Monday, June 30, 2014

Supreme Court Take Two

     This morning while I was driving to work, NPR reminded me that the Supreme Court was going to be releasing their decision on the Hobby Lobby case today.  Although I was a tad bit nervous in light of last week's buffer zone ruling, I thought this one was a no-brainer.  I'm not a constitutional law scholar, but here's a for-profit business arguing that they shouldn't have to abide by a law of the land, because the owners of said company feel that parts of the law violate their religious freedoms.  Imagine my surprise on the very late drive home!
     To recap, in a 5-4 split, the majority ruled that some "closely held" companies with religious objections can avoid the contraceptives requirement in the Affordable Care Act.  This is the first time the high court has declared that businesses can hold religious views under federal law.  The decision means that thousands of the company’s female employees will not have access through their insurance to intrauterine devices and other forms of contraception their bosses object to.  Justice Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, wrote that forcing companies to pay for methods of women's contraception to which they object, violates the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
     To pull a couple quotes from Justice Ginsburg, who wrote the 35 page dissent for the minority:

“The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would…deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage...In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs ... (the court had) ventured into a minefield ... It bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month's full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage."

You can read the full dissent here:
     On face, it's obvious that women who work for Hobby Lobby, and no doubt the companies that will try to follow suit, have several options.  The can still buy whatever contraceptives that the company objects to out of pocket.  They can hope that the Obama administration can find a work-around that will get through the Republican house majority.  They can opt to find another job with a publicly traded company that will probably continue to cover contraceptives, rather then wade into the religion morass.
     Many people quicker on the draw then me have already done the research to discover that Hobby Lobby will continue to cover Viagra and vasectomies:
Or that their retirement plan invests in contraceptive companies:
     As I mentioned the other day, the purpose of these rulings is to ultimately widen the socio-economic gap separating underprivileged women and their families from those with means.  The women who work for Hobby Lobby, and the companies that will take advantage of this ruling ... and mark my words, there will be a lot of "closely held" companies that will suddenly get religion ... do not have a plethora of companies of which to chose.  There will be a slippery slope of rulings to follow.  Maybe it offends my religious views if you get a blood transfusion.  Maybe my God thinks you should just live with your bum knee.  Maybe my church thinks the product of your interfaith marriage, and it's subsequent health needs, are up to you to take care of.
     When the Affordable Care Act introduced the unique notion that your pre-existing health care issue shouldn't exclude you from coverage, that was because up until this novel idea, that pre-existing condition allowed every insurance company from here to Timbuktu to exclude you.  It's not that different from the other novel idea, that contraception should be covered and easily accessible to women.  If the contraception is unaffordable, and by extension inaccessible, those women and their families (this isn't just a women's rights issue - this is a family issue) will have limited options and limited opportunity.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Buffer Zone

     By now, many of you have heard of the interesting Supreme Court decisions from today.  The one I seem to be focused on is the unanimous decision to overturn the Massachusetts buffer zone around abortion clinics.  I was unsure about whether or not I should write about this topic - unlike so many other things we could discuss, most people seem to pick a side on this one and stick to it.  No matter what your opinion is, I respect and honor it.  I have friends and family on both sides of the debate.  I'm sure you reached your personal decision after thought and soul searching.  For my part, I have no problem telling you that I am pro-choice for a number of reasons, but first and foremost, this is my body.  I believe that no one has the right to tell me what choices to make concerning it, as I am the only one that has to deal with the consequences related to my decisions. 
     For those of you unaware of the Massachusetts buffer zone, it allowed a 35 foot zone around abortion clinics, and Planned Parenthood facilities that provide abortion services, which protestors, counselors and other forms of speech had to stay outside.  The law was enacted in 2007 in response to a history of harassment and violence at abortion clinics in Massachusetts, including a shooting rampage at two facilities in 1994 that left two people dead.  Let me repeat ... a shooting rampage in which two people were killed.  At that time, the buffer zone was 8 feet.
     With today's reversal, the buffer zone is now gone, allowing protestors to be right up at the door, as long as they don't impede a person's ability to enter.  If you haven't ever seen a protest outside of a clinic, there are graphic signs and posters, often people with pamphlets and varying levels of shouting.  The protestors often say they shout because of the distance.  Certainly, there are people who don't yell, who feel an intense desire to help or inform.  I respect that ... and emotions run high on both sides, but we can point to examples where others have become fanatical.
     As access to affordable healthcare and reproductive services for poor women diminish around the country, many clinics and Planned Parenthood facilities provide other essential resources ... from contraceptives, to physicals, to advice and counseling on your gynecological health concerns.  From personal experience, I was able to go to a Planned Parenthood and get a pregnancy test for free when I was pregnant with baby #1.  We didn't have a lot of money, and the expense of a boxed kit from the grocery store would have meant cutting into our food bill.  I will tell you that as I was walking towards the door, those glaring posters and people yelling out I'd be sorry (etc.) were quite disconcerting ... and I was happily hoping I was pregnant.  I have friends who go to Planned Parenthood to pick up their birth control and have to listen to protesters screaming at them.  What will it be like now that they can be inches away from you.  Again, for many, in their hearts, they want to offer other solutions or advice.  But I know that if you're approaching one of these facilities after having made a very difficult decision, after knowing in your heart that this is the choice you must make, to have someone standing inches from you, screaming in your face ... I can't imagine how frightening and soul crushing that would be.
     And they will be inches from your face.  In one of the radio commentaries I heard on the way home, one of more vocal Massachusetts protestors said, "The law clearly states now that my rights end where your nose begins." 
     Maybe that's the point.  Maybe if you can stand that close to someone ... an inch from their nose ... maybe you think that you can change their mind, and maybe you can.  But it's more likely that you'll have frightened them off for today or for a few weeks.  Until it's too late to do it safely and in a medical environment.  They will be shamed and chastised into no choice.  Or maybe another child will come into this world, into a situation where they may or may not be able to be cared for properly, or they'll enter the broken and ill-managed foster care system, or maybe not.  Maybe none of those things will happen.  Or maybe someone will say, well then you shouldn't have had sex in the first place, shouldn't have believed that your relationship was going to work out, shouldn't have ... fill in the blank.  Arguments we've heard before. 
     I worry about what the future will hold for myself, for my children and their children. These are not easy decisions to make and living with these decisions can be a challenge.  As reproductive choices stretch thinner across this country, women's choices become harder and harder - another way in which economic and financial controls are levied.  At the root, this isn't about babies.  This is about control over your future and being kept in line ... kept as a cog in the machine.
     I value my free speech, but I know that it's not as free as we believe it to be.  Just as our bodies aren't as free as we'd like to believe they are either.  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


     In 20 years of customer service, I've very rarely encountered racism directed at me or towards someone in my presence.  I've got plenty of stories about sexism, ageism and harassment ... but not so much with the racism.  I've heard examples from people I've worked with over the years, and I'm sure it's pervasive in the service industry - since we are but a microcosm of society as a whole.  But as I'm white, I've personally experienced very little.
     Yesterday though, I got a full shot from a customer.  It was an elderly woman that I've helped a number of times over the phone.  During the conversation, she started talking about how she had asked for help from one of my teammates and was uncertain what had been done.  She praised my efforts to help her over the last few weeks.  Then it happened:

          H:  I appreciate your help so much.
          M:  Not a problem, ma'am.
          H:  I hope you'll be able to help me in the future.  I know that X tried, but oh ... I just appreciate that you speak English.
          M:  I'm sorry, ma'am ... what did you say?
          H:  You speak English.
          M:  I'm sorry, ma'am ... I don't think I understand what you're saying.  Let's focus on (her particular issue), and I'll call you back with an answer.
     Then she thanked me again, paused briefly and apologized for her manners.

     My teammate in question does have a slight accent, and she also happens to speak at least 3 languages fluently - one of them being English, by the way. She also took care of the woman's request more than 2 months ago, doing exactly what was asked of her.  She's lived in this country for decades, raised children, run businesses and strives to provide outstanding customer service.  I was surprised by the customer's statements for several reasons ... the ease with which she mentioned it, the repetition and the almost off-handed tone in her voice.  But overall, I was disappointed.  Really, really disappointed.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


     I was at an all day meeting today for work. The room was filled with professional men and women sharply dressed and on point.  I like to people watch, and I noticed from my vantage point near the rear of the room not one woman with an ounce of gray hair on her head.  No one except me.
     When I was a little girl, my Nana used to say she was going to go the grave a blond.  I will tell you that blond hair does not run in my family.  I loved her sassiness (Mom used to say it skips a generation), and I thought I would do the same with my hair when the time came.  Mom dyed her hair for years, she would even enlist us in making sure she got every spot - using whatever boxed dye was on sale.  Then one year, she stopped, letting it go all gray.  She kept it in a cute bob with bangs.  I would look at my own reddish brown hair and think of Nana.  
     As they started to show up, I was able to hide them simply by flipping my hair this direction or that.  I would worry about finding a color that would match my natural color, something that wouldn't make me look less like me.  This indecision has left me at 41 with quite a bit of gray hair peppered throughout my still long hair.  Surprisingly though, it doesn't bother me, and in fact, I kind of think it's sexy.  I don't know if anyone else thinks it is, but I digress. 
     There was a brief period of time before my oldest child was born where I did attempt some semipermanent color just for the fun of it.  It was this super neat deep purple color, but it became clear to me that any foray into apparent individual creativity would probably not progress me and my career.  So I quickly changed back, struggling with that constant push and pull of how much one can be oneself versus what one has to give up in order to succeed in a corporate environment.  Like so many of us, if I was pursuing my true calling,  I'd be dark red (or purple) right now.
     At today's meeting, I saw so many beautiful women with all sorts of fabulous cuts and styles but not one gray hair.  I began to wonder about my choice.  Do I come across as much older than I actually am?  How does this affect the opinion of the people in the room who hold the power to promote me - am I considered more or less capable of handling my job?  When I was a member of the Forensics team in college, my mentor taught me early on that it didn't matter how great my speech was, how prepared I was or how on point I was with my transitions and segues if my outfit wasn't fantastic and my makeup wasn't perfect.  I refused to believe him.  Surely, I could stand on the merit of my arguments alone.  After a couple of tough losses to people who were clearly better dressed and coifed than me but with less than stellar speeches, that I had to swallow the bitter pill.  It wasn't fair, but it was true.
     I think I'll hold out a smidge longer. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Me Time

     The positive side of a long driving commute is some me time to turn the radio up loud.  The soundtrack for the next couple of weeks is the latest Old 97's album "Most Messed Up."  It's really good ... Filled with songs about drinking, hooking up and living.  There's plenty of "fucks" scattered liberally throughout, so it's not safe to play at work.  Our kids seem to enjoy it, as well.  We don't censor music (any art, really) in our house.  There are songs that I don't go out of my way to play, and songs that I have to explain the context of the times for them ... And if something makes them uncomfortable in any way, I'll change it, and then we can talk about their reaction, why I may like it, etc.
     Music is so essential to my existence. I can comfortably say that it's kept me alive during difficult stretches.  I would never want to deny them that communion with sound.  I'm sure someone reading this right now is questioning my decision to be so open with music or books, and I respect your opinion.  I really do.  My philosophy is rock and roll doesn't make ill behaved or disrespectful children, bad parenting by shitty parents does.  Obviously, every child experiences some level of rebellion, but if you teach them early on that you're not willing to listen to why they like a certain kind of music or book or art - to understand and discuss it with them, to respect their opinion even if you disagree - then why would they think you'd be willing to listen to something else they think is important.  
     Music was a near constant in my household when I was growing up.  Mom loved everything ... popular radio, her records, our tapes.  The local Pizza Hut had a jukebox that you'd put quarters in and pick 4 songs.  We'd each get a quarter, and we absolutely stayed until we heard every song each one of us picked out.  She sang along to every one, which sometimes embarrassed my brother.  She used to threaten him that she'd dance on the table if he kept complaining.  We'd play her records on my Fisher Price record player in the living room with a quarter taped to the top of the needle arm.
     There's only one song I can't listen to anymore, and it's the last song she asked me to sing to her while she was dying - Don McLean's "American Pie." We were in a darkened hospital room, just the two of us.  The radio was lightly playing in the background.  That song came on, and she asked me to sing it to her.  And so I did.  Up until that exact moment in time, every song I'd ever sung was really for her ... for her to be proud of me.  Every choir show, every musical, every solo in church, every wedding I was asked to perform in - everything was for her.  
     I sing for the children and for myself now, but that one song, I'll never sing that song again.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Free time

     Like many mothers and professional women, I struggle with trying to find the time to do things for myself. As a creative person I especially find it difficult to balance creating with the needs of the house and of the children. When I carve out a tiny bit of time to do something for myself, it's lovely ... And my sister yells at me less.  I can find a little bit of pleasure in something rather simple, as I did two nights ago, when I painted my fingernails.  It's not a new poem or a new painting, but it's something.  I had found this really cool tutorial on the Internet involving sharpies and I thought ... Why not.
     So I went into work with this nifty design on my nails, and I was kind of proud of myself, because it had actually turned out close to the example.  One of my coworkers noticed, and the next thing you know I was happily showing it off.  Then something interesting happened after one of my customers noticed.  She said, "Looks like someone must have a lot of free time on her hands."
     I immediately responded with oh I wasn't able to go to sleep, I was up late blah blah blah making excuses for why I had carved out this little bit of time for myself. What I should've said was, "not really, but I made time for me."  Later, I forced myself to reflect on why I would've answered that way.  Why did I feel that I needed to rationalize away a little bit of personal time? Why was I quick to dismiss my own needs?  I am a creative person, I know I need this time why would I dismiss it.  Interestingly enough, I didn't question the rationale behind my customer's statement.  Unfortunately, we humans are often shitty to each other when we should be more supportive.
     I don't want to call women out in particular, but I think that many women reading right now can point to examples in their own lives where they've dealt with this.  Why do we as women do this to each other?  Is this a generational problem ... Some sort of expectation of martyrdom.  I may be going out on a limb here, but I believe that many creative people, both men and women, end up sacrificing the time that they need to create to the needs of the family and of survival.  For me, I willingly made those choices ... Life is not successfully lived in regret.  But I do struggle daily with balancing my needs and their needs and unfortunately, I frequently take the easy route and make the personal sacrifice.  This leads to a grumpy mama.
     How do you do it? How do you find the time? Do you just make it? I welcome your thoughts.