Sunday, November 10, 2013

Twin Dreams and Solidarity

My 8-year-old, Katya's dream: "I was walking with a stuffed giraffe. A monster told me he was going to eat me. I just kept on walking. And he ate me."

Her twin sister, Frida: "Why didn't you stop him?"

Katya:  "I couldn't! I only had a stuffed giraffe."

Frida: "I usually have a force field in my dreams."

Katya:  "Maybe you could help me next time." 

The twins come up with a plan. If they somehow hold hands while sleeping, they think they can help each other battle nightmare monsters. They will try it tonight. 

It must be so cool to have a twin - someone who would do anything for you, someone who wants to strategize with you and solve problems.

Kids are naturally good at this. They get it - the idea that we need someone to hold hands with, a force field, when we're in the vicinity of monsters.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Who Inspires You?

I said something slightly disparaging about a speeding driver we saw on the way to school this morning. One of my twin 7-year-olds asked, "Mommy, does that driver inspire you?"

I kind of like that she uses words even when she isn't 100% sure of the meaning.

So, we talked about what the word 'inspire' means and what type of people and things inspire us.  One of my twin daughters may be a bit of a politician as her first answer was "The earth and my mom inspire me."  Well, one of those actually pays her allowance.

Our recent camping trip made an impression on them: "Lizards inspire me!"  "Trees inspire me!"

My kids inspire me. I actually found my mood lifting while thinking of all the people who really inspire me.

The striking Walmart workers inspire me.  They're pushing their company from within to be better than it is on the issue of workers' rights.  Their slogan "Stand Up, Live Better" says it all. And they further inspire me by engaging in a campaignof solidarity with the garment workers who make the clothes they sell. 

I'm also inspired by Karen Lewis and the Chicago Teachers Union fighting against the closing of 50 Chicago publicschools. They’re on the front lines of the fight for public education. As my daughters and I walk to our local public school - a time of day I cherish more than anything - I think about how this right can’t be taken for granted anymore. So many families are losing their neighborhood public schools due to defunding in favor of privatization and charter schools. 

This is one of the most important fights in my world but it seems connected to all the ways low income and working people are losing rights. I think anyone who stands up to say ‘this is wrong!’ and does something about it is my hero right now. It can feel like we’re losing big time. But we have to push back for the things that make our lives worthwhile – quality public schools, safe working conditions, dignity and respect for all workers.  

How else can we win the next generation’s respect?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Are We Ready for Dog and Cat-Sharing?

A friend says he is wants a romantic relationship so he can get a dog. He works long hours on the night shift and his schedule isn't conducive to solo dog-ownership.

"Is that a bad?" he asked

I don't know:  People are motivated into relationships by the desire to become parents, why not dog owners?

I do think he's smart to realize that it takes a village and two incomes to raise a dog.  Personally, I would like to go back in time and kick my 1998 self who shouted 'we'll take two!' to the neighbor whose Siamese cat just gave birth to a litter of Siamese/Alley Cat kittens.  I thought, "cats are easy and cheap."  I also thought, "two is better than one - they'll keep each other company!"  I did not know that their easyness, cheapness and even the joy they found in each other's company would all be short-lived.

Now my cats are labor-intensive, expensive, and they never forget to hiss when they happen to pass each other in the hall.

As a mother of three, I value the right to flex my hours at work. But these days, I am flexing my time for Jack the cat.  He has diabetes (two insulin shots a day), has developed some form of kitty asthma and, as my 2nd grader puts it, "You can tell he's old because he pees and poops all over the house and throws up under the table."

This is why I can't host Book Group.

I know it sounds crazy but I can relate to the stresses people face when they are doing elder care for a loved family member.  Jack is not himself these days. He even seems to have developed a form of kitty dementia where he gets up in the night and - I swear - acts a bit paranoid. But we love him - the twins even make up songs about him and sing them to him. In spite of all the expense and the clean up, I know I will miss him when he's gone.

But I really don't want more pets.  I am coming to the conclusion that the 99% can't afford them.  At least not those of us who are single mothers living on one income.  But I also think this is a shame - pets are a great experience for kids.  So my new idea - one that would work for me, other folks who travel for work and my single, night-shift working friend:  Dog and Cat-sharing.  Like car-sharing.  You share the joy.  And the expense.

Not a bad idea, right?

We loved hosting the class rat, caring for our friends' guinea pig when they were on vacation and visiting the with the twins' godmother and her two dogs at the near-by dog park.  Maybe this could be a 'new economy' solution to the expense of pet ownership.

Maybe it's just me - maybe I'm burned by the intensity of caring for older cats plus 14 years of paying for flea prevention.  But. next time my kids beg for a new pet, I'm going to suggest we borrow one for the weekend instead.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Protesting is Not a Crime

At the height of Occupy last year, I was talking with a dad at my kids' school and he said, "can you believe that some parents take their kids to PROTESTS?"(He didn't realize he was talking to a union mom whose kids' hands are calloused from holding picket signs).

I wanted to explain that protesting hadn't always been so, well, so UNSAFE as it was proving to be in October/November of 2011.  I also wanted to point out that it was, in fact, still a legal right.

But legal or not, the image of riot police at every show of dissent is psychologically chilling. I'm sure that that's the point. And I'm sure that many parents as well as many individuals are thinking twice about showing up.

So far, I haven't seen union picket lines getting the same riot police treatment as Occupy. But, yesterday, when striking Walmart workers and their community allies staged a peaceful protest, riot police were sent in.

This is beyond disturbing:  These workers and community allies are exercising their right to free speech. And the workers were exercising their right to protected concerted activity when they spoke up about the dismal working conditions, wage theft and discrimination they face on the job.

The warehouse workers who went on strike work for a key distribution center for Walmart in Illinois.  They were incredibly brave for speaking out about working conditions and non-payment of overtime and regular wages. For background read the article by Erica Smiley on the Jobs with Justice Site.

It seems like as working conditions get worse and people protest, the police repression ramp ups even further to protect the interests of companies like Walmart - even as they break the law by not paying wages!  I think we have to start doing what the community allies are doing in Illinois and stand with Walmart workers and all workers who are bravely pushing back - union or non-union.  We have to exercise our right to free speech, protected concerted activity, and decent working conditions for every worker.

The statewide coalition I work with is hosting a Community Meeting with Walmart workers in Northern California this week to find out how we can support them in their fight.  You can contact us at or e-mail me for more information. You can also go to the Jobs with Justice website above to find out about local actions and events where you live.  This is such an important fight and such an important time to stand together. 

Remember - solidarity is our right and protesting is not a crime.  Go to one this week.  See you there!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Remembering September 11 with Teens

On the evening after September 11, 2001, I attended an impromptu gathering in Oakland's Snow Park with my friend Doug and my son (then in his first week of kindergarten).  Michael Franti the singer was there. He spoke to the group and sang. I think he was using a bull horn.  I remember the song feeling beautiful, sad and awkward and perfectly imperfect for the moment. No one knew what to do or what would happen next - but it seemed important to be together.

Tonight, I was driving my son to meet with his teen group and KPFA played a recording from that night in the park. I didn't know it was being recorded at the time but I could swear I heard my own 2001 voice yelling "Wooo!" when the song was just finishing.  I have always been a premature "woo-er."

I asked my son if he could remember that night and he wasn't sure since I was always dragging him to gatherings, protests, picket lines and events - his life back then must have seemed like one big blur of taller people holding signs and milling around.

I asked the kids at his teen group if they talked about 9-11 at school and almost every one said that they participated in a moment of silence today.  But none of them could remember the actual events. It's interesting to think that they are growing up in a 'post-9-11' world and what this means.  For definitely, we've all been affected.  The war in Afganistan must seem to them like the war in Vietnam did to me - like it was always going on but I didn't understand exactly why, if or how it would ever end.  I was thinking that I was glad it's not my job to explain 9-11 to young people today because I wouldn't know what to say.

After the twin towers were attacked, it felt unsafe to speak critically of US foreign policy to almost anyone.  People were in shock and mourning - feeling angry and patriotic. And there was some protest but not a huge outcry when we went to war.

Whatever these teenagers are learning in school about 9-11, I hope they will know that they don't have to have all the answers to speak out when they think something is wrong. And remembering that mute night when we were all still reeling from what happened, Michael Franti did the best thing possible: brought us together and spoke out - paying tribute to both the dead and the living with his voice.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

My Daughter's Nose

One of the twins is beset by fears and anxiety lately.  Every morning, she chooses a new unalterable fact to get extremely upset about.  It makes getting to summer camp (and work) challenging as she will get so worked up, she stalls on regular things like tying her shoes and brushing her teeth. 

This week she has been upset about 1) a bad dream 2) fear of the ghost from "Fiddler on the Roof" 3) anger at herself for smearing toothpaste on her book chart from the library for the summer reading program the day before.  And today she woke up angry that her nose sticks out and why does it have to do this Every. Single. Day?

I don't know the best strategy yet for dealing with her anxiety.  But I have noticed that stories soothe both her and her sister.  So I told them about the Gogol story "The Nose" in which a man wakes up one morning to find his nose gone.  He looks in the mirror and  face looks just terrible without it and he grabs a handkerchief to place over that part of his face (as if he were suffering from allergies) and runs out of the house looking for it.  When he is outside, he sees his nose ride by in a horse-drawn carriage.  (I think he notices here that the horse team and carriage are quite smart and he wonders how his nose has come to a higher station in life without him).  He somehow follows his nose into a church where the nose is appalled to be bothered while praying and lighting candles before an icon.  I don't remember the story exactly but I know the nose first refuses to return to him and he goes to the police.  The officer keeps commenting that a face really does need something there - that having nothing there just looks . . .wrong.

I can't remember how it ends but we have the story in a book of Russian short stories and the girls can't wait to read it with me at bedtime.  In the mean time, I really don't know what to do about all of the morning anxiety.  It seems to happen before transitions - going to camp, school or even a play date.  I listen, stick to the routine, say calming things, use reminders but I've noticed that when she is really having a hard time, stories seem to calm her and help break the anxiety cycle.

I am the same way - I even forgot what I was worried about myself and started wondering how the guy ever got reunited with his nose in the end.  It's been years since I've read it.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fighting for the Right to Care

I just got back from DC where our California Work and Family Coalition participated in a national summit of work family activists. The Work Family Summit is where all of the state coalitions fighting for family leave and paid sick days come together to share strategy, lobby their representatives and gain momentum around federal and state legislation.

It's interesting to work on these issues in my case as I have to move Heaven and earth just to leave town for three days.  My teenager went to his grandma's in Orange County; the twins stayed with my ex and even the cats had to take a little vacation.  By the time I'm on a plane, I'm usually exhausted from all the running around and organizing I have to do.  Not to mention preparing for the conference itself.

But it is all so worth it.

Being at this Summit was like a long, cool drink of water after walking through a desert.  From the first plenary, I felt the pieces clicking back into place: the reason we do this work, who has our back and how we can move forward in spite of all the obstacles.

In her opening remarks, Ellen Bravo from Family Values @Work said, "a job should be a way out of poverty - not another form of it," For low income workers without paid sick days, having a sick child can mean not being able to pay rent. I agreed wholeheartedly with Mary Kay Henry of SEIU when she said "Service employment should be work that that people can feed their families on."  She went on to point out that "all work has value but Service workers -50% of the workforce - are treated like they have none."  Service workers are the least likely to have paid sick days and often need them the most as the majority are low income - missing one day of work can mean not making rent.

We heard good news about campaigns that are making strides.  We heard from grocery workers in Seattle - - members of UFCW, Local 21 - who fought for paid sick days in their contract and were denied by management. Instead of giving up, they went on to help win paid sick days for themselves and workers in Seattle - union and non-union alike - through a city-wide campaign.

Hearing war stories about the Seattle campaign reminded me that even something as fundamental as a paid sick day will not just be handed to us - we have to fight for the right to care for each other and ourselves.

I was most inspired by what the morning panelists, including Mary Kay Henry, said about  moving beyond our usual ways of working. We can't win this alone.  We need unions but unions can't do it alone either. It is time to build a  movement of working people that encompasses all workers - union, non-union, unemployed, returning vets, disabled, elderly, youth and new immigrants.  In our own small way, we are starting to reach out and work together. We have to - we need each other to win.