Monday, April 13, 2015

Why House Bill 2258 is a Bunch of Bologna and Other Fun Stories to Share With Your Friends

There's a reason people think the government never gets anything done. Spoiler alert: It's because of stupid crap like House Bill 2258.

He's so happy! Thank you for reelecting him! 
In a nutshell, HB2258 restricts Kansas families receiving government assistance from using those funds to visit swimming pools, see movies, go gambling or get tattoos on the state's dime. That makes sense, right? I mean, people should be using their assistance to pay for necessities, not entertainment. Good for you, Republicans! Right?

Not really, no.

On paper, this kind of bill makes Republicans get all tingly in all the right places, but in reality it serves two purposes:

1.) To make Republicans feel all self righteous that they're showing "all those freeloaders" what for.
2.) To further shame people who are receiving "welfare" - in this case, TANF.

Here's why: Because of the way TANF works in Kansas, the only way to restrict the way funds are used is by putting regulations on when the EBT card will be accepted. I am not aware of any movie theater, casino, tattoo parlor, or public pool that even has an EBT card reader...but I'm not educated well enough on whether ALL card readers will allow you to use an EBT card like any old debit card. So, let's say you CAN do that now, and the bill restricts that. Ok. Great. Except if someone wanted to do that ANYWAY, all they'd have to do is pull the money off of the TANF side of their card. Then they have cash and - unless there's some way I don't know about to tell those those bills were acquired via and EBT card withdrawal - they can use it however they damn well please.

So this bill doesn't DO anything. At all.


Well, no, that's not technically true. This bill wasted the time and energy of Kansas legislators who could have been working on ACTUALLY SOLVING OTHER PROBLEMS. And that time comes out of our paychecks, ladies and gentlemen. Those are our tax dollars hard at work. Well...some of our tax dollars, we all know who ISN'T footing the bill for those hours, amirite?


For those of you who are unaware of how TANF works - because, to be clear, we ARE talking about TANF here, and not SNAP (food stamps) - here we go:

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is commonly referred to as "cash assistance" by those who receive it and the case workers for those families. Apparently, it was recently renamed the "Successful Families Program" but they kept the same acronym, because logic. The key word here is "families." This is not a program that individuals or couples who have no children are able to apply for.

You can read all the guidelines for yourself here, but I'll break it down for you in case you don't want to wade through the bureaucratic version.

I started looking for pictures of real people, but it was heartbreaking and I didn't want to objectify real struggling families to internet scrutiny, so enjoy the stick figures. 
In order to qualify, the person or couple applying must have at least one child under 18 in the home, or be expecting a baby. Yes, the pregnancy has to be verified. (If the woman miscarries and doesn't inform her case worker, she will owe that money back to the state. Yes.) So, right off the bat, we're talking about FAMILIES.

If you are a single parent caring for two children, your income has to be less than $518 a month to qualify for TANF. So, if you're making $519 a month (yes, the restrictions are THAT concrete) - and they average your last 3 months of earnings to give you the best chance of qualifying - you will not qualify. I hope you can pay rent, buy non-food necessities, pay utilities, pay for childcare, and still have gas money to get to and from that job of yours with $519. That's rough, and I honestly applaud those who can do it - I couldn't. To be clear, that's WAY below the poverty line in Kansas.

Now, if you ARE a single parent caring for two children, the maximum amount you will get in TANF is $429 a month. That's if you have no job and no other income. So, you're WORSE OFF not having a job. You'll get roughly the same amount in SNAP either way because TANF counts as income.

There's another misconception that you can just get on welfare and never work again. That's...like...super inaccurate. First, you are only eligible for 48 months of TANF in your ENTIRE LIFE, and Kansas does count any months you received it in other states - so if you were in, say, Hawaii for 6 years and got TANF the whole time (I don't know Hawaii's rules), then you come to Kansas, you flat out cannot get TANF here, at all, ever. There are no exceptions to the rule.

FINALLY, in order to continue to receive TANF, you have to participate in Work Programs. I consider myself an authority on this subject, because I actually ran Work Programs when I worked at DCF. A single parent has to do 20 hours per week of Work Programs activities - either going to school, actually working, community service, or job search (there are others but those are the most common). You don't get to sit at home taking care of those kids, you have to go either try to find a job or train so you can get a job (but you can only ever train for 12 months, so no 4 year degrees on the State's dime, we're talking vocational education). You have to prove that you were actually doing those activities for your required 20 hours, and your WP case manager has to check up on you to make sure you're not lying.

Two parent households have to do 35 hours between them. HAVE TO.

OH, and you HAVE to do either the 20 or 35 hours of job search before your TANF application is even accepted.

You're still reading?! Good for you! Take a puppy break and keep going.
Here's what happens if you don't meet your WP requirements (you don't meet your hours, you stop going to class, you get fired, you QUIT your job): your WP worker puts you on a penalty. That means your TANF and SNAP go away. You have to cure your penalty (usually by looking for a job). When you cure your penalty, you get your SNAP back - at a prorated rate. But your TANF? You don't get that back until the penalty ends.

1st penalty - 3 months
2nd penalty - 6 months
3rd penalty - 12 months
4th penalty - Never eligible again. Never.

In almost EVERY case where I put someone on a penalty, they cured the penalty by getting a job. Their job made them ineligible for TANF.

These restrictions have all but eradicated "welfare fraud" in Kansas (at least as far as TANF is concerned), but Brownback still feels like he needs to put the hammer down on people who are doing everything they can to stay afloat and TELL THEM they aren't worthy of having a little fun - but, again, not actually doing anything.

So, before you go spouting off about the "freeloaders" in Kansas mooching off of your tax money, just consider how you would survive if you lost your job, had no savings, weren't educated, didn't have family to turn to, and had kids to take care of. Then look at the number of hoops you'd have to jump through just to get a little bit of help for a very limited amount of time.

Then shut up.

Thanks.

Sources:
http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R43634.pdf
http://www.dcf.ks.gov/services/ees/Pages/Cash/TAF.aspx
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2015/04/06/kansas-wants-to-ban-welfare-recipients-from-seeing-movies-going-swimming-on-governments-dime/

Monday, March 16, 2015

Let those baby birds fly

This post has caused quite the concerning discussion on Facebook. It all started with this sign posted outside a women's restroom:


Seems reasonable enough, to me at least. We're talking boys over 6 - so 7 year olds and up - being asked to use the restroom they're supposed to use. Now, depending on where we are, I can be a little wary of letting Ethan go it alone in the bathroom. After all, there are some not-nice people in the world, and if we're in a really busy place, I might bring him with me instead. That's a big maybe, because he's 7, after all. Logan usually still comes with me if it's just me and him, he's 5. If Ethan is with us, they'll go into the men's on the buddy system. If Ryan's around, he takes them into the men's. Obviously.

So, I'm reading through the comments and realizing that there are moms - a LOT of moms - who absolutely refuse to let their boys go it alone in the men's room. The reasons are varied, but overwhelmingly it's because there are so many "perverts" in the world. That strikes me. Really? I mean, I know pedophiles are out there, but you honestly think they're all lurking in men's rooms just waiting to attack your unattended child? That's a terrifying world you live in.

I guess...I mean, I know that's one of our worst nightmares, as parents. That someone might hurt our child. But, we all know, rationally, that when that happens, it's almost always someone who was close to them. A teacher, a coach, a relative. Not strangers on the street - not usually. I can understand the reluctance to let your child face strangers without you. But, that's kind of a part of being a parent. You have to show them how to walk in this world without you. I'm not saying send your toddler into the men's room alone, obviously, but you have to decide when it's reasonable to start letting the cord out a bit...or cutting it completely.

By 7, your child is in school. They're going on field trips and going to camps. They're going to friends houses, going out with their friends' families, participating in activities. They're doing these things without you around - and there's a good chance they're going to the bathroom in a public place during some of these adventures. At 7 (or, you know, at 4 or 5), they should be perfectly capable of wiping, cleaning up after themselves, and washing up without your help. I guarantee their teachers are not going into the bathrooms with them, nor are they making the boys go into the women's room. So...this is already happening. Wouldn't it be better if you had prepared your kids for this - taught them how to behave and (God forbid) what to do if a stranger approached them? Wouldn't it be better if you had already allowed your son some autonomy in this area, rather than making him figure it out on his own when you aren't around?

It's hard, so so hard, to let them grow up - but that's our job. We like to think that we're protecting them because the world is so much worse than it used to be...but the reality is that it's not. It's busier, there's more to see and do, but there have been terrible people in the world since the dawn of time. If there are more of them now, it's only because there are more PEOPLE now, and a percentage of them are terrible. A pretty small percentage. Part of preparing them for the world is trying to prepare them to avoid - or deal with, or get away from - those people so they can stay safe. I know my kids would be kicking, hitting, biting, scratching and screaming bloody murder if someone tried to take them or touch them. And I'd be right outside the bathroom waiting for my boys, so whoever was trying to hurt them wouldn't get very far before I killed them horribly. Just saying.

I know I'm just as bad as the next mom when it comes to being a bit overprotective. We're moms, it's what we do. But we have to give our kids the chance to show us they can be responsible - and if not now, when?

So, teach your kids about strangers - teach them all the dirty, nasty tricks people will use to get them to drop their guard - and teach them how to keep themselves safe. Teach them that if they get lost, they need to find someone who works at the store (and how to figure out who those people are), or to find a mom with kids. Teach them to run, to scream, to kick and hit and never stop fighting. Teach them to talk to you, that you'll never be ashamed of them, that it's never their fault.

But above all, teach them that the world is actually a pretty amazing place, and let them run ahead to discover it. 

They'll always turn back around to show you the things they've discovered.

Monday, March 9, 2015

On being excluded from the club

Mommy Wars.

It's almost impossible not to get caught up in them. Before you even conceive, you're already on one side or the other on a multitude of issues you may not have even thought were that big a deal - but will define you as a parent.

Breastfeeding v Formula Feeding; Vaccinate v Idiocy (#sorrynotsorry); Stay at Home v Work at Home v Work Out of Home; Circumcise v Keep Intact; Spanking v ...Not Spanking; Baby signs, sleep training, public or private school, daycare, playdates, solid foods...

There's a lot. And no matter what side of these things you're on, you're wrong. 

No matter how you're raising them, you're wrong. #TrueFacts
The big one, though, and arguably the first one you'll take sides on is "Natural" Birth v C-Section and how you feel about that. You CAN choose to have a c-section, and - since we're weighing in here - that's totes ok with me. As long as you get a healthy baby out of it, I don't care if you aren't particularly inclined to push a bowling ball out of your vagina. But, I have to tell you, if you have a c-section, there's a whole slew of mommies out there who are determined to make you feel like you don't belong in the club. The Birth Club. Because, technically, you didn't give birth. Your child was removed. Doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

I can't speak for all c-section mommies out there, but I hate the fact that I had to have two c-sections. I had a plan. I dreamed of that huge tub in the birthing suite to naturally deal with my contractions, adamantly refusing drugs, the games Ryan and I would play to keep my mind off of the hours of waiting. I had soothing aromatherapy things and music to keep me focused. Ryan was going to hold my hand and be my rock while I pushed - and I had studied pushing so I was going to do it RIGHT. He was going to cut the cord, and the baby would be laid on my chest immediately so we could bond. It was going to be amazing, and wonderful, and perfect.

The fact that I couldn't do that, that my body would not cooperate and do what it was designed to do, that I wasn't even in the right hospital, that all of my plans went directly to Hell as soon as I checked into the hospital....it was heartbreaking. Ethan began having decells before I was even moved into L&D. The Pitocin made the contractions excruciating and never-ending, the drugs barely took the edge off. Finally, my body failed me and I had to have my baby removed. I failed. I was a failure. Wheeled into surgery, nuzzled Ethan's face for a brief moment, and then he disappeared for hours. I wasn't even the first person to hold my baby. This life I had spent 9 months dreaming about. 

I failed you before I ever got started.
I mean, you get over it, you move on, and at the end of the day you have a healthy baby. But that doesn't take away the heartbreak of having failed to do it yourself.

I wasn't given an option for a VBAC with Logan because our hospital didn't perform them. I desperately wanted one, but no dice. Then, further complications with his delivery meant I would never have that option again. He had to be resuscitated, so I didn't even get to see him before he was rushed to the NICU for hours. More heartbreak.

Confessions: I forgot what you looked like before they brought you in to me.
I don't speak for all c-section mommies, but I probably speak for a lot of them. We didn't choose it, we didn't want it, but it was necessary. We already feel like failures, so please think about that when you're sharing your opinions of how lazy we are, how we gave up, how we should have tried X, Y, Z methods to fix whatever was going wrong so we could do things the right way.

We know.

But when it's all said and done, we did what we had to for our babies, to make sure they made it into the world. To protect them. To keep them safe and healthy. We are moms, just like you. And rather than making us feel less worthy, how about remembering that - no matter how our babies came into the world, or into our lives - we're all on the same team. We're moms. That's what's important.

Pictured: My heart.

Just...remember that. That's all I ask.




Thursday, February 26, 2015

When did 2015 happen?

Good. God. It's been a while. I think mostly because I've been ranting on Facebook instead of the blog. Suppose I should stop doing that. This is where I rant. I mean, hell, that's what's expected of the blog, amirite?!

ANYWAY.

So many many things have been happening in Becky-land recently.
Hello!
First, big changes at work. So endeth the most stressful two years of my life. Now I'm able to actually do my job without the constant anxiety that weighed on my chest and raised my blood pressure every time I walked into the building. Pleasant side effect, coupled with much praise for how much more confident and happy and AWESOME I am at my job now, has officially gotten me back to LOVING my job. I'll take it.

Don't remember if I mentioned it, but we finally moved out of the in-laws basement and into our very own house. I cannot stress how amazing this has been for us. We've finally accomplished a major life goal and taken a huge step in providing a stable, normal life for the kids! Yay grown-up things! That was June 2014, so we're pretty settled at this point.








Two dogs. Yep. Two female Siberian Huskies entered our lives since we moved into the new house.

Sadie joined us in August, and it took a while to get her to be affectionate toward us (not sure what was going on in the first 7 weeks of her life, but she did a lot of hiding when we got her - which is atypical of the breed). Charlie joined us in January, and she was filthy and malnourished with a slight case of fleas. We were told she was 12 weeks old, but she was closer to 8 (by the vet's estimation). Both girls are doing great now and have filled our house with even more joy.


I decided to actually use my Elance account and try to pick up some extra work. My newfound confidence that I am actually good at what I do helped with that. Maybe I'll finish that novel and start the new play that's been bouncing around my brain...ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE. (Like, maybe I can convince Ryan to do the same thing...)


The boys are both in school.

Ethan is testing at a 3rd grade level (in 1st grade), so we're dealing with some behavior issues in school (because he's bored), but open communication with his teacher (and a stash of chapter books) is helping a lot.

Logan is going to face the same issues, but he's enjoying Kindergarten and he has a fantastic teacher.

Of course if Logan could keep his hands out of his pants, that would make things even better.

(Seriously, kid, it isn't going anywhere.)


Did a play in the Fall, which was great fun. Was hoping to exercise my musical theatre skills (and break away from the heavy dramas), but - alas - was not cast.

Shake it off and move on, I guess. It was the only show I wanted to do this year, so I'm giving the stage a break for the rest of the season, though I will be directing a bit at the end of the year.

I am going to be doing some serious soul searching about how I need to be spending my free time moving forward.

Finally, while we have a lot of house projects to do, we're in a good place financially and think we're ready to take some steps on the family front. More on this later.

It feels good to be writing again. Let's see how long this lasts.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Why it's super awkward when you post about your upcoming wedding on Facebook...




















So, I'm just going to throw this out there.


If you have a wedding coming up, and you didn't invite every single person on your Facebook "friends" list, it may not be the most appropriate thing to do to put out a public post asking people to RSVP to your wedding.

If you have done this, I probably need to explain to you why it's not the best way to get people to RSVP.

I didn't get an invitation to your wedding, and I'm now wondering several things:
1.) Why not?
2.) Was I supposed to?
3.) If I wasn't supposed to....refer to question 1.
4.) If I was supposed to, how will I find that out so I can RSVP?

I would love to be able to find out the answer to #2, but there is no easy way to do that. I can't flat out ask you without putting you on the spot and possibly making you feel guilty for  not inviting me. You shouldn't feel obligated to invite me. It's your special day, not mine, and you have your reasons for not inviting me. I'm cool with that, and you have no obligation to tell me what those reasons are. I'm still going to be SUPER happy for you, and I might even hold my own satellite celebration. You never know.

But, if you DID mean to invite me, and I don't RSVP, it's sending you a message that I didn't care enough to send an RSVP, which is absolutely not true. I always RSVP. I don't want you to think that I didn't care about your wedding enough to even send in an RSVP. Seriously. Don't think that, because it wouldn't happen.

What you've done, though, instead of solving your RSVP situation, is generated a great deal of doubt in a large number of people who saw your post and never received an invitation.

GOOD NEWS! There is a way to avoid this!

Since most people who don't receive a wedding invitation (barring immediate family members and your best friend of all time) assume they simply weren't invited, you can avoid the awkwardness by sending a targeted message - or an email! - to the people you DID invite whom you haven't received RSVPs from. That way, the people you need to reach are reached, and the people you don't need to reach AREN'T.

Simple. Clean.

Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

So begins another year!

Today marked two more in a long line of firsts. Logan's first day of Kindergarten, Ethan's first day of 1st Grade. I want to remember this day.
Ryan and I woke up at 6am, groaning, but I made us "hop" out of bed because that was the only way we weren't going to trudge through the morning like zombies. I went to wake up the boys. Logan was first, and he sleepily sat up, crawled into my lap, and snuggled me for a minute before I ushered him downstairs for breakfast. Ethan jumped up as soon as I touched his back, asked, "Is it morning?" and promptly hopped about chanting, "First day of school! First day of school!" before insisting he set his clothes out for the day and then running downstairs.

Logan chose his usual breakfast, cereal - today it was Cookie Crisp. Ethan turned to me and said, "Mommy, you pick out my breakfast this morning, I want to make sure it's a good breakfast for my first day of school!" We settled on oatmeal - Peaches & Cream. Ethan wolfed his down and bounded upstairs to put on his new clothes, Logan leisurely finished his cereal and then ran upstairs to join his brother.

They were both excited to don their new backpacks for pictures on the front step, grabbed their new lunch bags and hopped into the car, ready for anything today would bring.
Today was a special day, so Ryan and I both took the boys to school and walked them inside. Ethan's dropoff at Mrs. Spann's classroom was fairly uneventful, a hug and kiss from me (because he still lets me) with a promise to do his best, and a hug from Ryan, then he was off. Ready to conquer 1st grade.

Logan's dropoff was nothing particularly special, except for the extra effort the PTO had gone to, providing a "BooHoo, WooHoo" breakfast (which, personally, I feel made the transition a bit harder for some first time parents - get in, get out, that's the key....lingering makes things hard for you and your kiddo, but the thought is what counts and it was a nice gesture). Logan walked in with confidence, a gleam of subdued excitement in his eye, and I helped him remember where his seat was. He began to march over to put his backpack in his cubby - he knew what he needed to do, after all, he had prepared for this moment - only to be told they were all going to do that later. A minor setback in his plan, but no matter, he'd be ready tomorrow. Back at his seat, he allowed me a brief hug and kiss, promised to do his best, hugged Ryan, and sat down - looking around us at the board, because the morning news was starting and he wasn't going to miss a second of Kindergarten.

And off we went. No tears (though, admittedly, I felt them prickling at the corners of my eyes, and held them back). Other first-time Moms were handed packages of Kleenex by the thoughtful PTO as they left, weeping. I smiled at them, knowing how hard it is to watch your babies grow up. You're so proud of how far they've come, but you wish you'd had just a little more time to cherish those early years. Now they're at school, and their teachers are the ones who will see them through the majority of their days for the next nine months - shape their minds, comfort their woes, make them laugh, and then send them home to us to eat dinner, wrap up the day, and put them to bed so they're ready to do it all again tomorrow.

But the excitement on the boys' faces when I pick them up later, the squeal of their voices as they tell me all the wonderful things they did today, all the things they learned....that makes it all worth it.

It's going to be a great year.

Friday, August 1, 2014

These are the things that keep me up at night...

An overwhelming majority of Christmas movies are based on the premise that Santa exists, that kids may or may not believe, and something magnificent has to happen to restore their faith in him.

Which means the overwhelming majority of Christmas movies simply should not exist.

There is a very basic flaw in the logic here. The kids' parents are usually trying to get the kids to accept reality - that Santa doesn't exist. Except he CLEARLY DOES (in these movies) because SOMEONE has been leaving presents from Santa for your kids and it WASN'T YOU. Either that, or there's a worldwide organization dedicated to creepily breaking into every single house in the world every year to leave gifts. So you know, movie parents. You KNOW he exists. Therefore, there should be no reason for your children to doubt, and his existence-based-on-how-many-people-believe-in-him should never be in danger.

(But there's also this...stupid notion that Santa should be secretive about his job. Why? Do you want kids to believe in you? Is that how you are able to exist? Surefire way to make that happen is to let them see you! The end!)

Rise of the Guardians is probably the most blatantly annoying one of these. I mean, you have every mythical childhood holiday hero here. Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Santa - sorry Sandman, Pitch, and Jack Frost...you're irrelevant here. So, now we have the triple in-your-face realization that parents are jerks who allow their kids to believe that these magical things don't exist when they CLEARLY DO. I mean, the Easter egg hunt....ok parents, if YOU don't believe in the Easter Bunny, why didn't you hide a crap-ton of eggs for the kids to find? You organize this annual Easter egg hunt without planning to hide eggs because someone has done it for you every year so far...and you never wonder who?! Who the hell is planning these things? Way to let all the kids down LAZY GROWNUPS. Move on to the Tooth Fairy - if YOU aren't stealing your children's teeth and replacing them with quarters, WHO IS?! THINK ABOUT THESE THINGS. You have an organization of creepy pedophiles (we can assume) sneaking into kids' rooms and stealing their teeth, to replace them with money. WHY ARE WE DOING NOTHING TO STOP THIS?!

We already covered Santa.

So, you know they exist, and you allow your kids to stop believing in true things. Why?

Conclusion: Christmas Movie Parents are assholes.

The end.