Monday, September 17, 2012

The economics of the home

In my previous post I was talking a lot about the cultural aspects of the home: sex, marriage, children, family, the decisions we make about these things as if they were made in a vacuum.  However, economics plays into all that a heck of a lot.  We often don't make decisions based on our values -- we make decisions based on whether we can afford them.

Unfortunately economics is not my area of expertise.  I found myself frustrated with Radical Homemakers, because it obviously isn't the author's area of expertise either.  Sure, she discussed it for half the book -- but she never got past describing our economy to explaining why it's like that.  The trouble is that no one really knows why it's like that -- all we have our theories.  So all I have, personally, are a lot of questions.

1.  Is it possible for a family to live on one income?  Silly question, I know, considering we do so already.  But is this sustainable?  Will it continue to be possible?  You can cut expenses like food, luxuries, even housing costs, but what about insurance for the whole family?  Don't you need two jobs to insure everyone?  In our particular situation, John's insurance will accept him and any number of kids for a reasonable price, but add a spouse and it's another $500 a month.  That's like another mortgage.

Our solution has been to buy private insurance for me, but prices are predicted to go up across the board for the next few years, and it's uncertain how sustainable this option is going to be for us.  I'm thinking maybe a catastrophic plan is the best for me, but I don't know anything about that.  Do any of you?

2.  Is there room for more than one kind of lifestyle in our economy?  I've often wondered this.  I mean, a generation ago all the women decided to enter the workforce.  That meant double the employees, and wouldn't that mean wages would go down, and thus every household needs two incomes now?  (John says no; the reason every household "needs" two incomes now is because of inflation due to abandoning the gold standard.  I am no expert.)  Or take childcare.  If most women want to work outside the home, the government should ensure copious maternity leave and affordable childcare are available, right?  But the money for that comes out of everyone's taxes.  So those families that don't use those benefits will end up paying more in taxes and getting nothing for it.  Is there a fair way to make sure that working moms have what they need, and stay-at-home moms aren't penalized for providing their own childcare?  (Or do we just have to deal with it, as we already do if we homeschool and still pay school tax?)  Conversely, if nothing is done for working moms, is it really okay for them to have nothing but their saved vacation days to give birth on, so that they are sometimes forced to go back to work within days after having a baby?  How can single moms cope with childcare costs while raising enough money to feed their kids?

3.  How is the economy to survive if people don't get and stay married?  Think about last post.  I mentioned an article that showed married moms were richer than single moms, and their kids had more opportunities.  The suggestion was made that the government should make up what is lacking in single-parent families, by providing subsidized childcare and other programs.  This is all well and good as long as there are plenty of wealthier, married families paying plenty of taxes.  But what happens as more and more of the population relies on these programs to get by, and no one's paying in?  And yet, what can anybody do about it?  We can't force anyone to get married.

4.  For a bigger jump, what about our food system?  I've been told over and over again that mega-farms are the only feasible way to feed the nation.  And yet that seems absolutely counter-intuitive to me.  What is sustainable about the way they do business?  Lots of money spent on GMO seed, chemical fertilizers, massive tractors -- the bigger the farm, the greater the overhead, so a profit isn't necessarily easier to come by if you scale up.  Shipping costs increase, of course, if you have to grow everything in California or the Midwest.  Wouldn't the smart thing to do be to replace expensive chemical inputs (and oil to power the machines) with human labor, helping employ people across the country and not just in cities?  Or is farm work something Americans just don't do ... because of the minimum wage, or pride, or some other reason?

Could we feed America on smaller farms?  Is there any way to reverse the flight from farms to the city?  Once 90% of Americans farmed; today the number is about 1%.  Could we bump it up to 10% and still efficiently feed everyone?  Is the idea that we could all at least know where our food comes from, an impossible dream?  Or do 10% of people just not want to farm because it sounds like too much work?

What do you think?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Home matters

I have been reading a lot lately, trying to weasel out the problems with the world today.  A big job, I know, because there are a lot of problems!

I read this article about Baby Boomers, and this response by a Gen-Xer.  Neither is recent, but they got me thinking about the huge amounts of social change we have seen in the past 60 or 70 years.  Unlike many people, I don't think the 1950's were a golden age.  As a matter of fact, I can't really point to any era that I can honestly say was a "golden age."  I like Chaucer's England, but on the other hand, some classes were repressed for the benefit of other classes.  I admire the Saxon Heptarchy, but they had big problems with Danes.  I wouldn't actually want to be alive at the time of the Saxon Heptarchy.  And for how long can we say America held to the ideal of the Founding Fathers?  I doubt the Constitution had even been ratified before people started plotting how to use it to get the most advantage for themselves, at the expense of others.

On the other hand, I have to admit -- there's been a lot of change in the past half-century, and not all of it has been good.  However, when I read about the childhoods of baby boomers, I notice that they struggled with different problems.  They don't seem to have been loved all that much, for some reason.  Sexual abuse appears to have been much more widespread than anyone knew.  Women's lives seem to have been so devoid of interest and excitement than the apex of their day, if we believe the magazines of the time, seems to have been making a nasty jello mold.

The number-one shift?  The family.  The end of the 1800's saw men leave the family farm for outside work.  The middle of the 1900's saw women do it too.  Then divorce became widespread, and then people stopped bothering to get married in the first place.  Births out of wedlock are always on the rise now.

Anyway, in addition to all that I've been reading What's Wrong With the World, by G. K. Chesterton (or rather re-reading it ... just flipping through and enjoying it; it's one of my favorite books and if I ever wrote in books (which I don't, I like to keep them beautiful) every word would be underlined and highlighted).  Also, I'm almost finished with Radical Homemakers, by Shannon Hayes, which is a truly fascinating book which I want to write a real review for later (though let's see if I do).

From all of these books and articles, I'm drawing the same conclusion: home is where it's at.  The family is what matters.  Gen-X was radically changed by having so often been the children of divorce.  I believe the baby boomers suffered from having been left to cry alone in cribs and not breastfed.  These things matter.

Just yesterday, I read this article about the difference between a married mother and an unmarried mother.  (Spoiler: married moms have more money and time to spend on their children; single moms have it harder, are poorer, and give fewer opportunities to their kids.) Then I read this one which said, in short, it's not the marriage, it's that our society doesn't provide all the things a husband could: "Why does it seem like a reasonable policy suggestion to tell Jessica she needs a husband, and pie in the sky to say she needs a union? Or a national day care system like the one in France, where teachers are well-paid, with benefits?"  (This at the end of a long list of other programs necessary to equalize things for single moms.)  You could also read it this way: "Why does it seem reasonable to say her son should have a father, and not reasonable to say he needs 65 government programs to do the job?"

Um, because fathers are cheaper?  Because no matter how many government programs you have, it just isn't the same?  Because raising kids really does take two people (at least) and there is no substitute for that?

Sigh.  I sometimes forget how good I have it.  I have a college education, a masters-educated husband, a house, and two beautiful children.  Reading the New York Times article, it occurs to me that if I'd done the "modern" thing and slept around in high school, I might have the kids and nothing else.  This is the real reason I waited till marriage.  Beyond any other reason -- like going to schools where people just weren't having sex in the first place, or having been raised to "just say no" to sex and many other things my peers were doing -- I knew that sex results in babies, that it sometimes does so even if you use "protection," and that it would break my heart to a) kill my children, b) give up my children to someone else, or c) raise my children without a father.  I knew that while sex looks like it only concerns the two people who are engaging in it, this is not in fact the case.  It often results in children, and the circumstances of your sexual encounter have a much, much profounder effect on them than they do on you.

When we get down to it, sex and marriage aren't really primarily about love.  Definitely there should be love, because love is what makes the necessary sacrifices possible and worthwhile.  But the real purpose of these things is to continue the species: sex begets new humans, marriage allows them to be brought up.  Read some Chesterton if you don't already know why divorce (or unwed parenthood) is bad for children.  I was going to type out a quote until I realized the really good stuff was pages and pages long.  It is hard to abridge Chesterton.

But here's a little bit which in retrospect sounds prophetic: "The Hospital has been enlarged into the School and then into the State; not the guardian of some abnormal children, but the guardian of all normal children.  Modern mothers and fathers, of the emancipated sort, could not do their quick-change acts of bewildering divorce and scattered polygamy, if they did not believe in a big benevolent Grandmother, who could ultimately take over ten million children by grandmotherly legislation."  In short, either you have the family, or you have a vast government to take the place of the family ... which, more and more, is exactly what we are getting.

The family, the home, is superior to the state, though.  Not only is it prior to the state and more crucial to human flourishing, but it is also conducive to much more freedom.  More Chesterton for you:

"The truth is, that to the moderately poor the home is the only place of liberty.  Nay, it is the only place of anarchy.  It is the only spot on the earth here a man can alter arrangements suddenly, make an experiment or indulge in a whim.  Everywhere else he goes he must accept the strict rules of the shop, inn, club, or museum that he happens to enter.  He can eat his meals on the floor in his own house if he likes.  I often do it myself; it gives a curious, childish, poetic feeling.  There would be considerable trouble if I tried to do it in an A.B.C. tea-shop. . . .  For a plain, hard-working man the home is not the one tame place in the world of adventure.  It is the one wild place in the world of rules and set tasks.  The home is the one place where he can put the carpet on the ceiling and the slates on the floor if he wants to. . . . A man can only picnic at home."

In my case, my own home is the only place I can let my kids wander around with no pants (as I so often do) or decide to go gluten-free for a week or eat peas off the vine without washing them off first.  If I get all my food from a corporation or a government -- or, in the way our society currently works, from both -- I have to take it the way they want to give it to me.  My peas must be washed, my milk pasteurized.  If I make them myself, I can do it my own way.  The same goes for childraising.  I choose to raise my children in a way that (I believe) will help them develop into good people who will make the world a better place.  If we all were forced to raise our children (or have them raised) the same way, nothing would ever change and it could never be a better place.

The thesis of Radical Homemakers is that we should withdraw, as far as possible, from our consumer culture and do more for ourselves.  We should make more things from scratch -- cooking, gardening, building houses -- and spend more time with our family.  To support this thesis, Hayes throws in statistic after statistic showing how extremely unhappy and unfulfilled Americans are, despite being comparatively quite wealthy.  What we lack is family.

The problem -- the thing that prevents more people from being homemakers -- is the fear of gender inequality.  Let's face it, when one spouse is a homemaker, which does it usually end up being?  When a family decides to cook at home rather than eating out, who tends to do the cooking?  Women see being the one at home as getting the short end of the stick.  Hayes turns that around and points out that home is where you want to be. 

Chesterton: "Babies need not to be taught a trade, but to be introduced to a world.  To put the matter shortly, woman is generally shut up in a house with a human being at the time when he asks all the questions that there are, and some that there aren't.  It would be odd if she retained any of the narrowness of a specialist.  Now if anyone says that this duty of general enlightenment (even when freed from modern rules and hours, and exercised more spontaneously by a more protected person) is in itself too exacting and oppressive, I can understand the view.  I can only answer that our race has thought it worth while to cast this burden on women in order to keep common sense in the world.  But when people begin to talk about this domestic duty as not merely difficult but trivial and dreary, I simply give up the question.  For I cannot with the most utmost energy of imagination conceive of what they mean.  When domesticity, for instance, is called drudgery, all the difficulty arise from a double meaning in the word.  If drudgery only means dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman drudges in the home, as a man might drudge at the Cathedral of Amiens or drudge behind a gun at Trafalgar.  But if it means that the hard work is more heavy because it is trifling, colourless, and of small import to the soul, then, as I say, I give it up; I do not know what the words mean.  To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be Whitely within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets, cakes and books; to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it.  How can it be a large career to tell other people's children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one's own children about the universe?  How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone?  No; a woman's function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute.  I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness."

Excuse the massiveness of the quotation; like I said, there is really no way to abridge Chesterton.  The point is that the work of the home is important; to be the one trusted with it is, in many ways, the best thing.  Hayes points out that it doesn't have to be the woman, either; it could be the man or it could be both of them, working part-time or from home in order to be more and do more at home.

This is scary, though.  When we invest in the home, we have to trust that the other investor will stick around.  If we don't trust that they will, we'd better be earning an actual paycheck, right?  That way if they divorce us, we'll have something left.  Housewives with no employment history fare badly in divorces; after it's finalized, they have trouble finding a job.  Investing in the family is a bad thing if one member might bail; both of you will lose your investment, and whoever invested more will lose more.  This is one reason why marriage has to be for life in order to make a safe and secure home for all members of the family.  If divorce is considered a possibility, the spouses won't invest in the family.

However, if you intend to be married for life, there's no reason for a gender war. Who does what job within the family becomes an issue of practical division of labor rather than power.  After all, Hayes points out that before the industrial revolution, both men and women did the majority of their work at home.  Men would plow, women would tend the garden; men would make shoes and women would make shirts.  These tasks were governed by tradition, but in most cases the division of labor was rather arbitrary.  And there's no reason (in Hayes' opinion or mine) why it has to be divided any particular way.  The important thing is that both spouses make an investment in the home -- spending time with children, making home a refuge.

Chesterton agrees here:

"There is a plutocratic assumption behind the phrase, 'Why should woman be economically dependent upon man?'  The answer is that among poor and practical people she isn't; except in the sense that he is dependent upon her.  A hunter has to tear his clothes; there must be somebody to mend them.  A fisher has to catch fish; there must be somebody to cook them.  It is surely quite clear that this modern notion that a woman is a mere 'pretty clinging parasite,' 'a plaything,' etc., arose through the sombre contemplation of some rich banking family, in which the banker at least went to the city and pretended to do something, while the banker's wife went to the Park and did not pretend to do anything at all.  A poor man and his wife are a business partnership.  If one partner in a firm of publishers interviews the authors while the other interviews the clerks, is one of them economically dependent?  Was Hodder a pretty parasite clinging to Stoughton?  Was Marshall a mere plaything for Snelgrove?"

I admit I don't know who the two partnerships mentioned are; presumably every Brit of his era knew.  Perhaps it would help if we changed it to "Was J.P. Morgan a mere plaything for Chase?" or something.  The point is that in a partnership like this, it doesn't matter who's doing what; they are equal because they are both free people contributing something, but each reliant on the other.

If you're going to have a family, you're going to want a family home:

"As every normal man desires a woman, and children born of a woman, every normal man desires a house of his own to put them into.  He does not merely want a roof above him and a chair below him; he wants an objective and a visible kingdom; a fire at which he can cook what food he likes, a door he can open to what friends he chooses.  This is the normal appetite of men; I do not say there are not exceptions. . . . To give nearly everybody ordinary houses would please nearly everybody; that is what I assert without apology."

The hard part is to have this wonderful thing, the family home, without the economic means to sustain it.  We're all too busy surviving to have any leisure to invest in the home.  I do believe our struggling economy is a big contributing factor to the troubles we have in the family.  On the other hand, I think the problems the family has are part of the reason the economy is struggling so badly.  If you want to fix these things, you have to fix them together.

 But law can't fix the family side of things.  Family law exists for families that are broken; CPS exists for families in crisis.  There is no agency whose job is to make sure that people get married before having sex, that they stay married for life, that within marriage they treat one another with respect, that they sacrifice for their kids.  There couldn't be such an agency.  You.can't.legislate.this.

So in trying to solve the problems of the world, I've simply discovered another problem: the family is in crisis and no one but the members of each family can fix it.  On the other hand, I am a member of a family -- so I can fix it, in my family if not in any other.

If you've made it through this immense post, you totally win an internet cookie.  But what do you think?  I'm going to address some further issues in a future post ... or perhaps even a series of posts.  Is there anything you think merits further discussion?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Marko-isms

Marko is getting to that age where he speaks very clearly, but the things that he says are hilarious.  Most of them are just things he's heard us say that he's repeating -- but some of it is his own wackiness.


He's reaching a milestone right now: he is finally beginning to use "I" and "you" correctly.  You know what's more confusing than a boy who says "I" when he means "you" and "you" when he means "I"?  A boy who does so half the time.  I am constantly misunderstanding him.

On to the Marko-isms.

* * *

At church:

Priest: We offer this Mass for the repose of the soul of Edmund Gross.

Marko: Ha ha!  Gross!


* * *

At church, a different Sunday:

I am discreetly nursing the baby -- no cover but it totally looks like I'm just holding him.  I'm patting myself on the back for how subtle I am being when -- 

Marko:  The baby is nursing!  He's having some nurse!  He's having some milk!  He's having a little nurse!


* * *

Misheard lyrics:

Lipstick stains (from Hey Soul Sister) --> fish stick stains

Aux Champs Elysee --> Oh, song can you say

We can work it out --> We can't work at all

Oh, I got a gal and she is a daisy --> Oh, I got a gal and she is a crazy

* * *

Marko: Go to bed, Gilbert!  Did I stutter?

* * *

Marko: Would you like a cookie?

Me: I don't have any cookies.  But I have lots of pumpkin.  How about something made out of pumpkin?

Marko: How about something made out of cookies?

* * *

Me: And if that mockingbird don't sing, Mama's gonna buy you a diamond ring.

Marko (upset): That mockingbird DID sing, Mama.

Me:  ... And if that looking glass gets broke, Mama's gonna buy you a billy goat.

Marko: It didn't get broke!  The looking glass didn't get broke!

Me: ... And if that donkey cart falls down ....

Marko: It didn't fall down!  It got up!  The donkey cart got up!

Me: Never mind.

Marko: (pause)  Mama, sing it again.  Tell Michael he gets a mockingbird if he stops crying.

* * *

Yesterday

Me: We're going to water the plants today!

Marko: We're going to fly in a red airplane today?

Me: Um ... no, I don't think we can do that today.

Marko: (howls)

Today

Me: Do you want to go to the library today?

Marko: Yes!  We will fly in a red airplane.

Me:  Uh ... no ... just the library.

Marko: (howls)

Me: Wait.  Do you mean the van airplane?

Marko: Yes!  Ride in the van airplane to the library!

He then goes and happily gets buckled into his "airplane seat" to ride to the library in our beat-up, GMC ... "airplane."

* * *

I know there are lots more but I can never remember them all!  This kid is a riot.  Even right now he is quietly chanting to himself, "Those tasty treats are not good.  Keep them safe and dry.  Roll it up," and other things that apparently have to do with the book he is reading.  When he isn't giving his stream of consciousness, he's singing to himself, with or without words.

Aaaand now he's trying to eat his farm book.  Time to go read to him, I think.  Gotta give this kid stuff to do or he will quite literally destroy everything in the house.

Friday, September 7, 2012

My kids are annoying

There.  I said it.  From time to time, my kids really do drive me bananas.

I get praise all the time for how patient I am.  I don't mind waiting in line, and I waited for years for my husband to like me back.  But that's all small potatoes compared to the patience that small children demand.

Michael?  Sure, he's sweet and snuggly and adorable ... comes with the territory of being a baby.  But he's also needy and clingy and fussy ... which also comes with the territory of being a baby.  And there are times when I have used a frustrated tone (that one might calling yelling except I would NEVER yell at a poor, sweet, defenseless baby) and said, "Why won't you just be happy and let me put you DOWN?!"

I am NEVER crabby.

Marko?  Well, naturally he is a force of destruction.  He's two.  High on ability, low on responsibility.  He can easily comprehend how to open the fridge, but he just doesn't seem to get it when I say "No, you may not play with the eggs."  I have yet to find a tone of voice between "doesn't even hear me" and "melts down into a puddle of misery on the floor because I yelled at him."  And whichever tone of voice I use, the WORDS I use seem to be utterly lost on him.

Me?  Trouble?

His special talents are scaling furniture, raiding the fridge, and dumping stuff.  If there is something to be dumped, you bet your britches he is dumping it.  Dog's water, cat's food, salt shaker, baking soda, clean laundry ... I have heard some people FOLD their clean diapers.  What madness is this?  He dumps our diaper basket a dozen times a day, and if you want me to fold it, well, you might as well just commit me to a mental institution now and save me the trouble.

And then there's that thing.  That thing that's a perfect storm between my two children.  The thing that ruins my day, except the part where it often happens several times a day.

The thing is this.  Michael is not a good napper, obviously.  He is related to me and therefore sleeps about as deeply as Argos.  But we've kind of got a routine going that works okay for him.  I nurse him in the rocking chair until he's asleep, then transfer him onto my bed.  There's a magical moment right after his eyes have shut when he can be moved; go too soon or too late and you lose.  I used to do the whole process in the bedroom, but that means leaving Marko unattended, which results in several kinds of disaster.  So here's what happens instead.

I sit down in the rocking chair in the living room with my yawning baby who is clearly at that exact perfect point when he will go to sleep with maximum ease.  I nurse him.  His eyes begin to droop.  He doesn't care at all about the general background noise of Marko running around and singing nonsense songs ... so Marko is careful not to do that.  No, he is perfectly silent, say, playing with the dog.  Michael's eyes drop to 98% shut.  And then Marko suddenly decides the dog is not playing the game right and lets out a massive, blood-curdling shriek.  Michael unlatches and his eyes go as wide as saucers.  Latch back on?  Ha.  He is ALL DONE.  And ALL AWAKE.  For about five minutes, Michael is as happy as a clam.  And then suddenly he realizes that he is now overtired and dissolves into whining and fussing and sobbing and clinging to me.

Half an hour later, he's finally willing to try again.  We nurse.  His eyes shut.  Stealthily I sneak out of the chair and into the bedroom.  Just as I reach the bed, the door bangs open.  "Play in the helicopter!" Marko announces, leaping onto the bed.  Michael still doesn't wake, so we're good.  But he is on the bed and bouncing so I can't lay him down.  So very, very softly I whisper, "Please move so I can lay the baby down."  Eyes fly open.  We lose.

Michael only ever naps 45 minutes at a time.  He would be willing to be lulled back to sleep for another round, if only I could get about 20 minutes of perfect silence and calm to do it.  In other words it never happens.  So he takes 3-4 naps a day.  Odds are good that at least one and probably several of my attempts to put him down to sleep will fail.  And then the poor child is sooooooo crabby.

Occasionally I try putting Marko in his room and shutting the door before beginning the process.  But then he howls like he's been committed to Alcatraz for life, and I feel terrible "punishing" him before he's actually done anything wrong.  I sometimes put him in there after he's woken up the baby, but then it's kind of pointless because the baby is already awake, and I honestly don't think he understands the concept of what I'm asking him to do.

It's just FRUSTRATING, you know?

But I have discovered one thing.  It's that my mood makes the difference between calmly whispering, "Please don't wake the baby" and screaming "YOU WOKE THE BABY AGAIN!  I CAN'T BELIEVE IT!  GET OUT OF HERE BEFORE I DO SOMETHING I'LL REGRET!"  The results of option A are superior to option B, and yet when I am angry, option B sounds more appealing.

So my job is to manage my OWN mood as carefully as the children's.  I keep Michael happy by making sure (to the best of my ability) that he gets food and sleep.  I keep Marko happy by making sure (to the best of my ability) that he has plenty to do and that I give him adequate attention.  I keep me happy by a number of different methods. 

The first is to IGNORE that stupid impulse I get when I am stressed out and behind on the chores ... you know, that still small voice that says, "The house is a mess.  Why don't you skip doing the chores and instead try making homemade pasta for the first time?"  I don't know why, but the more stressed out and behind I feel, the less I feel like doing chores and the more I feel like cooking something I've never cooked before, or maybe starting a complicated and messy crafting project.  My guess is this is the origin of Pinterest.  Just out of the margins of those pictures is a massive pile of scattered toys and half-eaten PBJ's.

The second thing is to change the scene.  I just pick them up and go: "Hey kids, Mama's gonna have an aneurysm if you destroy ONE MORE THING so we are going to go play outside."  It helps like you wouldn't believe.  For severe existential crises, the playground is indicated.

The third thing is the most important.  I simply cannot, canNOT do what I just did above.  I can't say "my kids are annoying."  Because if I give myself five minutes to think about it, I can think of a dozen more ways they drive me crazy.  (I had to stop myself from telling you about Juicemageddon of yesterday.)  And the more I think of them, the angrier I get until I'm speaking in furious monosyllables and getting in fights with the cat.  Yeah, not sure how that last one happened.

What I TRY to do (and often fail) is to pull the child who is bothering me closer, instead of pushing him away like I want to.  This of course has the effect of calming that kid down and stopping the avalanche of bad behavior that happens on a crabby day.  But more importantly, it helps me see the good in that child.  So I take Marko to the couch and I read him a book, and snuggle him, and the whole time I repeat to myself, "How much I love this child.  How big he is getting.  How hilarious his comments are.  I just can't get enough of him.  Soon he'll be growing up and he won't be this fun age anymore.  I know, I KNOW I will miss it."  Or I pick up Michael and coo at him, and sing, and tickle him, and rub his head.  His hair is about as long as a buzz cut now, only softer, and there is nothing in the world more fun than rubbing it backwards so it all stands up.  I could do it all day.

If I characterize my kids as annoying, I see that in them.  If I characterize them as fun and sweet and lovable, I more easily see that.

I am WORKING on it, anyway.  The past few days have been maddening and I feel like my brains are slowly leaking out my ears.

But John just walked in the door from his business trip, so I think things are going to be okay.  Nothing makes me see how great my children are like seeing them being held by Daddy ... i.e. happy and NOT being held by me.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

How to have a revolution

Short answer: I don't know.

Despairing answer: With an electoral system that doesn't work, a mass media machine that manipulates public opinion, and a government which has accumulated so much power it can read this blog post, track down where I live, and send a drone after me without any trial ... how the heck can we ever have a revolution?

Hopeful answer:  People have been oppressed worse than this, and they have successfully thrown off their oppressors.  Read about the Solidarity movement in Poland, for instance.  It is truly amazing what a convinced populace can do.

And we have an added advantage, which is that the entire structure is somewhat dependent on the greatest mass of people not believing that they are oppressed.  They've been slowly "boiling the frog," first making us remove our shoes to fly, then patting us down, then expanding searches to bus stations or even public streets.  Most people have no idea what the Federal Reserve is, much less what it is up to, and they are convinced that the two candidates we are being allowed to choose from are mortal enemies, rather than friendly competitors with the same backers and roughly the same agenda.  In a depressed moment, I often think that the American people is just too busy watching Jersey Shore to care how little freedom we have. 

But in a hopeful moment, I realize that they really just don't know.  And they can be taught.  And the power to spread information is in our hands now, thanks to the Internet.  I've watched instructional video after instructional video explaining how capitalism works or what the Fed does.  I've read news that was never "supposed" to get out.  (I must get John to write up a list of helpful links!  There is so much available.)  Recently there was a veteran who posted "treasonous" statuses on Facebook.  He was arrested and booked into a mental institution because these statuses were a sign of "instability."  What do you know, a very short time after this story got out, a judge ruled that there was no evidence he was insane and ordered him released.  Would this have happened if the word hadn't got out, if there hadn't been a public outcry?  I don't know.  But I'm glad there was an outcry.

The unforeseen impact of the Ron Paul movement gives witness to this phenomenon.  Paulites met on forums, swapped tips, and researched the heck out of the Republican primary rules.  They made plans.  They were able to get delegates the party had counted on them never getting.  Every move they made to stop it ended up being publicized -- how they changed caucus locations and didn't inform Ron Paul supporters; how they broke and changed their rules repeatedly; how they locked the doors of convention locations so Ron Paul delegates couldn't get in.  In the end they were so scared they had to refuse to seat the Maine delegation to the RNC -- which proves now to everyone that they are being forced to cheat to silence the voice of liberty.

Little by little, Americans are waking up to the reality of their oppression ... but they're waking up hopeful.  They know that once this knowledge spreads far enough, it won't be able to be stopped.  Remember, the whole purpose of the Bill of Rights is to make it much easier for us to preserve our liberty.  The Founding Fathers knew that having freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to bear arms, freedom to assemble, and so forth would make it easy for us to have a revolution -- and they knew this because they themselves had had a revolution without any of these things.  They were fighting a foe that had a trained, well-equipped army, unlimited supplies, and experienced generals.  Everywhere they could meet was occupied territory; every paper they wrote could fall into the wrong hands.  But they did it.  All it really took was getting a significant minority of the colonists on board.

Currently there are lot of paths the revolution can take.  The path I wanted -- putting a servant of liberty right smack in our country's highest office -- does not seem to be open this year.  But a river, once dammed, finds a million tiny rivulets to travel.  It still reaches the sea.

1.  Spread the word

Like I said, we have the internet.  Do  you know how much easier it would have been on the Founding Fathers if they'd had freaking internet access?  All that sneaky riding around with newspapers in Johnny Tremayne (a book I highly recommend, by the way) could have been dispensed with.  We have a vehicle for educating our peers and exchanging ideas.  Use it.  Don't assume that any American is just a dumb sheep, staring with eyes glazed over at a television screen.  They may be watching, but it's because they don't know what's going on yet.  Tell them.  See what they say.

2.  Protect your own freedom

If you are starving, according to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (John's current obsession), you won't care if you're enslaved.  This is the real danger of our fragile economic situation; not that we will fall on hard times, but that our government will use those hard times to increase its hold on us.  This happened in the Depression; it is likely to happen in the future.

You know what my great-grandfather did during the Great Depression?  He took his family out to a lake in the middle of nowhere, and they hunted and fished and planted a garden.  While many in cities stood in bread lines, my grandfather's childhood pictures show him proudly showing off a big fish and swimming in the lake.  In his old age, G-Gpa had a microfarm on his single-acre suburban lot and hardly ever went to the store.  I don't know if it was habit, or if he felt safer knowing his food supply was right there.  But I would like to imitate him.  My long-term goal, as you know, is to have a homestead.  But in the short term, I grow what food I can, in the hopes of preserving as much independence as I can.  If you can't grow your own food, know your farmer.  Many people store up a reserve supply of food as well.  Use your judgment.  I don't know what the future holds, but I do know that we are all very vulnerable to any crisis if we only have, as many people do, a few days' food in the fridge.

Really, the more independent you are, whether from food, energy, or debt, the more free you are.  Ask yourself honestly: "What do I own?  What do I rely on a much larger infrastructure to provide me?"  See how much you can change those answers.

3.  Make a fuss

Every time a farmer has his produce confiscated, or a gathering is shut down for meeting without a permit, or a small business owner gets put out of business because he can't manage to follow all the insane regulations, or a little child is patted down at an airport, or a front-yard garden is bulldozed, or a parent loses their child to foster care because they made an unconventional medical decision, or a law is passed that gives the government some new power it never had before ... make a fuss.  Make as big a fuss as the first time.  Sign petitions or spread the word.  It's important that we notice when our freedoms are taken away; the goal of our overlords is that we do not notice.

4.  Campaign for the issues

We had one candidate who agreed with all our issues, a liberty candidate.  But that doesn't mean that we can't also campaign for these issues separately.  Locally, John has been involved in trying to unseat our congressman for co-sponsoring SOPA.  It's important that we hold all our elected officials accountable and let them know that they cannot continue to hold office if they keep screwing us over.  The President is such a lofty office.  If we've got a good one, it's so exciting; if we've got a bad one, there is so very little we can do during his term.  But the President can't do much without Congress.  The liberty movement is broad and energetic.  We can and will pull a "Ron Paul campaign" on every seat in Congress if we have to.  Let them know that they have to at least pretend to serve liberty, or they don't get to remain in office.  I'm not going to kid myself and say we should appeal to their better natures; perhaps some have them, but most seem to want to stay in office more than anything.  Well, to stay in office, they need our votes, and they won't get them unless they vote for liberty.  Write your Congressmen every time a major issue comes up -- and tell them that you will vote them out if they don't speak for you.

These, as I see them, are a few of The Issues:

*End the TSA
*End the Fed
*End any and all encroachments on the Bill of Rights: searches without warrants, wiretapping, suspension of habeas corpus, assassination orders, indefinite detention, censorship, etc.
*Return the currency to a fixed standard.  The gold standard is good but really any fixed value will do.  At any event, we must stop the unlimited printing of money at the government's will.  Runaway inflation is a real danger, and it is going to catch up with us.
*End foreign interventions
*Balance the freaking budget already!  I think a lot of people think that the national debt can just get higher forever and nothing bad will happen.  Heck, a lot of people think they can do that with their credit cards.  It doesn't work that way.

Campaign for this stuff, and all liberty-related issues from front-yard gardens to raw milk.

5.  And in this election ....

This is hard.  Because I know I'm going to be hated for this.  I will make some of my friends and family very angry.

I have been told that this year is the really crucial election, that we have to win it, that it is all very well to be principled but at this point it's time to compromise.  And really, I am willing to compromise.  But I just don't see the Republican-Democrat dichotomy to be anything real.  Republicans and Democrats snarl at each other in the congressional chambers and walk out slapping each other on the back.  They want us to think they hate each other, but they have the same sponsors (huge banks and other corporations) and the same agenda (increase government power).  The quarrel is not whether they should increase government power, but simply which  one of them will be in the driver's seat.  We are simply the points they score with.  They gain our "points" by promising us different things: a tax break for this class, a tax break for that class, a pro-life speech for you, a gay-rights speech for you.  But they don't care about that stuff.  They care about winning the election.

I see the dichotomy differently.  There are two sides: pro-liberty and anti-liberty.  Either you vote for the duarchy* -- the rule by two parties that we've been operating under so long -- or you vote against it.

The reality is that in this presidential election, a vote against the duarchy will not be counted.  Your choice is between Red Evil and Blue Evil.  Any other choice is a non-choice and will not end in winning the presidency.

It really boils down to how much hope you have.  If you have given up on the idea that the Republican Party will work with us, it doesn't matter all that much if you vote or not.  Do as you see fit -- but your main avenue for change will be in the steps above. 

If you think, as Ron Paul does, that our path to change is through the Republican Party, and that we have to convince it to start doing some pro-liberty stuff for real, then you should vote.  Not for the Republican Party.  They will not change if you tell them they are doing a good enough job to get your vote.  If you've followed the primaries at all, you know that voting the way you like in the primary isn't good enough; they will prevent you from having a say there.  Tell them that this behavior is unacceptable; if they won't even give you a seat at the table at the primary, then don't vote for them.

You have a few different options.  There's Gary Johnson, with the Libertarian Party.  He's less libertarian than Ron Paul is, but he's not terrible.  And you know that the GOP will notice that they're hemorrhaging voters in that direction.  They will know what it means; that you are a freedom-loving person who would have voted for them if they chose a liberty candidate, but since they didn't, you are forced out of the party.  As far as I know, he is on the ballot in every state besides Oklahoma.

Then there's Virgil Goode who is running with the Constitution Party.  I don't know much about his positions; you will have to research those yourself and see if they jive with your beliefs.  He may not be on the ballot in your state; they're challenging him here in Virginia, so we'll just have to wait and see.

You can also write in Ron Paul or another candidate of your choice, but this vote may or may not be counted.  If you want to make a statement to the GOP, you will want to make sure your vote is counted.  Here is a list of states and their rules on write-ins.  A write-in for Ron Paul will not work in Virginia, because we have a "sore loser" law: if someone has lost the primary for another party, he can't get write-in votes.

6.  Do not be afraid

I did a brave thing today in publicly saying all this.  Many people I care deeply about, also care deeply about politics.  I don't want to lose their good opinion; even less do I want to fight or argue.  But I think it is important for me to speak up.

Please be brave too.  Don't worry about whether people think you are a crackpot or a conspiracy theorist.  Try to express yourself clearly so you don't sound like a crackpot, but in the end, people are going to think what they're going to think.  That's up to them and not you.

Be brave, and don't let fear of the future get to you.  I have to admit, it's been getting to me.  I cried the other night, thinking of the world my children are growing up in, the future they will have to face.  I know that things are getting worse fast; faster, I think, than most people imagine.  My goal is to do what I can,  not to forestall the hard times to come, but to push through them and ensure that what comes after is better than what came before.  As Thomas Paine said, "If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace."

I leave you with some further words of his to stir your hope and firm your conviction:

These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their county; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny like hell is not easily conquered yet we have this consolation with us, the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value.

Viva la Revolution!

*Duarchy is a term I invented just now, at least I haven't seen it elsewhere.  It means the rule of two; namely, our two parties.

**This post is addressed to those who agree with me already.  If you don't, I suggest you read my past political posts before commenting so you know where I'm coming from.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Viva la revolution!

John and I have always been revolutionaries.

Scratch that.  John has always been a revolutionary.  I have always wanted to be.

I am a person who can't stand a lie or any form of injustice.  On the other hand, I'm scared to speak out.  I want to be a good girl and not make waves.  In boarding school, the real revolutionaries washed out in a hurry (lucky them).  Those who weren't as sensitive just chugged the kool-aid and were happy.  But I was a person who would hear something that didn't sit right with me, and I would just feel ill.  I felt uncomfortable and I knew it was wrong.  But I also felt powerless ... that there was nothing I could do, so I'd do better just not saying anything and going with the flow.  That got to me.  It's the reason I was so unhappy.

When I met John, his tendency to be a rebel was frustrating to me.  Why did he have to make a fuss about every little thing?  Why couldn't he just take what he was given?  It just seemed a little spoiled to me to expect things to change to suit him.

But then he started rubbing off on me.  He would ask me questions like "Do you actually want to be in Regnum Christi?" and "If you don't want to be, why are you still doing it?"  Or he would go on a huge inspiring tirade that would get me signing up to help refound our college's paper or start the controversial new debate society.  Next thing I knew, I was sticking my fear in my back pocket and interviewing a stranger or addressing a roomful of people.  I still wouldn't boycott mandatory college events with him, and I never got caught breaking a rule.  But I was overcoming my fear and starting to believe that I didn't have to be content with what I was given; I could actually change my situation and make it into something I wanted.

He didn't like his first several jobs out of college, and I was annoyed.  It seemed spoiled to me to think that a steady paycheck wasn't good enough for him.  But he turned around and got his masters degree and is now working to break into a field he loves.

People my age are always being told that we are spoiled and entitled.  In some sense this is true.  We were raised with more affection and less strictness (on average) than our parents were.  So we tend to expect a little more out of life.

As teenagers, I won't lie, this generation drives me up the wall.  I taught high school, and I found their constant questioning frustrating.  In retrospect, I realize that they were asking really good questions.  I wish I had taken the time to give them better answers.

When people with high expectations grow up and find the world not to our liking, we get angry.  We were told, growing up, that if we went to college, we would get a good job.  We were told that if we worked really, really hard, we'd get promoted.  We were told that if we paid into Social Security our whole lives, when we retired, we would be taken care of.  These things turned out not to be true.  We were raised in an up economy and came of age in a down economy.  We went to college, did well, and didn't get jobs; or we got jobs, worked hard, and were laid off.  We have become aware that Social Security will be bankrupt by the time we retire, and that all the money we pay in is going, not just to your impoverished, ailing grandmother, but to millionaires who are in the prime of health but don't feel like working anymore, while we ourselves are having trouble making rent..  That means a lot of frustration and a lot of crushed dreams.  And I think that's the root of what the Occupy movement was about.

But we haven't just stayed angry.  People of our generation have found solutions.  Some have solved the problem of a workplace full of drudgery and no reward for hard work by founding companies of their own -- companies with new rules like flexible hours and on-site daycare and shared ownership.  Some have solved the problem of poverty by going back to the land and starting sustainable microfarms.  Someone in my generation invented microlending.  Someone in my generation is making huge strides in education with Khan Academy.  Someone in my generation is finding better ways to diagnose cancer with computers.

The next step after anger is revolution.  We aren't sitting like spoiled children whining because we don't have what we want.  We are working to change the system so that we and everyone can have what we want.  That's why young people have been flocking to Ron Paul.  (Don't tell me you weren't expecting me to bring him up!)  We are tired of slaving away so that our money can be confiscated by the government, who gives it to the federal reserve, who gives away massive bailouts, not just to domestic industries, but to foreign banks.  We are tired of being told we have the right to vote and decide our own government, only to find that we only ever get two choices, and that they look remarkably similar.  We are tired of seeing the news media report only those things that will support one of two major parties. 

And yet we aren't just angry about this.  We have gotten around the media blackout using the internet and social media.  We have infiltrated the Republican Party to the point that they were forced to use obvious strongarm tactics to stop us ... so that now everyone knows they have no interest in letting the people have any say in what candidates we have.  In short, we have begun to break the bubble of silence and make it widely known that the democratic process does not work anymore.

I know that now is a time of massive discouragement among Ron Paul supporters.  In the short-term, we have lost.  We had a strategy, it could have won, and the other side cheated.  I don't see any way that Ron Paul will be our president in 2013.

But Ron Paul seems oddly hopeful.  When told that the Revolution will not be happening, his answer was "Don't they just wish."  I got a lump in my throat when he said that.  Isn't it true that the Revolution, in fact, will not be happening?  We lost.  But he was looking at a stadium full of screaming young people, and he knew that we couldn't be stopped.  He knew that no power on earth can stop and idea whose time has come.  And no power can stop young people who have educated themselves and know exactly what they want.  Every four years, more of us come of age and walk into the polling booths.  We'll make it happen.  It's going to get a lot worse before it gets better.  I can see that, and I'm frightened.  But that fear doesn't rule me.  We will win in the end.

In a way, the revolution that is taking place right now is my revolution.  Not the noisy one, the one with shouting and cheering and signs; not the speedy one with a vote that's counted overnight.  The revolution that happens when I, and people like me, stood up and said, "I will teach my children that they matter.  I will teach them that what they think matters and what they want matters.  I will teach them to be compassionate and kind.  I will teach them that their own actions make a difference.  I will teach them responsibility.  I will love them and nurture them and tell them that this is the treatment they deserve.  I will not hit them, belittle them, or abandon them.  I will not circumcise them or leave them to cry alone.  I will not send them off to a government indoctrination center to be taught how to think and behave.  I will give them books, computers, and the great outdoors.  I will let them meet people who are different, examine ideas that are different, try methods that are different.  When they come of age, the world will become different."

I was told in a facebook debate yesterday that I am like a spoiled child who screams for a cookie and throws their food on the floor because they didn't get what they wanted.  That's not me.  I'm the girl who drank an entire glass of sour milk because I thought it would be wrong to complain.  But I'm getting brave.  I'm learning that, if I'm offered a plate of E. coli and a plate of salmonella, I don't have to choose.  I can leave the table and get myself something different.

Tomorrow, I'm going to try to give some specific advice for what a revolutionary can do right now about our current state of disenfranchisement.  But for now, all I can say is, the revolution is not over.  It is just fledging its wings.  We will get there.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Poverty isn't fun

I've been following Hobo Mama's low-spend month, and I do enjoy seeing the ways she's been able to cut back on spending.  At the same time, my mind is sort of blown because even with her cutbacks, she's still spending more than we do.  Even so, she is feeling the pinch.  A lot of things that never occurred to her as "money" things, like her social life, are affected by her attempt to be frugal.

 Her conclusion: "In regard to making budgeting a way of life: I used to be 100% behind this, and it makes so much sense/cents, as Melissa puts it. But I will say that we had a window of time where money was coming in and we didn't have to worry about it (we thought…), and it was so much fun. And it sort of ruptured my whole constructed idea that being poor was better in some way; because being not poor was … a lot of fun. Really, just so much better in every way. We never went overboard on spending (as in, we never went yacht shopping or browsed Tiffany's or the like), but I loved not caring about the little things, or how much we were spending on groceries, or things like that. And going back to caring about the nickel-and-dime stuff kind of stinks. There, I said it."

No, being on a tight budget is not fun.  Being poor is not fun.  Being frugal can be really smart, and you really will be thankful later.  But it does pinch, and sometimes you want to yell, like Meg in Little Women, "I am so tired of being poor!"

I've never been poor.  Like, real poor people.  As in, people who are poorer than me.  That's the definition of poor.  (Am I right?)  But I've definitely, at various times in my life, felt the pinch of not having as much as we wanted or needed.  And even when we have had enough, there's immense pressure to be frugal so as to save as much as we can for the next lean patch.  I don't know about you, but I myself am not foreseeing sunshine on the horizon for our economy.  I think it will get worse before it gets better.

Anyway, here's a list of implications of poverty that might not occur to everyone.  Again, I'm not talking about homeless-people poverty, but standard, everyday, not having as much as those around you have.  Even a poor person in America is very blessed by global standards.  That doesn't mean it's easy getting by on less.  (Note: I have not experienced all of these, but people I know have.)

Poverty means not being able to go out with your family for a fun day on the town, without wondering if there is any free fun activity to be had.

Poverty means not being able to join your friends when they go out to eat, and sometimes choosing not to have friends over because you can't afford to feed them.

Poverty means feeling guilty going to others' houses because you can't reciprocate.

Poverty means feeling embarrassed when your friends or acquaintances assume you have more money than you do, and you don't want to let on how poor you are.

Poverty means wearing clothes that don't fit because you can't afford to buy new ones just because you gained or lost weight.

Poverty means being that person who snatches up every bite of free food at an office party, and hopes no one thinks you're a pig.

Poverty means eating more than you even want when it's free, because you know you'll be hungry later.

Poverty means choosing things that are less healthy, but higher in calories.

Poverty means not being able to buy gifts for people who have bought gifts for you.

Poverty means having to beg someone who's lent you money to give you some more time ... and being embarrassed telling them why you don't have it.

Poverty means showing up to work in ratty shoes for so long that someone gives you a free pair ... and you wonder if they think you're really poor instead of just ... kinda poor.

Poverty means not being able to give your children everything they ask for, even those things you would like for them to have.

Poverty means staying at home when you're going stir-crazy, because you can't afford the gas.

Poverty means feeling superior about how frugal you are ... when you know that the second you have enough money, you'll stop doing half the frugal things you do.

Poverty means not being able to keep in touch as much as you like, because you can't afford a good phone or internet plan.

Poverty means seeing someone in need, or being hit up for money by a charity, and desperately wanting to give while knowing that you can't.

Poverty means doing all the work yourself, from washing the dishes to washing the car, and not being able to just shrug and say, "Well, I'm in a tough spot of my life right now!" and buy paper plates.

Poverty means that if you have the opportunity to do some overtime, no matter when, you take it.

Poverty means that when you have a baby, you can't afford to take extra time off, and neither can your husband.

Poverty means going to work sick because you're out of sick days and can't afford to take it unpaid.

Poverty means sometimes walking around with poor health that you can''t afford to fix.  Even if you have insurance, what if you need therapy, supplements, chiropractic, or a special diet?

Poverty means not being able to choose where you give birth.

Poverty means knowing that a single catastrophe -- an uncovered medical expense, a car breakdown -- will ruin you, but being unable to plan ahead for it by socking something away because there is nothing left to spare.

Poverty means you are always, every moment of every day, thinking about money.  How to save money, how to spend what you do have, how to make more, and what you would do if you had more.  Plus that constant, constant hum of resisting the siren song of all the things you wanted to spend money on that day -- thanks to ubiquitous advertising.

We are so blessed to have a steady income that actually, for a change, provides for all our needs.  All the same, if $1,000 fell from the sky, we could really put it through its paces.  That's life when you try to raise a family on one income.  I'm not sorry about our choices.  But if I had the choice to be rich or poor, I'd choose rich (though my biggest luxury would be being able to afford to give so much away). 

And now that we're doing so well, all I can think is that I will never be cavalier about someone else's poverty.  Poverty hurts.  It hurts families the most.  It's important that, rich or less-rich, we all understand what it must be like to be poor, that is, poorer than us.
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