Tom and Mollie 4 ever OR: how my son and I learned the value of a good mystery

You guys.

The most amazing thing has happened. I know there are degrees of amazing. But I'm ranking this one right up there with fate and destiny and a universal power of greatness that flows through life like one of those ocean currents Nemo's dad had to jump into to make it to Sydney to save him from the girl with braces. That kind of amazing.

Somehow, my fifth grader and I managed to dip ourselves briefly into the great universal current of awesomeness and get swept along for a while. I'm not sure we've stepped out of it, yet, either. It is a glorious ride.

Here's the story:

A few months ago, my oldest son, Sam, was at school and saw something shiny half-way buried in the soccer field. He's always been a little magpie so he ran over and dug out the shiny thing. It was a gold ring. He wore it on his thumb for the rest of the day, and was thrilled with his find. When he showed it to me, I told him that it looked like a wedding band. We held it up to the light and saw that it was inscribed.

Tom – Mollie. (Along with their wedding date) 

A mystery! Who were Tom and Mollie? Why was the ring in the soccer field? How long had it been there?

Initially, Sam wasn't sure about embarking on a search to find Tom and Mollie. He was quite pleased with his new thumb ring. But we talked about it. It's difficult, I think, to ask a 5th grade boy to think about the future love of his life, and the symbol of their love that they'll both have, and then how devastating it could be to lose that symbol. You'd always have your love, of course, and a ring isn't necessary to keep your heart full. But these symbols can take on a life of their own, and losing them can hurt very much, especially depending on circumstances. So we talked about how Tom might feel to not have his ring. And how Mollie might feel. And how, as human beings with empathy and compassion we have a mandate, really, to try to find these people and get them their ring back.

Plus… it would be like a scavenger hunt! And a mystery! And a puzzle! Sam was totally up for it.

Our first step was to post on Facebook and Twitter. Did anyone in the elementary school neighborhood know a Tom and a Mollie? Start simple, right? Of course, my Facebook friends were immediately up for the game, and within minutes someone had used the wedding date and first names to look up Tom and Mollie on a Texas vital statistics web site. This gave us a last name. Could it be the right Tom and Mollie?

From there, I plugged the names into our county's central appraisal district website. Boom. I had Tom and Mollie's address – two streets from the elementary school. Surely this had to be the correct Tom and Mollie. Right?

I debated what to do. Some friends on Facebook and Twitter were wary. They told stories of divorce and tossing wedding rings into the sea or into other symbolic places. What if Tom or Mollie had gotten rid of the ring on purpose? What if there was a reason it was buried in the soccer field? Did we want to unearth something that needed to stay buried, both literally and figuratively?

I mulled this over and talked about it with Sam. We decided that just showing up and knocking on their door was out of the question. Too many unknowns. Plus, it would be super awkward to be all, "Oh hey, 500 online friends and I Internet stalked you and found your address, and here is a ring that may or may not be yours and may or may not have been discarded on purpose."

That awkward stuff would be easier to put in a letter, I thought. I could slide the ring in an envelope with the letter, put it in their mailbox and have that be that.

But what if these people were the wrong Tom and Mollie? I know that would be a stretch, but you never know.

So I decided we shouldn't want to write a letter, either. (Plus, my postal carrier brother-in-law pointed out that it's technically illegal to put something in someone's mailbox without it having been actually mailed there. I didn't want to actually mail the ring.)

Then I had a duh moment. Just look up Tom and Mollie on Facebook. Voila! I found Mollie and sent her a message. Everyday after school Sam would ask if I'd heard from her. A week passed. Then two. Then three. I sent another message. Again, no response.

Maybe the ring really had been discarded on purpose. Maybe we really were meddling where we shouldn't be. Sam and I talked about our next steps. Had we tried hard enough to make contact? Should we go to their house? Should we stop and just be happy we'd gotten this far? 

We knew we couldn't let this be the end of our trail. Even if we were meddling. We were in it. Tom and Mollie had become people we talked about and wondered about. We wanted to know their story. We didn't believe the ring was in the soccer field on purpose.

So I googled Mollie and came up with an email address from a high school class reunion web site. I sent a note.

This morning I got an answer from Tom. (An answer that started: Praise the Lord!!!)

It is his ring. He gave me his phone number.

I called him and he was so, so excited.

"How long has the ring been lost?" I asked.

"Twenty-nine years," he said. "It's been 29 years."

And that's when I began to cry.

He was a little flustered at my crying and I felt like a silly sap, but oh my. 

"Our 31st wedding anniversary is in five days," he said.

And I continued to do that laughcry thing that people do.

"How did you find us?" he asked.

I told him an abbreviated version of the Internet stalking Sam and I (and my Facebook friends) had embarked upon.

It was his turn to say "oh, my."

Tom and I said good-bye still not having set up a time to meet to hand over the ring. He needed to call Mollie to check on her schedule. We both agreed that just swinging by and dropping the ring in the mailbox was out of the question. Sam would like to shake Tom's hand. Tom would like to shake Sam's hand. I would like to see the faces of the people we've wondered about for so long. And if they're willing, we would love to hear the story behind the loss of the ring, and if was ever replaced, and if they ever even still thought about it. Though I'm pretty sure they have.

It must be weird for Tom and Mollie that Sam and I feel like we know them. Obviously, we don't know them at all. But we have learned that we do, after all, know other people who know them. There is a kid on their street who is in the same grade with Sam. A mama friend of mine has met them on evening walks in the neighborhood. It is such a small, beautiful world we live in.

I hate to leave this as a To Be Continued story, but I have to. We still haven't set up a time to meet. Maybe Mollie has told Tom that he is crazy to entertain this Internet stalker. Or not. We will find each other. I know we will.

Tom will have his ring back in time for their 31st wedding anniversary. Twenty-nine years after the ring was lost.

Sam will have learned a lesson about love and faith and loss and intrepidness and Internet privacy (both wow and yikes), and he will have learned about what a small lovely world we live in.

And I will have learned a lesson about not being so damn cynical all the time. Good things happen. That great universal current of awesomeness is always flowing around us, and you never know when you're going to accidentally slip into it and find yourself swept along for a damn fine ride.

I will keep you updated on this ride we're on.

What fun.

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Dear myself, Get off the computer. Love, yourself

I know it's ironic to be writing on a computer and using the interwebs to post ideas about how I want to temper my time on computers and the Interwebs, but that is sort of the crux of the problem I want to talk about.

Isn't it strange that this thing piped into your house, this thing that gives you intimate and controlled access to the daily banalities of people all over the world, is the same thing that can limit your access to people and to the banalities of your own life?

The very thing you use to show the world and your friends pictures of the ham you just accidentally set on fire, is the thing that is possibly (and for me, probably) preventing you from picking up the phone and calling just one friend to talk about your day.

We are so connected to each other these days, and yet I am struggling with an almost staggering disconnect. I interact with my friends everyday. I interact with my far-away family everyday. I laugh with them and at them and because of them. They laugh with me and at me and because of me. 

And yet, everyday I miss my friends. I miss… contact. We may be laughing with and at and because of each other, but we're doing it alone. We are not laughing together. I cannot hear them laughing. They cannot hear me. That makes me sit back and go whoa. It gives me a heavy feeling in my chest.

When you have Facebook and Twitter and email you don't really have much of a reason to pick up the phone and call someone just to see how they're doing – you already know how they're doing. Or, I guess, you know how they want you to think they're doing. Why pick up a pen and paper and buy a stamp and walk to the mailbox and mail a letter and wait a week to get a response when you can just send a text or an email?

Why? Because calling someone allows you to hear their voice. It gives you a few moments to wade through your emotions together. You can hear life happening in the background, too. When your friend says she's doing great and planning a trip to Disney World and eating the best brownie ever, you can hear that quiver in her voice and know that something isn't right. Or when she says that everything is terrible, you can sing her a silly little song or tell a dirty joke and then hear the change in her voice by the end of the conversation.

Think about it: deciphering your best friend's handwriting on back-to-back pages of smeared ink is a lost art. These days, do you even know what your friends' handwriting looks like? It feels like a secret to me, an intimacy, when I see the handwriting of a friend. It's a peek into their personality, their day-to-day, but also their psyche and their emotions.

I know that years ago when people wrote letters to each other they didn't always use smeary ink and messy handwriting. They typed up neat pages and carefully folded those pages into neat envelopes. But I still maintain this is so much different than email. The lack of immediacy is an obvious difference, but there's so much more than that. There's the time set aside to focus on one person. There's the physical action of writing and editing and rewriting. There's focus on thought and intent. There's the act of buying stamps. And these people (us, all those years ago) were not less busy than we are now. Arguably, they (we!) were more busy than we are now, what with the lack of technology making our lives easier (har). If you wanted to visit with your friends, you wrote a letter. Simple as that. You could also spend an hour on the phone, but you paid for it at the end of the month when those long-distance charges appeared. So you wrote. You poured out your heart and soul and secrets and wishes and day-to-day activities. You told jokes and caught up with family members. You pined with your secret love. You learned how to compose a sentence that broke all the rules but solved all your friend's problems.

Is it archaic to miss a kind of intimacy that our current world has rendered obsolete? I'm sure plenty of people think this sort of pining is ridiculous. Why would you torture yourself waiting for a response from your friend when you can just email them a letter and possibly hear back by the end of the hour?

I guess I feel like letters don't have to be a lost art. They don't have to be obsolete. And sure, there's a place for email and texting and Facebook. It is wonderful to have a community of hundreds of people to chat with throughout the day. It's wonderful to have instant access to people when something crazy is happening or you need help or have a question about who built the first spaceship. Plus, business moves so much faster (even the slog of publishing) when you can email someone and get a (sometimes) quick response. So please don't misunderstand me – I am a big fan of technology and email and Facebook and all of that.

But when it comes to everyday interactions, this kind of instant feedback can be so dangerous, don't you think? These interactions shouldn't replace human contact, you know? I feel like before there was Facebook there were more dinner parties and more phone calls and more letters and cards. There was, ironically, so much more to talk about when you got together with your friends.

So while my world has expanded into a supernova of friends and interactions, I can feel it sucking in on itself, creating that inevitable black hole that comes from an explosion of this magnitude. I see you guys everyday, and yet I miss you more than ever. I am surrounded by friends, but have never felt more isolated.

I miss ink-stained fingers and a mad dash for funny stamps and breathlessly opening the mailbox to find an envelope with familiar handwriting that grabs at you like a hug from far away. 

I miss catching up because I don't already know you had fried chicken for lunch.

I miss you. All of you.

Who wants to be my pen pal?

A reflection upon finding lost books and writing new books and trying not to throw oneself off a bridge

In news exciting to probably no one but myself – I have found my lost copy of EB White's essays! (It was in a stack of books on a table I stare at everyday. In cases like this, one suspects there are, truly, house elves who enjoy messing with the addled people they hide amongst everyday.)

I've been portioning out the essays instead of gorging on them, hoping that my own writing will somehow respond to a lengthened timeline of reading smart and hilarious things, and thus, in a magical way, become smart and hilarious in its own right.

Possibly, though, I am just accidentally adopting the voice of a dry-witted older man who enjoys talking about how the world is both lovely and miserable at the same time.

Speaking of, did you know the world is both lovely and miserable at the same time? I'm sure you did know that, but I've had it pointed out to me several times in the past 24-48 hours so I feel the need to point it out to you, too.

I just finished reading one of EB White's essays in which he discusses being a teenager who is enamored both with the girl down the street, and with the cinnamon toast available during tea-dances at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. He talks of his sweatiness and feigned bravery upon asking the girl to go with him to one of these dances, even though he didn't know how to dance. He talks of how it was going to take feats of strength and cash to get from their hometown of Mount Vernon to the Plaza. He finds himself, even at the writing of the essay – decades after the tea-dance – feeling guilty and embarrassed for subjecting the poor girl to his inept dancing skills, and to an epic journey over hill and dale to get to the dance and back.

In the last paragraph of the essay he says, "… there must be millions of aging males… who remember some similar journey into ineptitude, in that precious, brief moment in life before love's pages, through constant reference, had become dog-eared, and before its narrative, through sheer competence, had lost the first, wild sense of derring-do."

This, immediately, made me think of being a writer. Probably because, when one is a writer, everything makes you think about being a writer. But also because gaining competence at the expense of your derring-do is a catastrophe that befalls writers everyday, I think. It is lovely to become competent, but it is miserable to lose your derring-do.

So is there a way to be both competent and full of derring-do? As a writer, is there a way to stay on top of industry news and publishing house shenanigans and market trends and not lose the innocent moxie you stank of when you entered the industry?

Is there a way to remain un-beaten down?

Is there a way to stay relevant when so much seems derivative?

Is there a way to maintain your moxie when you're in danger of becoming derivative not because you are a market trend hawk, but because there is a zeitgeist and you find yourself swirling along within it?

I think back on all those years ago when I thought a literary agent was someone who could help you write articles for Parents Magazine, and a publishing house was a place that would take your six pages of outlandish marketing suggestions for your book, shake your hand, and then implement every last idea. I think back on those days, and like Mr. White, I am embarrassed and even feel a little guilty about the hayseed optimism that buoyed me into an almost accidental writing career.

Had I known then what I know now, my tactics and writing might have been vastly different. But because I didn't know then what I know now, I blundered into things just like a kid from Mount Vernon doing his own version of the Charleston amidst high-rolling New Yorkers.

One cannot discount the value of derring-do. But on the other hand, one seeks and then earns a label of competence. I do not want the two to be mutually exclusive. I do not want the realities of the industry to intrude upon my dreams and desires. I do not want to be intimidated by the journey over hill and dale to get to a place that might not match my dreams, but also might come close enough to be thrilling nonetheless.

I don't know if any of this makes sense to someone who is not a writer and who is not out on submission with several manuscripts and who is experiencing the lovely, miserable reality of not being able to convince every person in every publishing house that she is, in fact, an author of impressive derring-do (and hopefully competence) who just wants to tell a good story.

EB White's story ended with a fear-fantasy that he would one day be called in front of the House Committee on Un-American activities and be grilled about his failure as a dancer and his insistence to involve a girl in his charade.

My story ends with a fear-fantasy that I will never publish another book because it will be discovered that derring-do has been replaced by competence and competence is not enough to dazzle anyone anymore.

It's a lovely, miserable state to be in, when one is already published and struggling to remain published. It's a position where you have take stock and be proud of how far you've come. You've successfully asked the girl to the tea-dance, and she has agreed to come with you. You have dragged her through train rides and bus rides and dizzying busy streets and deposited her on a dance floor. But now the time has come for you to dance and you realize that after all this gumption-building and elaborate planning you don't actually know how to dance. Or rather, you know how, but your way is not the same as everyone else's way, and uh-oh, what now.

When you reach that uh-oh what now phase, do you rely on your competence or your derring-do? Do you shuffle along, trying to blend in, or do you flail and sweat and hope that everyone thinks you've created a new craze all on your own?

I don't know. I just know that some days my competence feels wobbly and my derring-do feels limp and my continuum of lovely miserableness leans toward the miserable end.

But then I find my lost copy of a book I love, and I make a cup of tea, and I realize that this angst is not something singular to myself or my time or my career (it is so hard to not put that word in quotes, but I refuse to). This is a universal angst. And I thank EB White for pointing it out, and I apologize to him if I have wrongly interpreted the last paragraph of his essay.

It gave me something to write about today, something that didn't require much competence or derring-do. And for that, I'm happily, miserably thankful.

 

It all comes full circle (or why I have stopped wanting to smack people who say “everything happens for a reason.”)

Human milk has become part of my daily life. That's a weird thing to say for someone who isn't a baby, a toddler, a lactation consultant, or in the process of lactating. And yet, it's true. It's also true for all of the people who work for milk banks across the world, and it's true for the people who serve on the Board of Directors for those milk banks.

A few years ago, my freezer was full of frozen milk. My own milk for a while, and then a combination of my milk and donor milk, and then almost only donor milk (even though I stubbornly refused to stop pumping for months and months with little gain).

We were in the thick of it, then, trying to keep Ike-a-saurus alive everyday. That sounds hyperbolic, but really it's not. Between the suctioning of his airway, making sure he wasn't aspirating, administering critical medications, etc. the house was turned into a respiratory wing of a hospital. So, at that time, when someone would offer a sympathetic smile and say, "everything happens for a reason," I wanted to go ballistic. I wanted to scream and shout "How can THIS be for a reason?! How can living on no sleep and constant worry, and medications that cost more than rocket fuel, and hours of writing letters of medical necessity for items and medications and Simply Thick and donor milk (letters that should have just said "DUH") – HOW could any of that be for a reason? How can it be "for a reason" that I can only pump two ounces of milk every three hours? How can it be "for a reason" that my baby can no longer breastfeed because he could aspirate on my milk and get a life-threatening lung infection? What reason would that be? What reason would make it OK for a child to be critically ill; for a child to be under the constant threat of being felled by the twists and turns of anatomy and germs and what else? Fate?

No reasons make that OK. Everything does not happen for a reason. Sometimes bad things happen, and those bad things happen to your own family and there is no rhyme or reason to it. It is what it is, and so you react, and you plow through it, and you live minute-by-minute until all of a sudden for one reason or another you don't have to live that way anymore.

That's what I wanted to say every time I was met with a platitude. Not because I was angry at the person grappling for words of support, but because I was angry at the situation. I was sad. I felt weirdly guilty. And it took nearly every ounce of everything in my body and mind to grasp onto little threads of hope that one day I wouldn't have to be angry or sad anymore. Not because I would discover the "reason" why things had gone terribly wrong, but because the terribly wrong things would have stopped happening.

Now, fast forward several years and here we are. Ike-a-saurus is no longer tethered to tubes and non-stop medication. He ate two hot dogs for lunch today and rode his bike wearing only underpants until I caught him and forced him inside on a quest for jeans.

And now, rather than travel weekly to the milk bank to pick up donor milk to thicken and fortify and feed to my refluxing, trached baby, I go to visit milk bank staff who have become family friends. I go so Ike-a-saurus can give everyone the rundown on what pre-school is like. I go to meet with researchers and media. I go because I am now on the Board of Directors.

Today, while I was up at the milk bank, I was asked by a researcher to explain what my goals are for being on the Board. What do I hope to achieve? My first thought was completely selfish. I am just so happy that my experience with the milk bank is no longer because I am desperate for their help, everything else that I might want or feel slips away momentarily. But once I acknowledge that I am so lucky and grateful to be at this end of the spectrum, I do have goals and hopes and desires for my work on the Board.

I want to help people understand what a milk bank is and what it does. I want to help distinguish the differences between donating your milk to a milk bank versus informally sharing your milk. I want to reach out to families with infants in the NICU and to families with medically fragile babies and say, "Hey! Look what we have for you! Life-saving nourishment for your baby!" I want to offer empathy to mothers who feel that they should be the ones feeding their baby their own milk, even when the universe and their bodies conspire against them. I want to offer sound research and evidence to insurance companies that YES human donor milk is medically necessary and YES it should be fully covered. I want people to understand how easy it is to donate milk, and how easy it is to donate money, too. I want to help add exponentially more milk donors every year. I want every sick baby, every fragile toddler to benefit from human donor milk the way Ike-a-saurus did.

There are so many things I want to say and do as someone who is fully committed to the mission of human milk banking, and one of those things is to admit that while I still don't think it's fair to say that everything happens for a reason, I am glad to have found a purpose that might not have been uncovered if it hadn't been for everything my family experienced just a few years ago.

There were so many days when I couldn't wait to be done with cracking open those milk bank bottles, dumping their contents into a huge container, filling the container with thickener and fortifier and creating a "milkshake" that would likely be barfed all over my clothes, my child's clothes, a variety of medical devices, and into a trach. I didn't want to have to have to go to the milk bank every week. I didn't want to have to depend on other women to provide sustenance to keep my child alive and healthy. I didn't want to have to feel helpless and scared and like a person always playing defense, never offense.

But now that Ike-a-saurus has outgrown the milk bank, I feel like my journey with them is just beginning. Sometimes it takes newfound knowledge and perspective to show you something that's already in your lap. From donating milk to receiving milk to accepting charitable care to being on the Board, my experience with the milk bank has run the gamut. And sharing that experience, reaching into it to find ways to help others, is something I want to do. I feel fortunate to be able to assist the milk bank in any way I can – because that assistance is spread to hospitals and mothers and families and most importantly, the babies themselves.

Everything might not happen for a reason, but it's nice when you can give a meaningful reason for something you are trying to make happen. You know what I mean?

So that is the reason human milk has become part of my daily life. And no matter what the path was to get me here, I'm so glad this is where I've found myself. 

Oh noes! Brown people and bitches vote!

The above is a (not-verbatim – but almost verbatim) quote from Fox News last night (see "horror" link below). The Republicans seemed stunned, just stunned, that people with non-white skin and non-Wall Street jobs and non-penises would dare to vote in an election of critical importance.

The shock!

The horror!

The "demographic problem."

It's going to be interesting times, I think, to watch this party fight amongst the ranks to figure out a platform where they don't alienate, humiliate, degrade, and condescendingly mansplain to over half of the country's voters.

As shocking as it has been to the strategists and bobbling news-heads to learn that people who say they're most concerned about the economy actually mean that in a nuanced way,  I think to the rest of us this is one big DUH. Available healthcare = ability to work and get paid and pay taxes, right? A decent education = children growing up to create and fill jobs that enhance the country's economic prospects, yes? Fair pay for women = more money for everyone, mmm-hmm?

So I guess we'll see what happens now. I worry that when people like John Boehner talk about "bipartisanship" they really mean "You do all the compromise while we gloat and filibuster," but I am more than willing to choke down that cynicism if it proves to be unwarranted.

I also worry that these election results will ignite a certain element of people who will stop at nothing to repress non-whites and women and anyone they see as a threat to "traditional America" (a hideous term that is being used a lot today).

I worry for the Texas gubernatorial election that is barreling down on us like a freight train. Though I will say, seeing Obama win 41% of the vote in this blazing red state gives me a flickering reason to believe that a carefully chosen Democratic candidate could make the election for our new governor interesting to say the least. 

I worry for a lot of things, still. And that's why we can't just sit back now and put our feet up and be glad this bread and circuses show is finally over. It's so not over. If you are unhappy with the senatorial choices your state has made; if you are unhappy with the House choices, with the state legislature choices, with the general political atmosphere of your country and/or state and/or city, now is the time to start thinking about how you're going to help make some changes. The momentum is here. We're all civic-y and duty-y feeling and it's not time to hang up our pitckforks and pencils just yet.

So let's all take a vacation to Washington and smoke some weed while we all gay-marry our best friends. Then, when we come back let's figure out how we're going to make some real change. Let's figure out how we're going to get all voices heard no matter what color skin the throats are that contain those voices. Let's keep working to make sure women don't become second-class citizens in a first world country. Let's keep fighting the fight so that everyone can marry the person they love.

Let's keep on making noise, friends. Making noise and making change and making a difference.

Who wants to run for governor of Texas? I'll write sweary blog posts on your behalf until you politely ask me to stop.

Health care. Yeah. This rant is happening.

I started out yesterday morning with a fresh cup of cold brew and fingers itchy to write all about the healthcare system and my family's experiences with it. So I sat down and dug through my blog archives looking for some concrete examples I could use when bringing up the Medicaid application process and the struggle to afford COBRA payments. Instead, I was swept along in a post-traumatic trip down memory lane. So rather than write a sardonic and hopefully informative post about health care reform, I sat on the couch and sobbed and read old blog posts and felt a little like Clark Griswold when he gets trapped in the attic and watches old family movies. Only I wasn't sobbing in a nostalgic kind of way, I was sobbing in a "that was a terrible time and there are still families everywhere dealing with this sort of thing every single day" kind of way. Then I felt a little like I was going to hyperventilate and I had to decide whether or not I could take a half a Xanax and still safely drive to pick the kids up from school later. See? Still making medical decisions every day!

I opted against the Xanax, just to be safe, and practiced some slow and steady breathing and then the phone rang. It was the medical supply company. Time to make the order for Ike's high-cal formula. I answered all the questions, verified the address, reported his weight, and then felt that sensation again. The elephant sitting on my chest sensation. [YES, I MEAN THAT METAPHORICALLY AND POLITICALLY] Still 28 pounds. At four years old. Every month it seems to be the same. Twenty-eight pounds. Twenty-eight pounds. But he's happy and healthy and so I struggle to trust that he will gain weight at some point, and that he must have all of the teeny tiny genes that come from all of the teeny tiny people he's related to.

Then I co-opted the Obama campaign's slogan, "Forward, Not Back" as a way to remind myself that we have already been through the Very Bad Times and are on a new path now, and there is no sense getting all blubbery and hyperventilate-y about things that are no longer happening.

This got me started on a series of thoughts about the things that ARE happening, though. Things happening to people I know and love and laugh with and worry about. A post-transplant lung infection, a post-second transplant lung infection, cancer surgery, hurricane damage, job loss. I don't mean to sound so grim – there are lots of great things happening, too. Great things are happening to the friends and loved ones who are suffering – as weird as that sounds. Antibiotics are winning the fight against bacteria. Insurance companies can no longer refuse service to patients with cancer. Hurricane damage is not great, but everyone is alive and intact. Job loss sucks, but offers of "email me, I know someone who's hiring" pop up consistently.

And so I feel that there is a political tug to everything these days, even though we are all done and done and more done talking about politics.

It seems that in this election so many people are pitted against each other, but one of the big refrains is the "small business owner" against "people who want to mooch off of the government and not pay taxes, etc."

The funny thing is that a lot of the people I know who need Medicaid and who have depended on (or are still depending on) government services to help in times of crisis – these people ARE small business owners. So I don't think this whole owning a small business phenomenon is mutually exclusive with never needing any help from the government. 

Some things are just bigger than ordinary mortals can bear on their own. A small business owner who needs Medicaid to help pay for his daughter's lung transplant is not a failure or a burden on society. A person who works for a corporation and makes a good salary and needs Medicaid to help pay medical expenses for a child who is 4 years old and only weighs twenty-eight pounds and needs a pulse ox every time he has a cold – this person is not a failure or a burden on society.

The failure and the burden on society is the health care system itself. Not the doctors and the nurses and the other health care workers. But the system. The fact that I opened a bill from the hospital once and it was for $142,000 for just ONE DAY in the NICU.

That is a failure.

It is a nightmare.

It is not something Joe Blow Small Business Owner can afford even if he gets all the tax breaks in the history of tax breaks.

It is not something Middle Class Jane Smith with two kids, two cars, a mortgage and a savings account can afford, either.

Is it Jane's fault she cannot afford these things? Is it Joe's? Is it any more their fault than it's the fault of a homeless woman who needs a mammogram, or a poverty-stricken child who needs dinner and a cast on his broken leg? What about a single mother who has her baby three months too early?

No. It's not their fault that bad things happened to them. It's not their fault if they can't afford to pay $1200 a month for insurance coverage that still has thousands of dollars in deductibles and copays. Some people argue that it is their fault. They don't have high enough paying jobs. They bought new cars. They live in a house in a nice neighborhood on a nice street.

But to those people I would like to say look at your own house. Look at your own car. Look at your own savings account. Now imagine that five hours from now something befalls you. And you are in the ICU, or, God forbid, your child is in the ICU. And it takes $142,000 a day to keep you or your child strong enough so that you or your child can heal and go home and go back to "normal." Maybe you're lucky and you have comprehensive health insurance, so you're out a few thousand dollars for your deductible instead of hundreds of thousands of dollars. But then, wait. You need a home health nurse to help get you back on your feet. You need medical equipment in your home. You need special, prescription-only foods and medications. Your insurance will pay for these things, but only for 30 days. Or 60. Or 90. Then you run up against caps in your coverage. Then what?

It's all on you, that's what. 

Do you have enough in your savings account to pay $142,000 a day for a week? For a month? For three months? If you do, good for you. If you don't, what will you do? Will your assets preclude you from qualifying for Medicaid and thus require that you go bankrupt before you can get medical coverage?

This would have happened to my family had it not been for a Medicaid waiver program for chronically ill children. 

That is a fucked up thing.

So when you go out and vote, know that your vote is not just for you and your own family, it is for other families, too. It is for the future of your family and the future of other families. So I beg you to think about that. Whether you think I'm full of shit or not, think about it. No choice is perfect. No answer solves every problem. The health care system needs a HUGE overhaul and I don't know how that will work. But I do know this election cycle has made very clear there is a continuum called "It's OK To Fuck Over The Unfortunates." One set of candidates is on one side of this continuum and one set of candidates is on the other side. 

Let us work together to not fuck the unfortunates. They are fucked enough as it is.