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Tag Archives: Brenda Tobias

The Homecoming

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Thanksgiving is the most unique of American days. It is a holiday celebrated primarily in the home and centered entirely upon food and family. And it is the latter that can become a wee bit problematic. Any venture that is steeped in expectation and sentimentality has an increased probability of going off the rails. When we add forced congeniality things can get messy indeed. People, related by blood or the law, who may not see or have any contact (perhaps by choice) throughout the year are sequestered in overheated, crowded, booze filled homes with carving knives. Even when there is no extended family, things may get testy. One of the frequently overlooked potential land mines is that of the returning college student.

Thanksgiving is often the first time a college student is coming home since the start of the semester. Parents and younger siblings most likely have been anticipating the return of the prodigal son or daughter. Parents and siblings have fantasized or actually planned outings and activities, hoping to make up for lost time. Even the parent who has been in constant communication with the college student may have his or her heart set on “really connecting” come the Thanksgiving holiday. And who knows it may go splendidly and put every sentimental holiday commercial to shame (Peter you’re home!) But for everyone else it might be helpful to keep the following in mind:

• College can be exhausting. Whether your student is working hard or playing hard, they most likely are pooped. Spending 24 hours, 7 days a week with thousands (if not tens of thousands) of people is hardly relaxing. Excessive sleeping should be expected (and you should establish that it is not happening at school and possibly an indication of something amiss.)

• A cranky or petulant student is perfectly normal as well. Remember they’ve spent the last 3 months (and your money) discovering that they now know everything. Do not be surprised if your cherub challenges Uncle Dave at the dinner table. Don’t shirk from challenging him/her right back either.

• Your student might also show signs of regression: fighting with younger siblings or being a thoughtless slob. This too is normal. Living amongst so many people and wearing an “I’m keeping up I know what’s going on” persona is taxing. Knowing they don’t have to be grown-up or fake being grown-up all the time is important. However they can let their guard down and clear their own plate at the same time.

• Having reasonable expectations of your student’s time is fine, but not if you spring it on them. If you expect them to spend the entire day (and night) of the holiday at home and socializing, do let them know ahead of time. What of the student who is bringing someone home? If you have expectations (which you are entitled to have) about sleeping arrangements or meal contributions, express them ahead of time. Nothing breeds disappointment more than silent expectations.

As with any event (particularly one involving family) the best approach is one of gratitude. Eliminating glossy images of perfection is prudent. Focusing on the gift of time and connectivity produces far more joy. Before you know it that student arriving on your doorstep with dirty laundry, a tinge of arrogance and little indication of appreciation will be hosting you at their own Thanksgiving. You will sit at their table as they tell their own family the stories of Thanksgiving’s past. And that is why we give thanks.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2013 in Childhood, Holiday, Well-Being

 

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Candid (Granny) Camera

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As leaving small children in the care of others has grown in popularity so has the awareness that not all carers are caring. Depending on one’s social circles, it’s not unusual to hear a weekly childcare horror story. Whether the babysitting arrangement is posh or subsidized seems not to matter. Little ones watched in their own home by uniform clad nannies, babies clustered in a neighbor’s living room, or those in daycare centers are equally vulnerable. This reality is not meant to strike fear. There is a fine line between believing in the boogeyman and having some common sense. Quite simply vulnerable people are often vulnerable.

Many parents have addressed their concerns strategically; using hidden cameras or surprise visits. This might seem hovering to some but it most often is not. A small child by definition does not have sophisticated communication skills. A baby is completely helpless. Caring for small children is not easy and can be incredibly frustrating. When doing so is an actual job there is little emotional attachment to pull the carer through the darkness. This doesn’t excuse mistreatment; it only helps to explain it. It can happen, and every parent everywhere knows this. What we don’t often consider is what can happen to our parents if they too are dependent on care.

Elderly people are just as, if not even more susceptible to mistreatment. Often an adult child is arranging the care from a distance, relying upon agencies or institutions to do the right thing. Nursing homes are staffed with the same extreme variations of competency seen in hospitals. Supervision of aides is no more reliable than in any other business sector. People don’t necessarily go into the low-paying and often messy work of health aide due to some sort of calling. It’s a job. Some people are good at it and some people are not. It can be terribly overwhelming to arrange care for a parent. The mixture of relief and guilt of situating a parent can be all consuming. It often is only when there are signs of mistreatment that the concept even occurs to anyone.

Often, like small children, the parent is not a reliable narrator. The parent might not know that possessions are missing or meals have been missed. A person with memory loss may not be able to recall mistreatment. Some bruises or marks may in fact be the result of a combative parent and not abuse. Add to that muddle the fact that the parent might only receive occasional visits from family members, and how is anyone to know what’s really going on? Granny cams. Installing hidden cameras (on live feed to an adult child’s computer) in a parent’s home will tell most of the story. Having every care facility (including senior daycare) outfitted with surveillance will change things dramatically. Those institutions should post signs everywhere informing employees, residents and visitors that; “You Are Being Watched.” Is it an invasion of privacy? Of course. So is having a bevy of doctors and interns gaze upon one’s privates for the benefit of learning. (It’s interesting which invasions of privacy we notice and which we don’t.) The signage will not only deter some misdeeds it also will set a tone. An institution that puts the safety of its patients above all else will attract employees with a compatible ethos. The surveillance will have to be viewed of course, which is not inexpensive. But surely the diminished lawsuits will help to defray those costs.

It’s tempting to wring our hands and bemoan how things have changed for the worse. But it wouldn’t be entirely accurate. Eldercare has risen in popularity because people live longer. Childcare has risen in popularity partly due to more employment opportunity for women. As things grow they often become less wieldy and need to be formalized. There’s nothing graceful or lovely about spying on people but there’s nothing so terribly genteel about burying our heads in the sand either.

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being

 

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Coffee, Tea or Pee?

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There are lots of monumental problems in the world, but for the moment let’s ignore them. Let’s instead focus on the latest unpleasantness to occur on airlines: dogs. It seems that while we’ve been losing legroom, meals, snacks, magazines, and dignity, pups have taken to the friendly skies. The rise of the cabin canine (versus the baggage hold hound) is due to the (relatively) new loophole of “emotional support” animal. If your dog (or pig, monkey, or cat) is designated as giving you emotional support he/she must be treated like an assistance animal. Passengers and crew are not pleased by this trend and for good reason.

Allergies to animals are far more prevalent than peanut allergies. Being trapped in the sealed can with a dog is the worst nightmare for many people. Uncontrollable itching, hives and difficulty breathing are now part of the trip for many. There is no limit on the size of the animal when its owner has a prescription. It is conceivable that Marmaduke would be sprawled on top of the passenger next to you (riding for free!) These animals pose a threat to trained service animals. Unlike a Seeing Eye dog, an emotional support animal’s only qualification is that the owner likes having him/her around. Seeing Eye dogs can be trapped in a small space with butt smelling, barking, peeing and perhaps biting dogs. An airplane can quickly and unexpectedly become a place from which people need to flee. It’s horrifying to consider what would happen in an emergency with a pet and a trained assistant dog on board.

There is no doubt that people feel better with their animals. There are people with robust mental health who benefit greatly from the demands and love of an animal. There are also very few people who aabsolutely must travel on an airplane; save for the crew who it must be said are legally entitled to carry a dog on the beverage cart. If we are a bit too timid to impose restrictions upon where people may bring their comfort pets perhaps we could at least take the issue a little more seriously.

Currently all one needs is a letter from a health care professional and WHAM, the entire terrain changes. With one letter, from someone who may or may not be treating me for an actual disorder, I can force my landlord to allow Fido in, I can walk into any bar, restaurant or hospital with Fluffy and I can sit next to you at the opera with my potbelly pig. None of these animals have been screened, trained or licensed. The first step is to legitimize the “prescription” writing process. More than one mental health provider must sign-off and at least one of them must be treating the patient. Having your cousin the dermatologist sign the form should not be sufficient. Comfort animals must be certified to obtain the same privileges as assistance animals. They need to have a clean bill of health, be trained in how to act around people and other animals and be certified.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone who legitimately needs to be holding their pet at all times would actually balk (or should we say; bark) at such guidelines.

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2013 in Travel, Well-Being

 

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Wattle Twaddle

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It’s two weeks until Thanksgiving! You know what that means? Any second now the talking heads and “experts” will rise up and moan and rail against retail. Suddenly the plight of the employee and the sanctity of family will take on grave importance. The siren song of the big box store will lure people away from the sacredness of their nuclear hearth! How dire it is to impose commercialism onto such a pure holiday! Never mind the millions of turkey and pilgrim tchotcke festooning tables and mantels. Disregard the families barcalounged in front of football games all. day. long. It is shopping that threatens to erode this holy Norman Rockwell day!

“People shouldn’t have to work on Thanksgiving”; the bobble talking heads will shout. I suppose we should close the hospitals, police force & diners as well. Lots of people work on Thanksgiving. Do we expect the secret service or any branch of the military to lay down their arms and hoist a drumstick? I’m not sure anyone would want pilots, gas station attendants or bus drivers to have the day off. It’s interesting that retail employees are often the concern during this sacred poultry time. Retail workers regularly work evenings and weekends and often quite erratic schedules. Depending upon the shop they can be forced to wear a uniform and carry a see-though bag containing their belongings (the assumption being that they steal.) Retail workers are often on their feet all day long, not allowed to use the same bathroom as the customers and not given their week’s work schedule until the last minute. Throughout most of the year their interests aren’t exactly a priority. Let us just assume the moaners/ranters are just grasping at (cheese) straws and spouting twaddle.

But what of the family?! Whose family exactly? Is there a family so functional and fun loving and their time together so sacred? Is this fictional (if not entirely creepy) family so enamored with each other yet powerless to resist the charms of a doorbuster sale? Many many people do not have a family or one with whom they’d like to be sequestered. To impose some ideal onto every single person is if not callous than surely annoying. Would anyone care if family members went to the movies (spending obscene amounts of money to sit in dark silence together?) What is it about shopping that rankles the pundits? Is it that the shopping in question is for Christmas? Is the melding of holidays the equivalent of “my corn is touching my sweet potatoes!!!!”? If that’s it I suggest they take on the Thanksgiving/Chanukah synchronized celebrating of 2013.

I suspect that at the core of the whining is that any kind of change can make people cranky. Thanksgiving is nothing else if not a holiday revered for its stasis. We eat the same exact foods every year (heaven help the host who changes the stuffing recipe!) We go to or watch the same parade or movies. We take the post-feast walk or nap. There’s nothing wrong with clinging fast to the comfort of tradition. But there are lots of people out there with lots of different needs and desires. The idea that there is only one way to do something is a bit offensive. There’s a reason we serve more than one kind of pie.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2013 in Holiday, Well-Being

 

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Awareness Awareness

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There is a walk, run, dance, bracelet, and color to raise awareness for just about any and everything. Diseases, syndromes, and situations have their own ribbons, websites and events. “Awareness” is the word. Though to be excruciatingly precise it’s not the best word to use. There are very few of us who are not “aware” of cancer, domestic violence, suicide, autoimmune diseases, etc. A more apt word would probably be “Attention”. The goal of these public relations campaigns is to draw attention to the subject matter. Often it is the case that where there is attention paid money follows. And that is good.

What all this attention has created of course is a culture of extroversion that might not be reflective of the culture at large. People who perhaps feel inclined to experience their illness, hardship or loss in relative privacy can feel pressured to come out. There is almost a forced gaiety surrounding some illnesses. Female reproductive cancers are assigned a color and a cloak of sisterhood that can feel demanding to an introvert. Of course even forced gaiety is better than the quiet shame of yesteryear. With the pink feather boas comes an abundance of information and support.

It’s not clear if any awareness has an impact on the individual. Do people seek detection and treatment at a significantly higher rate now? Does any of that result in longer healthier lives? I don’t know. When a newsreader has a screening on national television does it change the disease statistics? Certainly when a colonoscopy is broadcast it makes an impact on the national discussion. And that is good. Does being pressured (by producers) to have a mammogram on air change anything? Are there any women who need to be told what a mammogram is? Does anyone still discuss breast cancer in hushed tones? And when that broadcasted mammogram results in a woman’s worst fear, does it help or hurt? (For the record; has there ever been a man being tested for anything on air?) That the newsreader’s life has most likely been prolonged is a wonderful thing. But does it have a significant impact on the people who witness it?

Eradicating shame and fear is always a worthwhile pursuit. There are many diseases, particularly those of the mind, which could use some bracelet wearing awareness. Expanding our understanding of the personal challenges around us increases our humanity. However part of that understanding should be an appreciation that not everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame, let alone for their colon. And not everyone wants to wear pink and belong to a disease sorority. Extroversion (or attention/awareness) is no more laudable than introversion. Being ill, or surviving a loved one’s suicide or any other personal horror is just that: personal. In a world of walkathons and editorial confessions, shouting may feel like the only means to support or care. Somewhere between the shame and secrecy of the past and the exhibitionism of the present is a place for everyone.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being

 

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