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Trick or Trunk or Treat or…

Halloween was close to magical for me as a kid and still remains one of my favorite days out of the year.  I remember roaming the streets on Long Island, trying to get to as many houses as possible, finally being big enough to switch out the cheap Halloween bag for a pillow case, and working out strategies with friends so we could hit more houses in less time.  I always loved going to haunted houses in the area, especially one that was in what used to be a two-story department store.  My elementary school in Connecticut would allow the 5th grade classrooms to convert to haunted rooms every year, and I remember loving the tours as a young student and feeling so amazing and important when it was my turn to scare the heck out of my younger peers.  My first year in college, I dressed as the Grim Reaper (face paint and all) and scared my dorm mates to death.  I love Halloween.

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I passed a church the other day that will be doing a Trunk or Treat event this coming Sunday.  Children will dress up and go from car to car in the parking lot collecting treats and showing off their costume.  This has been going on for a few years now in various places (mostly churches) and is meant to be a safe alternative to sending your children roaming around your neighborhood.  Other alternatives that seem to be gaining popularity are having a backyard scavenger hunt with neighborhood children, getting a pinata and having all the candy in one place, trick or treating at malls that host such events, or organizing games and other activities that feature candy but aren’t centered around collecting it.

These alternate activities seem to not only be in response to a danger associated with trick or treating, but with the “fact” that Halloween is a very religious holiday and that makes it not okay for everyone to celebrate it and not okay for it to be celebrated in any fashion in schools.  A Pennsylvania school principal stated that “some holidays, like Halloween, are viewed…as having religious overtones. The district must always be mindful of the sensitivity of all the members of the community with regard to holidays and celebrations of a religious, cultural or secular nature. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that school districts may not endorse, prefer, favor, promote or advance any religious beliefs.”

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I’ll spare you the copy and pasting from my Google searches on the origins of Halloween, as there are many details and many theories about whether or not it is okay for someone of Christian faith to celebrate this holiday.  I was baptized and confirmed as a Catholic and not once did anyone associated with my church tell myself or my family that Halloween was wrong in any way.  My son was baptized in a Methodist church and the preacher who performed the ceremony addressed the Halloween issue (in a different service of course) and specifically stated that Halloween is a fun time for children and we should leave it as simple as that.

For a child, Halloween is simply a fun time to dress like a superhero or scary monster and get free candy from people around your home.  It’s a time to watch frightening movies and tell spooky stories with friends.  It’s a time to go to haunted houses, be it the truly frightening ones for the brave or the tame lights-on set ups at children’s museums and the like.  I have never known a child to question whether or not to celebrate Halloween due to religious or moral reasons.  The handful of children I knew that weren’t into Halloween felt that way because they considered themselves too old for it or because their parents pushed them into feeling that the day was silly/childish/not worth their time.

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If your family is that serious about Halloween being against your religion, then keep your child home from school that day and plan an alternative for them.  Maybe go to the movies or have a family outing elsewhere while everyone else is trick or treating so your child(ren) don’t have to sit at home and watch everyone around them have a blast.  What needs to stop happening is uptight parents sticking their nose in EVERYTHING and ruining good times for their own children and everyone else’s.  What is the harm in having decorations in an elementary school or having the cafeteria serve up Halloween-inspired goodies?  What is the harm in picking a parent to walk with a group of kids around the neighborhood?

By taking Halloween out of schools and trick or treating out of neighborhoods, you take childhood away from children.  You aren’t allowing them to simply be kids and have fun.  They are going to be miserable enough when they reach adulthood and find out that you can’t dress like Darth Vader in the office because it’s creepy rather than cute and quirky.  It’s selfish to rush these kids along and take away enjoyable childhood experiences because you have your panties in a twist about cartoon witches being evil and unavoidable sugar rushes.  This “everyone is out to get me” attitude needs to go away.  Halloween has morphed into a frighteningly fun holiday that seeks to exclude no one.  Can we quit nit-picking and simply enjoy?

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Riled Up And Rowdy

On Tuesdays, my mother-in-law usually picks up our boy from school so he can have some fun quality time with grandma before coming home to his boring parents.  This past Tuesday, he talked her into a trip to Chuck-E-Cheese for pizza and games.  After insisting he had behaved beautifully in school to both her and to us over the phone, we agreed that the trip sounded like a great idea and off they went as my husband and I went in search of sushi.  The boy came home with goodies won with tickets, got his bath and some playtime, and went to bed with a smile.

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The next morning, I drove the boy to school minus the husband who stayed home to telework, and went to work in an attempt to get through those eight hours as quickly as as smoothly as possible.  Shortly before noon, I got a phone call from my son’s elementary school.  From the principal, to be more specific.  She had my son sitting in her office while she explained to me the reasons he had landed himself there.  First, he stomped on a boy’s foot at recess on Tuesday before telling him “if you tell on me, I’ll beat you up.”  Then, after the child’s mom called the school to complain, my boy was called down to the office.  Once he realized he was in trouble, he proceeded to throw a fit so violent that he had to be restrained.  Once he calmed, she told him that she would get me on the phone.  He was still agitated as we spoke, learning that he would lose his recess for the rest of the week and possibly longer if he didn’t reign it in.

When I picked him up Wednesday afternoon, he knew he was busted and made no effort to hide it from me, although he did ask me to hide it from daddy.  He knew I was upset, especially since two weeks ago, he got in trouble on a field trip for bullying 3 and 4 year olds.  I wish I could say he learned his lesson, but he has been a disaster the past couple of days, breaking the rules and coming up with ridiculous lies to try to save himself from getting in trouble.  He knows from experience that we always find things out (mainly because he’s a terrible liar) and knows that he gets in less trouble if he comes clean in the beginning, but he still keeps lying about the smallest and stupidest things imaginable.  He’s been grounded from TV, video games, and most of his toys, but the lesson is still lost on him.

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What frustrates me is that my boy knows right from wrong and knows it well.  He’s one of the smartest kids in his class and has been in previous years as well.  His teachers always comment on how sweet he is, and they’re absolutely right.  There’s just something in his 7-year-old brain that pushes him to jump into action even when he knows that nothing good will come of what he’s about to do.  He will bully other children, knowing full well how awful it feels to get bullied since he went through it.  He’ll lie about what he did even if you saw him do it.  The thing that bothers me the most though is that he just doesn’t seem to care sometimes.  He doesn’t seem to understand the effect his actions have and the stress it puts on his parents.  His only concern seems to be how things affect him and how soon he can get his privileges back.

There are quite a few moments where I take a step back and try to see what I’ve done wrong.  What did I do wrong, what did I miss, where did I screw up?  He knows darn well that we didn’t teach him to bully people or lie, and he even admitted that to my husband on Wednesday night.  The awful things he does are not things he learns at home, through us or through television.  We don’t spank him, so he’s not learning that it’s okay to hit as long as you have a good reason for doing so.  We don’t BS him about things and he’s not witnessing us lie to each other or anyone else.  Try as I might, I can’t see where I’ve slipped up or what I can do in order to have my words sink in and for him to finally come around.

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I know, I know; he’s just a kid and this is what kids do and I need to get used to it because it’s just going to get worse.  I just cannot stand this careless attitude combined with the silly lies.  I want the best for him and he’s not going to get the best unless he fixes himself up and quits beating on kids in school before he’s old enough for them to throw him out or lock him up.  I want to rid him of the habit of lying to get out of a bind so he doesn’t grow up to be a totally dishonest and untrustworthy person.  This kid is incredibly smart and lovable, and he can do great things.  I just want the best for my son and I want him to be able to come to me with his problems without instantly assuming that I’ll be angry and that his behavior must be masked or downplayed with lies.

The boy is grounded again today and on his way to having a very uneventful weekend.  The goal of my husband is to make him hate losing his things so much that he will never misbehave like this again.  I usually give in after feeling bad and return some forbidden toys to him early, so I’ll have to be tough this time around and stick it out.  I’m very hopeful that he can bounce back, stop the crazy lies, and knock of the bullying before he pushes the wrong kid and gets knocked out.  I’m trying to remember what it was like to be 7 and trying to understand that he still has so much learning and growing to do.  I think he has a pretty good support system in my husband and I, plus an amazing grandma and fantastic extended family, so I hope that between us all, we can keep him on the right path and get that little punk in line.  Meanwhile, I think a beer is in order for the stress of this week.  Cheers.

We Need To Talk About Kevin

Being a parent of a child who isn’t quite old enough to stay home unattended means that my husband and I don’t have the most thrilling social life in the world.  Unless my mother-in-law is free and well rested, we stay home while the rest of the world gets to run wild and free.  As a result, it’s rare that we get to the movie theater; we generally save our movie outings for things we absolutely cannot miss and things that will no doubt be spoiled for us on Twitter if we don’t get in early.  We Need To Talk About Kevin was one of those films I wanted to see badly, just not bad enough to catch it in theaters.  Thankfully, my husband spotted it on one of our movie channels and recorded it for us to watch.

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Based on a novel by Lionel Shriver, the film stars Tilda Swinton as Eva, the mother of a troubled and strange boy named Kevin (Ezra Miller).  [SPOILERS]  We see Eva in the present day, living alone and shunned by the community, as she tries to cope with the ruined life that is her new reality.  Through her memories, the audience is shown Eva’s family from the moment she becomes pregnant with her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) up to the time her life fell apart.  As a baby, Kevin fills the home with his shrill cries, never giving his mother any peace as she tries her hardest to be the loving mother her son needs.  As a young child, Kevin refuses to be potty trained, wearing diapers and even mocking Eva by purposely soiling himself immediately after she has cleaned and changed him.  At only six or seven years old, Kevin seems to be intelligent beyond his years, more manipulative than any child should rightfully be, and even a bit evil.

While Kevin continuously tortures his mother with his lack of affection and his defiant attitude, he is the sweetest boy imaginable when dealing with Franklin.  His father does not get to see the cold and emotionless glare that Kevin lays on Eva, nor does he see any hint of the dark side of his son that is frightening and worrying Eva so much.  Franklin sees Kevin as “just a boy,” certain that his wife is simply overreacting or just not understanding her son properly.  Meanwhile in the present time, we see Eva struggling to repair the damage done to her small home by vandals while receiving nothing but hate, disapproval, or indifference from her community.  At this point, I’m assuming that Franklin divorced her after Kevin lost his mind and did something terrible to either the family or the community. 

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The film jumps a bit, skimming past Eva’s second pregnancy and the arrival of a daughter, Celia.  Blond and cheerful, Celia is the polar opposite of the dark and devious Kevin.  She is loving and clearly adores her parents and big brother.  As Eva tries to hold herself together, Franklin finds a new way to bond with Kevin by encouraging his new-found interest in archery and purchasing him a bow and arrow set.  Kevin is a natural, hitting bulls eye after bulls eye to the delight of Franklin.  There is no delight in Eva’s heart however; Celia’s lost pet is discovered by her in the kitchen’s garbage disposal, Celia is blinded in one eye by drain cleaner, and she suspects Kevin is guilty of the death and the injury.  Of course, Franklin is not hearing a word of it and dismisses her suspicions as their marriage crumbles even further.

As Kevin’s parents plan a divorce, the nearly sixteen year old Kevin plans a massacre.  While Eva is at work, Kevin brings his bow and arrow set to his high school and let’s loose on his classmates.  Multiple students are killed, some are permanently injured, and Kevin is incredibly pleased with himself.  The violent act quickly hits the news and Eva rushes to the school fearing for her son’s life.  When she arrives, she begins seeing bodies penetrated by the arrows she knows belong to her son.  When Kevin finally emerges from the school, the smirk on his face says it all and Eva slowly retreats from the scene as a broken woman.  She returns to her home in search of her husband and daughter, finding them dead in the backyard, two more victims of Kevin’s violence.

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Ezra Miller terrified me, as did Jasper Newell who portrayed the younger version of Kevin.  The cold, dead and dark eyes, the hate in his gaze when looking upon his mother, and the small hints of joy that entered his expression when causing his mother pain felt so real that I found myself loathing and hating Kevin even as a child.  He manipulates his clueless father into seeing him as a sweet little boy who is growing into a wonderful young man.  He gives his mother a single moment of normalcy one night while sick, cuddling up to her as she reads him a story, but quickly returns to his true self and gives her nothing more than indifference and defiance.  Both actors who played Kevin amazed me in the way they gave the character life and allowed the audience to feel the same pain and fear felt by Eva.

Tilda Swinton is perfect as Eva.  Socially awkward, often unsure, but always committed to being the best mother she knows how to be.  I myself would have given up on Kevin, but Eva hangs on for dear life and is constantly searching for ways to connect with him and to find a path to his heart.  She sticks with her son until the very end, remaining in a town where she is hated in order to be able to visit him in prison.  At the end of the film, Kevin’s shell cracks and his nervousness about a transfer to an adult facility seeps through.  As the visit concludes, Eva asks Kevin why he did it.  Kevin replies that he thought he used to know, but now is no longer sure.  Eva embraces her son and he is taken away.  It’s a sad moment, but Eva seems to be so hopeful that her child may finally become the son she wanted him to be.

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We Need To Talk About Kevin gives us a glimpse into the lives of a family that could very well mirror a family in your own neighborhood.  With the multiple and frequent violent acts in schools across the country, we are constantly struggling to find the WHY and the HOW.  Was it the fault of the parent?  Should the child have received therapy or medication?  What were the warning signs?  What was the reasoning?  In the film, Eva is blamed and tormented because of Kevin’s actions, even though she tried her best and did what she could to be a loving mother to her troubled child.  Could she have done more?  Of course, but no evidence exists that would allow us to say that certain actions would have prevented the violent events.  As outsiders, it’s easy for us to pass judgment and make suggestions, but impossible for us to know for sure what we would do if our own child lashed out.  This film allows us to get a glimpse at the creation of a psychopath and the horror of the aftermath, hopefully also giving us a bit of understanding and hopefully some sympathy.

I adored this film, but it also gave me nightmares.  It is terrifying to think that a child you created and loved could be so cold and heartless, even at a young age.  It’s scary to think that a child could be so manipulative and crafty that one parent could be totally blind to the problems while the other parent sees nothing but those problems.  It’s sad that a community could place blame on the family of the guilty party, adding to the pain and grief they are already feeling by shunning them and sometimes causing physical harm, emotional damage, or property damage.  If I didn’t ruin the surprise for you, I definitely recommend checking this film out.  I also plan on hunting down and reading the novel that inspired it; hopefully it lives up to the hype.  Happy viewing.

Kids And Guns

The massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut is horrifying and disgusting.  Adam Lanza, the coward who murdered his mother before stealing innocent lives and ultimately ending his own, committed a crime that is near impossible for us to wrap our heads around.  Twelve little girls, eight little boys, and six adults are gone from this world because of one disturbed individual who had a grudge against his mother and against society.  Reports are now stating that Lanza could not feel physical or psychological pain in the same was as his peers; in our struggle to understand why this happened, we are looking inside the killer and into his life.  The other thing we’re doing is diving back into the argument of gun control.

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I can barely think about those lives that were cut horrendously short at the hands of a selfish madman without getting emotional and choked up.  My heart breaks for the families affected and for the survivors in that school and community who have the near impossible task of healing and moving on.  I’m also disappointed and disgusted by everyone, myself included, who gave in and started publicly sounding off on the issue of gun control before the school had even been secured and the bodies of those poor children moved out of the classrooms.  26 people dead and all we can do is whine about how guns are evil as others whine about guns not killing people because people kill people.

My Twitter timeline was suffocated by people, both celebrities and friends, choosing sides on the argument on gun control.  The largest group blamed the tragedy on the ease of obtaining guns.  They referenced the attack in China where a maniac with a knife attacked children and killed no one, using that as proof that guns are to blame.  The other side argued that there is no danger with guns themselves, as the danger comes only when the gun is in the hands of a mentally unstable person.  Both sides have valid points and both sides deserve to be heard, but is now really the right time to bring it up?

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I completely agree that there do need to be some changed in the way we control who has guns and where they are allowed to have them.  I agree that guns are a more dangerous and deadly tool than a knife.  I agree that any weapon in the hands of a disturbed individual can be incredibly deadly.  I agree that the gun is nothing without the person to hold it and that person’s will to fire it.  I’m very much in favor of gun ownership and very against restrictions on what tools one is allowed to protect themselves with.

That all said, nothing good will come of me spreading my opinion on gun control.  I will not help any of the victims in Connecticut and I will not bring comfort to their families.  My heart can be in the right place while I express my views on guns and my thoughts on what COULD have and SHOULD have been done, but good intentions don’t necessarily yield positive results.  [SIDENOTE:  click here for my blogging buddy’s entry about the shooting.  Although he wasn’t my inspiration for this entry, my words take an unintentional dig at him.  That said, I couldn’t help but agree with many of his points and I encourage you to go read them]

These families do not need to be caught in the middle of a country divided on the issue of gun control, not while they are trying to bury their children and make sense of a senseless tragedy.  It does make sense to bring up issues when they are relevant and in the front of everyone’s minds, but is it right to do so?  Should we be pushing the gun control issue right now, using these lost lives as ammunition for our arguments?  What good will it do to bring the gun debate into this?  If I lost my son, I’m confident that one of the last things I’d want to hear about is whether or not his death could have been prevented if guns were more difficult to obtain.

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The community of Newtown desperately needs to heal.  Today, they are planning the first funerals for two of the children who were murdered.  Students of Sandy Hook will be sent to other schools while the town debates on whether or not the school will ever reopen.  Parents in the town, and across the nation, are holding their own children a bit tighter this morning and feeling quite uneasy watching their child board the bus for school.  Newtown police, and officials in other areas, are increasing patrols and reexamining safety plans and emergency precautions.  Just sitting here thinking about the shooting has me feeling sick to my stomach; I cannot begin to imagine the pain that is currently radiating through Newtown and all of Connecticut.

Normally, when tragedy strikes, we see and hear messages asking the public and the media to please respect the privacy of the families.  We rarely ever take this advice, choosing instead to poke at tragedy with a pointy stick until it bleeds.  This needs to stop, especially with the community of Newtown.  Help by donating your time, your funds, and your ear.  Examine your own children’s schools and educate yourself on their plans in the event of a shooter or another dangerous situation.  Be more open to warning signs and see if enough resources are available for troubled people who are considering lashing out violently.  Hug your child a bit tighter and be thankful you’re both still breathing.

The gun control debate needs to happen, I don’t argue that.  It just doesn’t need to happen right this second, before the students and teachers have been laid to rest and before some have even been able to process what has happened.  We don’t need to be focused on what the school should have done because we can’t change a thing.  We need to place the blame on the person who earned it and refrain from blaming God (or lack thereof), guns, security, or any other factors.  Once the community has had a chance to bury their dead and to find some sort of normalcy again, then we can revisit the tragedy and poke at it a bit.  But we cannot and should not use these deaths as catalyst for gun control, arming teachers, God in school, or any of our other causes.  The memory of the fallen in Newtown deserve much better.

Daycare Nightmare

I’m a working mom and I’ve had Dominick in daycare since he was around 18 months old; I enrolled him once I thought he was old enough and was also ready to quit waiting tables and bartending at night and begin working a normal 9 to 5 job.  I researched every place in a 30 mile radius and narrowed it down to two places, making my final decision by price.  I was happy for the first couple months, but pulled my son out after he had been bitten multiple times by another child and after I witnessed a caregiver roughly handle a child as she changed his diaper.

The second place I enrolled him was Goddard, and I don’t have to explain how great they are.  When I left Georgia to come live with my now-husband, we lucked out in having a daycare right next door.  They were fine at first, but Dominick received injuries that were too easily prevented and I felt he was no longer safe; he was cut in the head with scissors, had his hand slammed in a door, and sliced his leg open on a staple jutting out of the carpet.  I quickly moved him to a facility right across the street from my former job, where he remained until December 9, 2011.

Initially, the care center across from my building was great.  Dominick was happy with the staff and got along with the children.  Unfortunately, the turnover rate was quite high and with every new caregiver, there came new problems.  My boy doesn’t do well with change and tended to act out when a new person was put in charge of the room he was in.  At one point, the director of the center advised me to have my son evaluated for learning disabilities.  I had actually done just this when my son turned two years old due to his tantrums and was told after numerous sessions that he is highly intelligent and simply going through a phase.  I humored her a bit and gave them a call, only to be told that my son didn’t seem to qualify as someone they would need to screen.  I reported that back to the director and that was that.

For some reason, the director, AKA Dragon Lady, decided my husband was “the guy who picks Dominick up” rather than “dad” or some other acceptable name.  She developed a hateful; attitude towards my husband and I, a glare plastered on her face every time we’d walk through the door.  One of her own employees informed me that she was verbally abusive to the employees and many had quit because they grew tired of her insults and tirades.  Still, my boy loved his friends and his current caregiver, so I was reluctant to pull him out just because I didn’t care for the Dragon Lady.  She encouraged note writing when my son acted up, which is odd because it specifically says on her website that they discourage note writing and prefer to speak directly to parents regarding any issues or concerns.  It got to a point to where we’d get a nasty note so often, we became somewhat immune to them and whatever effect they were meant to have.  The bad behavior he engaged in at daycare (spitting, throwing things, etc) wasn’t anything we ever witnessed at home or at any other place where he was under our care, or the care of my mother-in-law, so we were at a loss as to what we could do to help.

One morning before school, Dominick was playing around by the couch, tripped, and hit his head on the corner where a piece of wood was mostly exposed, not having any cushioning in front of it.  He didn’t cry or have a visible mark on him by the time we dropped him off, so I thought he was fine.  Until I got a phone call.

I was at work and unable to answer my cell phone, but I didn’t recognize the number so would have let it go to voicemail anyway.  During lunch, I checked the message and was shocked to hear a voice from the Department of Child Services asking me to give her a call.  When I got a hold of her, she informed me that the Dragon Lady had reported that my son claimed to have been struck in the head with a hammer by my husband.  Of course, I gave her permission to go to the daycare to check my son out and after a visit there and a visit with my husband, son and I, it was obvious to her that it was a false claim and we were done with it.  The relief of our ridiculous case getting quickly closed didn’t eliminate the awful feeling in the pit of my stomach put there by Dragon Lady.  The mark on my son’s head clearly didn’t look like anything that could come from a hammer (a small thin pink line, almost looking like a scratch, with no bruising) and the worst injuries I’ve seen on him have occurred under their watch, not mine.  The fact that Dragon Lady was so quick to call Child Services on me rather than attempt to talk to me or my husband felt like a total betrayal and a vindictive move.  Upon speaking to an employee, I learned that this was not the first time Dragon Lady had called in a false claim.

I should have pulled Dominick out then and there, never looking back, but he loved his friends and one teacher and truly didn’t want to leave.  He would also be starting kindergarten soon and I was reluctant to change too many things in his life all at once.  His favorite caregiver secured a better job and left, which broke his heart.  Three others came and went before he was given a caregiver who was barely an adult and seemed incapable of speaking; he never said one word to either myself or my husband.  It was around this time that a bully began harassing Dominick, mostly physically.  No one helped and the only child punished was my son once he tired of being pushed and poked and lashed out himself.  One day, Bully got in my child’s face and wouldn’t move, and my son threw a chair in frustration.  The same thing happened the next day, only this time Dominick ripped a decoration off the wall.  Dragon Lady decided to teach him a lesson by throwing his jacket and backpack in the trash can.  It took all my willpower and self control to not bust through the doors and rip her a new one.  Instead, I challenged that frustration into productivity and visited a new care center.

In the short time my husband and I have had Dominick in the new place, we’ve seen nothing but positivity, care, and pride in the tough job of caring for children.  Their director welcomed me with open arms, telling me that she could start my son immediately in order to get him out of the previous place as soon as possible.  Nearly every caregiver has their bachelors degree in child care; two have their associates and one has worked in the field for so long that she was grandfathered in and is certified.  They all go to training on a monthly basis.  Their door is locked until someone buzzes you in.  The staff is organized and are experts at keeping kids on track, as well as incorporating activities into their day that coincide with the curriculum at their school.  It has been so nice to pick up Dominick and not walk into a room full of screaming children who are being watched by someone with a glassy look on their face.  My son is beside himself, he’s so happy.  I’m still kicking myself a bit for not moving him sooner, but I’m glad that he’s finally somewhere wonderful and I can relax a bit and not worry my head off while I’m at work.

Being a working parent is hard on the heart.  Ideally, I would be able to be home when my son is at home and only work while he’s in elementary school and beyond.  Ideally, I would also have enough cash in the bank to support myself while out of work until my son is at school full-time, then be lucky enough to score a job that has hours coinciding with school hours.  Realistically, I’m happy as hell to have the job I have now and get paid what I do and not have to struggle or worry about how to pay bills or provide for my family.  My husband would love to work from home on his writing and other projects, but until that picks up, he is stuck here with me and Dominick simply has to be in daycare for part of his day.  It’s sad that working parents not only have to endure the stress of managing a job plus raising a child or children, but also need to worry endlessly about the people they have tasked to care for their kids in their absence.  It saddens me that some families must settle for sub par care because they can’t afford a place like Goddard, which I could barely scrape money together for.  It’s horrible that even the best daycare has that one person (or more if you’re unlucky) that seems to have stepped into the wrong field and doesn’t seem to enjoy being around kids at all.

Childcare services are imperfect regardless of where you go and my heart goes out to everyone who has had to struggle with finding a place where their child can be happy.  I wish everyone the best of luck and would love to hear any suggestions or ideas anyone out there has on choosing the right care center for their child.

Cheaters Never Win… Except When They Do

Today I took (and passed) my first test in my Accounting Essentials program.  Since it’s a distance learning program, I completed the exam on paper and entered my answers onto the website to be graded and recorded.  It was slightly nerve-wracking since I haven’t taken a test like that for somewhere around 7 years, but I completed it with good results and have nothing to complain about.  While I was punching my calculator and scribbling notes over lunch, my coworker came up to me and said “You know, you can get all those answers on Answers.com.”  It would be an easy way to get an easy A.

I’m one of many who cheated in school.  It started out as sneaking glances into my textbook during an exam while the teacher was looking the other way or peeking at a neighbor’s paper to see if my answer matched theirs.  In high school, I shared in a passed note containing the test answers a couple of times.  I also learned how to input answers into my graphing calculator to pull up later.  A few girls, who were later caught cheating, started printing the answers out in very small font and taping that small bit of paper to water bottles to keep on their desks during exams.  In college, I didn’t cheat to benefit my grades, but I did write term papers for various people in exchange for money or beer.

Obviously cheating is wrong, spare the lectures.  But if we’re being totally honest here, sometimes cheating can be pretty harmless.  Sometimes you forget to study for a portion of the test.  Sometimes you study the wrong thing.  Sometimes you’re so overwhelmed with information that must be learned that you can’t immediately cram it all into your brain in time for that crucial exam.  Maybe you forgot to do your homework.  Perhaps the in-class assignment is beyond your understanding so you partner with the smart kid and let him supply the answers.  Once in a while, it’s nice to have a bit of assistance.  I’m in no way suggesting that everyone start brainstorming creative ways to beat the system because there are very serious consequences if you’re busted, but I see nothing wrong with copying someone’s homework answers down the morning before class after you realize you completely forgot to do an assignment due in 5 minutes.  Once in a while.

Obviously I could get an easy A by visiting various sites supplying answers, as well as quickly finish my program by researching the answers beforehand and submitting them as soon as I was able.  I would absolutely love to get this program done with at lightning speed so I can put more on my resume other than “enrolled” or “in process.”  I’d love to be able to say a month from now that I finally have that coveted piece of paper from an accredited school that says I officially know what I’m doing.  Sadly, this is one of those things that sounds too good to be true, and whenever you can say that about something, it’s probably not worth doing.

Accounting is math.  Lots and lots of math.  And letters pretending to be numbers.  Oh, and weird terminology.  You can’t fake math.  Either I learn this stuff now or I don’t learn it at all.  I’m paying a nice chunk of cash out of my pocket for this education and not just so I can get a piece of paper saying I’m certified, but so I can get a better job in the field I’m currently in and make more money while I decide what to learn next.  Maybe I feel different about cheating now that it’s my beer money that is paying for my education rather than the HOPE Scholarship, but there is no way in hell I will be tempted into taking any shortcuts with this program.  Maybe I’ve grown up a bit as well, who knows.

The point is, cheating my way through this means throwing my money away and embarrassing myself with future employers when they discover that my education didn’t teach me a thing because I’m unable to work my way through a problem without a reference guide or a workbook.  I won’t do it for the same reason I won’t put “certified mechanic” on my resume; if I don’t know how to do something, a piece of paper stating that I can isn’t going to make it true.  Although imagine the possibilities if writings words on paper translated into reality…..  I suppose that’s a whole other story…

It’s Never Too Late

I graduated high school in 1999 and began college that fall at the State University of West Georgia.  Lived on campus there for 2 years before transferring to Georgia State University, where I commuted down to Atlanta twice a week and worked full-time the other five days.  I was there for a year and a half, and while enrolled I got back together with someone I dated in middle school.  Caught up in the novelty of reconnecting with someone from so many years ago, I dropped my classes at GSU and moved to Connecticut planning to join the National Guard, as I had received a 99 on the ASVAB and was told that joining could earn me college credits and pay for the rest of my schooling.  I ended up declining to join and at that point was also unable to afford to go back to GSU.  Then my son came along and without a support system, I couldn’t swing work, raising a kid AND going to school.  When I moved in with my now husband, I wasn’t focused on education because I was simply too involved in other things to be bothered.  Now I’m 30 years old and I have slightly over $10,000 worth of college debt and nothing to show for it.

A few months ago, my husband forwarded me an email with nothing but this link: http://www.pennfoster.edu/  A few minutes later, he sent another email about their small engine repair program.  He was pretty damn enthusiastic about the whole thing, so I checked out the site, thinking it would be exactly like the sites features in those cheesy TV commercials with a girl talking about going to school in her pajamas or singing about classes while wearing a horrible fast food uniform with a corn dog hat.

The first thing I checked was their accreditation, which is listed on their site along with an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau and a long list of impressive affiliations.  Afterwards I checked out the degree programs and finally the certificate programs.  The list is pretty impressive and they offer payment plans and low prices.  Being in the process of paying off a student loan makes me antsy about entering into a new program and creating new debt.  After a couple of months of sitting, thinking, and visiting the site I finally decided to enroll.  I chose the Accounting Essentials Certificate Program because I hate math and I obviously wish to punish myself.  Actually, the accounting certification is considered an equal to an accounting degree for many job positions I’ve been looking at and it will cost me around $900 to complete, plus the credits I earn can be applied to an accounting degree if I choose to pursue it in the future.

I received the book yesterday and immediately began reading.  It’s embarrassing how much we rely on calculators, so much so that I forgot how to do long division and how to divide decimals.  I’m currently reading up and refreshing myself on basic math; 89 pages into a book that’s slightly over 500.  Once I complete the book, I will have a few online tests to take and my second book will be mailed out.  I have a year to complete the program and 2 years to pay it off but I plan on finishing sooner than that, as I want to stick that certification on my resume.  I also plan on pursuing something that may not be practical, but seems fun.  My husband is currently enrolled in the Small Engine Repair program and is very excited about it.  I’m a bit curious about the Gourmet Cooking program, as well as Automotive Transmissions Essentials.  I’m getting ahead of myself there, but it’s exciting to think about the possibilities.

I thought it was too late to go back to school and I also thought distance learning schools were garbage and a waste of time.  Penn Foster thus far has totally changed my mind.  I’m excited about math, and if you know me you know that isn’t something I would ever say.  I’m thrilled to be getting back in school and happy that I’m finishing what I started back when I was 18.  Sure, it’s not the path I envisioned when I walked across my college campus for the first time, but most of what I envisioned back then wasn’t meant to be.  This is now and now is all that matters.  It’s never too late to fix your future.  Wish me luck!

It Pays To Be A Doctor

My son and I parked our car outside the doctor’s office bright and early this morning.  We walked into the waiting room at 6:58am to hand in our paperwork and made it back to the exam room 10 minutes later.  3 minutes with the nurse, about 7 with the doctor, then 5 more with our nurse and we were done.  The rest of the time was spent with me trying to keep my son entertained while waiting for the next person to pop into the room and trying to stop his tears after the nurse gave him a shot in each leg.  After almost ten minutes of waiting at the patient check-out window I was presented with my bill.  $481.00.

My first thought was WTF!!!?!?!??! which I politely expressed by saying “wow” to the nurse processing my bill.  Four hundred and eighty one dollars for what?  My personal annual exam plus all lab work runs me $310 and that visit is one that’s actually spent with the doctor for a significant amount of time, usually about 20 minutes after about 15 with various nurses.  Those twenty minutes with the doctor cost $150, while my son’s 7 minutes ran me $140.  Both of these doc’s bill the ICD-9 code for the extended visit, which is fine for my personal visit but I fail to see how 7 minutes the doctor had with my son qualifies as extended, or the 15 minutes total we were with medical staff.

The remainder of the $481 for his visit went towards three vaccinations.  The same ones the health department gives out for free.  If you’re wondering why I didn’t take him to the health department to begin with, it’s because they were booked AND because through experience I’ve learned that kids are treated nicer in an actual doctor’s office rather than a clinic with cranky nurses who stick kids with needles every 15 minutes, all day long.  I assume the health department receives state funding which allows the vaccines to be free of charge, but I also don’t believe they cost $341 as I was charged.  A medical practice is a business like any other and I get that they need to make money, but the amount they marked up these shots is insane.  The actual cost for his DTaP shot is $24.40 on the high end of the spectrum; my cost is $107.  His MMR shot’s cost them $50.16; my cost is $142.  IPV costs them $25.43; my cost is $91.  Again, those costs to them are the high end of the spectrum; depending on how their practice is classified, they could be paying less than half that per dose.

I had to request the cash patient pricing before they took a little over $200 off of my bill, still leaving it at a price I thought was too high and concerning me that those who don’t ask are charged the higher pricing for their services.  Things like this make me totally disgusted with our healthcare system.  I worked in a doctor’s office prior to the job I hold now and once a year, we would go through the system and jack up the prices that we charged to insurance companies.  Durable medical equipment that cost us slightly over a hundred dollars would be billed to Anthem or Cigna at $1400, plus a $60 cost going towards a staff member explaining how to use it.  Doctors screw the insurance companies by overcharging and the insurance companies compensate by screwing US, the patient, by raising prices and refusing services.

If you’re a doctor that performs an unnecessary service such as breast augmentation or liposuction, anything that wouldn’t be deemed medically necessary, then by all means jack your prices as much as you wish.  Insurance isn’t paying it unless it actually IS medically necessary (and usually isn’t) and a boob job isn’t a requirement to start school so the general public doesn’t need to worry about it.  As far as everything else, there needs to be some structure and some accountability.  The main reason I don’t have health insurance is that my husband, son and I rarely ever need to go to the doctor and it doesn’t make financial sense to have it.  No insurance company is going to refund me if I overpay, but you better damn well believe they’ll raise my rates if they feel I’ve gone over what they consider to be reasonable costs.

I’m short one molar because my former insurance company refused to pay for a medically necessary implant and now my teeth have shifted to improper positions.  Their reason for refusal was because I had exhausted my benefits with the surgery to remove the “baby” tooth that had been impacted in that spot.  The money that went to this insurance company was more than I ever used for all my visits total ANYWHERE, but still they refused to pay and kept my money, resulting in me having 1 missing tooth (which thankfully is too far back to be noticed) and a useless screw in my jaw from when the oral surgeon had to stop the implant process due to refusal of payment.  Someone please explain to me how this makes any sense whatsoever.  Health insurance, which is there to help, routinely denies coverage and payment for no other reason than they don’t feel like giving YOUR money to the physician who needs it.

Medical procedures and testing, shots and equipment, all of it should have a set cost.  Stop treating it special and treat it like most other goods/services out there.  It’s nonsense for a gas station to charge $20 a gallon to business travelers paying with corporate cards while charging the self paying credit card using customer $6 and cash customers $3 a gallon.  If any station pulled that garbage, it would start a riot.  Yet no one seems to give enough of a damn about the state of health care and the way doctors charge patients, at least not enough to change anything.  Once my son is 7, I can go to Walgreens and get the same exam he received today for only $35.  If they can do it for $35, why can’t everyone?  The office I used to work for charged $79 for DOT physicals and $29 for the school physical my son received today, and yes it was performed by a medical doctor, not a nurse or physician’s assistant.  Why the price variation?  Why should I have to shop around to find MEDICAL CARE FOR MY CHILD??!?  Something so important and so necessary should be equal across the board with pricing that is appropriate to what is received.

When I was younger, I used to hear kids say they wanted to be a doctor so they could help people.  I wonder when that turned into wanting to be a doctor so they could buy a Mercedes…..

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