Education Should Not Only Be for the Elite

© Karenfoleyphotography | Dreamstime.com - Rising Cost Of Education Photo

© Karenfoleyphotography | Dreamstime.com – Rising Cost Of Education Photo

I just turned down my daughter’s admission to my first choice preschool after a six-month long process to be admitted. Why? The cost. As a single parent who doesn’t have the backing of a wealthy family, the $30,000 annual tuition was well beyond my reach. While the school markets to less wealthy families, the financial aid package they ultimately offered was less than 10% of the total cost of attending. They sold me on a financial aid process that attempts to meet each family’s specific needs, but the results were far afield of that goal.

Why I want to send my child to private school

I am a product of the public schools—albeit the best magnet schools. But today, getting in is literally a matter of chance. The public school system holds a lottery to determine enrollment. When my parents were enrolling me in school, you had a better chance if you were part of an underrepresented minority group, and my Native American heritage gave me just the edge I needed for a placement in a magnet program. Also, at the time, many middle-to-upper class families had moved to the suburbs, which meant that there were fewer students competing for magnet school openings. By contrast, this generation of young families is moving back to the city, and ethnicity no longer gives families a leg up. The only things that improve a student’s chances are proximity to the school and having a sibling who already attends the school—neither of which applies for us. So it’s entirely possible that my daughter may not get in to a magnet program.

Even if we were offered enrollment in a magnet school, I’m concerned about the educational approach of public schools. Thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act, public schools have increasingly been emphasizing performance, which is generally evaluated through testing. So classrooms are focusing on skills that are tested and deemphasizing subjects that are equally important to a child’s development but are not tested.

The problem is even more concerning for the youngest students. In my city, kindergarteners spend up to a third of the school year taking standardized tests. The 2009 Alliance for Childhood report “Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School” indicated that over the last 20 years, highly-prescriptive curricula, test preparation and academic skill-building has largely replaced “developmentally appropriate learning practices” centered on play, exploration and social interactions. These findings were confirmed in a recent University of Virginia study, which also indicated that time spent on physical education, art, music, science and social studies was reduced. The study pointed to other research that found “a heightened focus on academics may be stressful for children and negatively impact their motivation, self-confidence and attitudes towards school.”

The Problem with Diversity

Private schools are not without their issues. One of my biggest concerns about private school education is the lack of diversity. Even when schools are committed to representing the ethnic tapestry that makes up our city, they often fall short of that goal. The high price tag prevents many minority families from even applying to the programs. Plus, the majority of the students are from higher income homes, and I don’t want my child to grow up disconnected from reality and knowing only privilege.  But, private schools often have smaller class sizes and more parental involvement, which often lead to better educational outcomes.

Public schools also have a diversity problem—an estimated 85 percent of public school students are from low-income families. High concentrations of economically disadvantaged students correlate to poor test performance and lowered academic achievement. Teachers facing upwards of 30 students per class are forced to teach to the masses, which means that academically advanced students may be denied opportunities for challenging work in a public school environment.

I want my child to be exposed to people from all different walks of life. I want her to be comfortable in any situation. But when faced with the choice of spoiling my child or crippling her educational future, spoiling wins every time. In a country where the quality of education available is increasingly tied to what your parents can afford to pay, I will be making whatever sacrifices I can to be a parent who can afford to send my child to an excellent school, because a quality education is not a luxury. Even though I turned down admission to what is arguably one of the best schools in the city, her backup school is still a strong contender.

If we get lucky and she gets offered admission to one of the selective enrollment elementary school programs, I will seriously consider sending her there. But just as I don’t gamble to earn money to pay my mortgage, I am not willing to allow her education to be dependent on chance.

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Infanticide—I don’t want to read about it anymore

 

© Mangostock | Dreamstime.com - Crime Scene: Police Line Do Not Cross Tape Photo

© Mangostock | Dreamstime.com – Crime Scene: Police Line Do Not Cross Tape Photo

There have been several recent news stories about infant homicides, and while I know that “if it bleeds it leads” in newsrooms, I’ve decided that I’m done reading sensationalist news stories about tragedies involving children. It is unwelcome in my home and on my Facebook feed from now on.

Each individual case is beyond heartbreaking. I was devastated after hearing about the toddler who was severely beat by his mother’s boyfriend and left several hours to die alone on the bathroom floor. I cried about the little girl who was forced to drink so much liquid as a punishment that her brain swelled and she died. I’ve mourned for the children, for the childrens’ families, for the communities in which these crimes took place. But I’ve shed far too many tears for situations that are not under my control.

All too often, these stories are about shock value. They draw in readers because of the abject horror they elicit. They get shared hundreds of thousands of times on social media. And the people reading and reacting often feel powerless to change things for those children and children like them.

These stories don’t tell readers what is known about infant homicide. They don’t identify the significant risk factors, which include childbirth to young mothers (under age 15), subsequent pregnancies for teen mothers (under age 19), an absence of prenatal care, a lack of parental education, low income, substance abuse and single-parent households.

These stories don’t tell us who to watch—the perpetrators are typically men (fathers or boyfriends of the mothers). They don’t tell us the known fact that these deaths usually happen following a pattern of abuse so, in many cases, if someone had spoken up sooner, they could have been prevented.

These stories don’t point to the importance of education and social services in preventing these senseless deaths. They don’t champion sex education to prevent teen pregnancies, or tell us about resources, such as family counseling, training courses for young mothers and fathers, and substance abuse recovery programs.

These stories don’t offer solutions. All they do is cause distress for the people who read them. So instead of wasting my time reading and getting depressed, I’m going to spend it more constructively. I resolve to pay attention when I see teen mothers, and offer help to those with whom I have personal relationships. I’m going to tell everyone who will listen to be careful who they allow to care for their children.

And next time I see a story about a child being beheaded by a circular saw on my Facebook feed, I’m going to click “I don’t want to see this.” Because if a news outlet is not offering solutions, they are just profiting from someone’s pain. And I am not OK with that.

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The Shot Heard ‘Round the World

Vaccines for children have been the subject of a lot of debate ever since Disneyland became patient zero for a measles outbreak in January. There are parents on both sides of the vaccination issue, and spokespeople pushing agendas—both educated and informed, and not. And as a parent of a child who has not been fully immunized, I can see both sides.

I started doing my research on vaccines months before Kaia was born. My nephew has autism, and he was born before the study linking vaccines to autism was widely discredited. So my family did wonder whether evading or delaying his vaccinations may have saved him from his socially crippling condition. I’m sure many parents heard the alarmist reports about vaccines when the study was released, but never learned that the author was discredited. So the lingering effects of that study are probably fueling much of today’s aversion to vaccines.

However, my decision to pick and choose which vaccines my child received was instead driven by my efforts to stay informed and make my own medical decisions based on the evidence. And some routine immunizations aren’t really necessary. In fact, for some, the side effects mimic the symptoms of the virus the vaccine is supposed to prevent.

The debate over vaccines often focuses on MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), because it was singled out in the discredited autism research. However, it’s not one of the vaccines I refused. Kaia received her MMR shots on time and in sequence. Instead, I focused my informed dissent on the hepatitis vaccines (A and B), influenza and varicella.

Why I Said No

According to my doctor and the many articles I’ve read, hepatitis B is administered routinely because many babies contract the virus from their mothers at birth—mothers who are unaware of the fact that they are infected. Also, the risks for chronic health issues are greater when contracting it as an infant than as an older child.

So should I have allowed the vaccine to be administered? I knew for a fact that I did/do not have hepatitis B. The other risk factors for contracting the disease include: unprotected sex, sharing needles during drug use, living with someone who has a chronic HBV infection, working with human blood, and traveling to regions with high infection rates (e.g., Africa, Central and Southeast Asia, and Eastern Europe). So I figured that the chances of Kaia getting hep B were slim to none. And I made the educated choice to refuse the vaccination.

I also refused the hepatitis A vaccine. While attending or working in a child care facility is a risk factor, Kaia was cared for at home until last September. So until recently, there was no risk she’d contract it at school. Plus, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that “infection rates are generally low” in developed countries. WHO also says that young children tend to suffer only flu-like symptoms, if any; most infected people recover completely; and a significant proportion of those infected remain asymptomatic. Again, I decided that the vaccine was not necessary for my very healthy, breast-fed-until-the-age-of-two child.

Varicella posed a quandary for me. I had chicken pox at the age of 5. I had it bad. All these years later, I can still remember the itching. The socks on my hands. The general miserableness of the virus. At the time, there was no varicella vaccine. Some parents even exposed their children on purpose to get it out of the way. And since the discomfort is typically the main symptom, their actions were likely more or less harmless. Even though I really suffered with chicken pox, I still held off on the vaccine for my child. Mainly because I do believe in moderation, and I think that four or five vaccines in one doctor’s visit is excessive. Almost anything can cause harm in excess. Even superfoods like kale and broccoli can cause harm when people overdo it. Plus, the chickenpox vaccine contains active virus, which means it can CAUSE the very illness it is designed to present.

My refusal of the flu vaccine was for a very practical reason: my child is allergic to egg. Flu vaccine is developed using an egg-based manufacturing process. While there are some versions of the vaccine that don’t have the same risk for egg contamination, there’s also the fact that developing the vaccine is, at best, a guessing game. In fact, this flu season the vaccine was estimated to be ONLY 23% effective! One author even suggests that taking the vaccine results in five times the risk you’ll suffer from respiratory illness of some kind. (Note: I haven’t read the full study, so take this with a grain of salt.) Suffice it to say that I’m still not convinced the flu vaccine is necessary–or even helpful. Matter of fact, I’ve only been vaccinated one time in my adult life (while I was pregnant) and I’ve had the flu only once or twice in that time frame. And I definitely don’t believe in giving my child any medicine or vaccination in which I don’t believe.

What It Means

There are kids who can’t receive certain vaccines for medical reasons — the only protection from vaccine-preventable diseases is the immunity of the people around them. This small minority of children are the poster children for the pro-vaccine movement. And I get it. If I had a child whose very existence depended on the actions of the parents and community around them, I’d be ardently pro-vaccine too. I’d be that parent. But my decision to pick-and-choose the vaccines I gave my child was also linked to being “that parent.” The parent who makes decisions she thinks are best for her child.


Vaccine Side Effects—Centers for Disease Control  

Inactivated flu vaccine

  • soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
  • hoarseness
  • sore, red or itchy eyes
  • cough*
  • fever*
  • aches*
  • headache
  • itching
  • fatigue*

*Symptoms of the actual flu

Varicella vaccine

  • Soreness or swelling where the shot was given (about 1 out of 5 children and up to 1 out of 3 adolescents and adults)
  • Fever (1 person out of 10, or less)*
  • Chickenpox!!!! (1 person out of 25)—usually mild, but can be contagious (rarely).*
  • Seizures (more common with MMRV version)

Vaccines, like any medicine, are capable of causing serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. The risks for serious harm or death are extremely small. Getting vaccinated is generally safer than getting the viruses they prevent.

Posted in Mommy Matters | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

From the Mouths of Babes

_DSC2159

Last night, as Kaia and I ate dinner at her princess table, she asked me a loaded question: “Where’s Brandon’s mommy?” Brandon, my nephew, has been living with my parents for almost a year. They took him in after my father went to pick him up for a visit and learned that he was living in a house with no heat, no water (the pipes had burst since the heat was off) and no food. He came to live with my parents that day and has only been to visit his mom about three times since—not because my parents prevent his mom from seeing him, but because she hasn’t made the effort.

I told Kaia that Brandon’s mommy was at her own house. To which she replied “I want Brandon’s mommy to come see him.” Kaia didn’t ask about Brandon’s also-absentee father, my brother, because she doesn’t know her own dad, so I’m assuming her 2-year-old logic has deemed fathers optional. Kaia is, however, really concerned about Brandon’s lack of contact with his mom. I’m guessing that Brandon is too, but since he has autism and isn’t very verbal, he can’t tell us that he’s sad that he hasn’t seen his mom, sister or brother (who are also being raised by their paternal grandparents). While he doesn’t/can’t tell us that he misses his mom , Brandon has taken to calling both my mom and me “mommy.”

Grandparents Rock

Brandon is hardly alone. Millions of kids are raised by their grandparents for an assortment of reasons—more than 4.5 million in the United States according the Census— but it doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking when it happens. It’s a problem that disproportionately affects our community—while grandparent-headed families are diverse, they are more likely to be African-American and female-headed.

Even when grandparents are doing an exceptional job providing stable, loving homes for their grandchildren—like my parents—there are obstacles. For instance, my parents had to go to court for guardianship, and they are still having a hard time with Brandon’s medical and dental coverage. In addition to the day-to-day challenges of receiving approval to make decisions for the children, it’s a huge sacrifice to become a parent again in your 60s, especially to a child who may forever be dependent like my nephew.

I hope that Brandon’s mom gets herself together and realizes how important it is to be a part of her children’s lives—and I hope my brother has a similar epiphany. But I won’t hold my breath. I’ll instead focus on being thankful that Brandon has substitute “parents” and extended family who love him, and that he’s thriving under less than ideal conditions.

And I’ll start preparing myself for the other difficult questions that are sure to come my way from a child who is perceptive, concerned about the well-being of others and wise beyond her years.

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Mommy Guilt

This morning, as I was leaving for work, Kaia asked me to stay home. She said, “You not go to work and see me?” When I said that I had to go, she responded “Me go to work too.” It broke my heart a little.

I am not the first mom to experience mommy guilt. It’s an emotion that predates women in the workforce. (Note: Among U.S. minorities, work outside the home, such as childcare and domestic work, has historically been the standard.) I desire to be the very best parent I can, yet I experience guilt any time I perceive myself as falling short.

I’ve been back at work since Kaia was three months old. My leave seemed too brief to me then, but I realize that I was fortunate to have that long at home with her. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) only requires that jobs are protected for three months; whether or not you get paid during FMLA leave is up to your employer. I received full pay for eight weeks of my leave through my company’s short-term disability policy and used vacation time to cover the rest. Most mothers I know get far less.

But even if I’d had 240 paid days at home like moms in the UK, I’d miss her now. After my 11-hour workdays (including my 3-hour roundtrip commute), I barely have time to feed her, bathe her and read a couple of books before bedtime. Our interaction is so limited during the week that I focus on being totally available and present on the weekends. (Translation: I don’t have a social life.) And yet, every Monday morning, and each weekday thereafter, I still feel the familiar pangs of guilt for leaving her.

I feel guilty even though Kaia has spent most of her days surrounded by people who love her. She was cared for by my parents until two weeks ago when she began a full-day preschool program. I wished I could have eased the transition for her by starting her in a half-day program or sending her only two or three days in the beginning, but I couldn’t.

Even on the first day of school, she didn’t cry when I left. She was excited about the newness of the situation. But the second day, and each day since, she has clung to me for dear life. It’s not that she doesn’t want to be there; she just wants me to stay there with her.

I don’t worry about her mornings or afternoons. I know she likes spending time with her new friends and learning new things. I worry about the end of the day, when my long commute may cause her to consistently be one of the last kids to be picked up.

I worry about her even though current research shows that little girls are better off when their moms work. Daughters of employed mothers are:

  • More likely to have high academic achievement, greater career success, nontraditional career choices and greater occupational commitment
  • More positively assertive (participating in class discussions, asking questions, being comfortable in leadership positions) and less likely to “act out”
  • Less shy, more independent and have a higher sense of efficacy
  • Less likely to see being a woman as limiting—believing that women can excel at traditional male-dominated activities

Research notwithstanding, I still worry. But, I hear “worrying” is one thing that all parents do. Imagine that.

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Rethinking the Rod

ID 40212967 © Cginspiration | Dreamstime.com

ID 40212967 © Cginspiration | Dreamstime.com

As a parent, I’ve found that one of the most polarizing subjects regarding child rearing is spanking. So of course I had to share my two cents.

I was raised by parents who followed the old biblical teaching of “spare the rod, spoil the child.” Which means, of course, that I got a lot of spankings. I can speak intelligently on the qualities of different spanking implements—how much they hurt, how long they hurt, what kind of marks they leave, etc.

Before I had Kaia, I always thought I’d be a mom who spanked. Not necessarily because I was spanked and I turned out all right, but because I truly believed that children who were not spanked were disrespectful and out of control, like many of the privileged children I observed in supermarkets and parks and other places where they acted out much to their parents embarrassment. I never saw a threat for time out stop a single fit. I never heard a stern word uttered that had the immediate effect of a swift hit to a child’s behind. That is, until my older cousin had kids.

One Thanksgiving, we were all visiting my grandmother and while I don’t remember the crime, I do remember my little cousin Scottie being sentenced to the punishment: time out in the kitchen. Time away from his family, whom he only saw a few times a year. Time out from the laughter and the storytelling and the fun. Scottie, who had to have been around seven at the time, cried like he had been taken to the bathroom and his mom had taken a belt to his behind. He sobbed for the duration of that time out. And that day altered my perception of non-violent measures against child misbehavior.

While time out worked on Scottie on that day and at that time, my cousin is not the poster child for the effectiveness of time outs. Scottie and his sister, who are now adults, have been witnessed disrespecting their mother—raising their voices, ignoring her requests and, as a whole, doing whatever they feel like doing, regardless of what she asks, pleads or requires of them. But the funny thing is, the same can be said of many young adults I know, whether they were spanked or spared.

It seems that the proverbial rod doesn’t make a lick of difference when it comes to the deference of children to adults. And if spanking has little to no effect on the long-term behavior of a child, what is the point of doing it? Some would argue that spanking does have an immediate effect when a child is misbehaving, but there are other things that spanking does too.

Why Spanking Hurts

Spanking, according to the research, teaches children that hitting is an acceptable response when someone does something they do not like. According to the American Psychological Association, it can cause increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury and even language development delays.  It can also teach children to fear their parents and inhibits trust. Instead of correcting the behavior, it could just teach the child to behave when the disciplinarian is around and misbehave when nobody’s watching. And, I hear it can make boys develop fetishes, because inadvertent contact with their testicles can cause sexual excitement. And while I get that ladies love the fantasy of Fifty Shades of Grey, I wouldn’t want to make my kid a freak.

Experts on the other side of the issue believe that an occasional, open-handed swat to the behind is OK, provided it’s delivered at the time of the incident, after exhausting non-violent means of punishment to no avail, and on a child aged 2 to 6. But I am still in the non-hitting camp. I am, however, still learning about more productive and less potentially harmful ways to correct my child’s behavior, since a lot of the techniques we employ as parents are determined by how we were nurtured.

No Pain, No Gain?

My favorite alternative is not technically a method of discipline. I am molding my child into the type of person I want her to be primarily through positive reinforcement. It’s how I potty trained her, how I teach her manners and how she’s learning to share. Rather than berate her for mistakes, I make a huge deal when she, and others around her, choose to do the right thing.

And when she’s not doing the right thing? We talk about it. I take her aside and force her to pay attention (i.e., look at me), and tell her I don’t like what she’s doing and I need her to stop. Sometimes we discuss why it’s not a good idea. Sometimes I just tell her not to. Yes, my child is only two, but you’d be surprised how much a two-year-old can understand and process. And after those talks, she always asks “Are you mad at me mommy? She knows she’s disappointed me and wants our relationship back on an even keel.

I find that most of the time, it’s really my fault when she misbehaves. Generally it’s because she’s sleepy, hungry or in need of attention (Read: Mommy’s on the phone, cooking dinner, on Facebook, etc.). So prevention is the best medicine. However, she is still a toddler, and some toddler behaviors are hard wired. When she’s whining, I pretend I don’t understand what she’s saying. Typically she stops and speaks normally.  When she’s having a tantrum—which has only happened once or twice so far—I let her. And when she’s done, we talk about it.

I recognize that as she gets older and asserts her independence more, that will also mean testing her boundaries and limits. And misbehaving may become more frequent. But a lot of a child’s behavior has to do with temperament, and I happen to have a pretty happy and relaxed child.

For all my high minded ideals and judgment about spanking, I have to admit, that I’m not perfect. Yesterday, Kaia bit me on the leg while I was getting her ready for bed. I didn’t think; the pain just caused me to react and I hit her. She cried and I felt awful. But afterwards, I comforted her and we had a talk. I explained that mommy was very sorry and I made a mistake. That it was never OK to hit and that I wouldn’t do it again. I said that she should never bite anyone and that she was wrong, but mommy was wrong too. Then we played a silly game. After playing and laughing, she told me that she was “happy now” and that she felt so much better “because me and mommy not fight anymore.”

Oh, and for those who strictly follow the biblical teachings, you should know that historians are now saying that “the rod” could have referred to the way shepherds guide their flocks of sheep. So instead of advocating violence, the bible could have been teaching us to provide appropriate guidance for our children.

Food for thought…

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In Solidarity

© Shootalot | Dreamstime.com - Black Lives Matter Photo

© Shootalot | Dreamstime.com – Black Lives Matter Photo

After several days of being inundated with stories about the situation in Ferguson, my one abiding thought has been that I’m so glad I have a daughter and not a son. Although I grew up in a “middle-class” household in a relatively safe area of the Southside of Chicago (middle class is often defined differently in Black households; we were probably lower middle class at best), I have always understood that this world is not safe for little (or big) Black boys. They face different pressures and greater dangers both within and outside of our communities.

As a teenager, I made some questionable choices (as many of us do), but I never really felt like I was at risk—from the gangs or the cops. But as my younger brothers grew up and navigated the space between childhood and adulthood, I worried about them. I worried that they would pick the wrong friends, or choose the wrong times to be mischievous, or be in the wrong place at the wrong time or meet the wrong law enforcement officers.

For black boys, a blunt could mean a jail sentence and the permanent closing of any doors that may have been cracked, because even with a squeaky clean history, many are already closed to them. But until recently, I was most afraid that my brothers would either be victimized by violence in our neighborhoods—violence that persists in any area where people live on the margins of society—or jailed because of the propensity of police and judiciaries to prosecute more black boys and sentence them harsher that boys of almost any other ethnicity. I never considered that the police—men and women who take an oath to “serve and protect”—could be the ones to end their lives.

Civil Unrest as a Path to Change

I lived through the Rodney King beating.  I watched as those four cops went free, and two were later jailed for their actions. I watched as the city of Los Angeles burned, several people were killed and thousands were injured in the 1992 riots. As horrific as that time was, it brought about change. After the riots, the Los Angeles Police Department increased minority representation in the ranks, the police chief resigned and the city’s mayor lost support.

In contrast, after Trayvon Martin died, and his murderer was acquitted, many mourned, but few took to the streets, except for peaceful walks and demonstrations. While “stand your ground” gun laws came under fire, little has changed since the day Trayvon died. And instead of George Zimmerman facing federal charges in the aftermath, he walks free today to flaunt his “second-amendment rights.” Many believe it’s only a matter of time before he kills again.

I am not an advocate of violence. Aside from the fear that would prevent me from participating in a demonstration that turned violent, I have too much to lose. I have a job, a house and a daughter to protect. But many of the people, young and old, who participated in the LA riots in 92 and those who are participating in the Ferguson riots of today have nothing to lose and, if history repeats itself, everything to gain.

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Can a Leopard Change its Spots?

© Ciuciumama | Dreamstime.com

© Ciuciumama | Dreamstime.com

This week, I’ve been having conversations about change. I’ve always been taught that you can’t change anyone, you just have to accept your friends and loved ones for who they are. But what if you’re the one who needs to change? Can you change yourself?

Experts insist that your temperament is determined before you are born, and your personality develops by first grade, with the core remaining stable throughout your life. So what happens when you are aware (or are made aware) or your shortcomings, and decide you want to change those negative qualities?

My boyfriend insists that you cannot change yourself, no matter how hard you try. He believes that the best that you can do is to identify your flaws and acknowledge when those characteristics cause problems in your relationships. He thinks that even when you can’t see that you’ve done something wrong, by recognizing your failings, you can assume that you’ve contributed to the problem and go about making amends.

My cousin also thinks that you are who you are, yet she thinks that it’s possible to tweak the original design. I agree. I think of my more undesirable personality traits as bad habits, and as such, they are changeable. I heard or read somewhere that it takes 21 days to change a habit. While I think my more challenging “habits” may take more than 21 days to change—and I may never be truly different at my core—I can be an improved version of who I am.

So get ready for Kristina 2.0!

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Silver and Gold

© Susanfindlay | Dreamstime.com - Gold And Silver Wedding Bands Photo

© Susanfindlay | Dreamstime.com – Gold And Silver Wedding Bands Photo

“Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.”

Until you grow up, you don’t realize just how difficult this old Scout anthem is to put in practice.

Relationships require work. All relationships—even (especially) friendships. I love my friends. I lean on them. I rely on them. I depend on them. And I’d like to think that in return I am their shoulder to cry on, and their person to rely and depend on. But as an adult, I’ve lost more friends than I can count. Close friends. Sister friends.

Recently, a run in with a good friend forced me to reevaluate how I handle my adult female relationships. The reason for the argument is inconsequential, but my feelings are not. I was hurt, and I told her so. She did not respond.

In the past, I would have asked a million people what they thought about the dispute to confirm that my response was appropriate. But this time I kept it in house. While I vented to one or two people, I realized that what anybody else thought or felt about what happened was unimportant. All that mattered was how I felt, how she felt and where we were going to go from here.

Am I over it? No. I’m still very hurt and a little shocked that she chose to make the decision she made. But I realize that we are both rooted to our position and there is only one way forward. I decided that although what happened wasn’t right, it wasn’t worth sacrificing the relationship. So I sulked for a couple of days then gave her a call and acted like nothing ever happened. I chose to forgive, focus on the times she’s been there for me in the past, and hope that she is more considerate of my feelings in the future.

I can’t lie, my approach for moving past this betrayal was informed and influenced by my past relationships. With the girl friends I’ve lost, there was always a big falling out. I always thought that big argument was the reason for the friendship ending. And in the heat of the moment, it’s easy to blame the other person. But in reality, that one-time event was always preceded by small disagreements, times when I felt they were being inconsiderate or selfish or mean (and vice versa). Miscommunication and taking others for granted can end a friendship just as surely as they can split up romantic relationships. Rather than making an effort to truly understand each other’s perspective and to try and be better friends, we allowed the resentment to grow and spread until it was so all encompassing that we couldn’t move forward any longer.

In the past, I didn’t fight hard enough for truly exceptional women who were important to me. I didn’t find ways to make them understand how I felt, how I hurt. I didn’t try to understand all the ways that I hurt them. But my sister friends are dwindling, and they are more important than ever.

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Voyage à Trois

© Icholakov | Dreamstime.com - Southwest Airlines Jet Airplane Photo

© Icholakov | Dreamstime.com – Southwest Airlines Jet Airplane Photo

My Love Affair with American and Southwest Airlines

I’ve always been an American Airlines girl. I got my feet wet in their frequent flier program (AAdvantage) and have been fairly faithful to the airline ever since. For years, I only flew another airline when the fare was significantly cheaper, but a lot of my friends were Southwest loyalists. Late last year, I found out why.

Most of my travel has been domestic, although I fantasize about trips to Paris or Buenos Aires. It would only cost about 40,000 AAdvantage miles if I bought my tickets months in advance, but I’ve never pulled the trigger, mainly because I’m the only one of my friends who had enough miles. But I’m also the only one who likes to plan trips more than a few weeks out.

So, before Kaia was born, my travel was typically to two places—Las Vegas and Miami—over and over and over again. For a little while, we were begrudgingly taking advantage of $9 Spirit fares to Miami (Ft. Lauderdale), but if you’ve ever flown Spirit you know that you get what you pay for. Matter of fact, I know it doesn’t sound possible, but you get less—trust me.

For a lot of those trips to Vegas, I was travelling on award tickets. I thought I was awesome if I managed to find a ticket for 25,000 miles roundtrip for weekend travel, especially on holidays like Memorial Day or Labor Day. But if I had been flying Southwest, I could have been paying so much less.

Tardy to the Party

Southwest’s mileage program, Rapid Rewards, bases the price of a ticket in miles on the price you’d pay in dollars. So, the cheaper your ticket, the fewer miles you have to spend. For instance, I recently redeemed 14,000 miles for a roundtrip ticket to Orlando. Try finding a ticket that cheap on American. Plus, my fickle travel friends could have changed their minds as many times as they wanted because Southwest doesn’t charge a change or cancel fee even for their reward redemptions.

On American, cancelling a ticket means losing your hard earned miles, or paying cash (currently $150) to keep them. But if you have enough miles, you could literally reserve all the Southwest itineraries you might travel in advance (when the tickets are cheaper) and just cancel the reservations you don’t need. The miles are redeposited in your account virtually instantly.

Another reason to love Southwest is the Companion Pass. How could I have gone so long not knowing about this incredible benefit? All you have to do is earn 110,000 miles in Rapid Rewards within one calendar year and you can take a friend for FREE on all of your Southwest travel for up to two years—even reward tickets.

While that sounds like a lot of miles, the Southwest credit cards offer 50,000 miles for new sign-ups a couple of times a year. Sign up for two of the four card types and meet the requirements for earning your bonus miles and you’re 104,000 miles closer to that companion pass. Just make sure you earn the sign-up bonuses in the same calendar year or you’ll have to sign up for a third card type (or find another way to re-earn those 50,000 miles). Even more importantly, if you’re using credit cards to earn reward miles/points, be sure to pay off your card balance each month so that you don’t get hit with interest and late fees!

It’s Not Cheating if it’s Long Distance

I haven’t given up my dreams of international travel, however, and even post-merger, Southwest doesn’t offer many international destinations. So I will make Southwest my domestic partner and have an affair with another airline for travel overseas. Before Monday, that airline would have been American Airlines. I really wanted to take advantage of the free stopover on an AAdvantage award, but that benefit was eliminated earlier this week.

American isn’t the only player in the international travel market that offered the stopover benefit, however. So while I’ve been loyal to American for a long time, it looks like I might need to find a new partner not only for my domestic travel, but for my international trips, too. Since I already have 50,000 miles on United, I might begin building a closer relationship with their Mileage Plus program.

To be fair, American is just following the trend in devaluing its frequent traveler program. In recent months, Delta, United and even Southwest reduced the value of their miles/points and several hotel programs were gutted as well. If there is one lesson to be learned from this mass devaluation, it’s that miles and points are only worth as much as the airline or hotel operator says they are worth. So you’re better off using them than hoarding them.

There are still ways to make the most of what you have in each program, and I have miles in quite a few. So I guess I better start planning those trips between Hawaii or the Caribbean and Europe, or Argentina, or Brazil or…

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