Sunday, December 31, 2017

The New Year

January 11, 2017, I got sick again. I don’t know why. The doctors don’t know why. That’s pretty scary, not knowing why. When you don’t know exactly why, you don’t know how to help or treat or even cure. We are doing all the things we did the first time. It took 4 years then. We’re doing all the things we did the second time. It took weeks. We’re doing all the things and more, but here I am one year later with my life...

Everyday starts in pain and ends in pain with a whole lot of pretending in between. The pain never leaves me, despite the drugs, the treatments, the physical therapy. Nothing helps. I don’t know if  anything ever will.

The bits of me that make me Me are slipping behind the curtain of pain. My capacity  to reflect is greatly diminished. I can focus though on work. Going to work, focusing on the task, pretending I’m not in pain.

I don’t plan, at least not for myself. I plan for work and for the kids.

I know it’s visible to others, to my kids. One person asked me if I used to do Botox and stopped, the question due to the constant furrowing of my brow. I know it’s invisible to a lot of people too. It’s my problem and no one else’s. It’s a bummer to hear about someone’s suffering.

I managed to take the kids on vacation thanks to my friend who knows chronic illness only too well.

I got on that plane to the US even though the pain was so bad.

I slapped a smile on my face for those pictures.

I made those uszka and wrapped those presents.

Here’s to a new year.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Dreaded Letter

We got it. 
The Dreaded Letter.
From school.
The sealed Dreaded Letter from school.

Proper Letters

I used to get letters. Proper letters. Proper letters with return addresses. Proper letters with return addresses, stamps, and sometimes a little window. How exciting it was to check the mailbox back then. That's how I got my university acceptance letter. I remember pulling the envelope out of the mailbox and immediately second guessing - It's thin so it must be a rejection. If they wanted me, they'd have sent some extra materials. No, YOU open it. I just can't. Give me that. You are so slow. I can't look. You read it. Out loud! Yeah! I got in! Let's celebrate. Kids today have no idea what they are missing.

The Colored Envelope

Polish business establishments such as my bank do not seem to realize the fear that goes into my formerly indebted American heart when I see a colored envelope in my mailbox. Think the same panic as when you have to sign for a letter from ZUS (Polish Social Security). Colored envelopes mean something is wrong. Colored envelopes from a bank mean you owe somebody money. OK, you have no mortgage, so you couldn't possibly owe them money, and you know that, but you panic just the same...the same as when you now have to sign for a letter from ZUS. (True story- After signing and dating the dreaded letter from ZUS, the post woman asks you to sign it "bardziej po polsku". Like how? How can I sign it in Polish? It's a letter from ZUS. It's my signature. You have brought me a letter from ZUS with my name printed on it. You have written my name in block letters. You have asked me to sign it. I have signed it. Now what? Should I sign it "Maria Skłodowska Curie", perhaps? That'd certainly be more Polish...and a little bit French, but not at all my name.)

The most dreaded of all, the letter sent home from school

I'm pretty sure that one of my kids is gonna get the dreaded letter home from the principal, most likely for insubordination and probably for use of the f-word during such insubordination. I'm ready for that. I've been ready for that for awhile. I can handle that. Obedience isn't high up on my list of skills and wisdom I want to impart on my kids. Well, it isn't actually on my list at all. Yes, I have an actual list. "Respect" is on there. "You don't have to smile if you don't want to" is on there. "Know when to hold 'em. Know when to fold 'em. Know when to walk away. Know when to run." is on there too. "Obey" is not.

No, this dreaded school letter isn't an insubordination letter from the principal. It isn't a request from the English teacher for my child to stop correcting her. It isn't even a letter about grades or behavior or anything like that because it's from the school nurse! Yes, the school nurse! I wasn't even aware that we had a school nurse, but there you go. Forget about somebody's existence, and they send you a letter home.

The nurse. Please let it not be serious. They would not just send a letter home with a kid if it were serious, right? So it can't be serious. Did all the kids get a letter or just you? All you think? So it can't be something bad. Whew! Nothing bad then. Definitely something easy peasy, like shots. You probably just need some booster shots or something like that. I can't find anything in your health book though. Maybe it's about menstruation. Wait, what? You already had the menstruation talk at school? Oh gawd, please let it not be head lice. Please no. Show me your head. Is it itchy here? No. Yes, you can go. Go.

What the Hell?

The Dreaded Letter

It was this. My daughter's height, weight, her calculated BMI, and an invitation for the whole family to attend a really wonderful program aiming to combat childhood obesity by involving the whole family. It includes medical tests for the whole family, exercise classes, nutrition and cooking classes, group therapy, the whole 9 yards and I really, really, want to go. There's just one daughter doesn't weigh 57.3 kilograms. I don't even weigh 57.3 kilograms. She weighs 37 kilograms on the dot. The nurse made a clerical error - a 20 kilogram error that identifies my kid as obese and qualifies us to the program. Do you think we can still go?

Uwaga , slight tangent here.

So here's the thing, well not the thing but a thing. I'm not obese (nor are the kids), but my sister with the same upbringing is, and she owns it. She doesn't pretend to have a metabolic disorder or that it's genetic. Ask her and she'll tell you (or don't ask her and she'll still tell you). She likes to eat and drink, and never exercises. It's all her own fault according to her. I was unaware of weight and things like that for a blissfully long time. I mean longer than most kids today, and if not for others around me, I could have entered my teenage years unaware. I was made aware by classmates. "Chris isn't fat. She's big-boned." I most certainly wasn't, but what I was, was a foot taller than all my classmates at the time and taller than the teachers and the principal too. I also had breasts and my period as the first one in my class, a real outcast there in Catholic school as if I had any control over the start date and/or final effects of puberty. I was made aware by teachers who saw that I didn't have a lunch (I'd forgotten it) and who grilled me about my feelings of self worth all the while not offering me anything in the way of food. Thank goodness that when they called my mother that afternoon, she was able to walk, phone in hand, to the refrigerator and see my forgotten lunch just sitting there. I was made aware by our PE teacher who ordered all 5th graders who weighed more than a hundred pounds to stand up in front of the room and for the class to shout out ways they could help us keep our weight down, never mind that in 5th grade I was 5'6" tall and should easily have weighed  more than a hundred pounds. It was our school principal, a nun, who seeing me a year later at the same weight made me aware by instructing me not to lose anymore weight. My reply that I hadn't lost any put a confounded look on her face.

My parents didn't want us to be overweight and certainly not obese. We had to play a sport. We weren't allowed to drink sugary drinks. We ate dinner together every evening. When my sister who is older than me started to develop and "chubbed out" as we called it, my parents monitored her eating. Oh, did they ever. So much so that I was sneaking food for my hungry sister who immediately stuffed it in her face not really tasting it or enjoying it and forever messing up her relationship with food. It messed up mine too, but I didn't realize it at the time. About four years later the same thing happened to me - the chubbing out, the monitoring of my food intake. There was nobody around to sneak this hungry girl a snack, so she (czyli me) just stopped eating. No one controls what I put in my mouth. Fortunately, my grandmother stepped in and told them to leave me alone. But she wasn't all hearts and flowers for everyone. I'd heard her ask her own daughter, my mother, why she ate so much. No one is immune. We all have our food issues. I'm not for burying my head in the sand either. I want my kids to eat nutritious food when they are hungry and stop when they aren't hungry anymore. I want them to fuel their bodies and exercise them and live and love, and be happy. I know it's a bit much especially in the era of social media and all that stuff, but I think I will still try. You wanna try too? You probably already try though. Give me a hand then. How do you do it?

PS I know my blog format is kind of outdated. I'm gonna change it eventually...when I stop procrastinating.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Children's Day in Poland czyli Dzień Dziecka or whatever

Children's Day is here again. June 1st in Poland every year. We don't have Children's Day in the US where I'm from, so I conveniently forget it each year.

Luckily the kids' school remembers. The older kid's class went to a trampoline park - they're what's "in" now, or as my kids have started saying "mega".

Their father usually remembers as well. Perhaps I should do something for Children's Day. They did a bang up job for Mother's Day this year. I mean I nagged the hell out of them, but still.

They may get nothing from me on Children's Day, but I have given my kids one extremely valuable gift. The gift of chores. Chores? Yes, chores.

Lizzie mowing the lawn 

I had chores as a kid. Didn't we all? I had the basic keeping my room clean chore that most kids get. That chore was non-negotiable. Then each Saturday my sister and I divvied up the rest of the chores on the chore list, alternating each week who got first pick, thus sticking your sister with the chores you despised i.e. cleaning the bathrooms.

Now on the rare occasion I go to the USA, I start in on the chores even after all these years. But it's for a different reason. I want to help. Back then I had no interest in keeping my parents' house clean and looking nice. My parents oft repeated that it was their house, and we had to "pay our way" or "earn our keep". Not the friendliest of parental methods, and not very motivating to us kids to go above and beyond the regular chores. Those were the choriest chores. I did them because I had to. I don't know what the consequences would have been had I not done them. I was too scared to find out. 

I have a slightly different parental philosophy. I remind the kids that this is our home,  and we need to take care of it. If that doesn't work, I turn on an episode of "Hoarders" - Chomikowanie in Polish. It works every time!

I also let my kids play to their strengths. Lizzie enjoys mowing the lawn and cleaning the car inside and out. She also likes to organize things. Rosie isn't too keen on lawn mowing, but she likes digging, planting, weeding, and raking. She also likes kitchen stuff such as cooking, baking, and even washing the dishes. 

In my opinion, chores provide kids with a sense of home, responsibility, family, and even pride. My grandmother always said that there's no shame in being poor, only in being dirty. They also develop life skills that they will need when they leave home. Chores also provide my kids a way to earn pocket money. They have to do basic chores, but they can do extra chores to get a little walking around money. They're happy with that set up and so are we.

Do Polish kids have chores? My husband said that they most certainly do,  maybe not so-named, but they do. When he was a kid he definitely had chores, but without a chart (we don't do the chart either), but yes, he had chores.

We are all just kids at heart ❤️ so treat yourself this Children's Day and don't forget to do your chores!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

My Absolutely Unscientific Research: 500+

In the Polish election last autumn the winning party, PiS, took control, some say thanks to its election promise of the 500+ program. The 500 Plus program works like this: a benefit of 500 PLN is paid to families for the second child plus any additional children after that. We are not talking only about new births, but also existing children. So if you have 3 children, you should receive 1000 PLN monthly (0 for the first child + 500 for the second child + 500 for the third child = 1000 PLN). If the family income falls under a certain amount, that family gets the benefit for all the children. Receiving the 500+ does not affect other benefits a family might receive from other institutions. In comparison, the minimum wage is/was 1850 PLN gross and is due to rise to 2000 PLN gross as of January 2017. That is the monthly payment for 40 hours per week.


Some call it a social program. Some call it a handout. Some call it a lifesaver while others call it vote buying. No matter our feelings about it socially or morally, we must remember its effect economically. The government is not paying people from its own money. The government’s money is our money. And according to the latest proposal of the government, my family’s taxes are due to go up next year about the amount of 2x 500+. Somebody has to pay for it, right? Perhaps they could take it from the Smolensk commission budget.

I don’t believe there are any comprehensive studies at the moment on the effect of the 500+ so I have done some independent and completely unscientific research…in my village. A couple of years ago, I talked to a neighbor lady, they call her Fat Kasia which I find unnecessarily cruel as she is the only adult Kasia in the whole village. Anyhow, we were chatting at the village shop as you do when you are in the village. From the contents of her shopping of flour, potatoes, white cheese, and cigarettes, I gathered that Kasia was planning to make a batch of pierogi for the weekend. She lamented greatly at the cost of everything on their one salary and how unfair it was that the furniture factory didn’t pay her husband his salary on time. I agreed that not getting paid on time certainly wasn’t fair indeed, but I also inquired as to her interest in getting a job, you know, to take the pressure off. There were plenty of job offers at the new sawmill just 2 kilometers away. Kasia could not hide her shock and dismay at my inquiry. “I have a child!” she exclaimed. “I have two!” I exclaimed back. Nobody was judging. Nobody was offended. It was just a difference in our vision of our own lives. Over the next couple of weeks and over a few more conversations, Kasia decided to try to get a job at the sawmill. Her child was 8 years old then, and they lived meters from the school doors. And guess what. She got that job. That first Christmas Kasia had as an employed person was as she put it herself, “the best they’d ever had”. She was pleased to have the job, the possibility of paid overtime on Saturdays if she wanted, and a pleasant holiday season without the usual financial stress from years past.

Then Kasia got pregnant with their very much wanted second child. I met her a few times in front of the shop, her pregnant belly standing in stark contrast to the cigarette she had in her hand. My look must have spoken volumes because she later said to my husband, “What? I quit drinking at least.” Kasia had her baby about a year ago. I still meet her in front of the shop, baby in one hand, baby bottle of Kubus and cigarette in the other hand. Kasia is not going back to work. She’s decided that it doesn’t pay. Even though she would not lose her 500+ benefit. Even though the sawmill offered her a part-time job to start back. Even though her mother offered to babysit those 4-5 hours a day while she’s at work and cook dinner for the family. Even though she’d get a bit more than 1000 PLN a month from her employer, another 500 from the 500+ program, and secure her job position if she decided to return to full-time. It’s just not worth it to her. I’ve read a recent report that says there is absolutely no evidence that people are dropping out of the workforce due to the 500+ benefit. I find that hard to believe as most of us know at least one person and in my case several people who have done just that.

It is no surprise that money we get for nothing has a higher value than money we get for doing something, for example working - especially for someone earning minimum wage, having small children, and needing to travel to and from work each day. Transportation, good winter attire, childcare – it can cost you a significant part of your salary just to earn that salary. That wasn’t the case for Kasia, but yet she still decided not to go back to work. I returned to work relatively quickly after having each child. I was in fear of losing my contracts. There was a time when I did not even earn my ZUS payment (Social Security), not to mention my transportation costs or the babysitter, but I had to do it in hopes of a better future.

Continuing my unscientific research, I have been chatting with the local shop owner. Our village has a population of about 500 people. We have a primary school, a public library, a doctor’s office, a fire station, a chapel, and one shop. Our shop has got the basics, and as you can imagine, the shop is more expensive than the discount shops in the next town over. I don’t really think twice about the cost when I’ve got a kid on the toilet, and I’m running to Mr. Mariusz to buy toilet paper. (It happens more often than I’d like to admit.) The next town is only 7 kilometers away, but without a car, that’s too far for some locals to do their shopping. I inquired if Mr. Mariusz had noticed any changes in local shopping behavior since the 500+ payments started a few months ago. He has noticed some changes. He said some people came in and settled their credits (the infamous zeszyt) immediately, knowing that Mr. Mariusz knows that they got their money. Some people stocked up on the basics, perhaps enjoying the feeling of a fully-stocked kitchen cupboard for the first time in a long time. One lady has done a reverse-zeszyt by giving Mr. Mariusz all the 500 and deducting her shopping from there each time. She allows her husband 100 of the money on the zeszyt for his beer and cigarettes, and not a grosz more. It appears that women are in charge of budgeting that money. Mr. Mariusz has also reported that sales of beer and cigarettes has gone up significantly. He stopped selling hard alcohol some years ago as some of his customers were quickly drinking themselves in unconsciousness outside the shop doors.

What have I noticed? At the start, new trampolines and bikes appeared in our village. Cartons of cigarettes replaced packs or cigarettes. In some cases, packs of cigarette have replaced homemade cigarettes. This year there were not scenes in the front of the shop about a father drinking all the public benefit the kids got for school shoes. I’m not saying that money was not drunk, but there was an additional source of income to buy shoes from. We’ll find out this winter if we have similar scenes of selling the public benefit coal for cash and then stealing wood from other neighbors as it was last year.

Talking to my neighbors and friends in the village, many of them say they voted solely for that 500+ program. They have the knowledge that it most certainly is detrimental to the economy and they don’t care. One family has got one little kid at home and two teens in the orphanage. Since the 500+, they have been trying to get their kids back from the orphanage. They didn’t lose them because they were poor, but because their behavior prevented the kids from going to school. The kids don’t want to come back, not even so the parents can get the 500+ benefit for them. At the orphanage they have clothes, food, school books, a computer room, and basic cell phones. Smart kids.

What about people like me? The ministers were happily talking about people like me who could now afford extra music or language lessons for their children, invest in their kids education. I even saw a car today with a bumper sticker that said “Financed by 500+”. I am now aware that in the new year I will most likely be in the minus and not the plus with this plan. No cóż. Co robić?