Posted in about me, know better do better, mindset, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Poor people are still people

When The Tall Daddy and I split up, I moved out in January and was in a really bad position financially until August, after I had gotten one or two paychecks.

The following is something I wrote at the time. I have edited it slightly, just to take out or clarify references to things that readers here wouldn’t necessarily know about, to take out names, etc. All of the rest is the same.

My intro to this at that time was that this is long and it’s not actually about me. Still true.


Due to general disorganization and being overwhelmed by life, I just sorted receipts for March and entered them into my budgeting software last night.

It was ugly.

Without getting into detail, I will just say that there was a significant difference between incoming and outgoing.

I just started subbing early in the month and only got paid for 1.5 days, so that will improve next month. Paychecks from the college will continue. [I was an adjunct at one of the local community colleges. Was supposed to teach two classes, but only one had enough students to run.]

I applied to sub in early January, but because of many things out of my control (length of hiring process, waiting for an orientation day, etc.), I couldn’t start until mid-March.

I applied to countless other jobs—generally what I’d consider “grunt work” because crappy work is better than no work—but was “overqualified” and not hired.

I am working on other income—a big health-related online class, private lessons, other opportunities that are currently behind the scenes—but they are not panning out yet.

In my budget deficit, there was just under $300 in IKEA pieces (so nice to have the computer off the floor, among other things) and around $25 in eating out. I have been thoughtful but not extremely so in my grocery shopping; that will change.

If you take out those extras and factor in more money that I am likely to earn as a result of consistent subbing, I might come close to breaking even in April. And these jobs are paying me more than minimum wage.

I’d need to work 32 hours per week at minimum wage to make what I make in three days of subbing. And another 20 hours per week to make what I am at the college. 52 hours per week to maybe make ends meet, as long as I had no extra expenses. Like an extra tank of gas. Or an oil change. Or a doctor’s appointment. Or any of the not-monthly payments that need to be made. Or an electric bill that includes air conditioning.

“Heat, what is your point?”

My point is this:

I have some savings to fall back on.
I have a degree. (Two of them, actually.)
I have a network of people who have helped me to get the work that I have and have been sending me other jobs I could apply for when they see them.
I had a lot of donations from friends, outfitting this apartment when I first moved.
I have an ex who is helpful, with sharing parenting time and cost. (Actually, he has taken on the bulk of both.)
I have a reliable car that is fuel efficient and paid off.

Despite all of that, it still sucks. And it’s still hard. And I’m still spinning my wheels and falling behind.

I know that if nothing else, I’ll have a teaching job in August, and my financial worries will be more or less gone. (Other stressors that are eating away at me will remain, but those aren’t necessarily relevant to this rant.) I just need to make it to August. (Or earlier, if I can find a job that isn’t teaching…which is my preference right now.)

I see first hand right now how easy it is for a single mom (or dad, but it’s usually moms) to fall into public assistance. (The majority of people on welfare are single moms.)

What if I had no savings?
What if I had no degree?
What if I had no transportation?
What if I had no free child care?
What if I had no other person contributing (significantly!) to the expenses of a toddler?
What if I had no friends to help?

It is easy to blame and judge, but I think the reality is that we judge because somewhere in the back of our heads, we know how close we really are to that being us. And it is scary.

I also am reasonably sure that I would qualify for some sort of assistance right now, and that pride prevents me from even looking into it. [I did end up on food stamps and state-run health insurance not long after I wrote this.] I assume that most who are standing in line, waiting to be questioned, talked down to, ridiculed, are human like I am, and feel shame and embarrassment in being there.

Choose empathy. You never know people’s story.


Posted in about me, ebb & flow, gratitude, meandering, mindset

See yourself through someone else’s eyes

The other day, I wrote about contributing to my school community. Another great thing happened in that little piece of the day.

I’ve been struggling with many of my classes.

Without getting into too many details, my classes are not your typical elementary band classes, because that approach hasn’t worked with the populations I teach.

“Your classroom is like a petri dish for beginning band innovation,” The Tall Daddy summarized.

But we’ve been in a long stretch of it not working. Or sometimes just not working the way I want it to.

I’ve felt frustrated, demoralized, cranky, ineffective, drained. There have been bits and pieces that I’ve been excited about, and I’m grateful to be in a place where I am free to experiment, but mostly, work is not the highlight of my day. (There was a time when it was.)

So the other day, an outside observer came in, silently hung out for a while, and left.

But before she left, she wrote me a card. Photo of the text is above.

“I could feel a sense of love and excitement for music.”

It’s there. Someone saw it.

I have wondered more and more lately: if my teaching situation was different, would I get my mojo back? Or am I just burned out?

It’s still there.

Thank you, random outside observer, for taking the time to write that note to me before you took off. It gave me more than you know.

(That’s part of why writing cards to people is a great habit.)

On the receiving end, when someone pays you a compliment, believe them. Take a moment and see yourself the way they see you, no asterisks.

I could have read the card and said to myself, “Well, she doesn’t really know me and didn’t even see me teaching band today. If she was here more often, she would know that that’s not true.”

Instead, I accepted the compliment, took it as validation, and on I went. (But the card is still on my desk.)

Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides.

And, of course, take a moment to pay a compliment. You never know how much it might mean to someone.


Posted in cancer, education, know better do better, parenting, physical health

If it’s carcinogenic, why is it for sale?

I wrote the other day about how I believe it’s prudent to be mindful about what we purchase, use, eat, drink because of negative health implications. It’s easy to be overwhelmed because there are so many carcinogens (and that says nothing of all of the crap that’s causing other adverse effects.)

So if we know there are problems with all of these things, how are they so widespread?

The short answer has two parts: 1- profits; 2- no oversight.

The FDA has rules about most foods (meat, eggs, dairy are largely under the jurisdiction of the USDA), but not about much else that’s useful to us in a direct-consumer context.

From the cosmetics page of FDA’s website: “Cosmetics are not subject to FDA premarket approval. It is the firm’s responsibility to ensure that its cosmetic products and ingredients are safe and properly labeled, in full compliance with the law.”

If you’re trying to avoid phthalates (like I do), sometimes they’re on labels, but “the regulations do not require the listing of the individual fragrance ingredients; therefore, the consumer will not be able to determine from the ingredient declaration if phthalates are present in a fragrance. Also, because the FPLA does not apply to products used exclusively by professionals–for example, in salons–the requirement for an ingredient declaration does not apply to these products.” (source)

(I do my best avoid everything with general categories as an ingredient, including fragrance, natural or artificial colors, natural or artificial flavors. There are long lists of all of the things that word/phrase can include, and none of those lists is all things I’m comfortable with.)

From the dietary supplements page of FDA’s website: “FDA is not authorized to review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed.”

Household cleaners are marginally regulated by the EPA and are required to list ingredients that are potentially harmful or active disinfectants. According to Scientific American:

“The government only requires companies to list ‘chemicals of known concern’ on their labels. The key word here is ‘known’,” she says. “The fact is that the government has no idea whether most of the chemicals used in everyday cleaning products are safe because it doesn’t test them, and it doesn’t require manufacturers to test them either.”

She adds that the EPA, under the terms of 1976’s Toxic Substances Control Act, “can’t require chemical companies to prove the safety of their products unless the agency itself can show that the product poses a health risk—which the EPA does not have the resources to do since, according to one estimate, it receives some two thousand new applications for approval every year.” She cites a recent study by the non-profit Environmental Working Group, which found that the EPA approved most applications within three weeks even though more than half provided no information on toxicity whatsoever.

So basically, companies can use anything not already known as unsafe, whether it’s known to be safe or not.

We’ve already seen how difficult it is to get something that is GRAS (generally regarded as safe) to be taken out of food and other products when they’re shown to be not safe. (see: cigarettes, BPA, glyphosate, flame retardants, and on and on…)

Testing for these things—when it’s done—is typically done in high doses over the short term. So adverse affects are seen in quantities much higher than our consumption. We’re told that this is evidence of their safety.

The problem is, there’s no testing for consistent, long-term, low-dose exposure. There’s no testing for how these things react to each other, or how we react to all of them together.

There is, however, an explosion of cancer, of neurological disorders, of hormonal disruptions. (I need to write about hormones one of these days…) Correlation isn’t causation, but some causation has been shown, but it doesn’t apply to us because the quantities needed for those effects are higher than what we consume… And here we are again.

As far as children’s products go … there are rules, but the rules don’t stop products from hitting the shelves—they just instigate recalls. Which are mostly voluntary. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) oversees children’s products, among other things. But here’s the catch: the CPSC starts to look into a potential problem with a product after consumers or companies report issues. The whole chain is reactive.

And so, carcinogenic crap is everywhere. Because there aren’t safeguards in place at a systemic level. Which is why the burden is left on us to know what to look for, to read labels, and so on.

My opinion (if you didn’t already know it) is that it’s flat-out wrong. Getting products on the shelves quickly isn’t more important than consumer safety, in my opinion … but I’m not the one (or one of the ones) in charge.

I could rant for a long time about profits, about conflicts of interest, about lobbying… maybe another day.