Saturday, August 17, 2013

How can we help? An open letter to friends and family.

Friends have asked how they can help our family right now. It's no secret we could use help. Jess has been unemployed since he was laid off last October. Unemployment benefits ran out in April. Jobs in his field are hard to come by, jobs that can support a family - even modestly - are even harder to find. Instead of taking any old job he finished writing a book, published it, and started to work more seriously at being self-employed as a Parenting Coach.

To increase his knowledge of the business world, as well as his hire-ability at the administrative level, he has been taking business classes at Clark College.

Because Jess has always worked for non-profit organizations, with salaries that have never topped $36,000 a year, and that periodically would lay him off due to lack of funding, losing grants, or changes in the government requirements for particular jobs, we've never had the opportunity to build up much in the way of savings. Every time we have had money in the bank, we've hit a time where we had to use that money to survive.

Conventional wisdom says that it takes at least two years to get a small business up and running, if it ever gets up and running. We don't doubt that wisdom and we know we have a long way to go. We are doing our best to keep our focus on future goals, while also doing everything we can to keep the bills paid in the present. It's a tough balancing act, and right now we'll admit that we're struggling to keep our balance.

I feel that we are in an awkward position because of various unrelated situations among our friends and extended community. I also feel the need to explain that the trips various members of our family are taking this month and next are all being funded by the grandparents. And while it feels a little odd to be sending two of our kids off to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter while we are trying to figure out how we're going to pay the next month's bills, we are exceedingly grateful that we have an extended family that makes fun and adventures possible, even as they are helping us buy toilet paper and other basic household supplies.

I feel like I shouldn't ask for help because there are other people who seem to be constantly asking for help, people who need help a lot more than we do, or people who have suffered tragedies or challenges that make our life look like a walk in the park. We all face different challenges, and it's impossible know everyone else's story, which means that the best bet is often to trust that everyone is doing the best they can where ever they've ended up.

We all make choices and the why behind the choices we make is personal and often complicated. I know that life is more than just the culmination of a series of choices. For instance, our life involves health issues that are beyond our control. Women in my family have been afflicted with Grave's Disease for generations, it's genetic. And, Jess didn't end up with fibromyalgia because of an unhealthy life-style. And then there are the good choices that have created more challenges, instead of fewer. Jess has never taken a job just because it paid more, he has taken jobs because they would enable him to help parents, children, and families. That choice has made his own family's life harder at times, even made it harder for him to be the father he wants to be, but we've supported him in that choice because we believe in following your passions, doing what you are good at doing (even if the pay is crap), and working to make the world a better place.

I also feel that, in certain circles, the prejudice against anyone who might possibly be seen as an expert, or heaven forbid a Guru, causes people look at what Jess is offering with cynicism and criticism.

But here's the truth: Jess is a professional parent educator. He has degrees, work experience, and a whole lot of training under his belt. He has worked with children and families professionally for 20 years. He's been a parent for 17 years this October. He's not some wanna-be, he's the real deal. Someone who can help families in crises, who can help parents who are at a loss as to how to handle their child's behaviors, who can support new dads, and not so new dads, in become involved fathers their kids enjoy spending time with.  Jess doesn't want to be a guru, he does want the opportunity to use his skills and abilities to help families live with greater unconditional love, mutual respect, and stronger relationships.

When people ask what they can do to help sometimes I hesitate because I don't want to ask for too much, other times I simply can't come up with something on-the-spot. Here's an answer that question.

You can help our family by:

  • Posting a link on your web-site, blog, or facebook page, to Jess' book
  • If you've read Jess' book give him feedback, even if it's suggestions of how to make it better, perhaps, particularly if it's suggestions of how to make it better! 
  • Telling people you know about the work Jess does
  • When someone is struggling with the behavior of their child, with being a new parent, or adjusting to parenting a child who isn't exactly the child they expected to have, tell them you know someone who might be able to help.
  • Visit Jess' website to see what he has to offer.
  • "Like" Jess' professional page and share some of the articles he posts. 
  • Ask Jess to speak to a parenting group you're involved with. 
  • Ask Jess parenting questions on his professional facebook wall.
  • Hire Jess to help you with a parenting challenge. He takes confidentiality seriously, no one needs to know you asked for help if you don't want them to.  

You can also help our family by:

  • Hiring Ember as a mother's helper. She's also happy to make My Little Pony cosplay ears to order.
  • Ordering  fandom T-shirts from Tasha. She will make them to order, tell her your artistic vision or ask her to come up with her own design. 
  • Buying hand crafted items from Jess or me. Jess makes cool steampunk-ish sonic screwdrivers and light saber hilts. I crochet and am trying my hand at felted sweater crafts.
  • If you want a babysitter, as opposed to a mother's helper, someone in the family can probably help - which of us will depend on the situation. 
  • If you need a teenager to act, sing and/or dance in a commercial, video, or movie, Clare Marian would love to help you.
  • If you need a young teenager for some voice acting Ember is interested in giving that a try. 

We also happily accept hand-me-down clothing.
If you have 100% Wool Sweaters that have holes in them, I'll love to have them for crafting.

And paypal is always an option:

Some days I'm more hopeful than others. Recently I spent time on the phone trying to work something out with the credit card company only to be told that without an income they aren't willing or able to adjust our minimum payment due. Then they put me through to a credit counselor who went through our entire financial situation in painful detail. In the end she told me that we have done an excellent job of cutting our expenses down to a bare minimum. When it comes to frugal living, I have over 20 years experience, so that came as no surprise. However, once again, because we don't have an income, she couldn't help me. The bottom line was that we can keep doing what we're doing, or we can seek legal help which will lead to filing for bankruptcy. Filing for bankruptcy would decrease our monthly bills by $580 a month at most, making it possible for us to live on a little over $2,000 a month. Ironically, that's what we were living on when Jess was employed. And that's the reason that we believe self-employment is the answer for our family. We don't want to file bankruptcy. We don't want to default on our debts. To avoid doing that Jess needs to make a living wage, and that just hasn't been possible for him to do in the world of non-profits.

Every day we're looking at the situation and considering what else we can do to support our family financially and how we can align our work with our values. Some days it feels like it's hopeless, other days we can still see that vision of what our life could be like if Jess gets his business up and running, if we keep writing books and people actually buy them, if we sell the art we make, if we don't give up. We also see a day when we can give to others, support others during difficult times, and pay forward the kindnesses of those who have helped us through this time of transition.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Proximity and Technology and Relationships

People love to post quotes with pictures, also known as memes, on facebook. Today I came across this one:

We have just returned home from picking up a child who spent the past week at camp, in the wilderness, without her phone, computer, or any contact with the outside world. On that trip we drove for most of a day in remote areas with a complete lack of cellphone reception. As we drove through the mountains, I considered if I'd be happier living in the woods without technology. While it may seem attractive for a short period of time, I'm not sure I would be.

In our family we consider interactions with other people via computer or cellphone just that, interaction. Many of our friends and family live far away. Some of them we see once or twice a year. Some of them we've never met in person! And while I do not personally have a cellphone, all of the members of my family do. Knowing that cellphones are the primary means that my children have to communicate with their friends, I respect the role that cellphones play in their relationships. When we are out and about they can use cellphones to share their experiences through tweets and texts, or take pictures and share them on facebook. My oldest is the only one in the family with a smart phone, and it's not uncommon for us to ask her to look something up. In our experience, technology does not interfere with interaction when that interaction is the choice of those involved. Technology does not interfere when the members of our family are authentically engaged in an activity or outing.

When it comes to memes, anyone can compile photos that seemingly prove a point. This particular set is the typical mash up of random shots taken from unrelated places on the internet. The "frens" having coffee may be coworkers who are using a coffee break to catch up with their actual friends and family, the group on the bench may be taking time out from doing something more active to check their phones and catch their breath, the kid at the game could be texting the score to a friend who is home sick and couldn't make it to the game - or maybe he's texting his mom to let her know the game just went into overtime so he'll be later than expected, the "couple" on an "intimate date" are quite possibly two completely unconnected people who happened to be sitting near each other - their body language doesn't speak of intimacy, the people in the car - which has something covering the windshield so they are decidedly not seeing any sites except those on the internet - may possibly have been wandering around a car show for hours until they all piled into a car to sit and wait for a friend who was talking to a sales rep, and the dinner eaters don't have any food on their plates - who knows what the real story is, but I doubt it's a family meal. These pictures don't really tell us anything conclusive, the same way that just seeing a brief moment or exchange between people doesn't give us the back story or knowledge of the actual relationship between the people we observe.

While we were traveling we had lunch in a small cafe. An older gentleman came in and ordered "the usual" for himself and his dining companion who had not yet arrived. A woman walked in the door. He wrapped his arms around her from behind as she chatted with the store owner. They then sat down at a table by the window, settling in with their pencils and crossword puzzles. When their food was delivered they commented appreciatively about how quickly it was ready and then returned to their silent pursuits.

People commonly assume that people who are sitting together silently at a table at a restaurant, looking at their respective cell phones, playing Sudoku, doing crossword puzzles, or reading on their Kindle, have a poor relationship. It's easy to feel sorry for those couples who are sitting together and yet are not engaged directly with each other in conversation or physical contact. But the couple we saw at the cafe had a warm relationship, were cheerful and thoughtful, and they were enjoying a lunch together seemingly quite content with their individual crossword puzzles.

This brought to mind a quote from my husband's book, Radical Family! Parenting: A Guide for Parenting with Compassion, Honesty, Respect and Unconditional Love, "What separates Proximity from the other parenting tools is it can be used to enhance relationships without direct interactions. Being in the same room without speaking to your child can enhance your relationship. Proximity is especially helpful when your child is focusing and/or wanting some space from others. Reading a book in the living room while your child is surfing the internet is Proximity. Sitting next to your child and watching a television show together is Proximity. Knocking on the door of your child's bedroom to say hello and deliver snacks is Proximity. At its core, Proximity is being around and available without directly involving yourself in your child's activity. Proximity is often useful with tweens and teens. As a child gets older, he or she often has a personal life and interests that he or she wants to explore without parents involved. Proximity is also a good place to begin if you are starting Radical Family! Parenting in a strained relationship with your child. Being in the same area may lead to other opportunities for relationship building."

Technology can be wonderfully useful when we spend time in proximity to our family members. Right now I'm sitting on the bed typing this post, while my husband is reading his brother's latest novel, Reapers, the fourth book in his Breakers series. We are enjoying being together in the quiet of our room, both engaged in something we enjoy doing. Our cat is also practicing proximity, she's nestled between us, glad to have us home after a three day absence. At the same time our girls are in the next room watching a TV show on Netflix together, enjoying reconnecting after the return of our camper. And, while they watch, it's likely that our oldest daughter is texting her boyfriend, allowing her to feel connected to him without detracting in anyway from the time she's spending with her sisters. We are all a bit worn out from the last week and this time spent near each other, enjoying the many wonders of technology, is a way for all of us to feel connected without any need for deep meaningful conversations or mentally taxing games.

I just don't see technology creating a generation of idiots. For our family, technology may enhance or facilitate interaction. It also fuels our curiosity and supports us in exploring the world. After our trip this weekend, I got up the next morning and looked up the difference between biome and ecosystem. After my daughter returned home from camp she was greeted by new friend requests on facebook and photos being posted online of her adventures.

We may not be sitting together listening to a radio show, we may not be huddled around the firelight darning clothes, and we're way past painting stories of the hunt on the cave walls. That's to be expected. Time passes and how we spend our time together changes. One way isn't better than another, but the old ways are no longer necessary. Trying to force-ably recreate the past is not going to increase our family's peace and harmony. We live in a time when we can communicate in real time with people in outer space! Technology provides us with the opportunity to become life long friends with people we may never meet in person. The ways we can interact with others have multiplied, and that in no way decreases our interactions or our intelligence, it expands our world!

Side Note (well, more of a footnote, really): Technology allows us to verify all kinds of information. For example you may be wondering if Albert Einstein was really the author of the above quote. A quick search, using technology, shows that skepticism was warranted.  Ah the irony when the very people who post memes about technology creating a generation of idiots fail to use the technology available to verify the accuracy of the information they present.

The Quote Investigator says, "In conclusion, QI believes that Albert Einstein did not write or say any of the three variant quotations. Individuals who were aggravated by the behavior patterns of cell phone users probably facilitated the construction, evolution, and dissemination of this meme. The phrasing of the saying has changed over time and different sets of pictures have been attached. QI hypothesizes that the origination date was recent, perhaps as late as 2012. The efforts of the creators have been successful for now. The basic saying has achieved viral status with its dubious ascription.