Camping, Scouts, and… Stuff

I had the distinct pleasure of going to Webelos Camp with Jacob last week. We left Wednesday morning and came back Saturday morning. The camp was located in beautiful Pottsboro, Texas, right on the shore of Lake Texoma or somesuch (no, I didn’t really check. They just told us that 42 feet out into the water was Oklahoma territory).

I felt bad in terms of preparing Jacob for the trip. One of the courses to take is Aquanauts, and for that, you have to pass a swim test. Jacob doesn’t know how to swim, so he was classified a non-swimmer. That meant he couldn’t go deeper than 3 feet of water in the pool without a life vest. Parent failure #1.

However, he and his friend Greyson camped together. Some other parents shared a tent with their kids, but in two years, he’s supposed to go camping on his own. Hopefully by then we’ll have worked out the “keeping yourself clean” issues. He wore his swimsuit under his shorts and didn’t change out of them the entire camp. I don’t think that’s normal, but then again, I only made it to Bears.

I got the chance to talk to other scout leaders about the entire Homosexuality issue. For those of you who haven’t paid attention to the news, the scouts decided that they will no longer discriminate against sexual orientation in their members. They still don’t allow LGBT leaders, but as far as acceptance goes, this is a pretty good start.

Personally, I’m in favor of the change, primarily because for younger scouts (namely Jacob’s age and younger), sex isn’t an issue. Girls still have cooties. However, I can see it start to come into play around the time that kids become boy scouts.

Naturally, the decision is going to come with a cost–the Southern Baptists have decided to not recharter any scouts sponsored by one of their churches, and that is expected to cost the scouts somewhere in the area of $40 million. If they can keep going without that, so much the better. However…

The one question that I’d never really considered until talking with other leaders was “when you go camping with a gay scout, where do you put them?”

This sounds like an innocent question, but the ramifications are:
(a) two gay scouts sharing a tent
(b) a gay scout with a straight scout
(c) virtual ostracism of the gay scout by being alone in a tent

I think the one thing about these choices that makes me upset is that they make the fundamental assumption that a gay scout will be a sexual deviant toward other scouts. And frankly, I don’t think that’s a fair assumption to make. We don’t consider “straight” scouts to be any more or less deviant. And we still have issues of leaders (straight leaders, mind you) who are predators.

I’m not gay. I can’t walk in those shoes and understand what the attraction is. However, if we are to allow homosexuality in scouts, we have to confront that underlying assumption and work to change it. And the only people who can help us do that are the gay scouts themselves by their behavior and conduct. I truly believe any incident will lead to immediate pressure to reverse the decision, even as we ignore the previous molestation cases by (again, straight) leaders.

In the end, I guess it will work out. We’ll just have to see.

Burn, Baby, Burn

Ultimately, we had no other choice.

There are some things you don’t want to deal with as an adult. I’m not referring to the really big life-changes such as losing jobs or family issues; this is just “okay, why do I have to put up with this?” level irritation.

Background: Laureen and I are suckers. Complete and utter suckers. We want to believe the best in people, and this has led to some questionable decisions on our part. We’ve had the luxury of helping people out by giving them a place to stay in time of need. Some of them have worked out.

Notice the “some” there. In an ideal world, that’d be “all” or “everything”, but just as I have my own faults and issues, the people we’ve brought into our house, for whatever reason, have had issues. Laureen’s rather interesting way of stating it was “why do we attract the crazy?”

There was Arleen; by the end of her time here, she believed Laureen was poisoning her milk.

There was another lady who didn’t last one night. She later committed suicide.

Then there was/is the current family: a mom with two daughters aged 13 and 6. They had a swim through our place once, and during that time, we also hosted her brother. I don’t know how other people feel about people “in recovery”, but there’s still an addict mentality, even if they are attending NA meetings. The brother spent one night in a shelter that was infested with bedbugs. The bedbugs came to our house with him. So did his drug habits, psychopathic nature, and ability to convincingly lie. Needless to say, he was removed from the house after several issues arose, most notably his attempting to choke his sister. That plus their habit of going to NA meetings and then going out to smoke weed afterwards made it an irrevocable decision.

There are many, many people who point to marijuana and hemp as being useful parts of (a) American History, (b) Medical Necessity, and (c) Enjoyment of Life. I’ve never tried it, nor do I ever plan to. I believe that it’s still something that can mess you up and put you in a position to harm others, whether short-term or long-term. And I seriously question the wisdom of someone in NA still believing that smoking pot is okay. That’s just a reason to justify their decisions more than anything. Is it a gateway drug? I don’t know, nor do I care. Should the U.S. spend millions of dollars prosecuting marijuana offenses? Again, I don’t know, nor do I care. What I DO care about is what comes into my house; there’s a firm line that, when crossed, will turn me into an angry, protective papa bear.

For reasons best left unexplained, the woman and her kids had to leave the house around Thanksgiving of last year. Of course, our daughter started getting these bite marks on her legs that we thought were just mosquitos. No, it was the bedbugs.

After some extensive cursing out of earshot of the children, we tried to figure out what to do. There were two routes: treat them with chemicals or treat them with heat. Seeing as how the heat option cost $1500-$2000, we decided to try the chemical option with a two week followup to kill remaining eggs that might have hatched.

$500 dollars and a week or two later, the bedbugs came back, but not in our daughter’s bedroom. This time they were in OUR bedroom.

Again, for reasons best left unexplained except for Laureen and I being suckers, the woman and her two kids came back to stay with us. Might as well have the original crew for a party, huh.

After the discovery of the second round of bedbugs, there was much, much cursing, depression, anger, and other bad karmic emotions that essentially threw us all for a loop. Of course, now there was only one choice: burn ’em out.

While napalm might have been interesting, I doubt our homeowner’s insurance would have been happy with it. Instead, we chose a company who would set up propane heaters, blow hot air into the house, and heat it to 150 degrees for 6 hours. This would kill the bedbugs.

The amount of preparation you must do to attempt this sort of thing is gargantuan in and of itself, even if you aren’t a packrat. We were unfortunate enough to have our master bedroom closet FULL of clothes that should have gone to other homes or to Goodwill. When we pulled them out and put them on a table (actually 2 3×10 tables) as recommended, the pile was 2 feet high.

And that was one closet. There was also moving all of the furniture away from the walls, going through the house and removing anything that might melt like crayons, candles, fruit, plants, the dog–you get the drift. And with kids 6 and 8 (plus another 6 year old), there were crayon surprises all around. Hey! Underneath the washing machine! Oh, gotta take all of the medicines out as well. And the paintings and pictures, too. Gotta get them all.

Operation Burn, Baby, Burn commenced at 9:45 yesterday morning. Laureen had spent the entire night finishing getting things where they needed to be. The heaters came; we left.

The job was finished at 6:00 p.m. The guys doing the work said that they would normally be done sooner, but… I hate that “but”. It implies that we were Not Prepared. And, as it turns out, we weren’t.

I got to the house at 6:15 p.m. and went in to open windows. The temperature at the thermostat read 99 degrees. The clothes piled on the table were spread everywhere–the floors of the living room, kitchen, dining room… everywhere. We hadn’t taken the blinds down, so that was done for us. Admittedly, that wasn’t mentioned in the pre-treatment brochure, but geez, it would have been nice to know.

By 8:15, it was 85 degrees downstairs. The mom and her boyfriend did amazing work in cleaning stuff up. For whatever bad things I may think (and then feel ashamed for thinking them because who am I to judge others), I have nothing but thanks for her in what they did last night. They turned parts of the house livable.

Laureen and the kids accepted the kindness of a neighbor to go sleep somewhere else. I stayed put, mostly out of a sense of duty to my house and dog, but also because I really didn’t want to repack my CPAP machine.

From going to extremely hot walls back to normal was a long process, but we were helped by the chilly air last night. And the bugs are dead. They can’t survive more than two hours in that temperature, so they. Are. Gone.

Takeaway: bedbugs must be destroyed. With heat. Do not trust chemicals.

In defense of imperfection

This post is political. Be forewarned. I doubt anyone will like the conclusions. That’s okay. I just need to talk about various things going on around here.

Here’s a few things I believe:
1. Businesses exist to make money for those that own them.
2. As a direct result of #1, there is no such thing as job safety. If your job can be done by someone for less money, then chances are it will be — if not now, then at some point in the future.
3. We have a staggering debt in this country.
4. We talk about the deficit, but it’s the debt that truly matters.
5. The money our government spends in many ways goes to jobs for Americans, whether it be directly through employment or indirectly through contracts for goods and services.
6. There will always be someone or some business looking to make more money off the government.
7. Those people will use their resources to influence legislation, elections, and other people to achieve their goals.

Question 1: Can we truly balance the budget and start to pay down our debt?
My view is that no one currently in Congress wants to go through that exercise, because that money is jobs for people. If we truly reduced our spending as a nation to a point where we could pay down the debt, major programs would suffer (see the recent sequestration kerfuffle), constituents would get mad, and more people would paradoxically rely on the government for assistance. Thus, when it comes to our spending, we have one choice that we aren’t willing to make. I personally believe that raising revenue will only serve to increase budgets instead of keep them level.

Question 2: There’s an awful lot of noise about guns. Should certain guns be banned?

This is a hard question to answer, simply because people will start screaming about rights. I believe that guns should be legal, but I also believe that there should be common sense regulation of them. When the 2nd amendment was crafted, it was such that if citizens needed to fight against the government, they would have arms. Now these days, as much as some people would like it, our government isn’t worth fighting against. At best, it’s inefficient; at worst, it’s incompetent. But there is enough money and voices to prevent any real change to the status quo regarding gun ownership.

No, no one is going to take your guns. They can already imprison you without a warrant, wiretap you without a warrant, even kill you with a drone strike, but they’re not likely to take your guns. The question then becomes how many do you really need?

Inevitably, the people who are the best trained and most careful with guns are the ones who see things as unnecessary. Again, I tend to think the worst of humanity, especially since we have made mental health care specifically difficult to obtain and maintain. Plus, there’s the question of Evil. I admit to believing in God; therefore I admit to believing that Evil exists in our world. And I don’t think any doctor can fix that.

Question 3: Is our government that messed up?

Yes. But it’s what we have. To me, the biggest abridgment of rights comes when dollars in campaign contributions translates to access, either directly, through bundlers, or through lobbyists. This means that people without money have less of a say in policymaking, and things continue tilting toward a plutocracy/kleptocracy. Despite there being good people trying to good things (even though I don’t agree with their support of outcome-based education, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s at least DOING something), our policies are shaped not by what’s best for our earth or all of us as citizens but instead are driven by the overarching goals of those with money. Those whose sole purpose, as I stated above, is to make money.

If you have some, you want more. If you have more, you want even more. There is never enough. The stock market demands certain performance levels, or your company loses money. The system relies on people you don’t know making judgments about value that have nothing to do with objective reality.

It’s broken. It’s imperfect. It’s capitalism. It’s what we have.

Question 4: Can we do better?

Catching up

It’s been a while since I’ve written; life has been busy. The basics:
Jacob’s in third grade. Jessie’s in first.
Laureen’s teaching again.
I’m on loan to TI, working in their OMAP processor group.

Over the summer, we went to Ruidoso, New Mexico. We also acquired a dog, a Carolina dog named Creek. Her full name is “Little Running Creek”, but it should be “Little Running Creek Roll in Poop Attention Hog”. She reminds me so much of our previous dog it’s scary. And I miss Chewie.

Jacob’s in soccer with the same bunch as last year. We’re actually undefeated as of this writing. Jacob plays forward, midfield, and sweeper, which apparently is the defender who deals with everything that gets by other people.

After much thought and prayer, we made a decision to open our home to a single mom and her two kids. Yes. Every single person that I know has told me that I’m either crazy or a better person than they are, and I’ll be the first to admit that this hasn’t been easy. We have two kids who need lots of attention, we’re trying to be the safety net for the family while the mom reestablishes her business, and all sorts of other details. We’re trying really hard not to lose our own kids in that maw, because they’re bearing a bigger cost than we are. Jacob and Jessie are sharing a room (we got them bunk beds), and soon we’re going to have a play loft constructed for Jacob so he has a place to play Legos.

But it’s hard. So, so hard. I love both of the girls living with us, but the 12-year old needs a father figure in the worst way. She had one, and… stuff happened. The 6 year old operates a lot of the time like a toddler does. I’m not saying this to be mean, but her behavior is “what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is mine”, and she has always been able to get her way by throwing a tantrum at the slightest provocation.

That dog don’t hunt around our place, so it’s a battle. “Please clear your placemat,” “please pick up your toys,” “please turn out the lights,” and on and on.

Despite it all, I have some peace about this; there’s more people to help around the house, and the garage is getting organized (shocker).

Right now, I’m in Phoenix, spending some time at a convention of online gamers. Yes, it sounds ridiculous. And I agree, it is. But these are my friends.

Anyway, enough for now. Time to move ahead.

Envy, and other common issues

I think I have yet to learn the simple value of being okay with myself.

I’m still overweight, still not doing much, still resisting making those changes that I need to make. And now I’m very envious of the success of a friend. I really couldn’t say who, so let’s just say that this person is doing a lot of the things I wish I could do or have done, and arguably this person has fought through harder circumstances to get there than I have. So, I should simply be happy for this person, right?

I’m trying. But still, there’s that part of me that is always measuring up against other people, no matter who they are, and evaluating for signs of weakness. And because it’s a large sample to evaluate against, I’m always going to come up short. I’m always not going to be good enough.

I know it’s easy to go back to high school and think it was all in those years, but let’s face it–middle and high schools are essentially the absolute worst place to have a kid socialize with others. Cliques form around various things, whether it be money, taste in lifestyle, activity, or whatnot, and when you have groups, you have outsiders. In high school I often wondered about trading intelligence for that social standing and whether I’d take that trade.

Even these days, to some extent, I feel like an outsider. I don’t have many really close friends, people to whom I could tell anything, and there aren’t any that are close by. Again, it’s that constant evaluation and wondering what I’m doing wrong.

The simple answer would be “get over yourself”, right? “Be happy for who you are and what you have.” “You’ve got these gifts.” I know that. I understand that, at least on an intellectual level, but what good are such gifts when all they do is separate you from everyone else? And if I have such gifts, why haven’t I done more with them? Changed the world? Done something memorable?

Maybe I have and am too navel-gazing to know it right now.

It wasn’t supposed to end like this

We were supposed to get together and play board games some weekend. It’d been a long time since we’d actually seen each other, but because our mutual friends had events, we kept on bumping into one another. And now I’m reminded of the times we had together–the disastrous cancelled ski vacation that we salvaged, doing stuff with the youth, all of those times.

And now, you’re gone.

I was there for some of those grand mal seizures. I remember how scary they were and always wondering what I needed to do to make sure you were okay. And then, just a few weeks after we’d talked about board games and kids and other little life points, another seizure takes you away, not just from me, but from your wife and children, leaving a hole that will be empty for a good long while.

Yes, I know that God has a plan, but that doesn’t mean I understand it, and it certainly doesn’t mean I’m happy about it. Tonight, I grieve.

In memory of Mark Fowler, a good man.

Vuvuzela Time

Today was Jacob’s first official organized soccer game. He’s in a YMCA league for U-8 (Under 8 years old). Due to no one else offering to take the job, I’ve been selected as volunteer assistant coach. I won’t know if I am allowed to do so until the background check comes in, but given that I’ve passed those before, this shouldn’t be any issue.

In U-8 soccer, you play on a 60′ by 40′ field with smaller goals. You also only play 8 men on the field. You need six to start the game.

Jacob’s team has a total of eight players on it. 3 Latinos, 3 African Americans, Jacob, and one kid whom I’ve not seen yet. If “The Bad News Bears” were translated into soccer terms, this would be that team minus the Chico’s Bail Bonds sponsorship.

Today, six showed up for the game. We played against a team from Richardson. Now, Garland’s a big city–the ninth largest in Texas. We have a wide range of socioeconomic factors going on. Richardson, or at least parts of it, is more homogeneous. Across from us were 16 kids, all decked out in matching outfits–shorts, socks, the full kit–against 6 rag-tag, 2 sessions of practice boys.

We had six; we played.

Jacob started in goal. Now, Jacob has the general idea of goalie down, meaning “keep the ball out of your net”, but he doesn’t have some of the basic goalie skills down, like “use your hands”, “pick up the ball”, and “don’t kick it straight to the other team”. These factors made the first half interesting. The other team kept pressing deep into our turf, but our one kid playing sweeper was doing an effective job as sole defender of the realm. The other three kids played… some sort of position. You know, no matter how much you tell them to spread out, they all cluster around the ball like bees around their hive. So we’d make a bit of forward progress, then one of our kids would take it from another of our kids, and….

Jacob failed to secure a slow roller right before halftime, and we went into the break down 1-0. The other team was only playing five people up, so we actually were able to hang with them.

After halftime, Jacob moved to forward. Surprisingly, most of the action in the second half was in the other team’s end. Jacob had a shot on goal that was stopped by the keeper, but he did get credit for the own goal the other team scored. 1-1. Maybe the underdogs could pull it off….

The Richardson team drove deep and got around our defense, sending probably the only really good pass of the day to a wide open man who deposited it in the back of the net. 2-1.

There were some flared tempers. One of our kids and one of theirs got into a pushing match that resulted in yellow cards for both of them. After that incident, you could see the other team ganging up on our guy, surrounding him and talking right in his face during throw-ins, etc. Real classy stuff. Admittedly, the kid on our team is a hothead who expresses himself physically, but still, the incident was over.

The game ended, and our heroes, outnumbered 20 to 1 by the enemy, survived and made a decent showing of it.
At the end of the game, the kids all slap hands and say “good game”. I was in line and slapped some hands, and some kids on the Richardson team had their hands turned around and were saying “bad game, bad game”.

Now, most of the time, I wouldn’t get upset about something this petty, but after the on-field stuff, after being outmanned, after our not giving up… if I’d had my act together, I would have grabbed the kids, taken them to their coach, made them repeat that to him, found their parents, made them repeat it to them, and then maybe, just maybe I’d be okay with it.

But I didn’t realize it until afterwards, and it wasn’t until after we were leaving the field that I got mad about it. This makes me wonder why I should get upset over this. It’s just a game, right?

No, it’s more an attitude of “better than you” that makes me angry. And sad, too, because those type of things are hard to take when you’re 7. Heck, they’re hard to take when you’re an adult.

“I Will Always Love You”

So, Whitney Houston passed away. The day after her death, I was in the airport, subjected to CNN news, and the entire time I was there, the only topic was Whitney Houston.

Is it okay for me to say that, while any death on this planet is sad, the amount of public idol-worshipping of someone like Ms. Houston has been absurd. Shakespeare said that we come to bury Caesar, not to praise him, and there’s part of me that feels the same applies to Ms. Houston.

She led a troubled life. She was a talented singer at one point, but then her life spiraled out of control. She and Bobby Brown had a reality TV show. She denied using drugs one week then was in rehab the next. In short, she was as human as you or me.

Who of us will get the amount of celebrity coverage when we die like Ms. Houston, Michael Jackson, or arguably most famously Princess Diana have received? It is a telling fact that we thrive on schadenfreude, if only to make ourselves feel better. I personally believe it’s wrong in the first place to elevate someone to the point where a fall is a sideshow. We’re all the same with different gifts and talents–celebrate those around you instead of having your gods spoon-fed to you by TV and media. Value life to make good choices. When you fail, admit it and seek forgiveness, acceptance, and redemption. Was Whitney on that path? I don’t know. Her attempts at a comeback tour were disappointing, and no one except those closest to her know the demons she faced.

My faith tells me that God loves each of us, and it’s not my place to judge, so forgive me if this comes as a judgment of Ms. Houston. It’s meant to be more of a rant at the same old song and dance that’s foisted upon us by the 24-hour news cycle.

Komen, The A Word, and Absolutes

By now, I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard about the Susan G. Komen foundation’s decision, subsequent semi-apology, then reversal of course on the decision of giving grants to Planned Parenthood. In my opinion, you don’t make a decision like this in this day and age without being explicit about your reasons. The “not funding groups under investigation” only applied to Planned Parenthood and no other groups getting funding from Komen, so the convenience of that reason made it all the more transparent, especially after the retweets from Karen Mandel, former gubernatorial candidate in Alabama and now a Vice President at SKG.

Please take the next part as my opinion. It’s not an endorsement of anything, but more of a statement about what I think. There is nothing wrong about being pro-life. There is also nothing wrong about being pro-choice. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have the issue of abortion to deal with in the first place, but we live in a place that’s far from perfect.

What I have serious issues with are the deliberate brick-by-brick attempts at dismantling organizations like Planned Parenthood because of one facet of their operation. It’s a convenient target by people with absolute standards, and it leads to dangerous consequences, including the murder of doctors who perform abortions.

First off, as a man, I’m not entirely sure how much say I can have in the debate over a woman’s right to decide what’s best for her own body. Secondly, the theological perspective of when life begins has changed dramatically since the early days of Christianity. Thirdly, if we are to respect all life and treat it with dignity and kindness, what can we do to not be hypocritical about it when it comes to our own priorities?

It’s extremely unfair to paint a pro-choice advocate as someone who wants to kill babies. It’s just as unfair to call a pro-lifer a right-wing zealot. I don’t know of any woman who goes out and actively gets pregnant just for the sake of having an abortion. This segues into my next point.

Why do women feel the need to get abortions? One answer might be financial–there’s no way to afford to have a child. However, I think the largest single influencer on whether a woman has an abortion is shame, particularly from the men in her life.

“I’m afraid my dad would find out.”
“I’m afraid my brother would find out.”
“I’m afraid the father would find out.”

Where does this fear come from? It comes from our semi-puritanical view of sex, sex education, and biological desire. We consistently attempt for either religious or other reasons to impose moral constraints around sex, but they’re usually caged as “don’t do it”, or “if you get pregnant, I’ll kick you out of the house.”

Our bodies are hard-wired to experiment after puberty, and our culture only presents us with more images of sex and desire than we can stand. This isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon, either. In his book “The Way Things Never Were”, Norman Finklestein lays out the truth about how our whitewashed view of “the good old days” was filled with as much unexpected pregnancy as it is now. The only difference is that the girls were sent away from home to a relative’s house.

I’d like to propose one way of handling this, and it’s a way that other countries (which MUCH lower abortion rates than the U.S.) use: demystify sex. Educate kids. Teach them about contraception. Teach them that it’s part of life. Teach them about the consequences of it as well (including pregnancy). Sure, you can still teach them about making the choice to wait for marriage (which I did, by the way), but if you turn it into a “must be pure for her husband” type of thing, that leads to the shame I mention up above. Now it’s not just disappointing her parents and family, it’s disappointing God.

Can you imagine having THAT as a burden?

This is where I admire my friends Kevin and Deborah Ausman and how they’ve treated their son with respect to alcohol. They’ve taught him about it in a practical, no “forbidden-fruit” kind of way, were present when he had his first beer (in Germany, no less), and encourage him to be moderate about it. If we could take that attitude of de-forbidding and apply it to sex, I truly believe we would have fewer abortions because we’d have fewer unexpected pregnancies. And as a person who is pro-choice, I’d still love to see the number of them drop.