know enough about this place to represent it yet. I will say that I did ace Sam Western’s Wyoming History Final based on the classic Wyoming history book by T.A. Larson. ($5 says Miss Cheney hasn’t even read that history book and probably isn’t sure who Mr. Western is nor his book either.)

Miss Cheney thinks she is going to win the Senate seat for the same reason that almost every candidate who has ever run in this state has bet on a win; she is counting on Daddy’s name. It is so easily assumed that all of Wyoming is made up of nothing but Tea Party style right wingers and is pretty easily blanketed by over arching generalizations, especially when viewed by outsiders. It is easy to assume that the state is made up of nothing but gun-toting republicans who drive dirty pickups and vote Romney style but we mustn’t forget that while the far right may be the squeaky wheel on Wyoming’s wagon, it sure ain’t the one keeping us rolling forward.

A lot think everyone in Wyoming is redder than red. Honestly, this is generally a reasonable assumption to make but only 48,000 people voted for the Tea Party candidate for governor in 2008 which means that at best, 1/12 Wyomingites wear tinfoil hats. On the flip side, when Doma was a hot topic in the Supreme Court, Albany County Wyoming was the most supportive of Gay Rights in the nation. When Obama won the election both the north-west and south-east corners of our state went blue. These tidbits of information make me wonder how many of those who make up the three quiet wheels of Wyoming’s wagon are secretly liberal. I think that maybe, our little state is a whole lot more complex than we assume, and our reasoning for our distrust of the Federal government, and our willingness to follow somebody whose got money, reputation and power goes back a long way

I started thinking about this last summer when I happened upon an old leather-bound book about the history of the American gunslinger. It wasn’t till I reached the last chapter that I hit a state of euphoric epiphany. Now that the cat’s out of the bag and it is generally known that Liz Cheney will be running for our next Senate seat, I will share my epiphany because it’s important that we all understand what is happening here and why.

The final chapter of that book I read was about The Johnson County War which, til now, I’ve regarded as nothing more than my least favorite western movie in my husband’s collection. To set the stage, we must remember that at the time of the JCW, Wyoming wasn’t even a state yet. Basically the big money came from little work because these rich men from places like Boston summered in Cheyenne. They had figured out that if they let a whole bunch of cows out on the range all winter and then gathered them up later after they had calves and got fat eating prairie. Then, they could ship them back east on trains and make all kinds of money selling steak. It was a great plan for guys who liked to sit around and wait for money to grow on trees, or in this case on hooves.

The problem started a few years into the venture when the rich men started to figure out that the cows weren’t always getting fatter and sometimes the cows and calves died in the fierce blizzards or droughts. Of course, by then, folks back east had become big fans of hamburger and steak and everybody was pretty strung out on easy profit – so this was devastating news.

The men in Cheyenne didn’t want to take responsibility for the fact that it was going to take more work to keep cows alive in Wyoming than they thought. they knew they needed a solution to keep the easy money rolling and they found that solution in forming a closed group called The Wyoming Stock Growers Association that ignored the problem of tough terrain and climate. Instead the WSGA made the assumption that sheepherders were either stealing the food from the mouths of association’s cattle, or that small ranchers were stealing cattle from the association with their own personal cattle. The WSGA’s power made rules so that any cowboy who worked hard and got enough together to own his own cattle was automatically an assumed thief – a cattle rustler.

Because of the laziness and greed of the East Coast Cattle Barons that ran the WSGA from the cushy saloons, Wyoming eventually became a community made up of a hardworking citizenry who either worked to earn money for rich men or else couldn’t survive through the efforts of hard work; because the very definition of that hard work had been defined by this group of rich barons in Cheyenne as thievery. Soon, the only way to survive outside of Rustling was to become the minion of a Cattle Baron with the seemingly redeeming but title of Cowboy.

Now, think about this with me. We’ve got rich Cattle Barons who are so desperate to stay rich they make the independent and entrepreneurial spirit of the real Cowboys of Wyoming a crime. We have innocent homesteaders (sod busters), sweating men who run their own cattle operations (rustlers) and sheepherders all looking to make a living too.

From my personal observation, it seems that the Cattle Barons could have saved us all a lot of heartache had they stopped right there and learned something simple; more cows live if you invest time and labor and energy and sweat and blood than if you turn them loose on the prairie with nothing but a hope and a prayer. As a cattle rancher’s granddaughter, I can assure you that this is in fact, how the hamburger crumbles, a fact of life.

Unfortunately, the Barons didn’t figure that out. Instead they blamed the sheepherders and the Rustlers while riding on the backs and labor of the cattle workers. Their response wasn’t to be responsible and care for their own investments. Instead they hired shady gunmen to kill accused Rustlers under vague titles like “Stock Detectives.”

In Johnson County, small ranchers formed a rival organization – the Northern Wyoming Farmer’s and Stock Growers Association which challenged the Wyoming Stock Grower’s Association’s rules in a flat out rebellion. They did so, out of a need for survival. They did so knowing that they had earned their stock, and that they should rightfully keep it. They did so, knowing that they would infuriate the Barons in Cheyenne and their bosses on the East Coast. They did not do so knowing that they could lose their lives defending their livelihood.

I was shocked as I read the book’s description of the plan that the Cheyenne Barons came up with to exterminate the Rustlers.:
“It was at this point that the members of the Cheyenne Club fashioned their plot. Over their Cuban cigars and Rum St. Cruz, they determined to wipe out the competing organization and exterminate the “rustlers.” Their plan was simple, but drastic. First, recruit a force of gunfighter from outside the state to descend on Johnson County. Next, cut all telegraph wires that linked the county to the rest of the state, thus isolating the citizenry when the invasion got underway. Next, take over the town of Buffalo – the county seat and assassinate the sheriff, his deputies, and the three county commissioners, thereby stripping the populace of leadership. And finally, dispose of all the men on a “dead list” drawn up by WSGA’s cattle detectives – a list that, by one estimate included 70 names.”

The book detailed the process right down to the way the whole charade was paid for:
“While the gunfighter’s were gathering, two stockmen left Cheyenne for Colorado to buy horses for the expedition lest suspicion be aroused by a roundup of too many horses from their own ranches. In Cheyenne, other cattlemen bought three heavy freight wagons and placed orders for tents, bedding, guns, pistols, and ammunition. To cover the mounting costs, 100 members of the WSGA put up $1000 each. On April 5, 1892, a special Pullman car at Denver, with the Texas gunfighters aboard, started for Cheyenne. The $100,000 invasion was launched.”

The invasion seemed successful at first, but that didn’t last long. After a good start killing several men, the Cattle Barons found themselves surrounded by the Johnson County Sheriff and his men. Over the course of several days of fighting, both sides had found it advantageous, at one point or another, to cut the telegraph wires but it is documented that late on the second day word reached Governor Barber from the citizenry of Buffalo stating that an illegal armed force had invaded Johnson County, that the invaders had killed two settlers and were resisting arrest by the Sheriff who requested assistance from troops at Fort McKinney “to assist in putting down rebellion.”

Governor Barber did not answer these pleas for help.

Instead, he waited for word from his friends, the Cattle Barons. Later that day, a message got through from a rider who had slipped through the Sheriff’s barricade and rode 100 miles to the next county to send a telegraph. Once the Governor got word that his buddies needed help, Barber immediately wired the President asking for troops to quell an “insurrection.” By the next morning troops were on the way and soon thereafter the Cattle Barons agreed to surrender to the military, whereupon the Cattle Barons, and their gunfighters from Texas, were placed under military arrest and led back to Fort McKinney.

This moment, when the federal government took custody of those men had to be a turning point in the minds of many people in Wyoming. Think of how it felt to be those hardworking families in Johnson County. You were just attacked and nearly killed by the rich barons of Cheyenne, and rescued by the federal government. Your son or brother or husband might be dead and if he is, he died for trying to labor to feed his family. When you watch those soldiers haul off with the offenders of this grave injustice, you’ve got a lot of hurt and righteous anger in your heart and you are trusting the federal government to make it right.

As I sit and write about this, during the week of the anniversary of the Aurora Tragedy, my mind drifts to the joker that has been hauled out of court with orange hair and a sadistic smile who said that he didn’t care how many he had left dead in his rampage. I thought about the family of Trayvon Martin and how his loved ones grieve for the loss of somebody precious lost without justice, and I have a pretty good guess of how the people of Johnson County must have felt as they watched the military haul away the men who had killed their beloved family members. They had to have had expectations of justice served hot and quick.

But like we learned when Zimmerman walked and the Joker was forgotten, justice isn’t what happened.

The men who were arrested that day in Johnson County went to Fort McKinney and then on to a change of venue to Cheyenne where for 10 weeks the prisoners were held at Fort Russell. The Johnson County treasury was billed 100 dollars per day for the confinement of each man till it went bankrupt. Eventually a Baron sponsored judge turned every man loose without bond, and later still the Johnson County authorities dropped the charges against the men and their hired guns. Yes, you read that correctly, justice was never served on a single one of the rich Barons of Cheyenne or the gunmen that they hired from Texas.

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This is a photo of the men who got away with murder during The Johnson County War in 1882 according to the Wyoming State Library

This grave mistake here rots in the backs of the minds of the people of Wyoming. It has caused a psychological scar that runs deep on both sides of the divide. Even the Cattle Barons think that they were wronged in this moment. From their wrong, but righteous feeling, perspectives the Cattle Barons felt pompous and cocky and terribly, horribly, gravely persecuted. They were held for 70 days in federal prison and never convicted. For many, this is a challenge to honor that can’t be and hasn’t been forgotten.

Now, a century and more later, we’ve got this strange thing that happens in Wyoming. The new “Barons” of Wyoming, like Dick and Liz Cheyney demonize the poor and the federal government with thinly veiled contempt. In fact, they demonize President Obama without even bothering to veil their contempt. They encourage an us vs them, makers vs takers, mentality that keeps middle class “Cowboys” in constant fear of thieving, lazy, shiftless, freegrazing “Rustlers.” Nobody seems to have told them that nowadays they both sweat and bleed but one does it for themselves and the other does it for Walmart or Sinclair.

It seems to me that the injustice of what happened in Johnson County was never resolved and it hangs like a foul stench in the air. It makes rich men like Dick Cheney emulate tried and true techniques. They go to Texas and find dummies that they can pay and boss around to shoot up places they’ve never been. In 1892 it was Johnson County. In 2002 it was Iraq. What’s the difference?

What about Liz Cheney and her little cowgirl outfits and cattle references and her snippy one liners about how she “built that” while President Obama gives away free stuff? How is she any better than the barons of Cheyenne from back when? She lives on fruits of the hard labor of those below her, keeping them earning just enough money to be dependent, while calling herself a Wyoming Cowgirl though her boots have no mars or scent of manure and while other men sweat and bleed to bring the meat to market and set her table with silver.

She is pretending she’s got something more than Daddy’s bad reputation and dirty money to offer. She sits on a high horse and spouts rhetoric about socialism and telling tall tales about our big bad president coming to take big chunks of every American paycheck to fuel a monstrous and out of control leftist government, while living on family money collected from the dead bodies of American soldiers.

Her criticism of liberalism and our President stinks like her last name. She is doing nothing but feeding the machine of lies that convinces good Wyomingites that real Cowboys let women and children, poor and disabled, the hard workers making minimum wage, and the veterans who are out of work, suffer without food or shelter or healthcare as if her efforts in life honestly beget so much more wealth than those of a sweating, bleeding, laborer. She tries to fool us into believing she’s a Cow Girl but she ain’t nothin but a Cattle Baron’s daughter.

I have been paying attention to the 47 percenter attitude of the Wyoming GOP, I hear the drivel coming from the mouths of Barons like Liz and I am just about sick of it. I watch my Rustler of a husband leave every morning before it gets light, and return every night after dark and I cannot imagine that he’s a whole lot different from those first “free grazers” who worked day and night to make something of nothing with labor and work and effort and blood and sweat in Johnson County. Nor do I see a whole lot of difference between Liz Cheyney or her daddy, Dick, and those men who sat only a few blocks from where I sit at this moment in Cheyenne, smoking Cuban cigars and drinking fine rum while plotting to snub people like me and mine out – for nothing but profit.

The way I see it, the struggle of the Johnson County War ain’t over. Justice is a long time coming, and so long as a man and a woman can’t survive through hard work and righteous effort in Wyoming, it hasn’t arrived yet. I am particularly convinced that Wyoming has yet to move past the mid 1880′s. It’s still Rustler vs Cowboy for the entertainment and profit of Cattle Barrons.

Though my mother and father proudly dressed me in brown and gold and I have been inundated with images of Pistol Pete and Bucking Broncos since birth; though I have spent my share of time watching the steam rise above troughs of corn spread for wintering cattle; though I have gone irrigating and helped with branding and repaired corrals and spent many afternoons on the back of a fine buckskin pony, I cannot identify with the Wyoming Cowboy. I cannot lend my life’s existences to nothing but laboring so that rich people can smoke expensive cigars and drink fine wine while I struggle for milk and supper.

I cannot stand idle while my husband works from dawn to dusk and is told that he is lazy. I cannot watch silently as Women are shamed, bullied, and silenced for speaking against oppressive lies. I cannot do what Wyoming Cowboys are expected to do, if Wyoming Cowboys are supposed to serve the Wyoming Cattle Barons.

Instead, I choose to identify myself, my husband, my family and my friends as Rustlers. We buck the establishment. We fight for each other, and people who work hard. We recognize that effort and hard work and moral character have nothing to do with the bank accounts or reputation of the Cheney name.

We are ready and we are able and we aren’t going to any guff from the likes of Liz Cheney just because she’s got the clout to wrangle herself a Senate run. See, those of us back here, doing the work and pouring the sweat, and bleeding the blood, and tilling the dirt, sewing the seeds, and driving the cattle and living a real life know what’s what.

We all know that my husband and men like him work harder in one day than Liz Cheney ever has. We know that Dick Cheney and his pitiful daughter may come from here but they are not of here and we put no stock in their shifty ways. Justice is coming. The Johnson County War will find it’s righteous and deserving end and the winner of the final battle will be the honest Rustler, the true enigma that is portrayed in every western we have ever watched, the dusty, dirty, independent creature of the high plains, you know – the guy that Liz Cheney calls entitled, they guy riding Steamboat, who probably doesn’t even grace her license plate. Now, I may not be an expert on Wyoming, but I do know that Miss Cheney has got to figure out quickly that bashing the “takers” and “freeloaders” formerly known as the “Free-grazers” and “Rustlers” is bashing those who hold Wyoming like Atlas on their shoulders and she has better figure it out soon, or else she’ll lose.

Zimmerman Found Not Guilty

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This is my baby. He is the child I wept for, every night of those six weeks that I was on bed rest while we waited for it to be safe for him to enter the world. This is my baby. The one I rocked and held even though he screamed and hollered through six months of colic.
This is my child. The kid I swing over my shoulder and pat on the back after a fabulous ninja kick or soccer goal. The one I nag every single gosh darned night, “Did you brush your teeth?” as I smack big kisses all over his face.
This is my son, a young man to whom my loyalty is limited because in truth, it lies with a great man someplace in the future. My son, a man that will be a man that makes his mamma proud. My son, a man who will have a whole lifetime of experiences, some of which I will be blessed to share with him and none of which I can predict.
This is my baby, my child, my son… A future great man. A man that will make the world better, by walking through it. (My world at least.)
Trayvon Martin’s parents rocked a colicky brown eyed baby too. The coddled and cuddled and scolded and nagged. They provided and prevented and poked and prodded. They hoped and dreamed and imagined and expected.
He was their baby, their child, their son and… They will never have the chance to know what kind of man he would have been.
In this moment, I set the sin of the man who took him from us aside. I chose to acknowledge not just the loss of a fine young man, a child, a son, someone’s baby… But OUR loss. The world will never again be better just because he walks in it. His footsteps, his choice, his opportunity, his power, and his responsibility were stolen from him, and from us.
With great sorrow, I cede to the knowledge that there are no words to offer a woman who has buried her child or watched his killer walk free. I speak only for the rest of us as I grieve for a world where the best destiny of a child, not so very different from mine, is lost to something inexplicable, something awful.
I grieve that we will never know the man Trayvon could have been and I hope against hope with a greedy heart that I never know how his parents feel tonight.

Three Decades and A Sunrise

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This is a Laramie sunrise. This is what it looked like in the early morning here where I was born. 30 years ago my mom fought through, not one, but two sunrises laboring for me. She labored through 38 hours ~ and that was after I came three weeks late.

I wonder if my dad observed those two sunrises while he waited cooly between contractions in the waiting room like he did while he waited for my son to be born almost ten years ago, with a pleasant but neutral expression…

Thinking of it makes me think of when he walked up the sidewalk to me during an earthquake and it rolled up behind him like a snake. He had this calm, “everything’s gonna be alright” look on his face in a moment of chaos and I can just picture him, 30 years ago, with a steaming cup of coffee in the early morning hours before I was born, watching the sun come up over Laramie’s high plains – calm in the birth of chaos.

This last month, I tried to take my own life twice, and I was committed several times in the first few weeks of June. (For those who don’t know, I have a personality disorder and bipolar that I work hard to de-stigmatize, while I fight for normalcy in my own life.)

For Father’s Day, I gave my dad a small, one inch porcelain polar bear. I wrote in his card about how when I was in first grade, I wanted to grow up to save the polar bears. I told him that I remember being the girl who did great things and expected great things and hoped and dreamed and believed in GREATNESS. I told him that from now on, I will remember that girl who wanted to save the polar bears, and be HER.

In thinking of my thirty years, I think of my son. When he was born, and how his eyes looked around the room, I met my child. I met the boy that he is today, and the man he will be two decades from now when he turns thirty.

If I am lucky, I mean seriously, if we’re honest, I have never been skillful, but if I am lucky, my parenting will create a man who is exactly the same person I met that day almost ten years ago. He will be strong and curious. He will be rebellious and open hearted. He will grasp at the teat of life and happiness with both hands and greedy mouth – and hopefully, he will find it.

I remember, being a girl who wanted to save the polar bears, and make butter and cheese like Laura Ingles, and sew embroidery with the Little Women, and be smarter than Jo and have only girls (and not boys). I remember wanting to be Scarlett O’hara and Murphy Brown and Lucy Ball and Mary Tyler Moore and Jill Taylor, DJ Tanner and Kelly Kapowski all at once. (If you caught all those references you are pretty skilled at preteen 80′s pop culture and literature).

I remember before then too – I remember when it never occurred to me to be anybody but me. I last remember being that kind of me when I colored a pastel drawing with bright teal water and a fine white bear, I was 7, in first grade.

It didn’t matter that at the time, there was nothing to save polar bears from, I wanted to do it for some reason, so that’s what I colored. (Ironically my BS is in environmental science and I still dream of white bears). So, I gave Dad the bear for Father’s Day because I wanted him to know I wasn’t giving up on myself. I wanted him to know that I remembered Me. (I think maybe wanted to remind myself of that too.)

I give myself this sunrise to remind myself of Dad’s steaming cup of coffee, Mom’s labor of love, my Son’s accidental lesson on being true to self, and my own promise to remember Me.

As the sign in my shrink’s office reads: “no matter what happened yesterday, your future is spotless.” I can still grab life by the teat with both hands and hungry mouth. I can still devour it with relish and happiness. In fact, I have the feeling that maybe I have more desire and get more enjoyment than I did then!

I am thirty today and considering how close (and how many times) I nearly missed out on seeing this day, I have to admit that this day, like every other, is worth surviving for.

To all my friends who celebrate special days with me today, happy day! To those who have no reason to mark this day as something special, please, for my gift today, go do something awesome for somebody else, even if they don’t deserve it. Many times, I didn’t deserve it either.

To all those who struggle, please, take a minute and remember that time before you worried about who you should be, and be the person you were before it occurred to you to be somebody else. Be yourself. Love yourself. Expect Greatness.

Give yourself a fresh sunrise.~ Sarah

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Goodnight Progressives


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Pragmatic Progressive reminded me of the quote, “We are all just walking each other home.” If you think about it, it fits any religion, or lack thereof. It speaks to the idea that we are here, to love and guide each other as best we can. It gives purpose, and reason, and responsibility all at once.

This is a fine mantra. It will guide me in the moments when I slip from the eightfold path and forget wisdom and compassion. It will be for the times when I forget the value of one sheep lost among 99. It will remind me to love my neighbor.

Perhaps it will even help on the days when I have completely forsaken the possible existence of God or an afterlife… as a reminder of the importance of love and empathy and the opportunity in any given moment on earth – regardless of my faith.

Let us all remember what we value, who we love, what is important.

We are not here to gather possessions and belongings. Caskets don’t have storage bins. Life is not a for profit enterprise. We are here to walk each other home. We are all just passing through.

We are, as our loving president constantly reminds us, our brother’s keepers.

This is not a plight. This is not a burden. This is an honor. This is a privilege. This is a delight.

Goodnight Progressives.