The Civic Soapbox

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Civic Soapbox essays have moved . . .

They will now proudly be posted every Friday on the WMRA blog, which seems to get much more traffic. It's, hopefully, a way to get these fine listener essays more readers!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Turning into our Mothers by Diane Farineau

“I’m turning into my mother!” my friend exclaimed, a few weeks ago on one of our long Sunday runs. She had just been talking about something she’d said to her son. We laughed and rolled our eyes in unison. Our mothers come up a lot during these run. It seems we are both actively turning into them.

A few mornings later, I was out early watering plants before I left for the day. As I dragged the hose around the garden I was conscious of the silence, the calm, the sense of peace. My children were asleep, and there’s nothing wrong yet. Everything was as it should be. I was at one with my yard, my planet. But then I realized we were not alone, Mother Nature and I. There was another mother present, my own. I remembered her doing this when I was a child, being up, out in the garden and back in again before my brothers, sister and I ever woke.

As I stood in the soft loam and dewy grass, I realized that I have indeed become my mother. It wasn’t just this gardening piece, it was other things….big things like my need for order, my desire to make things right. It was little things, like planning and making lists and even the running, which she too, took up later in life.
What is it about becoming our mothers that makes us roll our eyes? Even though I’ve long since shed my awkward teenage years, when for example, my mother had routinely been right in pointing out that the outfit I’d selected was going to turn out to be inappropriate, she still, to this day, has the power to reduce me to uncertainty with just a look. And she still OFTEN knows what is best for me.

Standing there in my yard, it hit me hard that becoming my mother was actually a blessing. I have been fortunate to have her by my side, even when at a distance, for 45 years. I have incorporated her wisdom, her habits, her quirks, her loves – even her dislikes—into the fabric of my own being. I could suddenly see from this vantage point that my mother’s life has been a trail of trinkets, dropped along the path for me to gather, and if I could, keep.

Someday my mother will be gone, which scares me because I think I will not, possibly, be able to function without her physical presence in my life. And yet, I realized that she cannot ever leave me completely because she is now a part of me. I am becoming my mother and I will never again roll my eyes when that thought comes to me. Because I know now that this what will keep me from coming apart at the seams when she is no longer able to walk through the garden with me.

                              --Diane Farineau is a writer living in Charlottesville

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Springfest vs. Volunteerism by Mike Grundmann

When the Springfest riot broke out in Harrisonburg on April 10, the opposite kind of activity was going on across town, and JMU students were at the center of both. Dozens of students were helping with the annual Blacks Run cleanup, where almost 3 tons of trash were collected.

The nest day 35 members of the JMU swim club helped the city clean up the Springfest garbage the next day.

There have been plenty of shame-on-yous leveled by JMU community members after Springfest: President Rose and a professor both wrote a scalding letters to the student newspaper, The Breeze, and at least two students wrote confessional pieces. Dozens of readers added their comments. The Breeze also probed the riot’s causes in a piece on mob psychology.

The following week, a group of students spontaneously formed to start patching up relations with the city and offer volunteer work. The group members are talking with city leaders so its volunteer efforts can be meaningful.

I’m the Breeze faculty adviser, so pardon me if I cite a few stories just from this semester, which prove the altruism permeating the student body. After the Haitian earthquake, a group struggled desperately to reach its $30,000 fundraising goal. A 25-hour basketball game raised money for orphans in Mozambique as well as the local Boys and Girls Clubs (one organizer played for 18 hours). An airplane-pulling contest raised money for a city mediation center. The women’s lacrosse team served a Sunday meal at the Salvation Army. The annual Relay for Life, a cancer-benefit walk that’s an overnighter, drew about 2,000 people and raised more than $150,000.

Just using examples from my own journalism classes this semester, one student spent spring break helping the homeless in Nashville, and another helped build a shelter for homeless teen girls in Belize.

It’s not just volunteer hours that JMU students contribute. The university is also a lab for the kinds of technology that will save the world. One student in 2008 invented a new type of concrete mixer that will raise the standard of living in a Ugandan village. An electric motorcycle that students built has set a speed record. Students are also designing bicycles that disabled people can ride. Others are experimenting with nanotechnology, which will produce eventual wonders in medicine, manufacturing and space travel. There’s a lab with printers, quote-unquote, that make 3-D objects; the prediction is that we’ll all have such printers at home in 10 years. And, from the president on down, there’s a major push to minimize waste in energy and materials. JMU just won a governor’s award for that

I’m continually impressed by how many of my students list activity or office-holding positions on campus, the vast majority of them service-oriented.

Did some of these same students also attend Springfest? Yes. Did they throw bottles? I don’t know, but I doubt it.

I’m not saying all this because I’m the booster type. I’m a journalist by training, and you know how skeptical we can be. I’m doing this because the Springfest riot really surprised me, and I wanted you to know why I was surprised.

    -- Mike Grundmann teaches journalism at J.M.U. and advises the Breeze, the student newspaper.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Caring for Aging Parents by Karen O'Neil

On the evening my mother died alone in a retirement home in Chicago, I was 1500 miles away in Austin, Texas standing in line with our eight year old grandson waiting for Rick Riordan to autograph the very latest in his Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.

It was one of those perfect May days. I’d stopped to have coffee at an outdoor cafĂ© and treated myself to the Times crossword. Dawdling in the morning was the first course of what felt like the feast of life in Austin, beautiful weather, beautiful grandchildren, enough work to be interesting, but not enough to be stressful. In what still felt like real life, the one from which I had just retired as English teacher and college counselor in Charlottesville, by this hour I would already have taught a class, answered emails, and tried to soothe a handful of worried parents. Here in Austin I was sitting on a sunny patio, gazing at a skate boarder with puffy dreadlocks sailing cheerfully past. No one seemed in a hurry, least of all me.

I’d made a point of calling Mother as I sat there, a daily ritual, one usually performed in the evening, but that I’d somehow neglected the night before. If Mother was disappointed , she didn’t say so. She rarely complained, although everything that had kept her going was now gone– her husband of almost 75 years, the family that now sprawled across the country, her capacity to read and write. At 99 she had become almost totally dependent on others.

Struggling to hear her murmured words, it was easy to forget she’d taught until she was 90, consulted until 95, authored two books, nurtured three generations , and thrived as partner in an exemplary marriage. Often I would find myself almost literally shouting over the phone, trying to make myself heard across a rapidly thickening wall of separation. And often, honestly, I was relieved to hang up.

I hadn’t known that morning that Mother’s and my brief conversation would be our last, that she’d sleep through most of the day, and grow increasingly unresponsive. If I’d called the night before I might have captured her for just a moment by reading from the volume of poetry that I kept by the phone for that purpose, knowing that shared words could almost always draw her back into life. But I hadn’t called, and not for any complicated reason. I was just plain tired. Weary. Weary of monitoring high blood pressure and low, weary of falls and infections, weary of fearing the sound of the phone and keeping a packed suitcase beside the bed. Weary especially of the endless question of whether I was doing it well enough -- fulfilling this unexpected assignment of helping my parents through the ends of their lives.

Oh, I knew then, know now that none of us had cause for complaint. My parents had had long life, good health until the end, ample resources. I wasn’t wrong to revel in a perfect May day, to choose the company of an appreciative eight-year-old, to postpone my next visit just a little longer. Surely the choices I made that sunny Austin day were exactly the ones I hope our own children will make some day. Or so it seems now.

                                 -- Karen O'Neil lives in Charlottesville

Thursday, April 15, 2010

About Virginia's New Slogan . . .

As a social worker, I serve Central Virginia residents who have children with Intellectual disabilities (formerly called Mental Retardation). In this capacity, I sometimes get calls from families who are thinking about moving to Virginia. They want to know what State funded services and support, such as daytime activities, group homes, or respite, might be available for their disabled children. In the past, while I could rarely promise immediate access to such services, I could at least tell them about getting on waiting lists for them and what their wait times might be. This year, I can’t offer even this because in the proposed budget of the General Assembly, the 40 Community Service Boards in Virginia will not be getting any money for people on the waiting list.

As if that weren’t bad enough, we were also informed that the reimbursement rate for services – what Medicaid pays for them– will probably be cut by 5%.This is a huge cut for the agencies providing group home and day support services, and may force some of these centers to close. The bottom line? In Virginia, it may mean an increase in the populations of the training centers (also called institutions) because there will be nowhere else for people to go. I have been in this field for 20 years. I have seen the positive changes that adequate funding can provide: safe places to live, jobs that are meaningful, recreation and leisure supports, transportation, and other opportunities that those of us without disabilities take for granted. I have also seen the devastation to families and individuals when there are no resources because there was no money allocated in the state budget to extend services to more people.

I understand that this year the Virginia Legislature faced a huge budget deficit and cuts had to be made. I am not upset because I haven’t had a raise in 5 years or because I’m expected to do more work. I am upset because there are so many families who desperately need services for their adult children with Intellectual Disability and won’t get them. I am also embarrassed by Virginia’s rating in an annual report that ranks states on the funding provided to people with developmental disabilities – number 41 out of the 50 states. These cuts will, in all likelihood, move Virginia even further down on this scale, to 45 or 46.

How do I tell THE 200 PLUS families in this area alone who are already patiently waiting for state services that the reality is that their child may have to go live in an institution because there is no money to pay for a group home? How do I tell the single mother of a son with Down syndrome that when he graduates from special education, that he will not be going to a daytime activity center, which means she must quit her job because he can’t be left unsupervised during her work hours?

I recently heard that Virginia was changing its slogan from “Virginia is for Lovers” to “Virginia is for Families.” This statement needs to be amended to make it clear that for those with disabled children, Virginia is not for your family.

                           -- Ruth Ewers is a social worker and writer living in Nelson County.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

an unruly comment . . .

Martha, here: I posted a really nice response to Val's essay from the Stuarts Draft postmaster, Kevin Blackford,  on the WMRA blog. 

I couldn't get it to post as a comment, so the WMRA blog was plan B.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Postal Lament by Val Matthews

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” That the United States Postal Service would have such a motto, just added to the romance and excitement of emigrating to America.

I grew up in South Africa, and emigrated to the United States when I was a married woman of about thirty-five. All those years in South Africa and I have absolutely no recollection of how our mail was delivered, no recollection of any particular mailmen or postmen as we would have called them, no picture in my mind even of what a South African mailbox looked like.

So in our house north of NY city we were very excited by our mailbox and the fact that we could put letters into the box and raise the little flag and the mailman would pick up our letters and deposit our new mail. We came to know and love our mailman -- he was with us for the eleven years we lived in that house. I remember him coming to the front door once with a letter one of my children had written, and telling me that the post office wouldn’t mail it. The stamp had been licked so thoroughly that the glue had all gone, and cellotape fixed the stamp to the envelope. He waited while I put on a fresh stamp.

After some years back in South Africa we moved to downtown Charlottesville, Virginia. Once again a friendly and obliging mailman was our friend for six years and when we moved out into the county, he passed the word to the mailman he knew would be serving us at our new address.

We were now living on a large bit of land and knew none of our neighbours – in fact they did not know that the farm had changed hands. So guess who passed the word? Our new mailman. Without him I wonder how long it would have taken for us to meet our neighbours. I called him a community builder – he admitted that perhaps he became too involved in matters of the community, but his heart was in the right place.
Now, sadly, the postal service is struggling and has to cut back. So much mail and parcel delivery is now being done through Fedex or UPS, so many bills are paid on line. I still receive bills in my mailbox and make payment in the old way, but most of my mail is junk and goes straight into recycling. Fewer and fewer people send actual letters or Christmas cards –email is easier.

Saddest of all, many of the older career mail delivery people have been ‘encouraged’ to take early retirement, so our mailman has gone. I no longer know who puts the mail in my mailbox and certainly they never bring a parcel to the door, perhaps just as an excuse to have a quick chat. Or bring some note or present that has been dropped in my box just to check and see that it’s not something weird. Or to suggest that leaving mail overnight in my box is not a wise idea.

It does seem rather sad that as society advances, and becomes more efficient and cost saving, so the little personal civil contacts and services that make life pleasanter, tend to disappear.

                                                                   --Val Matthews lives in Albemarle County


About Me

I write for lots of different venues, so this blog provides links to those places. Plus, occasionally, stuff that appears no where else . . .