Where was I . . . Where I Am Now

I realize that today practically every blogger in America is commenting on the anniversary of 9-11. (My mother dislikes when I call it September 11, because technically September 11 is simply a calendar date that occurs each year).  But maybe it takes remembering a polarizing moment like this for each of us to evaluate where our lives have gone in the last nine years.

On September 10, 2001 I was just beginning my freshman year at Eastern University. I ran into an old high school classmate on campus. He wasn’t a student at Eastern. He had graduated from high school a few weeks early and joined the Marine Corps. He hadn’t even attending our graduation ceremony. I found out months later that after the events of 9-11 he was transferred to Hawaii where he got married and started a family. At the time, I think he was angry that he wasn’t being sent to Afghanistan. 

On the morning of September 11, 2001 I was sitting in my Applied Journalism class. We were just arriving when one student said he’d gotten a phone call from his mother about a plane hitting the world trade center. The teacher dismissed us to see if the event would be of any journalistic value. We headed for the student lounge, which had the nearest television. I remember the glazed expressions of awe; the horror wouldn’t come until later. I remember a student worker announcing that classes had been canceled. That was before the towers even fell. I saw the first tower fall, live. Not the replay, the live footage. I felt like I was watching a play. I stood for a long time watching the coverage until there was no more new information to be had, just the same horrifying images being shown over and over.

Then the rush to contact loved ones began. Cell phone signals were impossible to get. Even the campus phone system was jammed. There was a message written on the white board on my dorm room door. My boyfriend had called. He was OK. My roommate had told him we were OK too. My campus was just outside Philadelphia. I think we were all afraid that it was some sort of concentrated attack on every major city on the East Coast. We kept waiting for Philadelphia and Boston to be next.

We mostly sat in shock and wandered from one TV to the next, congregating in hallways and lounges. No one wanted to be alone. I grabbed the last seat on a van driving students to give blood at a local Catholic church. I sat next to a boy I had met just two weeks before, but I felt as though we’d been friends longer. After standing in line for two hours we were sent back to campus. The facility was too full, not enough needles or blood bags. It was just as well. I was terrified of needles and had never given blood in my whole life. I still haven’t. That night my boyfriend called again and told me he loved me for the first time.

Nine year’s later I am married to the man who said he loved me in the midst of what will likely be remembered as the worst tragedy in our lifetimes. We have been married for more than seven years and have a fifteen month old daughter. I wish I could forget the horrors of that day. The paralyzing fear has faded, but the anger hasn’t.  Not so much the anger at those who flew the planes or those who supported them, but the way Americans forget so easily. We all stood together for a day, it may have lasted a year. Now most people are more interested in the opening season episode of their favorite TV show or complaining about the economy. My daughter is an inspiration to me. If I want her to grow up with the same freedoms that I did, then I need to support those who keep us free. We civilians may have forgotten what 9-11 meant, but those in our military haven’t. I have the utmost respect for anyone who chooses to join the armed forces. It takes a huge sacrifice. I have friends who went to Iraq and Afghanistan. Many were changed after they came back, some for the better some for the worse. But regardless, I look at my daughter and know that their service assures her future freedoms. Now if only we could elect some politicians who understand that too.

How Breastfeeding and Cloth Diapering Can Save the World

It seems like not a day goes by without some government bureaucrat proposing a new law or new tax to force Americans to live more environmentally friendly lifestyles. If the government wants Americans to live “greener” then they should make government assistance “greener.” What better way to help low-income American’s live greener than to provide more breastfeeding support and cloth diapers.

 I recently read an article where a long time lactation consultant mentioned that the low-income welfare moms she saw in the hospital were the least likely to even try breastfeeding. Their reasons: Why bother to breastfeed when the government will give me free formula? Obviously moms that have to work outside the home have a harder time breastfeeding fulltime, but even the cost of a good quality breast pump is cheaper than paying for formula, so maybe if someone is on WIC instead of being provided formula, the government should issue good quality breast pumps. (I emphasize good because I know that in some states women on WIC can get a small manual pump provided for free, but this is not ideal if you are going to be pumping frequently). But it has to be more than just encouraging breastfeeding. There isn’t enough support available to new moms who are breastfeeding. I hear more and more mothers say that they “can’t breastfeed.” There are a small number of women who legitimately can’t breastfeed, but this is not the case for most. Many women encounter problems that can be easily overcome if they were provided the proper support and information. Breastfeeding admittedly takes work, but so does caring for a child and since you’ve already had the baby, the caring portion is implied. You need to stay clean and sober to breastfeed, something that you would hope is recommended anyway when caring for a child. Breastfeeding is preferable to bottle feeding with breast milk, but either is preferable to formula both for health and environmental reasons. Between manufacturing resources and excess packaging plus bottles and other feeding paraphernalia, formula feeding is without a doubt more expensive and less environmentally friendly.

 I found out recently that diapers can’t be bought with food stamps. I had no idea. I always assumed that if the government provided low-income mothers with formula then they would also provide them with diapers. Apparently there is a major need for diapers among low-income families, especially in the inner city where diapers are bought at ridiculously high prices in small quantities at local convenience marts. Perhaps government-funded diaper services are the answer. Diaper services often get a bad wrap as being environmentally unfriendly, but the cleaning methods have changed a great deal in the last 15 years. But there aren’t many services left, except in large urban areas. But as the case happens, apparently large urban areas are the places diapers are needed most. People talk about starting diaper banks in the inner city. Why not start non-profit eco-friendly diaper services? Cloth diapers can be just as easy to use as disposable diapers when proper education is given and children generally have fewer diaper rashes and potty train sooner, making it an even bigger savings.

 I have heard the argument that many daycare providers won’t accept cloth diapers. At the same time I hear experts complaining that low-income children can’t even begin attending government subsidized daycare without a minimum number of disposable diapers, which is a difficult expense for low-income families. Since cloth is less expensive and better for the environment, why aren’t government subsidized daycare centers required to accept them? (Better yet, government subsidized daycare centers could cloth diaper all the children they care for with the diapers provided by the government subsidized diaper services. Perhaps parents could be permitted to take cloth diapers home and return them the next day to be laundered for a nominal fee). Besides that, more daycare centers are willing to accept cloth diapers if parents are willing to ask nicely and explain properly. I think that washing your own cloth diapers is still cheaper than diaper services, but I understand that many low-income families don’t have easy access to laundry facilities. Otherwise I’d recommend that the government provide prefolds and good quality diaper covers to any family collecting food stamps. (Including a diaper sprayer would be even better).

 I’m not saying that breastfeeding or cloth diapering is the “easy” thing to do, though I have always found breastfeeding my daughter to be easier than making a bottle. I never have to worry about running out of formula or making sure I have clean bottles. Using cloth diapers means never having to run to the store to buy disposable diapers in the middle of the night. Both are worthwhile investments that will ultimately produce both financial and ecological benefits.

 In general, I am not in favor of expanding government services, but more women breastfeeding would mean fewer government dollars spent on formula and more families using cloth diapers would lower waste disposal costs. Such programs could potentially pay for themselves. I guess the bottom line is do Americans really want to make healthier more environmentally friendly decisions for their children or settle for what appears easy and cheaper but will in reality cost us more than we ever imagined? Do our government officials really want Americans to live “greener” and healthier or are their eco-claims really a ruse to gain more control over our lives? The proof may be in the way we feed and diaper our children and the way the government helps low-income families to do the same.

Race Doesn’t Matter But Culture Does

I always said that race didn’t matter to me. “That’s because you are white,” I was then told by my co-workers, professors and others. I recently read an article in Mom Sense magazine by an African American mother married to a Caucasian American. She talked about the fact that we can’t just ignore race, we need to celebrate it. I’ve always hated the term diversity. It always smacks of political correct platitudes, as if in every area in life we need every potential combination of human race in order to be “fair.” I didn’t think race mattered to me. I have friends from almost every “racial” group. Example: I’ve never really thought of my friend Josephine as African American, but maybe that’s because she identifies herself as Liberian. Then I got the US Census. First off, I’m not sure why it’s really the government’s business which racial group I fall into, unless it’s to give preferential treatment to particular groups. I’ve always wondered why we just can’t all be Americans, why do we have to identify ourselves with these hyphenated modifiers? Then as I looked at the boxes I suddenly felt left out. Why do I have to be simply white if America is supposed to be a celebration of diversity? I’m just as proud of my Irish Italian heritage. No, I don’t have a history of slavery in my family, but that doesn’t make my history any less important to me.

 I treasure the story of my Great-Great-Grandparents who came over from Italy. My Great-Great-Grandfather was the son of a poor shoe-maker and my Great-Great-Grandmother was the daughter of an upper-class family. He fell in love with her when he and his father visited her home to make the family shoes. When her parents found out, she was sent to live with relatives in America. He took up a collection from among his relatives to pay for his ticket to follow her. They were married here in the United States.

 I understand that it’s not feasible to have a box for every racial group on every survey. But why don’t more Americans use the Other box? Even our own President, who by his own admission is Bi-Racial (and like my friend Josephine, really more African than African American if it comes down to it), simply chose the African American check box, rather than the Other box on the US Census. Just because he may identify more strongly, or finds it more politically expedient to be, African American doesn’t make him any less Caucasian American (Or Irish, Italian, German, Polish, English American, etc). So maybe race doesn’t really matter after all. I remember in college learning the difference between the definition of the word race, and the word ethnicity. Shouldn’t we be identifying ourselves by our culture or ethnicity rather than by our race? You can have “black skin” and be Haitian or Dominican, very different cultures who don’t even share the same language. You can be African-American and your roots can be in slavery or in immigration from Liberia or Kenya.

 Bi-Racial/Bi-Cultural marriage is becoming more and more common in the United States and abroad. Wonderful! I think that’s a wonderful way to celebrate our heritage is to pass it on to our children in all its nuances. But as we continue to become a more heterogeneous culture, we need to stop focusing on such racially termed definitions. How sad to think that a child must choose which she “loves” more, being African American or being Irish American. I knew a girl in college who lobbied to get the term bi-racial put on the college applications. She said that she was just as proud of her mother’s Irish heritage as her father’s African American heritage. She wanted to identify herself as both. So rather than having to pick our favorite ethnic group from the list of those in our ancestry or saddling ourselves with potentially cumbersome hyphenated titles, perhaps we should simply celebrate the wonderful diversity (there’s that pesky word again) that is represented in each of us. But if we want to do that, it should include everyone, not just those people the government decides should get to celebrate their heritage. A lot of emphasis goes into identifying people with African or Latino backgrounds and the beauty of their heritage, but not nearly as much time is spent acknowledging the wonderful traditions of those from Native American or Asian ancestry, not to mention those of us who come from European or Mediterranean backgrounds. If we want to produce a truly “diverse” society perhaps it’s time we stop emphasizing race, and start celebrating all of our ethnic heritages, whether African, Latino, European, Asian or Native/North American. I want to be able to raise my daughter to think of herself as Irish, Italian, and Polish, and ultimately as an American, not simply as White.