By mid-field period I had called her about a dozen times, sometimes getting the pre-recorded message that “the subscriber you have dialed is not available” (a euphemism for “the subscriber hasn’t paid their bill”), sometimes getting a voicemail with that pleasant robotic woman reading out the ten-digit number, the pinnacle of cellular anonymity. There was no way of knowing whether or not the number was still good, and the respondent had long since left the address we were provided by DSHS. (We were to find out at the bitter end of the field period that someone at DSHS had screwed up royally, providing our Director with respondent contact information three months old, and in some cases older. With a transient population, as parents with active CPS cases tend to be, contact information changes often. Three months may as well have been three years. We had been behind the eightball the entire study, and while we’d sensed it, running down lead after lead, coming up empty handed, we’d accepted it as part of studying this population, never assuming DSHS wouldn’t possess updated, verified contact information for its own clients. In retrospect, of course we should have assumed the worst of this big, clunky, broken government machine. You’ve seen the headlines. Shit is always fucked up with CPS.) Continue reading
Jay had been sitting in the middle of my stack of files for several weeks, below the hot prospects who had agreed to interview appointments, above those that had proved to be dead-ends, all contact information bad. Her phone had been disconnected from the first time I called but her address hadn’t been explored. (We found out at the end of the study that the Department of Social and Health Services had fucked up, providing us with months-old information for a largely transient population, and oh my god was that the only information they had? How were they reaching their clients to provide services?)
Once I had several addresses prove to be the only means of contact for multiple respondents, I made a trip down I-5 for a series of drive-bys, an unscheduled, unannounced pop-in. The best-case scenario for a drive-by was gaining access to the respondent and completing the interview. Often times drive-bys led down a rabbit hole, as the respondent no longer lived there, or wasn’t crashing there anymore, or the place was vacant. This time I was headed to a suburb south of a city, not far from a joint Army and Air Force base. Lots of stripmalls, lots of hourly rate motels, the overall impression of low-rent squalor shaded by massive, densely growing Evergreen trees. Continue reading
I had claimed the south west region as mine for the study, meaning I was responsible for interviewing all respondents within that Child Protective Services jurisdiction. A lucky thousand or so parents with active CPS cases had been randomly selected to participate in a quality control measure to determine if a new state social work practice methodology was proving effective. Almost all respondents were women, many single moms, some of whom had had their children removed during the course of their case, some living at in-patient drug rehab centers, almost all living in poverty. I wanted south west because my fiancé was working as an attorney in that jurisdiction—representing the very social workers our study would QC–in their child abuse cases. While we swore we wouldn’t trade names or other identifying details, I figured it would be fun to have lunch with him and all our friends who worked in his office a few times a week, and get a peek into their professional world. And the mileage checks would be great.
Were we research interviewers concerned about venturing into the homes of people who were in the middle of child abuse allegations and investigations? Continue reading
My first impression of her was of a young, energetic, highly intelligent young woman exuding ambition, replete with a tailored tweed suit. I was told she hailed from a political family in the Midwest, and as a third year law student, was more serious about the cases as an intern than almost any of the attorneys in the office. In the intervening five years since we met she had finished law school, become a licensed attorney and state assistant attorney general, gotten married, had her first child and moved across the country. I was intrigued by her experience as a stay-at-home mom after such a hard-charging set of career years. I knew she had left behind a sterling reputation as an outstanding lawyer and respected colleague, and speculation about her political ambitions was often discussed. We talked one night after she’d put her eight month-old son down, and she gave me a look into her dramatically different new life as a mom, making observations and assertions about her experience that seemed to fly in the face of current conventional parenting wisdom.
The mommy world is like an alternate universe, where other moms seem only to talk about kids, she began. Adult interaction has been limited since her son was born, and joining support and educational groups for new mothers has helped her feel more comfortable in her new role. Even so, she senses she’s forgotten how to interact with adults and listening to other women talk about kids eighteen hours a day isn’t helping. “I wish for these grand, complex discussions with adults and I’m on the floor knocking over blocks instead.” Continue reading
The “Sex Ed Fail” series Candid Uprising featured in December and January (a progression of posts about my experience of working at Planned Parenthood) were the most-read content on the site yet, peaking with “Sex Ed Fail: The Interview“. I found myself wanting to trace sexual attitudes through the generations, to talk to a parent about their perception of responsibility for educating their child about sex, and how that may have been shaped by their parent. Out of the woodwork came a woman in her mid-forties, a mother of two, open to filling in the picture for me.
As a kid she moved a lot, never settling in one place long enough to make a close group of girlfriends. Later, she would point out that a lack of girlfriends made her vulnerable, often times sexually. She grew up in a family that was comfortable with nudity around the house, parents who were honest and forthcoming with her about sex and sexuality. Her earliest memories of learning about sex involve a conversation between her and her mom when she was eight. “I asked my mom about kissing, and she told me it was something that people did with each other when they loved each other.” Any question she had, her mom answered with medically accurate information. What seems to have made the strongest impression was her mom’s ability to talk to her on her level, in a developmentally appropriate way. It increased her comfort level so that asking her mom questions about sex felt natural as she grew up. In lieu of girlfriends (or “the playground” where so many of us learn backwards mis-information, legends, really about sex), she had her welcoming mom. Continue reading
My first full-blown trial in an actual courtroom was the result of a two-month-old baby boy, Mr. T, who suffered from a pair of broken ribs on each side of his tiny, little torso. Broken ribs in an infant are surprisingly difficult to detect, even with today’s x-ray and other bone-scanning technology. Essentially, the ribs are so small and soft that it is nearly impossible to see the telltale hairline cracks that you would otherwise find in fractures of the longer bones of the legs or arms. Or in the ribs of an adult, I guess. Continue reading
When I got to the final question of the medical history portion of the appointment, our patient reluctantly replied, “well…my mom told me I have to.” I had just asked her if she was comfortable with her decision to have an abortion, and whether she was being threatened, forced or coerced. If the answer was anything other than “yes, I’m comfortable” and “no, I am not being threatened, forced or coerced”, or if a strong emotional response was provoked by the question, we hit the brakes on the appointment. Often my colleagues would pull me into the room when patient broke into sobs at the question, or mentioned someone in the waiting room insisting on the appointment. We did not perform abortion procedures on women who weren’t at our clinic of their own volition. We did not perform abortion procedures on women who weren’t in an emotionally safe place the day of their appointment. In this case the patient was a young teenager, and when I pressed for more information she told me that while she wanted to keep her pregnancy, her mom was forcing her to have an abortion. I immediately notified my colleagues to remove the patient’s name from our treatment roster, and stepped out into the lobby to bring the patient’s mother into our counseling office. Continue reading
I was talking with my dad about Candid Uprising, telling him about our mission and purpose and encouraging him to read. While I knew he’d be proud to hear that I’m exploring a passion project, I was also concerned about how he might react to some of the opinions we’ve put forth. While he is socially liberal, and overall of a progressive mindset, he was raised in the Midwest in the 1950s and has some closely held traditional values. My dad is a rather reserved, reticent person, but he came alive when I told him I had written and published a couple of posts on not wanting children. “Right”, he said animatedly, “people have kids to fill the void. Things get stale. People’s lives plateau and they tell themselves, now it’s time.” He continued to expound upon the subject as I frantically scribbled notes. “Kids fill up the room”, he continued, “they take all your extra time, all your extra money, all your extra love and affection. Kids are all consuming. Being a parent is a bitch, and the most responsible thing you’ll ever do. You fuck up someone elses life, and it’s terrifying”, he finished. “Dad”, I exclaimed, “then why in the world do people do it?”
“It’s biology, for god’s sake”, he cried. Continue reading
I was walking through the mall the other day and stopped in my tracks in front of Wet Seal when I saw a tank top featured in the window that read “You Can’t Sit With Us”. In small text underneath the line was attributed to Mean Girls, a movie from 2004 that explores the phenomena of adolescent cruelty and cliques. It’s a marvelous flick (written by the brilliant comedian Tina Fey) because of its clear-eyed look at young female viciousness and resolution through revenge and redemption. However, its messages of exclusion do not belong on clothing marketed to tweens and teens. Retailers are smack in the middle of back-to-school sales and marketing clothing that glorifies bullying is heartless and wrong. For a moment there it seemed like perhaps America was making progress on rooting out bullying in schools, or at minimum speaking openly about it. Projects like itgetsbetter.org and thebullyproject.com raised the issue, attempting to instill a sense of hope for victims and responsibility in peers, parents and educators. Now my local Nordstrom is posting pro-bullying clothing and accessories available in its teen department on Instagram. Continue reading
Allow me to freely diatribe on why I’ve chosen not to have children. As a younger woman, I used to think about what I would name my kids, and how many I would want, and at what age I might become a parent. I’m an only child who adored kids growing up. Spending time with them was my biggest hobby, in lieu of sports or clubs. When I was five, my folks moved us to a neighborhood that was on the verge of exploding with kids (in a white, middle-class way), and I was the oldest on the block. For a decade it seemed like about two or three kids were being born each year, and I used to spend time with the neighbor women while they were pregnant, full of questions and excitement. When I was about eight, I began to offer what one neighbor branded “toddler entertaining services”, since I was deemed too young to babysit. This involved spending hours with kids, playing with them while their parents got stuff done around the house. At eleven, I took a babysitting class offered by Seattle Children’s Hospital, which went over all the basics of first-aid, CPR, and best childcare practices. I was certified, and for hire. Business was great. For the next ten years I was regularly employed within a mile radius so parents could work beyond school hours, or enjoy a night out. I took care of this group of kids from the time they were in diapers until they were old enough to be home alone. I’ve experienced, up close and personally, developmental stages, gender differences, and sibling relationships. I’ve meted out discipline, administered medication, expressed unconditional love, had the sex talk with kids of all ages. I’ve even cared for teenagers, because my relationships with my charges often lasted beyond their need for supervision. I was a natural, and I believe I made a lasting impact on the lives of each of these kids, all of whom made it into adulthood (yay!). Continue reading