The Importance of a Birth Story

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A birth story tells a child how they came into the world and can include the day they were born or their adoption day but either way, it allows a child to feel loved and wanted.  For years, mothers have been telling their children birth stories and I never really understood why until I had my own.  I know now that it helps the child understand where they came from and what their connection is to their parents.  You can see it sometimes when children re-tell their stories to their parents, showing how imperative it is to them to feel safe and wanted.  A birth story does not need to include all the gory details, but just the relevant facts that a child will understand.  Repeating the story to the child reinforces the bond you have with them and ensures that they feel good about themselves.

Crafting your child’s birth story also allows you to connect to a day that perhaps wasn’t the greatest because let’s face it, birthing a child is tough work.  Every day, we craft stories out of our experiences and re-tell them to others to convey what we have gone through, and yet, we still don’t really grasp the importance of stories and what they mean to our lives.  Stories and narratives give meaning to our lives and show us things that we may not have expected at face-value.  Even the stories themselves change over time, but that doesn’t mean the essence of the story itself has changed.  Especially for children, stories are incredibly important for building their worlds, imaginations, self-esteem, and how they view themselves.  When you tell a story, no matter who it is about, they engage the listener because listeners ultimately can see themselves in your story and can put themselves in your role and that is how we teach compassion.  As such, the most powerful story is the story of when you were born.

 Luma Pimentel

Unequal and Separate: What’s Wrong With The Educational System?

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Betsy DeVos just commented on the recent 2019 Nation’s Report Card, which found that reading and math scores registered lower between 2017 and 2019 except in the category of math for fourth-grade students. Because of this, the Secretary of Education wants to implement a plan to introduce more funding for school choice. The reality is that a system that was designed decades ago is no longer working for today and no one has really addressed it and tackled the issue. Instead, people move their kids into the ‘right’ neighborhoods, bus their kids to the ‘good’ schools, and opt for charter schools. What this does is dilute funding for public schooling and aids in the failure of the kids who are left behind. However, I can’t blame these parents in wanting a better education because what they are currently offered right now is not good enough. What we need is an entire overhaul of the system so no one needs to attend a specialized school.

How do we do this? First of all, we must change how our schools are funded. Currently, schools draw their budgets from their surrounding neighborhoods, causing an imbalance where richer neighborhoods are able to fund better schools, which in turn makes parents want to send their children there. How likely is this going to change? Not likely unless there is more social uproar about it and until then, schools will continue to be imbalanced. When I attended high school, the only televisions we had were old, boxy ones rolled in on a cart, whereas the school in the neighboring district had a tv installed in every room. While a t.v. may not be crucial to a child’s education, it goes to show what resources are available to that school and what excesses there are. Is it fair that one school should have so much and another less? Are children entitled to the same education? Is it fair that a district may pay $100 per day for one child’s education and only $15.00 for another’s? The real question is why have we allowed this problem to fester? Who profits from this illogical and outdated system?

A big issue in schools that has been brought up by teachers is the attitude and outbursts of students, which disrupt classes and even endanger the lives of other students. Have children become more disruptive or have we just kept doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same result when our society, our children, and everything we know has changed? The times have changed and whether we can blame parents, students, society, social media, or teachers is not really the issue. The issue is that the climate has changed and we have not kept up with it. The issue is not localized to a few schools, but a nation-wide problem. When the issue is that prevalent, there must be ways that can be developed to help. We can look at schools which have been successful in dealing with these issues that have implemented programs such as meditation, yoga, and also monitored mentoring for those children who are on the periphery. Solutions are already out there, but the system as a whole refuses to acknowledge them and look for them, instead of just trudging on with the same rules in place.

I find that the largest impediment to education remains a child’s home life, but what can really be done about that? If you look at successful schools such as LeBron James’s I Promise School, students are allowed a safe space to voice their concerns about their daily struggles and something as insignificant as that can really make a difference in the day of a child who is not heard at home or is experience hardships such as poverty or hunger. We need to have more avenues for helping our students emotionally through social workers, understanding about bullying, and actually teaching our children how to react emotionally. If our children don’t learn emotional skills at home, we need to teach them at school so that they may function and actually be able to learn. If we can curb outbursts or disruptions at a young age because children don’t know how to cope, why wouldn’t we want to make the lives of these children and the teachers that serve them better?

Even with charter schools, ‘rich’ districts, and select ‘gifted’ schools, there are still children who are left out of this equation that no one is talking about. These children are left languishing in what is left of our public education system and are not receiving what they need to succeed. Public education is a right and as of right now, it is unequal and separate. Change is often politicized and criticized whether it is good or bad and in that time, millions of children will be left behind. We may not always agree on how change should happen, but we should all agree that it is needed. Ultimately, we are failing our children and the future of our country by not addressing these issues and implementing any sort of change. And with each year, the scores of our children will become lower and lower and we’ll grasp at what could be the problem and play the blame game. This is an wide-spread, epidemic problem that affects the whole nation, and yet, we don’t really care unless it affects our kid.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

A Mother’s Love

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The one thing that has changed since I became a mother is being acutely aware of death.  Every time I step out or the baby leaves the house, my mind inadvertently wanders to what would happen if one of us were not to return.  Death becomes so much more imminent when you’re entrusted with the care of a tiny little person and now I know why mothers constantly worry about where their children are, if they’re hurt, or what they’re doing.  I always thought it odd that women did that, but now I know why.  I’m one of those women.  I worry about what would happen to him if he became motherless.  I worry about what would happen if he were injured.  I worry about strangers and now I understand why women share those posts about missing children.  I don’t share them because I think it feeds into our collective paranoia, but I can understand why.  Being a mother means that you’re always uncertain and there are those that prey on that fear, causing families to restrict their children from playing outside or walking to school alone.  The truth is, we will never stop fretting about our children, but we should temper that fear with their freedom to grow.  If we placate our fears too much, we may be limiting our children as well.

It is natural to fear, but we must be careful of our actions, for they affect our children.  I was watching YouTube clips from Iyanla’s Fix My Life and I realized something profound between the relationship of a child and a mother.  While many of the children felt alienated from their mother because of what happened in their childhood, the mothers would always profess that it didn’t’ matter because they loved them.  That’s when I realized that despite what a mother does, she measures her love for her children through her emotions and what she feels for them and regardless of all that she has done, she will always love them.  However, children and anyone else can’t see love through emotions.  They see and measure love through actions and no matter how much a mother loves their child, if they don’t see the actions, they will usually feel alienated from them.  We can love our children and fear for them as much as we’d like, but we must remember that what truly matters are our actions and what we decide to do for our children because they are watching.

 

 unsplash-logoSuhyeon Choi

How a Con Man Ran a Mental Institution and Became a Patient

In a true story stranger than fiction, a man named William Boerum ran the Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, but was actually Raymond Matzker, a man who would go on to be convicted of 7 counts of sexual offenses against very young boys in Wisconsin and Illinois.  The question everyone wants to ask is how was this allowed to happen as the state needed to verify his education, his prior work history, and pass a test .  He was one of 30 candidates and after the first candidate turned it down, he accepted the offer.   The incident also begs the question, ‘Who can run a mental institution?’  If a delusional man who preyed on young boys could do it and have the support of the community and a few of his superiors before he was outed, who else would be able to fill the role?  Some may ask what would lead such a deranged man to falsify records for the position, but I think this story speaks more about who we are in the aftermath of his outing.  Many people involved in his hiring at several positions refused to take responsibility for their parts in this story after being duped by Matzker, and it is this act of passing the blame that enables such a system to continue on.

At one point in time, Raymond Matzker and the real William Boerum attended Manhattan College together in the late 1960’s, with the real Boerum going on to obtain a master’s in business administration from Cornell in 1968.  After befriending Boerum and standing as an usher in his wedding, perhaps Matzker had been infatuated with this man who would go on to become the vice-president of Crocker National Bank and decided he would take on his identity.  Perhaps in taking on his identity, he shed his and was able to lie to himself that he was worthy and not someone who solicited young boys.  Whatever his reasons, he assumed the identity of Boerum and moved to Illinois, where he obtained jobs as a mental health and nursing administrator in Rocky County and medical services director for the Lake County Health Department in Waukegan, Ill.  He left the director position in 1979 to accept the position of director at the Winnebago Mental Health Institute in 1979, being paid $42,000 a year for supervising 340 mentally-ill patients.  He was able to run the institution without incident until January of 1981 and even made it past the obligatory 1-year probationary period.

After his 1-year probationary period, there were a few who questioned if Matzker should be kept on, but support from the local Winnebago area, Sen. Gary Goyke, Rep. Michael Ellis, Rep. Richard Flintrop, and even the Winnebago Mental Health Association helped to secure his position.  It wasn’t until January 6th that the truth first came to light when authorities charged him with sex-related offences that his true identity was even found.  A man masquerading as someone else was able to fool the community, a senator, state representatives, and a mental health association into believing he was competent enough to take care of patients while using resources to travel to neighboring cities with the intention of harming boys.  Rep. Ellis later was quoted to say that he was not going to apologize for what happened in October, deflecting blame, while others played politics to reach their agendas, never really grasping the situation that they were conned and let this man run a mental institution.  Even before Wisconsin, others deflected blame, allowing this predator to keep harming boys.

When Matzker was a director in Rock county in 1977, he employed a secretary that he instructed to send out applications with misleading information, including positions and degrees.  Mrs. Klipstein, his secretary, eventually told county personnel director Susan Steininger and the executive administrator, Kenyon Kies, but no one believed her that he was acting erratically.  She saw him changing locks on his doors, taking trips to Milwaukee and Chicago with county cars, and keeping an answering service in Illinois for no apparent reason.  When this story surfaced, Kies said that he thought her story was ‘misleading’ and thought she was complaining because she was a disgruntled employee, but took no responsibility for not assigning any importance to Mrs. Klipstein’s allegations.  Once again, the blame was passed and those involved absolved themselves of any guilt relating to this man.  None of these people knew the true nature of Matzker, a fraud who was charged with taking indecent liberties with a minor and kidnapping on March 1, 1980 and other charges in Milwaukee, Racine, Waukesha, Wisconsin and Lyons and Libertyville, Illinois.

After the authorities took Matzker into custody, he was the first person convicted under a new sexual predator law in Wisconsin that stated that if someone is viewed as a sexually violent person who may potentially commit more crimes, they can be subjected to be held indeterminately in a secure, mental health facility after serving their sentences.  As such, the man who once ran a mental institution became a patient after experts that he once loosely worked with took the stand and testified as experts that he was a paranoid schizophrenic suffering from delusions.  In this strange twist of fate, Matzker was remanded to the Wisconsin Resource Center, a mental health institution, as a patient, where Thomas Michlowski, the medical director, deemed him as still psychotic.  Although this humiliating and preposterous chapter of Wisconsin’s history has been buried in the archives for ages, it still reads like an episode of American Horror Story and allows us see what happens when there is a breakdown in communication, the interview process, and trusting one’s own gut instincts.

https://journaltimes.com/news/local/defiant-matzker-held-for-trial/article_31917e11-4bf8-5052-a4bb-e2dd3ff1630e.html

https://newspaperarchive.com/madison-wisconsin-state-journal-jan-15-1981-p-1/

https://madison.newspaperarchive.com/madison-wisconsin-state-journal/1981-01-22/page-4/

https://newspaperarchive.com/madison-wisconsin-state-journal-jan-16-1981-p-1/

Adjusting To Motherhood

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Since having a child, I’ve had to adjust to motherhood and am doing so badly.  What I didn’t realize is that not only would I have to change my habits, but I would also need to change my mental habits.  The thing you’ll hear the most from a new parent is how tired they are, but not only are they in need of sleep and deeply fatigued, but they are mentally drained.   I think every expectant parent knows that they will have time constraints once their child arrives, but they do not understand the toll it will take on them mentally.  No one quite tells you that you will yell at your child because you are tired.  You will be short with them.  You will not always listen to them.  Not because you don’t care for them, but that you are fighting to have time for yourself and your children and it is a losing battle.  You will have your good days and your bad days and it doesn’t mean you are a bad parent on your bad days.

When you were childless, you had much more free time and options to spend your time, but didn’t know how valuable this time was because it was yours and you didn’t have to choose.   Now, your child consumes a large portion of your time and you find it hard to spend a few minutes on yourself.  Because of this, you may become short with your partner or children because it is extremely hard to go from having all the time in the world to no time for yourself.  What we should do is temper our expectations.  Let’s say that when you were without child, you had about 5 hours a day where you could  take time to take a shower, read, watch a movie, play games, clean, or whatever else you wanted to do.  Now, you have the same amount, but only 1 hour to spend on yourself, and to compare 1 to 5, you feel as if you have absolutely no time for yourself and you feel as if you are losing out.  What we need to realize is that we need to accept that we only have one hour and maximize that time as best as we can.

Oftentimes, what we will do is spend the time trying to indulge in something we want to do, so we may not take care of ourselves or clean because we feel as if we are entitled to the whole hour because we used to have 5, but that is not the case.  We have to mentally train ourselves to understand that we don’t have 5 hours anymore and we must prioritize the one hour instead of letting the hour consume us and realize that we haven’t actually done anything productive, leading us to feel even worse about ourselves.  Understand that we can break that hour down and concentrate 10 minutes on one task, 20 on another and 30 on another.  This will make us feel as if we are accomplishing more and doing more instead of actually spending the hour on ourselves and feeling as if we did nothing.  However, we may still spend the time doing absolutely nothing on some days and that’s okay as well as long as we know we’re going to get back on track.  The trick is not feeling as if we have less time now than when we were without children, but understanding that we need to utilize the time we do have to ourselves.

Why People Hate Greta Thunberg

16-year-old Swedish Climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks at the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S.

Greta Thunberg gave an impassioned speech at the U.N.’s Climate Action Summit in New York City and the animosity has been swift and fast for this 16-year-old from Sweden.  A guest on a Fox news program The Story with Martha MacCallum called her ‘disgraceful’ and a ‘mentally ill Swedish child’ because she has Asperger’s syndrome.  Laura Ingraham continued the hatred by equating her to murderous, zombie-like children from Stephen King’s Children of the Corn.  Most unsettling is how regular citizens speak about her and discredit her desire to protect the environment.  When David Hogg spoke out against gun violence, the very same people said the most vile things about this high school kid by threatening him and calling him all sorts of names.  At least with David Hogg, I could understand why because these people perceived that he was ‘taking away their guns,’ but what exactly is Greta Thunberg taking away from them that they feel they must undermine her?

People have chosen to discredit her with her age, her Asperger’s condition, her nationality, and more.  I’ve noticed that anytime high-school or middle-school children protest, people question if these children really grasp the concept of what they’re doing and say that they are simply doing it for fun.  When athletes protest police brutality, they ask why they are being paid so much money.  When women speak out about sexual violence, their authenticity is questioned.  Let’s look at the inverse?  Are old people ever wrong?  Does anyone ever question why the owners of athletic teams make so much money?  Are men held to the same standards as women in regards to their believability?  The truth is, we use easy arguments against those we don’t agree with because it’s easier to attack these things than the real argument at hand.  If we can discredit a part of who they are, then we can discredit their ideas as well.

What exactly is it about Greta Thunberg that makes so many want to discredit her?  She is not trying to take anything away from anyone, but what she is showing is power and when someone gains power that we don’t feel they should have, we go after them to make ourselves feel better.  As such, we must ask who has the most power?  It is the latter examples in the last paragraph: older people, the owners, and men.  However, we have already ascribed power to these people, so when they make a show of it, we don’t bat an eye, but when those we perceive as lower than us do it, we immediately try to take them down because they threaten who we are.  They threaten our status quo and what we believe the power dynamic should be.  When our perceptions are threatened, we are scared and as such, lash out at children that are innocent of any crime.  Power is a tricky thing, but even more tricky is our perception of it.

Should You Go To College?

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So you’re 18 and everyone is telling you that you have to go to college.  Your friends are all going.  Your parents want you to go.  You think you want to go, but is it the right move?  For me, I once saw college as the beacon of hope for those who wanted to rise above their stations, but now, I see it as a system that needlessly mires you in debt, bleeding you at every turn.  At one point, my advice would’ve been to go to college and to never look back, but now, I don’t think like that and neither do many of my peers who also attended college.  What has shifted over the years?  For one, I graduated in 2005 and found it hard to land a job without any experience even though I had a degree. Then I moved during the 2008 financial recession and found I had to take two part-time, low-wage jobs to make ends meet.  I saw that my degree didn’t mean anything.  I received a degree in English and many may say that I didn’t pick a ‘useful’ degree, but it was a degree nonetheless, and it was supposed to be a leg-up on others who didn’t have it, except I found that those with connections, excellent interview skills, and experience actually had the leg-up and not me.  So why was society pushing me to go to college and why was I perpetuating a system that didn’t help others?

The social climate we live in now is very much different than the one our parents grew up or even just a decade before I went to school.  At one point, a degree did mean opportunities and doors opening to you, but the over saturation of the market in more recent years means that a degree doesn’t hold the same value anymore.  Along with rising tuition and costs, the enormous debt that students incur with attending school, kids are not really reaping the benefits of a degree anymore, so why should they be encouraged to attend?  For me, school was a wonderful experience to be independent, grow, and make friends, but I could’ve done all of that at a technical institute.  Luckily, I earned a scholarship that paid for the majority of my school and walked out nearly debt-free, but many of my peers did not and still cannot afford to buy a house or get married to start a family to this day.  They are still tied to this large debt they incurred when they were young and promised a life that never came true.  So what is my advice to kids who are facing this dilemma today?  Should you go to college?  Should you take a year off?  Should you go to a technical school?

First of all, no one talks about the cost and the economic impact it will have on you as you age.  Look at the cost of the schools you want to attend and map out how much that will cost you for four years.  Imagine interest being added on.  How long do you think it will take for you to pay off $60,000?  It’s like a mortgage payment, but you don’t have anything to show for it.  Loans will ask you to cosign, but many co-signers don’t realize that if the student defaults, they will be responsible for the full amount.  Student loans can’t be discharged due to bankruptcy.  If you have a student loan, you will have it for life, so think of it as college herpes, because it’s not going away.  Did you put references on your application?  Guess what?  The loan servicer will call them if they can’t get a hold of you.  How do I know?  Because I worked for one.  No one tells you these things when you’re signing your life away.  Some people say ‘well, kids, you should’ve known all these before you started school, but you didn’t, and it’s your fault now.’  Really?  People like to place blame on individuals when they don’t understand the issue is the system, for when the system is the issue, it means we’re all to blame.  Until the system is drastically changed, I don’t think college is a viable option for those who are struggling to get a better life.  You may be one of the few who actually gets a ‘good’ degree and then lands a ‘great’ job, but even then, you are still thousands of dollars in debt.

Let’s answer some of those questions from earlier.  Should you go to college?  It’s up to you.  Some positions ask for more experience so that it is wiser to start working right away than to get a degree first.  Some jobs that never had a prerequisite for a degree before have started requiring one now because they know college students are less likely to leave because they need to pay their college loans.  Are you thinking of pursing a certain field or path and know exactly what you want to do?  I say go ahead.  Now, you don’t have to get accepted into the most prestigious school and attend it for four years.  Look at smaller colleges.  Look at religious colleges.  Religious colleges are much more expensive, but some offer full scholarships.  Try to avoid schools that are for-profit such as DeVry and University of Phoenix.  If you can get this education at a lower price, I urge you to do so.  This will save you so much money in the end.  Try to stay in-state, as the tuition will be cheaper, or look to see if your state has an agreement with other neighboring states for lower tuition.  If you have a dream school, you may want to attend a smaller college in your town for the first two years and then transfer to your dream school for the remainder of your degree so you can graduate from that school.  Being able to go to school in your hometown and living with your parents will save you money and possibly save you from living with them after college.

Should you take a year off?  As a teenager, I was told that it was extremely detrimental to take a gap year because the majority of those kids would never attend college.  However, studies have shown this is not the case nowadays.  This fear tactic really sunk into me and I was very fearful for any kid to take a year off, but now, I think it’s perfectly fine to do so.  What happens if you don’t take a gap year?  You go to college.  You pick a degree.  You don’t like it.  You change degrees.  You graduate.  You enter the workforce.  You don’t like your profession.  You wish that you could go back for another degree.  A gap year allows you to see into the future.  To see what work is like.  What is the real world like?  What do you want to do?  What jobs are available?  Oftentimes, as kids, we live in a fantasy world where we are told we can do anything and as we’re so optimistic, we think we can achieve everything, but the truth is, there are very limited positions that exist and we have no idea what they are.  It’s good to get an idea of what is out there and what you are willing to do, what you’re capable of, and what inspires you.  Whatever the profession, find something that fulfills you, for all the money in the world is not worth a job that you hate and is slowly killing you.

Should you go to a technical school?  I once watched a t.v. program where a child had to attend a technical school for two years first before attending a 4-year institution to the horror of the ‘experts’ at the time that decried that the child’s education was being water downed, but that was a different time and era.  The truth is, no one should be telling you what is valuable to you and what isn’t in terms of what your education is because they are not the ones paying for it.  You are.  Times have changed and so have technical institutions.  You can go to a technical school for your generals and transfer to a 4-year college.  You can get a certificate.  You can get an associate’s degree.  You can graduate with a skilled trades degree that will earn more than many people who graduate with a four-year degree.  There is no longer a stigma to going to a technical school and I would encourage my child to go there when they are older.  Take nursing.  You can earn a degree from a technical college.  A four-year institution.  Or a medical school.  Which do you think is the cheapest?  Obviously the technical school and that may be the only degree you need for some places that do not require a four-year degree.  The point is, there are a lot of options, so look at it from a financial aspect, and now always what is the best school aspect.

A long long time ago when I was young, I read an article that asked why kids can’t go to college simply for the love of the education no matter the degree.  The article stated that we shouldn’t focus so much on how much money we should be making but instead on what we may learn instead.  We no longer have the luxury or privilege to think like this or let anyone else think that this is the norm.  It is because of people who thought like this that we are in the situation are now.  Times have changed and yet, our mind-sets have been slow to do so.  It is only with our younger generation that the shift has happened because we have been the ones to live it.  Once you get your degree, just know that it doesn’t guarantee you anything. Also, remember when you really wanted to get into a prestigious school and shunned the smaller colleges because you wanted the allure of the bigger school?  When you interview for a job, no one cares where your degree is from.  You might run into the occasional bro who bonds over your old alma mater, but usually, that doesn’t really happen.  Employers are looking to see if you’ll be a good fit and even though some positions require a degree, it means very little after you meet that requirement.  Everything else depends on how well you do in the interview, but that’s another post for another day.