Thursday, November 26, 2020

The gratefulness that comes with delaying gratification

I have two parents who modeled for me the internal power that comes with delaying gratification. 

I don't know if this stemmed from their own experiences as being one of five or six children in their respective families of origin. I don't know if it stemmed from both being brought up relatively poor. I don't know if it was because of their Catholic faith. I don't know if they simply have personalities that made delaying gratification easier. 

Whatever the reason, my parents modeled an ability to look long-term, weigh decisions carefully, and not get everything they may have wanted when they wanted it. My brother and I did not get everything we wanted when we wanted it. My parents were pretty good at saying "no."

Now, at the time, I hated this. I didn't understand why we couldn't get call-waiting back when that was a newfangled feature on landlines. I didn't understand why we couldn't get MTV when all my friends had it. I didn't understand why my parents wouldn't buy me the name brand shoes I wanted. 

But my parents lived within their means and valued education over all else. One of the greatest gifts they gave me as a result of delaying our familial gratification was a college education with no loans or debt for any of us. 

Because they said no, as an adult I appreciated and respected delaying my gratification. This doesn't mean I LIKED it. Delaying gratification sucks, more or less. 

When D and I got engaged, I told him we would not marry until he finished his master's degree. He had been sitting on his thesis for a while, and I was determined he would finish it. So we set our wedding date 18 months out. We didn't get an apartment together but lived in our parents' homes to save money for a down payment on a house. We decided to live only on his salary and get whatever house we could afford on that so that we could save everything I made. 

All of these decisions were efforts in delaying gratification for a bigger and hopefully better outcome. If he completed his master's, he would hopefully make more money long term. It would hopefully provide more stability. If we lived with our parents, we could save more money for a down-payment. If we lived on one salary, it would make it possible for us to save a lot and me to stay home with our children without too much adjustment down the line if we ever had a family. 

But delaying gratification means not getting exactly what you want and definitely not when you want it. Living with our parents was not fun for two madly in love people who just wanted to have lots of sex with each other. Living on one salary meant we had to budget and give up getting material things we might have gotten on two salaries. (But it did allow me to have the money to put towards a master's degree.)

Ultimately, being taught to delay my gratification made me a person who is able to take a long view and not get my panties in a twist if I can't have stuff instantaneously. 

It makes it easier for me to not lose my mind by not having Thanksgiving (and likely Christmas) with extended family (or even closer family). 

Delaying gratification actually gives me a greater sense of gratefulness for all the other holidays I have completely taken for granted because we just did those without thinking. Being together for Thanksgiving and Christmas is just.what.we.did. 

There is an ache because we can't do the "normal," but that ache is also what drives my sense of thankfulness. If we decided to all be together, I wouldn't have that ache, which means I wouldn't have that poignant feeling of appreciating the abundance of the past and hoping that next year, perhaps because we have erred on the side of extreme caution, we can all safely be together again without anyone missing.  

Thursday, November 19, 2020

The movie "Speed," except a virus is driving the bus

A former coworker of mine now works at a local hospital. She posted that the hospital system is experiencing "critical staffing" issues. 

I overheard a conversation where a nurse was saying local medical systems are preparing to freeze non-emergency surgeries because of virus quarantines and illness. 

In small towns/cities where COVID is rampant, there isn't enough room at hospitals for COVID patients. 

Numerous governors are starting to restrict restaurants/bars and activities where groups of people meet and are, at least part of the time, maskless. 

And it all sucks. 

It sucks for the people who can't go out to eat because maybe that was their way of doing something fun when everything sucks.

It sucks for the restaurant industry that has been slammed from every direction.

It sucks for the local economies, which means it sucks for everyone whose tax dollars have to stretch even tighter. 

It sucks for the leaders who have to decide between restricting freedoms and hospitals being completely overwhelmed/more people getting sick and dying. 

It sucks for people who have depression and anxiety.

It sucks for people going through chemo and cancer whose immune systems are already blitzed.

It sucks for people who work from home; it sucks for people who can't work from home.

It sucks for kids in school who have to distance and wear masks; it sucks for kids who aren't in school and have to do online.


As of Nov 19, the case fatality rate in the US is 2.2 percent. And this sounds great until you multiple 2.2 percent times the number of people who live in the US, which is 330 million people. 

0.022 x 330 million = 7.26 million DEATHS

We are now at 250,000 deaths. So if we multiply that number by 29 we will have almost 7.26 million.

All of our options are BAD. 

There are no good options; there are only BAD options with BAD consequences.

And with this virus, if enough people (and there are enough people) fear it and fear millions of people dying, they are not going to act normally even if leaders do absolutely nothing except sit on their couches and eat bonbons. 

They aren't going to shop or eat out or go anywhere or do much of anything while the virus is running rampant even if my governor and your governor and the president and everyone else says "Everything is fine; go about your business." 

Because they know their friends are getting sick; they know people who are very ill or in the hospital or who have died. 

And while I could be wrong and there could be a mass conspiracy where every nation on the planet and doctors in North and South Dakota have agreed to bury empty coffins and do interviews about how bad everything is virus-wise, I doubt it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

November thankfulness, Days 1-17

Usually, I try to post one thing each day in November that I'm thankful for, and I always try to find the most unusual things I can find.

I do this because it is all too easy to be thankful for the obvious. It doesn't take a whole lot of thought to feel thankful for my family and good health. I try to pay attention to the things that I typically ignore that, though small and seemingly insignificant, bring me pleasure or joy or a sense of wonder.

Though numbered these aren't in any particular order:

1--I'm thankful my uncle, who passed away earlier this year, wanted me to have the V family history and entrusted me with it. He knew I was interested and would take care of it. I hope to one day find out where the family originated, though the local settlers came to KY in 1779 from Pennsylvania. Where did they live before that?

2--I'm thankful for good-smelling candles and hand soaps. I normally do not hoard candles or soaps (or anything if I can help it), but I have found considerable comfort since COVID began lighting candles and smelling nice scents when I wash my hands, which is a lot. 

3--I'm thankful for having time at home with our stupid cats. Normally we are running a lot during the school year, but online school is giving us lots of snuggle time with these goobers. A whole lot of frustration is averted or minimized when you get to see cuteness. 

4--I'm thankful for G's therapist. Though the pandemic took the remarkable strides G made between fall of 2019 and Feb of 2020 and more or less dumped them down the drain, being able to have periodic telehealth appointments with Dr. S helps keep G on track as much as anyone can be on track during a worldwide pandemic.

5--I'm thankful that the pandemic gave me time in the spring to learn how to crochet. I find it very calming. I listen to my audiobook and work with my hands. It is very meditative. I would not have done this were it not for quarantining.

6--I'm thankful that G wanted to clean and rearrange his room yesterday because it launched me into a day of purging. It feels very, very good to get rid of stuff. It feels very good to think about whether items I own are things I actually use or wear. Do I love them? Do they just take up stuff? Are they junk to me? 

7--I'm thankful that I can read. While I may not read 100 books this year, as I did last year, I'll be pretty close. Reading has been hard this year because of my frequent doomscrolling between pandemic news, social unrest news, and election news. Still, I'm glad it provides me a means of some escape.

8--I'm thankful N got her first job this summer. While she has long had a neighborhood pet-sitting business (which her brothers are now doing more than she is), this job has helped build her confidence and real-world experience. 

9--I'm thankful I could sub for someone who had breast cancer surgery. More importantly, I'm thankful I could sub for this person because I hated this person when I was a kid. It reminds me that a childhood perspective can be sometimes flawed and/or limited. It helps remind me that hanging onto childhood animosity can be stupid and limiting. 

10--I'm thankful I was COVID negative, at least as of last Tuesday. I do not know if that will continue to be the case (especially since another uncle died, and I went to the funeral home). We all wore masks and tried to distance, but you never know. 

11--I'm thankful for my OCD because it prepared me to be vigilant during a pandemic. Prior to COVID, I carried 3 hand sanitizers in my bag. Now I carry 4. I had trained myself to not touch my face. OCD generally sucks, but not when it comes to pandemic lifestyle changes. I handwash like a BOSS. 

12--I'm thankful to be listening to music more. I have recently re-upped songs to my playlist that I had forgotten. When everything is "meh," a little Violent Femmes and Beastie Boys send my energy back to middle school levels (at least temporarily; who can sustain that junk at age 47).

13--I'm thankful for texting and Facetime. With COVID rates rising (I originally spelled rats; Freudian, I think), we're trying to keep away from grandparents. It DOES suck to not see them, but I think about pioneers and families that traveled to California from Japan who NEVER SAW THEIR FAMILIES EVER AGAIN. They didn't have reliable mail service; heck, many pioneers didn't know how to write at all. As much as people complain about "kids" not knowing how to delay their gratification, I think we've got an entire society that sucks at it. (Grown-ups, I'm talking to your asses.)

14--I'm thankful for the public library system. They do curbside pickups now, and since reopening have been a lifesaver for me and the kids. I tell them regularly how much I appreciate them making books available.

15--I'm thankful I've let go of this notion that I have to stay "socially connected" to people I really and truly have zero relationship with or who I actually (and actively) dislike. To stay "friends" with someone you genuinely don't like and don't spend time with and who actively makes your life unpleasant when they post stuff is bonafide dumb. It took me entirely too long to recognize that. 

16--I'm thankful I'm don't have to be an "always right" parent. I'm often wrong, and it is much better to admit that (both to myself and my kids). Just because something is "right" for me doesn't mean it is "right" for my kids. It seems like recognizing that before they are adults makes life easier. That doesn't mean we always agree, but we always discuss. 

17--I'm thankful for hand-me-down clothes from my children. I recently acquired an old Stranger Things t-shirt, a pair of leggings, and a perfect cardigan wrap. 

Friday, November 6, 2020

A whole new respect for the electoral process

This semester I'm teaching an American Government class which is the best way to force yourself to relearn all those things about the American government you forgot from middle and high school.  

Working as an election official is also a great opportunity to learn more about elections and how American government works.

Lord knows that working one election makes me an expert in exactly nothing, but I did learn a lot and the experience has helped me better understand how difficult it is to commit election fraud and why people are unlikely to do it. 

For example, at least in my state, if an individual requests an absentee ballot and receives it but doesn't follow directions (and therefore screws it up) or loses/misplaces it, that individual cannot receive another one. 

If a person never receives an absentee ballot, the board of elections can/will cancel the first absentee ballot so the individual can vote in person provided an election officer calls them and verifies everything. However, since the first absentee ballot has now been canceled, even if the individual lied that they never received it and sent it in, with the goal of voting twice, that first ballot will not be accepted/counted. 

In my state, identification has to be shown, although it doesn't HAVE to be a photo id. It can be a passport or social security card or Medicaid card--something with a signature. 

Now, I know some people think not showing a photo id means it is easy for someone to vote multiple times, perhaps by lying and saying they are someone else. Or maybe they stole someone else's Social Security card? 

Here is why this is unlikely:

Poll workers stay the entire day at their election site (they cannot leave the property) which means they have been watching people come to vote In a "normal year" when there isn't a pandemic, fewer people go to smaller precincts which makes it more likely the workers would remember someone coming in twice. In this abnormal year, there were over 100 poll workers, which increases the likelihood that someone would notice a "repeat customer" should that happen. 

Is it possible for someone to go from precinct to precinct to vote multiple times? 

Yes, I guess it is possible, but what would motivate a person to do this given that election fraud is a Class D felony? My assumption is that if someone voted 5 times illegally, they would be charged for 5 Class D felonies, which means they could be looking at 25 years in prison. 

What is the likelihood of someone taking a chance on 25 years in prison to vote 5 additional times? 

Are 5 additional votes going to make a difference? Not likely.

And if only 5 votes are the difference between a candidate winning or losing, there would be a recount, which would mean greater scrutiny of votes. 

Is it possible? Well, sure. We've all heard of stupid criminals, but it is very, very improbable. 

Is it possible that election officials could commit election fraud? 

Each person who works at an election site must swear an oath to follow the US Constitution and their state laws in order to help people to vote. Some areas are able to pay their poll workers, while other areas do not have the funds to do this. 

I arrived at the precinct where I worked at 4:45 am and left that evening at 6:30 pm. My area pays its election officials (which I did not know until I got there that morning). I made around $14/hour before taxes. 


There is absolutely zero incentive for me to commit fraud. 

Right now, absentee ballots votes are being counted in multiple states, and there are mumblings about fraud. 

Again, as mentioned above, this is not likely. 

Could the election officers who are counting commit fraud?

Possible, but they, too, would commit a felony if they tried to tabulate incorrectly or not tabulate at all. 

Is an election official likely to do this? 

No....because what incentive do they have? If they work for the county clerk in their respective area, they would be committing a felony AND losing their job as a result of committing that felony. 

I sometimes hear mumblings about "illegals" voting, which is unlikely for a very important reason. 

Let's assume someone is living in the country illegally. This individual would want the government to not know where they are, what they are doing, right? 

If I am trying not to be deported, I'm very, very, very unlikely to go register to vote and show my id and, once again, commit a felony. 

All of this is to say that despite conspiracy theories, it makes very little sense for people to commit voter fraud. 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Macbeth, MacDuff, social/political context, and being a man

I love to teach Macbeth to high school students because it is just packed full of so much humanity, and even though it is hundreds of years old, it is written in such a way that it is eternally relevant. 

My copy of Macbeth.

The other night a friend and I went to see a parking lot performance of the play (which was just brilliant for making theater happen safely for audiences during a pandemic). Even though I have read the play numerous times and seen the play performed numerous times, I was struck by how much the play relates to something I've seen being discussed lately in modern politics: 

What makes a man?

There seems to be a juxtaposition between Donald Trump as a "manly man" and Joe Biden as not because of showing affection to his son. I realize social media is not real life, but there seems to be this idea of a man as either 

1--physically strong, macho, won't back down, won't take no for an answer, grab 'em by the pussy


2--affectionate with kids and dogs and therefore able to be taken advantage of. Rather than grabbing others by the pussy, this version of a man is that he is the pussy. 

A writer/professor I follow on Twitter recently wrote an article about this exact topic. 

I'm just going to acknowledge that it is stupid to have these polarities because manliness can be a lot of different things just as being a woman can be many things. A woman doesn't have to be maternal, just as a man doesn't have to be a clone of John Wayne. The context of the moment, though, is that there are two different men running for president who have drastically different "what a man is" personas. 

This is a central focus in Macbeth. Lady Macbeth gives her husband hell about having the balls to kill the king. "Be a man!" she more or less says to him. And so Macbeth becomes that "manly man" who ravages those around him, although after his first murder he does his killing mercilessly from a distance--he hires his murders out to others. He becomes paranoid and chaotic. 

On the other side, we have Macduff, whose wife and children Macbeth has someone else murder. When Macduff is told to "Dispute [their deaths] like a man," his reply shows the other option of what it means to be a man:

"I shall do so; But I must also feel it as a man, I cannot but remember such things were that were most precious to me." 

The entire play is a drama about the choices men make----to put ambition before everything else; to listen to others (in this case a lady) who insult them and badger them into "acting as a man" even when they know it is the wrong thing to do; to continue on the evil rampage because they've already gone too far and it's not worth it to turn back. 

It is always intellectually stimulating (those emotionally exhausting) when modern politics and Shakespeare's writing converge. 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

I'm starting to feel differently about death

I have always been fascinated by death, and I doubt that will ever change. I have also always been terrified of death, although that bit seems to be changing. And yet, I've always understood suicide--the need/desire to end it all, to just be free of consciousness forever. 

The actual physicality of dying and decay is intriguing. 

This past summer I read Mary Roach's book Stiff, and I couldn't read it fast enough. I didn't know this place existed until I read this book. I regularly tell G that he should be a forensic doctor because he loves to poke at dead things or cut into preserved corpses (of worms, fish, etc). N has an interest in forensics, too. M gets "sicky" easily, so he will be the one who opts out of anything remotely related to blood and bone.

I have been reading the kids the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman for the past several months. I read this series probably 20 years ago before I had children, so I had forgotten a TON. 

The other night, though, we got to the point in The Amber Spyglass, where Lyra meets her Death, and I loved the idea that from the moment a person is born, their death essentially hangs with them through every experience, ready when the time comes to take their hand and gently escort them into the great beyond. Essentially, the death functions similarly to the soul. In this book, both are personified. 

I don't know what I believe about death...what happens after, although my biggest sense is nothing. You simply don't exist anymore. Just as my consciousness of life didn't happen at the moment of my birth, and I remember nothing of the "before" or my birth or the several years after my birth, I think death will be the same. 

A while back I listened to an audiobook by Barbara Ehrenreich titled Natural Causes, and there was a part that struck me:

"You can think of death as a tragic interruption of your life... or, more realistically, you can think of life as an interruption of an eternity of personal nonexistence, and see it as a brief opportunity to observe and interact with the living, ever-surprising world around us."

I think it is pretty normal to feel scared of death when you're young, but the older I get, the more I understand that death can begin to feel like a relief. This doesn't mean you don't want to live anymore, but it means that due to the physical burdens of living (fatigue, disease, aging bones and muscles, etc.), you are tired. There is a point when many people if they live long enough are simply exhausted. They don't actively wish to die but they are okay with the prospect of eternal "sleep" and rest. 

And yet, I also understand the desire to not exist anymore as a young person due to the confusion and the angst and the general unmoored feelings that a person can have when they are still raging at figuring things out or if depression has taken hold of them. 

Several years ago I spoke to a mom whose son was having suicidal thoughts, and she had never had those herself. She couldn't wrap her head around the idea, and so I explained to her that I had sort of always had suicidal thoughts. It was as strange to me to imagine a person never having such thoughts as it was to her to imagine someone having them at all. 

My dad's diagnosis with face/neck cancer this summer and his current chemotherapy (which is preventative since his cancer has not metastasized) has me tuned into mortality. For this to coincide with a pandemic that has taken over 200,000 lives makes it even scarier. 

I don't like to think of my parents dying, and yet being forced to reckon with it provides a silver lining. Last year when Dad had his open-heart surgery to repair a valve and was still in the hospital, I helped him out of bed one day and bathed his back while my mom went home to shower. I am not a sentimental person, but this was a profoundly important experience for me (and why are my eyes getting bleary right now.) 

Sorry. Needed a tissue. 

Helping my dad in that moment was one of the most meaningful experiences in my life, right up there with marrying and having children. Seeing my dad vulnerable was a gift. 

Damn. More tissues. 

Seeing my dad vulnerable then was a gift. Seeing my dad vulnerable now during his cancer is a gift.

It is not a gift I expected or want at all. AT ALL.

But to see it only as a burden and sadness misses a large part of the picture of what it means to be human and have a meaningful life. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Nothing rhymes with 11

Dear M,

My bonus baby monkey boy is 11 now, and that is hard to believe. 

You've have changed a lot in the past year. 

Not only did your braces (Phase I) come off, you have finally, FINALLY been separating yourself a bit from your brother. You are no longer ruled so much by "Same thing as G" as you once were.

Your snark is definitely developing which is frequently hilarious for all of us. 

You continue to be the one person in the family who mispronounces words in your own unique way, usually putting accents on unique syllables. When we saw the movie "Gemini Man" listed on Netflix, you said "Gem-een-nee." We still laugh at the way you called a neighborhood dog Mur-reeeee a couple years ago (Murray). 

Like other 11-year-old boys, you are way into farting. Fortunately, you have not yet entered the "stinking from all areas and orifices" stage. You still pretty willingly take baths. 

Your 5th-grade year certainly looks different with doing virtual school, but you have been so responsible and attentive to your work which makes me proud. I'm not sure what you'll be when you grow up, but based on how much I have to tug things out of you, I'm not certain writing will be your top career prospect. And we know you get sicky from all things blood, bruise, and wound-oriented so nursing or doctoring are out. 

One day when we walked to the new construction in the back of the neighborhood, you said it might be fun to build houses. We will see, I guess.

You continue to be the cat whisperer in the house, at least to the one with white paws. She will follow you anywhere and everywhere. Up the stairs, down the stairs; it doesn't matter. She often sleeps at the end of your bed or lies on your desk to keep you company. 

You've discovered how fun it is to take pics on my phone and you regularly go without a shirt, no matter the weather. Often you do both at the same time.

I hope you have a good year even though coming up to 11 has been all pandemic(y) and not super great. Fortunately, you've got a positive attitude and sense of humor which will help you manage whatever life throws at you. 

I love you bunches, my favorite ear twiddler.