8 years of “adulting” 8 years of Obama

I graduated college the year Obama was sworn into office. It just dawned on me that Barack Obama has been president my entire adult life.

I’m one of the oldest people who can say this (I’m counting my four years living on a college campus as pre-adult life). I remember the night Obama was elected the pure euphoria that surrounded my college campus. How cool is it that the first vote I ever cast in a presidential election was such a historic one?

We were in the midst of the recession that election, and at first graduating college seemed ominous- would there be jobs for us? I can’t give Obama credit for everything, but the message of HOPE that he preached rang true with my class. My adult world as I know it, as it directly effects me, has always been a world in which Obama was president. The economy in which I’ve looked for and thankfully landed jobs, the healthcare system in which I’ve been treated (and billed- or not, I’m looking at you Birth Control), were all under Obama’s influence. The kids I taught in a Houston, TX public school saw inspiration in a leader that looked just like many of them.

I don’t know what it’s like to be an adult in a world with a different president. I have some idea from watching the adults around me when I was younger; from trying to make my own sense of things. But I’ve never been an adult in that reality.

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I just passed on this awesome book by Nerissa Nields to a younger coworker. Hoping I’ve figured out the gist of it by now, even as things change.

Am I scared of what our new reality will look like? Of course. But I cannot overlook that because I am straight, white, able-bodied, cisgendered, born in America to a Christian family, my fears are nothing. Nothing compared to those minorities fearing for their safety, their rights, their dignity as human beings.

I wish I could say something heartfelt right now to calm those fears. But I don’t know what to say. I’m not in your shoes and I’ve never been an adult in a time like this. Sure, I can continue to offer that I will look for the good in all of us. I will continue to offer sweaty hugs.

I will forge on and figure out what it means to be an adult in a world without Obama as our president. But I’ve got 68 days left to enjoy Obama’s good looks, sports analogies, and sense of humor. And I’m looking forward to December 1st, when, thanks to Obama, I will become eligible for overtime pay.

This four year old has pretty much got it nailed how I feel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XgtSt_xBwvg

Thank you, Obama, for setting the bar so high, for all our future presidents.

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Frog and Toad

I’ll be honest, I voted for Bernie Sanders.

Not yesterday, silly. I voted for him in MARCH. In the months since, I’d been won over by the idea of voting a Hilary Clinton into office. When I woke up yesterday morning, the news was full of reports assuming this would happen. The sun was shining, people were talking to each other in line at the polls, and I thought for a second that the most pissed off I’d be that day would be when I realized my failure to get an “I Voted” sticker had cost me a free slice of cake at the bakery!

I felt so confident about the outcome that I ignored my husband’s requests to stay home and watch the results with him and picked up a shift patient sitting at the hospital (we’re buying a house; we need the money, I reasoned). I ended up watching as the polls closed and the results rolled in, sitting in the ICU, sharing the moment with a man who told me he voted for Trump because he couldn’t have Bernie. Over the course of the shift, the tide turned from his sadness about the projected outcome to my sadness as the opposite happened. I focused on chatting with him about his family, on keeping him as comfortable as possible. I tried not to let on who I voted for, but neither of us could really ignore what CNN was flashing across the screen. We both agreed this campaign season had been brutal.

My shift ended and I walked out into the cold, still night. Unaware of what had happened locally, I turn my car on to hear Sue Minter’s concession speech. Suddenly, I’m crying. Not so much for her loss, but because now I can see it coming. I can imagine another woman giving a concession speech.  Before my shift had begun, I’d looked forward to Hilary’s acceptance speech.

Sure, I’ve cried over news stories before. When people die. But I’ve never cried over politics before. This was a new one.

From looking at my Facebook feed, this is a new one to most of us. We are sad, angry, trying to find meaning, determined, and seeking what is right with the world. I saw both the 4-H Pledge and the Girl Scout Law posted by adults who were trying to come out of that cloud of sadness and remind themselves of what matters.

Today, I helped a Girl Scout troop put their uniform sashes on. I reminded them of how cool it is to be a part of an organization of girls all around the world. That they are “sisters to every girl scout.”

I pause when they recite the Girl Scout pledge and get to the part, “respect authority.”

What if that authority is Donald Trump?

Well my friends, if the lesson we are teaching these kindergartners is correct, then we give him all the respect we can. The children’s book Frog and Toad, with it’s intertwined themes of friendship and goodness, sits on a shelf in the classroom where the girls are meeting. I can hear the voice of my childhood- my dad reading aloud and quoting this book over and over. “‘Rules are rules,’ said the mosquito.”

I remind my adult self that now is not the time to whine over the rules of the electoral collage. “Rules are rules.” It bothers me to the core when kids struggle to loose graciously in a soccer match or something seemingly trivial. I hope that I can teach them to be better sports when loosing.

So today, I’m trying to practice what I preach. I’m trying to role model gracious loosing. I’m trying to show these kids what sisterhood and respect look like right in their own schools. These kids are the future, the light at the end of the dark tunnel of the next four years. They need us to guide them through that tunnel.

To remind them that there is good in all of humanity. To remind them what love feels like. To read them Frog and Toad aloud. Be there in this tunnel for our children, for our minorities, for those living in fear. Be there for your friends, your neighbors and yourself. The tunnel will end. Be there and be yourself.

Be yourself. Because you are not Donald Trump. You do not preach hatred. Even if you voted for him, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt. I have to. I have to trust that there is some good in all of humanity; in all of the proverbial Frogs and Toads. I tried to find that connection last night in the ICU. I’m trying to help our children find it. And I know you’ll help them and you’ll seek it, too.

“The Table Where Rich People Sit”

“But my mother thinks if all the rulers of the world could get together at a friendly wooden table in somebody’s kitchen, they would solve all their arguments in the half the time.”

As I read Byrd Baylor’s words aloud over the weekend, this sentence stuck with me. Perhaps the next presidential debate should happen in someone’s kitchen.

I was introduced to The Table Where Rich People Sit at my first post-college “real job.” For an entire school year, I read it nearly every Friday to my departing group of students. The gist of the story is that our experiences in nature- like seeing cactus bloom or hearing coyotes- can be assigned a monetary value so that we realize how rich we are, even if our cash is low.

The book has a serious, contemplative, poetic nature to it. I’d never had someone laugh out loud as I read it (okay, except maybe some kid who was only paying attention to the kid next to him and not my reading). That changed this weekend as I read it out loud to a group of parents.

In the beginning, the narrator talks about why she called the family meeting to talk about money and “I say we don’t have enough of it.” She goes on about her “worn out shoes” and how her parents need more ambition; different jobs. When you read this to kids, they are probably all seriously thinking “OMG, So true, I’m going to go home and make sure my parents know this.” To the kids this is a serious issue. To these parents it was a joke, picturing their child saying such a silly thing. They were cracking up. One even said “that sounds like my daughter.”

It struck me how perspective is everything.

Of course, that is the whole point of the that book, as the discussion of the family’s actual cash flow gets brushed aside by the larger conversation of “a special plan where we get paid in sunsets, too, and in having time to hike around the canyons and look for eagles nests.”

If you’ve been able to fall asleep immediately following watching the presidential debate, I’d love to know your strategy. Debate yoga? As for me, last night you could find me on the couch, reading to myself Byrd Baylor’s “The Table Where Rich People Sit.” If there’s anything I learned reading it aloud to adults this weekend, it’s that we are never too old to enjoy a children’s book.

“These Days”

When I first read it, I was sitting on my sister’s couch in Boston, watching what I thought might be some of the worst news of the week- the hostility of the Presidential Debate. That was far from it. As it sank in that five local teenagers had been killed by a driver intentionally going the wrong way, I had many thoughts, and yet didn’t know what to think.

Perhaps some of your thoughts were the same. If you are a parent, I know some of your thoughts were different. “This could’ve been my child.” If you knew these youth, I can’t imagine what was and is going through your head. I don’t know you, but I’ve been thinking about you a lot.

I also thought, and not for the sake of dismissing the sadness, I hope the concert was good. When someone dies in a ski crash or the like, we all take solace in the fact that they died doing something they loved. I’m guessing that these teenagers did not love driving on 89, and from reading about them I know they had many passions they shared with their classmates. But driving on the highway this night enabled them to see what I sincerely hope was the best concert they’d ever experienced.

I had never heard of the hip-hop artist Mike Stud before, and I didn’t google him until I was talking to a high school student I work with and realized this student had been in the very same place that night. He was wearing a hat that said “These Days.”I watched the music video for the song by that name on youtube. Currently, its tune is stuck in my head but the only word I remember from the lyrics is f*ck.

I think that’s fitting. Days like these, it’s hard to know what to think but f*ck.

The same student tells me that Mike Stud was an accomplished college baseball player destined to go pro, until he was sidelined with a major injury. He never would have guessed he’d have a music career.

Likewise, so many never would’ve guessed they’d be mourning five teenagers like they are right now. I wonder if there is some glimmer of hope in that analogy.

“These days”, I’m thinking of everyone effected by this tragedy.

It Could’ve Been Me

I could’ve been struck and killed by a falling tree while camping on Basswood lake. I could’ve been the trip leader in a group with a casualty. Perhaps I’ve stayed at the very campsite where two Boy Scouts died last night. I’m sure that in my four years of guiding in the Boundary Waters, I paddled past it.

I am sitting here now in shock, one week after paddling out of the very same wilderness, past crews of boy scouts, past the Boy Scout Base, thinking it could have been me. I am a Girl Scout, a former canoe guide at the Girl Scout base just down the lake from the Boy Scouts. While I’ll be the first to point out that the Girl Scouts USA and Boy Scouts of America are indeed very separate organizations (especially when it comes to how they’ve handled sexual identity of members), the scouting movement is one and the same. Two of my own died last night in a place I hold dear to my heart.

I’m a straight, white, ciswomen with so much privilege it oozes out of the holes in my crocs. While hate crimes and systemic discrimination are far too abundant and deeply disturb me, my place in society affords me not to have to process the repeated shock of “it could have been me” every time the news comes on. I can’t imagine being in someone else’s (say an African American man’s) shoes. I have far too much privilege. But for a split second, a moment where time stops and I am late to my dentist appointment, I know what it’s like to grieve one of my own whom I’ve never met. It could’ve been me.

Storms happen, trees fall. There is no entity to be angry with, no cultural shift that needs to happen, no authority that needs to be questioned. The difference is glaring. Perhaps I shouldn’t even have made the comparison.

There are deaths we can’t stop and those we can. Perhaps that is the lesson here. That because death sucks so bad, we must do everything in our power to stop what we can. We must figure out how to stop the hate crimes, the brutality, the culture we have that breeds them. Maybe instead of letting my privilege ooze out of my crocs I should use it to make the world a better place. That’s the Scout way. That’s what our movement is about.

I’ll start by offering up the same sweaty hugs advertised in yesterday’s post.

Come find me if you need one. I’ll be here; my heart is on Basswood lake.

Where to begin? With the youngest people around

I spent the last week canoeing in the Canadian Wilderness and out of contact with anyone. Upon my return, my mom pointed out the real advantage to my trip- missing out on a week’s worth of tragic news.

Police shootings, shootings of police, mass shootings, terrorism, rapes…tragedy has touched so many recently as in the past. I try to remember in each of these instances that not only were humans turned to victims, but that the shooters, the rapists, the terrorists are also humans. Humans with feelings. I am say this not to diminish the feelings of the victims and their communities. I say this because I wonder how could these humans have ever become so crazed, fearful, angry, lonely, confused, sad, numb, or whatever emotion they were feeling that they acted so violently?

Each of these humans was at one point in time a 3 year old, a 7 year old, a 16 year old, and everything in between and beyond. As an educator, I can’t help but wonder, how did the adults around them responded when their three year old self was angry? When their 7 year old self was afraid? When their 16 year old self was lonely? How had the adults around them coached their peers to respond? How have we, as a human society, let individuals grow up to respond to their emotions with violence?

Emotions are tough. Helping kids deal with them, while we as adults deal with our own, can be even tougher. The research is there on just how important a task this is. Going about it is easier said than done. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t think anyone does. But I figure the best I can do is to try.

So yesterday, when a six year old girl on the first day of camp was close to tears because she missed her mom, I knelt down and talked to her. First, I tried the normal distraction topics, talking about things like favorite foods, what she did at camp that day, and how independent she is riding the bus from camp by herself.

She was still on the verge. I was running out of distraction topics. It’d been thunder storming all afternoon and we’d been stuck in a hot, stuffy building with lots of noise. Quite frankly, I’d rather be with my mom right then, too.

Then, I thought about how healthy it is for kids to know and understand and feel their own emotions. And then learn to cope with them. I’d been to training’s on this; I’d read up on it. And yet here I was, trying to make both of us pretend she wasn’t sad.

She broke down sobbing. Ok, maybe I didn’t actually think about the psychology in the moment preceding, maybe I just ran out of things to distract her. But as I looked at this six year old breaking down, trying to snuggle up against me (yuck, it was so HOT, but I let her lean on my shoulder anyways), I knew that I’d failed at keeping her distracted from her sadness. More importantly though, I’d succeeded in helping her overcome this sadness by first letting her experience it.

I looked her in the eyes and told her that “it’s OK to be sad.”

Yes, it’s ok to be sad. Emotions are tough. The news is tough. The news makes us emotional and yet all those people in the news have their own emotions. There are so many underlying societal issues leading to these tragedies- racism, homophobia, access to mental health care, objectification of women…too many to list…..

If we can’t even list them all, how can we even begin to solve them all?

I don’t have all the answers. I don’t think anyone does. But I figure the best I can do is to try.

Here’s one way to try to heal our world: Listen to the needs of the six year old in your life, wipe their tears, and let them go in for a hug, no matter how sweaty it is.

VT Paid Sick Leave Law Explained

There is a pie sitting in my fridge right now. Why? Because while discussing the state of our nation and our economy with a friend, I roughly cited how dismally low the federal minimum wage was. Living in a state where our own minimum wage is a whole $2.35 higher than the FMW (but still nearly impossible to live on), my friend couldn’t believe the FMW was possibly as low as I’d stated. A bet ensued, and I won a pie. The FMW, if you were wondering, is $7.25. If you don’t believe me, please bake me a pie.

This is to say that I enjoy reading and talking about labor laws as a past time. But googling news stories on some of them makes it really hard to determine just exactly how they will effect any given individual, such as myself. So, I’ve gone straight to the source for you, and am open to bets on my accuracy of interpretation.

So, I looked at the exact legislation that our governor signed into law regarding paid sick leave. VPR actually had a fairly good post that answered some, but not all of my questions.

The VPR post mentions that employees that work 18 or more hours a week and 20 or more weeks a year are entitled to paid sick leave. Personally, I was very enthusiastic to hear that some seasonal employees (like me!) would be covered. But, I was curious how it would actually break down.

The answer is: for every 52 hours an employee works, they earn one hour of paid sick leave.

This is why when the media has talked about it, they sum it up that, in 2018, employees will earn 5 paid sick days. Here’s the math:

52 weeks a year * 40 hours a week = 2080 hours worked in a year

2080 hours / 52 (the mandated accrual rate) = 40 hours of paid sick leave

40 hours sick leave / 8 hours a day = 5 days of sick leave

Why did I say in 2018? Well, because although the law goes into effect in 2017, employers can cut you off at just 3 days in 2017. Also, in 2018 and beyond your employer can also cut you off from accruing more than 5 days a year, if you work more than 2080 hours a year.

Sick days roll over year to year. This is not true for a seasonal employee, like myself who is technically terminated each spring and rehired each fall at a ski resort. I will start each November with 0 sick days, however, the sick time I earn in November and December will carry on to the next calendar year and the remainder of that ski season then, when I transition to my warm season job, I will start back at 0 again, even if I worked there previously. (My current warm season job, because it is a small business, doesn’t have to let me use paid sick days until 2019. More on that later). Then the next November, back to 0. And the November after that.

But of you work the same job all year, they roll over year to year. Pretty cool.

Employers can make you wait up to a year to use your sick days if you are a new hire. During that year, however, you will accrue sick leave.

Those salary employees who are overtime exempt (which starting December 1st, will include less employees than it does now), may be limited to having a maximum 40 hours per week counted toward the 52 hours needed to earn 1 hours off.

Small employees with 5 or less employees do not have to offer paid sick days at all until 2018, and even then, all employees can start accruing sick days but can be made to wait until 2019 before they are able to actually use a paid sick day.

Per diem employees are not covered.

Of my six jobs in 2015, just one of them would qualify me for paid sick leave in 2017. (To be fair, one job was in New Hampshire, so this VT law wouldn’t apply. One job was per diem, two were too short of a season, and one was too few hours a week).

Phew! That’s a lot of details. No wonder the media outlets assumed no one cared. But to the folks who may be earning sick leave for the first time in their lives, this is HUGE. We want to know when and how! Because we’ve worked when we’re sick and it sucks.

And now some more math, for those wondering how much this will cost employers. Let’s say you make $10.40/hour. We’ll pretend its 2018 and you’re getting the full 5 days per year.

$10.40 an hour * 53 hours = $551.20

Why 53 hours? because, assuming that sick day is actually used, it ‘s like getting paid for a 53rd hour for every 52 you work.

So let’s divide $551.20 by 52 hours to get $10.60. Remember, you only actually worked 52 hours, but got paid for 53.

To really over simplify things, this paid sick day law, for an employee making $10.40 an hour is the equivalent to a 20 cent raise. Once again, that assumes that the paid sick time is actually used. Some folks rarely get sick, and might prefer the raise, but the paid sick time is the law. Don’t forget that new employees, who generally wouldn’t be eligible for raises, don’t have to be allowed to use sick leave until a year is up.

Might it mean some folks see less of a raise than they would have otherwise as this goes into effect? Of course. This math was to show the potential magnitude . There really is not such thing as free lunch. Because realistically, if we gave everyone 20 cent raises instead of paid sick days, they may spend that money (rather than saving it for when they need a day off) and still show up at work sick. Which, keeping people home when they are sick is the entire point of this law.

One more caveat- remember the minimum wage? You’re actually only guaranteed to get the state minimum wage while you are out sick. Which would make the above math moot except my hope is that employers would take the high road and give the same rate as the hourly pay.

Heck, employers are welcome to take the high road all over the place and give employees more sick leave then required! Who knows where this might lead!