Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Mundane…and the Profound

I have been very occupied lately, even more than usual.

It means a lot of late nights working, which isn’t that different than normal, but also a lot of multitasking, trying to answer emails or respond to discussion boards while my kids are entertained by the dynamic duo of Phineas and Ferb.

Some of this is work that matters a great deal to me, some of which I hope to share here soon, including the conclusion of my technical assistance consulting for direct-service organizations in advocacy, strategy planning for how to use the defense of Kansas’ instate tuition law to build momentum among immigrant students granted deferred action, some potential civil rights litigation I think is very promising, a new advocacy evaluation collaborative with advocacy organizations and foundations in Kansas, work ‘translating’ the research of some of my social work colleagues (in the impact of asset accumulation on the college trajectories of low-income students), and an exciting project mapping the networks and advocacy capacity of entities working to combat obesity regionally.

Good stuff, really, and I feel very privileged to be part of it.

And some of what keeps me busy until the early morning is far more mundane, including a communications problem that forced me to redo my syllabi at the last minute, a new server which necessitated reloading all of my online content, a seemingly endless string of those Doodle meeting scheduling emails, and the so tiresome power struggles that are present everywhere, social justice advocacy not excluded.

As we pivot fully towards fall, and as my kids get into the rhythm of school (with its own mundane elements, certainly), I was thinking about how we stay focused on the profound.

On the central.

On the really, potentially, transformative.

And that made me think about my favorite moment of every day, after long daylight hours of mingling parenting and professionalizing, and before the longer nighttime hours of inverted workdays, when my oldest son and I have finished that day’s ‘bubblegum reading’, and I snuggle next to him and ask him what lullaby he wants.

And he inevitably chooses My Country ’tis of Thee, and then sings it with me, so that, every night, we end with a duet.

It’s not as well-pitched as his favorite version from Marion Anderson, on the steps of Liberty Memorial on that memorable Easter.

But for this Mommy, who can sometimes get too busy to remember,

it’s pretty profound.

Of primary importance

Here in Kansas (and in many other states), it’s Primary Day.

Please take the 15 minutes you would normally spend reading my blog and

Take somebody with you, and, if you have a few extra minutes, make some calls to turn out the vote, too.

Primaries matter.

A lot.

November is, in Kansas and much of the nation, all about August.

Today, in particular.

Test Post

Please bear with me as I test out a new blog feature.



Time for a Break!

Here's to hoping Van Gogh induces restfulness around here!

This post has been previously scheduled, because Baby Lewis is due to arrive in the world this week, and I’m preemptively giving myself some time off. I’m hoping to be back in a few weeks, first with a reprise of some of my favorite posts from the past two years, and then with some guest posts as I ease back into “normal” life, albeit with four young children, four part-time jobs, and a penchant for inserting myself into various social justice causes.

I’ll still answer emails, at least periodically, and especially from students and former students, so don’t be afraid to ask. But I apologize in advance for my absence from others’ blogs, and I’ll try to get caught up again this fall!

Have a wonderful summer, and, for those of you getting full nights of sleep, well, good for you!

Economic Insecurity, as seen from the sandbox

photo credit, manyeyes, via flickr

So I’ve obviously been thinking a lot lately about economic insecurity.

And I spend a lot of time at the park with my kids, so I’ve noticed many signs of the impact of this insecurity on young families, like mine.

And that’s got me thinking about kids and working parents and economic policy and what it would take to build a structure of economic security, and what that would look like from my perch on the edge of the sandbox, listening to kids shout “Mommy, watch me!” in English, Mandarin Chinese, and Spanish.

I see more fathers at the park these days, and they’re not there spending a day off with their kids–they’re unemployed, or working only part-time, or handing out business cards to other parents, trying to get customers for a remodeling business or website design or software consulting. And I wonder what’s happening to their savings accounts, and to their mental health.

I hear moms talking about sales and coupons and how to save money, a lot more than I used to. And many “stay-at-home” moms really aren’t, totally. Many families, like my own, are balancing shifts of sorts, with both parents earning and both caring for children, in order to reduce costs and increase income. One mom brings the jewelry that she makes to the park to sell. I get at least 3 invitations a month to some ‘party’ where a mom is trying to earn extra income by selling stamps or housewares or clothing.

And then there’s the strain. Certainly some of the parents that I see and hear snapping at their children or staring absently into space are comparatively economically secure, but I wonder, especially now, how much of the stress that manifests itself in difficult interactions between parents and kids stems from the underlying pressures of trying to raise those children–the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates raising a single child to age 18 will cost a middle-income family almost $237,000, or 37% of income per year, in addition to reducing income as one caregiver reduces hours or changes schedules to meet childcare demands.

As Hacker concludes his chapter on “Risky Families”, “when Americans build strong families, it has profound benefits for society as a whole: stronger neighborhoods, more productive workers…(the costs) are paid for through the sacrifices that families must make, the risks that families must bear, usually without much compensation or assistance” (108).

And that’s what I see most, from my spot under the tree, watching my daughter stuff sand in her pants and my sons race the dump trucks–families trying their best, to do the hard work of parenting so that their kids will grow up happy and healthy and a credit to their families and an asset to the world.

And, as any parent knows, there’s a lot of insecurity in the business of raising kids even under the best circumstances: will my son make it through quiet rest at school? Will my daughter’s language development pick up? Will my kids survive high school with the embarrassment of their mom’s letters to the editor appearing in the paper every month? (all of these are, um, obviously just hypothetical)

We can’t legislate all of those potentialities away–that’s part of what we sign on for when we become, through whatever path, “parents”. But we can, and should, and must, do something about the other. Because working parents should be able to plan for the future, with some guarantee against devastating income plunges. And every family should have health care. And disabilities shouldn’t bankrupt. And, after working hard at both “jobs”–paid work and unpaid parenting–for decades, everyone deserves to retire.

With that kind of foundation, imagine the sand castles we could build to the sky.

The answers

1. 27
2. 6
3. 435
4. Speaker of the House
5. Secretary of Agriculture
Secretary of Commerce
Secretary of Defense
Secretary of Education
Secretary of Energy
Secretary of Health and Human Services
Secretary of Homeland Security
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Secretary of the Interior
Secretary of Labor
Secretary of State
Secretary of Transportation
Secretary of the Treasury
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Attorney General
Vice President
6. 9
7. John Roberts
8. Pelosi
9. Citizens eighteen (18) and older (can vote).
You don’t have to pay (a poll tax) to vote.
Any citizen can vote. (Women and men can vote.)
A male citizen of any race (can vote).
10. (James) Madison
(Alexander) Hamilton
(John) Jay

How did you do? I’d love to hear. Quick, find an organization where you can volunteer to help someone study (you know you’re curious about the other questions now!) and then you can enjoy your Independence Day BBQ with a joyful heart!

In search of a one-stop shop

This post on Begging for Change is more of a request for help than anything profound to say. Egger makes a compelling case in several points throughout the book that, rather than just bringing people into the nonprofit sector (as employees) we need to ensure that we’re producing leaders in every part of our society who are committed to the values of social justice and progressive social change, and who live those values wherever they are and whatever they do for a living. Likewise, he cites evidence and anecdotes of how people who make their service fit into their lives, rather than expecting that it will stand alone, are better servants of the common good and more joyful in their service.

And I believe both of those things, not just as a social worker and volunteer and activist, but as a mom. I don’t care if my kids grow up to be social workers or not. But it matters very, very much to me that they grow up with a keen understanding of social justice, a passion for creating a better world, and a plan for how to live that commitment every day. And, in my own life today, while I find time to serve the causes most important to me, I’m limited in my off-duty time as a mommy.

That’s why I’m always looking for volunteer opportunities I can do with my kids (okay, just my almost four-year-old; the twins are still too young to be helpful; as their brother says, “they still don’t understand”). Now, I know that a preschooler is no organization’s ideal volunteer. I get that. But, come on, I’m trying to both build on his innate sense of fairness and compassion AND carve out more time that I can spend serving your organization; can anyone help me out?

He’s already collecting money to put water filtration systems in villages in Chiapas, Mexico (he takes that job very seriously, so be ready to part with your coins if you come within shouting distance!). And he ‘volunteers’ to help our elderly neighbors (with Daddy) and to visit some people from our church.

But I’m looking for an organization where we can volunteer together, ideally with some actual contact with the people the organization serves. I want to make this connection, and help him through his questions about the process of helping. I’m trying to plant seeds, here, people, and my sector isn’t helping me out too much.

Please leave comments with suggestions, especially those of you in the Kansas City metropolitan area (but even beyond; I want ideas so that I can advocate with organizations locally to build some opportunities!).

Building your Vision

I came across an exercise in some popular education materials that really resonated with me. I’ve never been much into the long-term career planning: “where do you want to be 3, 5, 10 years from now?”, probably because I want to be wherever the big fight/action/fun is, and I don’t forecast well enough to know where that’s going to be. Honestly, I’ve never really had a career plan at all; I find work that is challenging and interesting (and, okay, try to avoid big bureaucracies as much as possible; I’m not super-big on rule-following!) and do that.

But this exercise is different. The authors asked participants to write an imaginary newspaper heading of their work 5 years from now (not their job, but their organization/community’s activism), and then to start thinking about what it would take along the way (those interim benchmarks again!) to get there.

And that got me thinking about all of the times that I’ve mentally rewritten headlines for articles featuring my organizing or advocacy work (because I’m almost never happy with the ones I get), or optimistically labeled my press releases with the headline I’d really like to see the next morning. It’s a good exercise, really–how do you want others to be talking about your work in 5 years, and what kinds of assumptions are you making, then, about where you’ll be at that point?

Please post your headlines and/or your reflection on whether this is a helpful exercise for you/your colleagues/your grassroots leaders. And it’s okay if you have more than one headline–maybe one that would run locally and one in a national paper? One for your work on each issue area?

All I want for Christmas…

…are some great ideas for what content you want to see in 2010!

I have some posts in the works on the impact of race and racism on organizing and advocacy (why not start the year with a bang, right?), on ‘megacommunities’, on unconventional unwisdom…but I want to hear what you want to read, if you know what I mean (it’s that crowdsourcing again, I know!).

I will be taking the next two weeks off to clean the house, deal with the backlogged to-do list, write thank-you notes, and try to make a memorable and loving holiday for my three fantastic kiddos. But I’ll be back on January 5th with new content and new energy. Until then, write a comment or send me an email or drop me a note on Facebook to let me know what you want to see in the new year, and I’ll resolve to do my best to deliver!

Giving thanks

I’m always in an extra-reflective mood at this time of year, so today’s post is a collection of gratitude for some of those who have had a particular impact on my life and, more importantly here, my social work practice. It is surely an incomplete list, but hopefully it sparks others’ thoughts about the professional influences that have shaped them as advocates, social workers, truth-seekers and sayers.

  • My three awesome kids. Not just in the ‘awww…3 cute kids’ way, but in the ‘pushed me to step back and rethink my life and how I want to leave a mark on the world’ kind of way. Plus, they’re super fun.
  • Rolling Stone. I cannot imagine having survived 11 months of nursing twins, often in the middle of the night, without Matt Talibbi. Seriously.
  • My students. Truly, it would be hard to motivate myself, some days, to do anything other than just eat lunch and read restaurant reviews during the kids’ naptimes, without the knowledge that there are 30 some sets of eyes expecting me to have something relevant, maybe even profound, to say in class in a few days. I’m so thankful for the energy and irreverence and curiosity they bring to our profession, and to my life.
  • Good authors. I’ve done some really excellent reading this year, and I’m continually grateful for those who labor to put out great written content to spark my thinking.
  • QuikTrip. Seriously–where would I be without the fountain sodas and friendly service? A young mom’s best friend.
  • The University of Kansas. While I’m sure at times they are really tired of my constant pushing the envelope of what I can do (enroll non-degree-seeking students? let students audit my classes?), I’m really proud to be part of an institution that gives me a chance to share some of what I know, and what I wonder, with our profession’s future. And I still get to take my kids to the park.
  • The Internet, especially my RSS feed. Seriously, what would I do without blogs, online newspapers, my social networks? I love being able to share the interesting (to me, at least) content that I find with others and at least pretending that others are as interested! And all that information….
  • The immigrants alongside whom I had the pleasure to work for many years–I can’t imagine my life without those journeys, and I can’t imagine that I’d have much noteworthy to say about anything if it wasn’t for all we learned together.
  • Courageous, wise elected officials–YES, they really exist.
  • My iPod. Because, sometimes, I really need to listen to Political Gabfest instead of talking (again) about the truck that just drove by.
  • President Obama. No, I’m absolutely not smitten with everything he has done, and I’m certainly impatient about much that he hasn’t. But I’m still really glad that he’s president, and I still have quite a bit of hope. That doesn’t mean that I don’t sign a lot of petitions…
  • Speaking of which, activists everywhere. Thank you campaigners for cleaner air, fairer prisons, better schools, living wages, safer workplaces, gender equality, just immigration laws, affordable health care. Thank you wildlife watchers and free speechers and good government czars. Thank you for caring what kind of world my kids grow up in, and for being loud enough and smart enough and passionate enough to make me, and others, care too.
  • This blog, and my readers. You can’t even imagine how fun it is for me to have someplace to put all of these thoughts that swirl in my head, and to then see the statistics that people ARE ACTUALLY READING THEM. It’s amazing, and you’re amazing.

    Happy thanking.