Putting our children at risk

One of Terry Branstad’s first actions as Iowa governor might be one that we will all regret in coming years.  He plans to cut state-paid pre-school for 4-year-olds, something that we just can’t afford to do.  Sure, it will save the state $65-70 million dollars a year, but with national test scores down from previous years, is that really a smart thing to do?

One argument for this cut, besides the obvious monetary aspect of it, is that children benefit from the same education they would receive from attending kindergarten.

I disagree.

A mother of four, a grandmother to six, I have seen first-hand how pre-school benefits young children. Children who are shy, socially inept or simply do not have the opportunity to be around other children might have a more difficult time fitting in than those who have the opportunity to scoialize at a younger age.  Being around other children their age help them learn how to share, how to sit still to hear a story or take direction, focus on school work and play fair with others.

Kindergarten may be the precursor to education but preschool teaches them how to interact with others. Take away the funding for that important part of integration into society and it could mean the difference between being a leader or being a wallflower.

Cut our funding for education and we might as well cut any chance of raising our national test scores. It may start with cutting state-paid pre-school, but what’s to stop politicians from cutting other much-needed programs from the budget, just to save a buck? 

There is also discussion of cutting the Just Eliminate Lies (JEL) program, a program which promotes the prevention of smoking for teens. We should be strengthening these types of  programs, not eliminating them.  Does anyone wonder why teen pregnancy has reached epidemic proportions or why drugs and alcohol are still hurting our children?

If Branstad wants to cut the budget, why not start with the outrageous salaries politicians on Capitol Hill are paying themselves?  I’m sure they wouldn’t mind pitching in and helping out for the good of our children’s future.

Maybe I’m living in the past but educating our children used to be a high priority of our leaders.  What happened to the concept that knowledge is power? It’s unfortunate that our leaders have forgotten what’s most important.

Maintaining health should be a given, not a choice

Is it me, or is the health care issue becoming more of a joke than a reasonable response by millions of Americans who suffer from some kind of ailment?

I keep telling people that I have a solution to the problem, but then I am reminded, usually not so nicely, that so does everyone else.  No one seems to be able to agree on what’s most important, even after the composition of the thousands of pages of the health care reform bill built last year by President Obama and the then-in-majority Democrats. So it sits, lying dormant, while bickering politicians find some flaw in how our health care system should be run.

The biggest problem I have had with the health care system is not being able to pay the outrageous bills they send me, even with my insurance.  My health is very important to me, as I know it is for many, but I simply cannot afford the pile of tests my doctor tells me that I need every year.

I have Crohn’s Disease, which requires a yearly colonoscopy.  (Cha-ching)

They found a lump on my thyroid two years ago and it turned out to be a sebaceous cyst which they drained. I have to have an ultrasound every year. (cha-ching)

I am a woman…enough said. (cha-ching)

I have migraines and sinus problems and allergies, the changing seasons are not my friend. (cha-ching)

I have insurance through my employer.  I chose the basic plan because I make $8.95 an hour and haven’t received a raise ever int he three years I have been employed there. I know many, many people who are in the same situation and it is a huge stressor. We shouldn’t have to worry about being able to pay our bills to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

What frustrates me is that while we are inundated by the many bills that accumulate from one hospital visit, even with insurance, doctors sit in their huge houses trying to justify why they charge $120 for each office visit, usually to tell you that what you have is a virus and there is nothing he can do for you.  “Take some over-the-counter medication for the symptoms,” is often the only advice they have. 

What’s the solution? Regulate how much doctor’s and hospitals can charge. Is that so difficult to comprehend?  Doctor’s have to pay for malpractice insurance in case someone sues them.  In that case, make it harder for patients to sue or make it tougher to become a doctor. 

It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out.  Maybe politicians need to quit thinking about making a buck and care more about maintaining the health of Americans, the people they work for.

Birthdays–more than just counting years

Twenty-five years ago, my second daughter, Caryn, was born. Twenty-five years ago, my daughter, Holly, went from being an only child to having to share her parents with another, something I’m pretty sure didn’t thrill her much at the time.  Twenty-five years ago, I was blessed with becoming the mother of a trying but unique little girl, one  who would take me on a journey that would test my sanity, push my patience, and make my life far richer than I could ever imagine.  A rambunctious young lady, who would teach me about love, and heartache, and what it means to be a mother.

Every child that a mother has holds a special place in her heart, and there always room for more. Holly was the first; by the time she was two, she already had it all figured out.  Lori was my youngest daughter, sweet and innocent, and the baby, for a while anyway.  Sean came along, the only boy and instead of one mother, he got four.

Caryn’s birth was a difficult one for me, much more difficult than my first. The labor was harder, the pain more intense, and for some reason, I felt that maybe she didn’t want to be born just yet.  It was a cold January night in 1986 when I walked the halls at St. Luke’s Hospital In Cedar Rapids, Iowa. 

Caryn wasn’t due for 10 more days but I felt the first pangs of labor on Jan. 15.  I wasn’t sure of this was it because I had felt false labor with Holly.  “Let’s just wait a while,” I told my husband, Bruce.  So that’s what we did.  We timed the contractions and though they were light, they were regular.  We took Holly over to Bruce’s mom’s house and went to the hospital.

Once we got there, I was checked and told that I was only dilated three centimeters.  “You can go home and wait, or you can walk the halls,” said the OB nurse.  We chose to stay and walk because it was so cold out, (below zero) I didn’t feel like going home and just coming right back in, because, well,  that just seemed to be my luck.

So we walked.  And walked.  And walked. We walked up and down the long halls.  I watched women being rushed to the delivery room, and still I walked. The contractions became stronger, and still I walked. Finally, after what seemed like hours, I went back to my room to be checked.  “You’re getting there!” the nurse called enthusiastically from the foot of my bed.

I was not in the mood to be as enthusiastic, but managed a weak smile, because I knew that it would be over soon. I wanted my birth to be a natural one, like I had for Holly, so I held out for medication.  But it became extremely hard to resist.  The pains became more intense and they finally broke my water.  “I’m really in a lot of pain.  Can I get some pain medication?” I asked, almost pleading.

“No, the doctor says you’re too close, we have to get that baby out,” the nurse said, changing her tone.

So there I lay, in the most pain I didn’t think I would ever feel again (I was wrong, I had two more kids)  They say that women in child-birth reach a threshold and an automatic pain reliever kicks in a nd you don’t remember the pain. Well, they’re wrong.  

 But the moment they put that tiny baby girl in my arms, nothing else mattered.  When we went home the next day, it was bitterly cold. We bundled her, afraid that three layers of clothes wouldn’t be enough.  Holly had been born in May and we hadn’t had to worry about it.

I was excited to be home with Caryn but soon found that to be exhausting.  Holly got the chicken pox when Caryn was a week old and we were afraid Caryn would get them.  Then Caryn developed colic and she cried all the time.  At first we couldn’t figure out why.  I was breastfeeding and using formula to supplement. Apparently she didn’t like it and we spent hours trying to console her. She did grow out of that, but not for a few months.

When Caryn was 2 month-old Caryn was hospitalized with pneumonia, something that would follow her right through to adulthood. (She also had earaches and sinus infections and it seemed like we were at the emergency an awful lot.)

I was a little worried about how Holly would react to her little sister, but they became fast friends. But they were very different. Caryn wa s a very cautious child, who took to a security blanket and sucked her fingers when she was unsure of something.  She was quiet and clung to her dad a lot of the time.  But boy did she have a temper! 

It was clear that Caryn was her own person.  She wanted to be.  Not that she was really that independent but she made her own style.  She was a trendsetter.   She was a girly girl and loved to wear dresses and fix her hair. We bought her a pair of white cowboy boots that she loved dearly.  She loved them so much that she wore out two pairs of them!

I tell this story often, mostly because it enables me to hold on to that special memory of Caryn that is hers alone. Growing up was difficult for Caryn; divorce and step-parents only complicated her middle-child existence, and all I could do was tell that it would get better.  And it did.  She grew up and she was able to make her life the way she wanted it.

Now Caryn has three children of her own and finding out what it’s like to be a mother. Sometime she calls, at her wit’s end and close to tears.  Other times, she gushes how much she loves being a mother.  It’s all that…and more. 

So today I pay tribute to my daughter for surviving the awkward adolescent, teenage, and young adult years, and being able to enter the true adult years with grace and dignity.  Happy Birthday Caryn!  I love being your mother!

Wishes really do come true

Childhood wishes are a magical thing. The belief that all of our innermost dreams could be fulfilled if we just wished hard enough, made our young days bearable.  But as we grew up,  dating, college, marriages, families and careers took precedence over those whimsical wishes made on a star or pennies tossed in a well.

That is, until they are finally realized.

I had the opportunity to fulfill a childhood wish, one that I had given up hope of ever having come true; a trip to Disney World.  I had forgotten that I even made that wish.  I remember being a six-year-old with high aspirations of playing in the Magical Castle that was the insignia of Walt Disney World, frolicking with Mickie and Minnie, and asking Cinderella how it felt to be a princess. 

Gazing far off into a star-filled night, I focused the most twinkly star I could find and wished my most sacred wish…  “I want to go to Disney World.” 

Though I knew in my heart, it probably would  never actually happen, I often thought about how much fun it would be. The years flew by without the opportunity to see that wish come true.  Until it did.

Forty-one years have passed since I dreamed of being face-to-face with the most colorful characters of my childhood, but here it was, right in front of me.

As I entered the gates of the Magical Kingdom in Orlando, Fla. the memory of my most heart-felt wish came flooding back to me.  “Fairy-tales can come true, it can happen to you, if you’re young at heart…”  is the tune that kept going through my head.  I was a little girl again.

 As soon as we rounded the corner that led to the main street, that little girl took over and immediately because enchanted with the wandering musicians, the cartoon characters walking by waving, the old-time popcorn carts and shops, and the stoic castle that dominated the end of the street. I grabbed my boyfriend’s hand and started pulling him toward the festivities.  I glanced back at him and saw that he, too, was smiling and enjoying the aura of a million wishes coming true in one place. Obviously, one of his childhood wishes, too.

Most of my wishes have been left behind with my childhood. But then there are wishes that have come true that I don’t even remember wishing for, wishes made in grown-up fashion, knowing that chances are, they wouldn’t happen. But also knowing that they can.  This is one wish I can finally cross my list, my grown-up wish list.

After all, wishes can come true, even if it takes a while.