Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Children: Why We Can't Have Nice Things

Most of the time the "Why We Can't Have Nice Things" aspect of having children is a bit of a bummer. There's an entire tumblr devoted to "Shit My Kids Ruined."   If you haven't visited it, I strongly recommend its therapeutic and healing benefits. After seeing the pictures of mayhem,  I definitely felt better about the time 9 year old Elly thought the refrigerator door would make a great jungle gym. She swung back and forth on it for god knows how long while I was tucking in her brother, and the door never shut right after that. But after looking at the "Sh*t My Kids Ruined" site, I felt better. My offspring are not the only forces of random, well-meaning destruction in the world.

So we know that we can't have nice things because children destroy them, but today I'd like to take a moment to ponder the cash they save us because of the nice things we want but cannot have because of youthful phobias. Children are risk-takers, yes. They do not understand the world and its dangers. But I have yet to meet a child that doesn't also have some bizarre terror of relatively harmless objects, and I'd like to praise the dollar-saving potential of those fears.

It's on my mind a lot at this time of the year, because of my son's undying hatred and fear of all (non-candy related) Halloween. It speaks to the tenacity of his sweet tooth that he will trick or treat for candy while loathing Halloween with all his might. I lay the blame on a preschool teacher who decided that the best way to introduce toddlers to Halloween was to terrorize them. Regardless, Paul's feelings about Halloween are long-standing. He would love to see a holiday that provided him with candy and pumpkins, but that omitted the skulls, the blood, the witches, the ghosts, and the spider webs.

Meanwhile, in the last eight years, the Halloween vendors have upped their game. Even going to the grocery store for milk, I come upon all kinds of spectacular Halloween decorations that could turn my home into a veritable orange, black, and silver paradise. Those things cannot be mine because I am not in the business of terrorizing my offspring. Think of the twenties of dollars I could potentially have spent on glittery skulls!  Thank you, Paul. We will put that into your college fund... or our nursing home fund... one or the other. Or since I'm at the grocery store looking at the glitter skulls, I'll go ahead and pick up milk and yogurt.

So in the grand accounting of "Why We Can't Have Nice Things," I will have to replace my couch cover sooner rather than later because of the persistent sneaking (and therefore, spilling) of yogurt and milk on the sofa.  BUT I can pay for the couch cover with the money I've saved by refraining from all Halloween decorating. 

I have successfully bought and used two Halloween tea towels this year, so it may be that the child needs to develop a new phobia for next year in order to keep this fiscal ship afloat. Maybe a fear of milk and yogurt?

Next up:  how I avoided the costly, scented candle crazed during young Eleanor's fear of all fire!

Hobson's Choice Health Care Outrage of the Week

Yes, it's time to return to a regular feature of the blog as your Chronic Illness Super Family returns to document the ways that our health care system is broken.

I'm sad today to report a story that demonstrates the pitfalls of our system in a post-ACA world. ACA, or ObamaCare, has been great in decreasing the numbers of the uninsured, especially in a state like ours which has implemented ACA and the Medicaid expansion gung-ho. There is nothing but good in reducing the numbers of folks without insurance, both for people facing illness and for a system that needs to pay for sick people. ObamaCare has been good at increasing access to preventative services, which is going to save our whole system a lot in the long run, both in terms of dollars and in terms of valuable people who are going to live healthier lives and contribute to our society. 

But, our health care system is still SUPER broken, and today I'm talking about paperwork and hidden inequity.

Last spring, I had to have a simple CT scan of my neck, and thanks to a paperwork snarl, I got to see a little of the ugliness of how our system charges people differently depending on the assets they bring to their illness.  

My provider, who has a long and storied history of paperwork incompetence, neglected to get preauthorization from my insurance provider for my CT scan. My insurance company refused to pay for the scan, so I got to see exactly how much the provider charges for CT scans when no insurance is involved. The basic and unadulterated number does show up on every Explanation of Benefits form from my insurance company, but it's easy to ignore when I have insurance and I’m  only paying attention to the bottom line of what I’m going to pay.

Despite the median national cost for CT scan of the head being around $700, my provider charged a whopping $6,000 for the procedure.

Now before you start panicking for my personal finances, we went back and got the insurance company to retro-actively authorize the procedure. It worked because... "Oh dear god, not that woman again. She can deploy school teacher, social worker, and mom voice at one time. And she is relentless. She believes medical care is a basic human right. She is the terminator. Just turn in the damn paperwork!"

Oh, and also because this happens all the time in a broken system, insurance companies are used to applying these retroactive preauthorizations. 

None of this is the sad part of the story yet, although it's certainly sad that a CT scan costs ten times the national median in a state where generally the cost of living is well below the national median. 

Now that the insurance company was involved, hey presto! Suddenly, a CT scan didn't cost $6,000 anymore. My insurance company had already negotiated a rate for CT scans with the provider, and that rate is less than $300. Since it was late in the plan year and we are Chronic Illness Super Family, we'd already met the deductible and my own personal CT scan ended up costing me around $50. Regardless, even if I hadn't yet met my deductible, that CT would never have cost me much more than $300, even if I were to pro-rate and include the thousands we pay in insurance premiums and deductibles each year

But if I hadn't had the insurance company operating on my behalf?  I would currently be negotiating a $6,000 bill with the provider. I probably wouldn't end up paying $6,000, but I'd pay a lot more than $50.

And that's what sad. Rates change remarkably, depending on what insurance a person has or whether a patient has insurance at all. The higher rates apply to folks who are least likely to be able to pay them. It's that old confusing Bible adage, "to him that hath, more shall be given; to him that hath not, more shall be taken away." 

I understand that insurance companies and providers work this way because that's what the market will bear, because the bottom line determines health care costs in our nation, even after ACA. Regardless of what the market will bear, I'm not sure that our hearts can bear it. Certainly, our moral compasses shouldn't.

And that's your Health Care Outrage of the Week. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

What our houses really look like on Friday

I'm hoping that we -- Generation X -- are going to be the last generation to be ashamed of what our houses look like on Friday evenings. I don't know about you, but when I look around my house on a Friday evening, it's hard for me not to think back to all the pristine houses of my childhood. It seemed like everyone's houses looked as great on Friday evening as they did on Monday morning.

My house does not look great on Friday evenings. By the standards of middle America 1970s, it looks appalling.  There are dishes; there is laundry everywhere; and there are hints of discoveries to be made on Saturday morning.   Discoveries that children have once again been flouting the "No yogurt on the sofa rule,"   that approximately 99% of the towels are a heap in the teen's room and that the other 1% has a disturbing smell, that the male household population has not had military grade aim and accuracy when it comes to the toilet, and that I myself have been casting socks hither, thither, and yon.  On a really stellar Friday, there is a funk emerging from the kitchen trash that evokes a 1990s dorm room.

Having written this down, I am now anxious to deletemy words, certain that you are all now appalled by my singularly slatternly ways.   Your houses are all ready for a magazine shoot on Friday nights, right?

Except I know better. I have been to some of your houses.   Most importantly, I know that many of you have put in the same work week that I have.  You have been in meetings; you have tried to feed your families and make sure that your children get a plausible amount of sleep;  you have gone over spelling words; you have walked the dog; you have done your job.   If there's time in there to keep a pristine house and maybe also kiss your spouse and/or occasionally indulge in your long term TV crush on Larry Wilmore, I don't see it.

Pinterest (that bugaboo!) and HGTV have persuaded us that home curation is not only possible, but that everyone else is doing it.

I wish that I could curate a collection of photos of the grossest thing I find on a Saturday morning when I've set our gang to cleaning.  I wish I were bold enough to not just say, "Here it is, my son has apparently been wiping his boogers on his wall for the last 3 months," but to show you the visual.  But I'm not. I'm Generation X, and I'm ashamed.

I expect that our daughters won't be, however. Maybe our sons, too.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

These are a few of my favorite...

Christmas books for young children.   Here are a few that have stood the test of home and classroom in the last decade of our lives.

On Christmas Eve by Margaret Wise Brown --   No one does quiet like Margaret Wise Brown did. Think of  "Good Night, Moon,"  a book which has been almost parodied to death, but still hypnotizes our children to sleep. I picked up this Christmas book on a remainder table before Mr. Hobson's Choice and I even had children. It's the simple story of children sneaking out of bed to look at the Christmas tree, and Nancy Edwards Calder's illustrations convey the childhood thrills of a house at night.

Arthur's Christmas by Marc Brown --  One of the pre-tv Arthur books, your kids laugh at poor Arthur's attempts to make a great present for Santa  and at all the visual jokes in the illustrations.

The Tub People's Christmas by Pam Conrad --  The Tub People are definitely a specialty taste in children's lit, for those kids who like to draw up to the edge of the precipice in their reading. Still the art by Richard Egielski is delightful. Besides if your kids have already lived through the desperate grief of the near loss of the Tub Child and the mixed emotions caused by the return of the Tub Grandfather, shouldn't your family get to enjoy the quiet blessings of Christmas in this third book of the trilogy?

Santa Claus, the World's Number One Toy Expert by Marla Frazee -- From the artist of All The World  comes this vision of Santa.  Buy it for the generous vision of Santa and the drawings of Santa in seasonal boxers.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost and illustrated by Susan Jeffers -- You may know Jeffers from her illustrations of some of Margaret Wise Brown's posthumously released work, but this one is a classic on its own.  Jeffers takes the beloved American poem and gives it a magical spin for the youngest readers.  Great for family readings on the longest night and for anyone who's been jaded by studying Frost in high school.

Shall I Knit You A Hat? by Kate and Sarah Klise --  For the knitters on your gift list, for illustrations unlike any other since Richard Scarry, and for a lesson in the joys of receiving presents you need as well as those you want.

Look -Alikes Christmas by Joan Steiner -- Want to keep your kid occupied for hours during those periods of Christmas waiting? Maybe yourself, too?  Steiner takes everyday objects and creates intricate Christmas scenes.  Think of pocketbooks as stove hoods, pretzels as chair backs, and lace bras as snow-capped hills.

The Christmas Magic by Lauren Thompson  -- illustrated by Jon Muth of the Zen Shorts books, this one purely reminds you of all the real Christmas magic.  Do you want to feel again that Christmas Eve feeling?  This is the book for you... and for kids who may just be starting to wonder how Santa can do what he does.  This book will buy you a little time for belief.

The Nativity by Julie Vivas --  Ever read some of those saccharine Nativity kids' stories and think "Where is the earthiness in this very earthy story?"   This book is a great palate cleanser.  I'm still not sure how Vivas takes ethereal watercolors to convey angels in combat boots, an enormously pregnant Mary, and raggedy shepherds.  I'm even less sure how she conveys all that reality without losing any magic. But she does it.  If you buy one religious Christmas book ever, this should be it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Being Twelve

This Christmas season, having gone clothes shopping for a Christmas Dance dress with the preteen, I am prepared to say what twelve is.  Age twelve begins the era of dissatisfaction.   Age twelve is being sad that your body no longer fits into cute little girl Christmas dresses,  half velour and half glitter, the ones that look like a miniature version of Mrs. Santa's dress.  It is being so sad that you can no longer wear those dresses that you cry in the dressing room.  But at the same time, being twelve is wanting knee high boots with three inch heels.  There's a word for that kind of boots, and it's not one I want to apply to my twelve year old.  It's wanting those boots so bad that every other boot bring tears.

I remember that age and thinking that I would never find pants long enough to cover my ankles, that my gawky legs would be eliciting calls of "high water" in the school hallways forever.  Trying on pants always brought tears in the dressing room.

It behooves me to remember and to be calm in the dressing room.  I wasn't calm on Saturday.  In my defense, I was coming down with a stomach bug at that very moment and would go onto to hurl in the Steak and Shake bathroom not thirty minutes later.  Sidebar:  Steak and Shake is LOW on the list of pleasant barfatoriums.

But age twelve is tears in the dressing room, and I'm going to remember that the next time we're trying on boots.  If fate is kind to me though, maybe we could not do that again until age thirteen?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Elf Makes Me Cranky

Today, I'm going to step out onto the parental limb with a saw and confess that I don't like the Elf on the Shelf.  Everywhere I go, I see that little guy.  I haven't seen him in many houses, but he is everywhere you can buy Christmas goods.  You can  buy a knock-off elf at the drug store.  I'm still living down the trauma of seeing his face fuzzily rendered on some fleece pajamas at Target.  I think if I looked down in the middle of the night to see that  grin on my chest... well, I think the whole family might be wakened by my yells.  He's everywhere, and everybody but me loves him.

My beef with the Elf probably starts from my aversion to dolls.  I feel about dolls the way most people feel about clowns, and the elf takes that aversion up a notch.  Not only does he have the creepy grin and eyes that seem to be part and parcel of doll-hood, but you're supposed to play along with the idea that he moves around your house at night while you're asleep?  No, thank you.  If the "Chucky" movies were being made today instead of in the "My Buddy" doll era, they would definitely star the Elf on the Shelf.

But beyond my (very reasonable and mature) fear of dolls, the Elf on the Shelf seems like a lot of work.  He seems like he's a lot of work that I don't want to do.  And here's where I start sawing myself off of this limb.  I know that a lot of parents love the magic of the elf and creating special memories for their children by switching the elf to creative locations with creative accessories and creative messages.  Parents with Elves, I support you.  I'm glad you're having fun.  To me, the Elf seems like the Tooth Fairy's more quotidian cousin.  An Elf on the Shelf in our house would just mean my waking every morning with the thought, "Dammit, I forgot to move that bleeping Elf again."

For me, Elf on the Shelf plays into the Make Work era of parenting where we find ourselves. For the most part, we parents aren't having to milk the cows to give our kids something to drink, we aren't having to chop the firewood to keep our kids warm, and we aren't having to sew clothes to keep a stitch on our children's backs.  For most of us in the United States, the pure drudgery of childcare has eased in the past century.  Instead of patting ourselves on the back and enjoying a good novel though, we seem determined to do something to make sure that raising kids is as hard as it ever was.  You don't have to actually make the jelly for your kids' sandwich?  Okay, then, let's spend hours cutting that sandwich into shapes and arranging it into a bento box lunch?  You don't have to work 12 hours a day to get your kid an orange for her Christmas sock?  Okay, then let's spend that time moving a doll around the house in creative ways.

See, I'm a bad person.  I'm not seeing the fun of the Elf, just the work.

But if I want to really go deep on my dislike of the Elf and fall right off this limb and onto the hard ground of bad parenthood, I've got to talk about the Naughty List.  I don't like the Naughty List, and I have spent my years as a parent and a teacher loudly telling children that there is no such thing as a Naughty List and that Santa loves and understands children just as they are.  My main problem with the Elf on the Shelf is his role as a narc for Santa.   To me, Santa is a great way to teach very young children about unconditional love.  I'm getting too serious; however, if we want children to believe in universal and loving God, then why do we want to turn the most human thing they can understand as god into a guy with a good and bad list?   If we want them to believe in love in the universe, why do we want them to believe in a faraway, toy-distributing stranger who keeps a ledger at the North Pole and now a doll informant at their house?

No, I'm too serious.  I'm being the killjoy of Christmas here, I think.  Nonetheless, I'll be glad when the Elf fad fades and I can go pick up my prescriptions without seeing him at this time of year.  The Tooth Fairy is all I can handle in terms of my rapidly aging parental memory, and Mr. Hobson's Choice will tell you that I'm even not so good at remembering the teeth.

Monday, December 1, 2014

That Christmas Moment

Among all the other moments of walking out into a field to find the tree, of children singing carols while hanging ornaments, of unexpectedly but perpetually scalding your throat on gulped hot chocolate, there is this one.

This is the moment when, going through a box of ornaments and wrapping paper, you find a last Christmas letter from a friend.   It's the last letter, because your friend died two years ago.  It's the last piece of his handwriting that you will ever see, just a Christmas wish and a question about your new home. You are here to find that paper, along with a tiny Sesame Street ornament that your kids worried after while decorating the tree.  And there's again the bag of sticky-backed bows for wrapping presents.  You can never remember that you don't use bows because your presents all have to travel crushed in a suitcase or car's trunk.  Year after year, you find this bag and who knows if the tape is still even sticky.  Why do you keep it?

And here, too, is the letter with its optimism about health regained, old age staved off, the New Year on its way.

Add another quiet milestone to Christmas.  You've been adding them up for four decades, sitting on Santa's lap and listening for reindeer.  Then there's keeping the story of Santa for littler and littler children.  There's the euphoria of school dismissed the last day before vacation.  There's maniacally wrapping Santa's gifts late on Christmas Eve and then peeking on your sleeping children.  And now this.

It's you here alone in the house, on a quiet afternoon, sorting through the Christmas boxes, bringing some order to those plastic tubs that spend 11 months in the attic.  It's the overhead light, shining on your friend's handwriting on that last letter.   And it's becoming something to look for every year.