Straws…

In recent weeks we have heard a lot about banning straws and saving the environment.  We have also engaged, at times more animatedly than would seem necessary, in the discussion of how this would affect individuals with disabilities.  I’ve heard the comment “well, figure it out!” more frequently than I would have liked.

We have had two outings recently when straws were neither provided nor offered.  We’ve had to figure it out.  J is not a fan of the feeling of glass on his teeth, and he’s had to make do (with more grace than I would have imagined) with drinking from a glass without spilling or dribbling too much.

I am as fond of the environment as the next person, but I fail to see (and, please, don’t come back at me with the whole landfill thing because that’s NOT what I’m referring to here) how eradicating the plastic straw will save the planet for humanity.  Don’t we have bigger battles to pick?  Why this little one?

Let me explain: a lot of cities across the U.S. have recycling programs.  Others don’t.  Not only that, but there are cities where people who do want to recycle have to drive to parking lots and other designated areas to take their recycling.  In some cities, certain aspects of the recycling program have been shut down because “it’s too costly” so there might be plastic, cardboard and paper recycling, but no glass, for example.

Also, the majority of fast food businesses seldom see their plastic lids and cardboard or plastic cups return to recycling bins located in the shops.  More often than not they end up in the customers’ vehicles and, from there, end up in the trash.

Recycling programs don’t accept foam, plastic hangers (which are ten for less than two dollars at most stores), pizza boxes, etc.  Those things end up in the trash, too.

Why focus on, of all things, the straw?  Because it’s easy, I suppose.

Well, for some people it’s not that easy to do without a straw.

Go ahead.  I’ll let you sit there and fume about how now you can purchase reusable metal straws (how comfortable that must be when a cold or hot drink goes through it) or heavy-duty reusable plastic straws (those, for the most part, don’t bend).  You can also argue how I should not hesitate to carry these things with me when I take J out.

Take a moment.  Go through your logic.

Done?

Let’s see if my arguments make any sense:

  1. How many things do I already have to strategize before taking J on an outing?  And my son, mind you, is fully mobile.  We don’t have to contend with wheelchairs, assistive equipment (the iPad doesn’t count), oxygen tanks, etc.
  2. In light of the fact that the ADA often is earmarked by many as a drain on resources, an imposition on businesses and agencies, do we really think disabled people need one more worry about accessibility?
  3. Will we now need to buy special pouches to carry our special straws?  Someone suggested, “just throw it in your purse.”  If you saw the inside of the average purse you would realize it’s not the best place to throw a straw.  Between the twenty other things I carry (cell phone, sunglasses, keys, wallet, pouch with eyedrops, kleenex, etc. J might need, sewing kit, pen, checkbook, charger cables (because you can’t have just the one), and so on and so forth) you’d say to yourself “that straw will never be found again, and it probably won’t be sanitary if she finds it.”  (Oh, and the person that suggested maybe you can get a “certification” to justify using a straw can bite me!)
  4. The same person suggested that I give it to J to carry.  Yes, I could do that, but…where is he going to put it.  Oh, yeah…a backpack.  Sorry, his brand of Autism-logic says that backpacks are only for school.  “Get him some other kind of bag!”  So then, when he gets tired or frustrated, I will have MY bag, HIS bag, and the bags we take so we don’t use the plastic bags stores provide.  “Well, J is an adult…tell him to act like one!”  Ah, alas…if I could I would…but…between the Autism and the Mental Retardation it can be a little iffy some days.
  5. “Maybe if you guys didn’t eat out so much…I mean: it’s just a straw, right?”  No.  It’s not JUST a straw.  Going out to eat a meal at a restaurant is, for many individuals who are handicapped, disabled, or both is a huge step forward.  It IS about accessibility.  It IS about social integration.  It IS about the rights of people with disabilities (and their caregivers) to lead as “normal” a life as they can within a certain framework of complications.
  6. How about the elderly?  Don’t THEY get a straw either?  What if grandma can only sip her wine through a straw?  Should she, too, carry her own straw with her?  “Well, if a person has needs that complicate their outings to that degree…maybe they shouldn’t go out?  Why do we all need to suffer the consequences of a dying environment just because some people need straws?”  How about because we’re all in this together?

I don’t think I’m more special or deserve more consideration than the average person.  I don’t think J is more special or deserves more consideration than the average person.  I don’t think what makes this a matter deserving attention or consideration is because some people are more special than others.

We are picking the wrong battles.  We have been for a long time.  We worry more about straws than we do about people.  “But it’s about the environment!!!”  No, not necessarily…  If this was about the environment, there would be a great deal more pushback against the current US administration’s changes to environmental protection policies.  We live in a society that would much rather target drinking straws than the gutting of endangered species’ protections, climate monitoring, clean energy…  Need I go on?

So, please, when it comes to saving the environment, don’t raise the issue of straws with me.  While my son has to graciously accept that he can’t use a straw because the environment is getting screwed up by straws in landfills, there are bigger, more important battles we could be picking to protect this world we live in; we could, for one, start being more empathetic of those differences that distinguish us from each other in a very basic level.  You know: the crap we can’t really change…the color of our skin, where we were born, our gender (There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy…look it up…it’s Shakespeare), the faith we get from our culture and upbringing, our intellectual ability…

As the parents of individuals with disabilities and/or handicaps, as the caregivers of parents who have become increasingly frail due to old age or illness, as normal human beings who might find themselves in the not-so-extraordinary situation of life throwing lemons your way and having to “figure it out”…we need to pick bigger battles than straws.  If it’s about feeling like we’ve “done something” the numbers might add up, but there are better things to expend our collective energy battling…

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Of babies and puppies, of life, love, disappointment and hope eternal…

“Life’ wrote a friend of mine, ‘is a public performance on the violin, in which you must learn the instrument as you go along.”
― E.M. Forster, A Room with a View

I had babies once.  They’re men now.  Not even J can be categorized as a kid anymore.  He’s an adult.  Looks like an adult and, from time to time, acts more like an adult than many people expect.  This is a good thing, but -of course- it’s not consistent.

TGG is an adult, and he has responsibilities.  He will be adding another living breathing one to the roster come October.  As we tell anyone who will listen (and, mostly, they don’t) every baby is a shot in the dark.  You don’t know what you’re getting, and even if you get something that looks, sounds, feels and acts familiar, the baby will grow into whatever he/she is meant to be, not what you, in your parental naivete, are expecting or hoping.

I started out with two boys.  They were, for all intents and purposes, easy babies.  Then they grew up a little and started changing, evolving, developing into the people they are with their quirks, nuances, etc.  It happens to all of us, and we have to -from time to time- step back and realize that our kids really do NOT belong to us.

We also have to remind ourselves that, for the most part, we have NO clue what we’re doing.  We develop a pattern, a routine, a general strategy…and we go from there.  If it works consistently we should consider ourselves lucky…blessed.  If we have to do constant readjustments, well, we start feeling a little like failures, stupid even.  That is where the old saying of “the best-laid plans of mice and men…” comes from; back home we say “man proposes and God decides.”

The same, by the way, applies to the ownership of a pet.  Dogs have minds of their own; they are not as difficult to figure out as cats, but they give you a run for your money nonetheless.  Take, for instance, our dear Luna…

Nearly four months into her tenure as the family dog, Luna has proven to be a conundrum.  She is smart, but not.  She is sweet, but not.  She is malleable, but not.  She is, in spite of her adorable puppy persona, very much a dog with a distinct attitude and personality that has very little to do with the precious ball of fur we brought into the house.

J is starting to get used to her, and she has figured a lot of things about him.  Her tail still wags enthusiastically when she sees or hears him, but now she knows to sit quietly and not startle him.

J has his routine, and Luna has hers.  She has come to understand that J’s territory is his, and that she has to earn his trust and he’s a tough customer.  Luna understands the gates that separate our room from the general area where J circulates during the late-night and early morning hours, and she respects that separation.  She wags her tail enthusiastically whenever she sees J, but she knows to not yelp or bark because it can make him jump a bit.  She is learning, of course, that things take time with J.

One of Luna’s favorite morning activities (after spending a solid half hour barking hysterically at the neighborhood cats as they promenade around the backyard) is to pull her mattress, pillow and blanket (don’t ask…we don’t understand how she took possession of all these items) from her cage.  This is a thing, you see, that happens like clockwork.  After her breakfast, her trip outside to do her business, her interaction with the cats (who are not daunted by her vocalizing like Maria Callas), Luna goes to her cage and drags everything out so she can park it, depending on her mood, in the front room where the books are, or in the dining area.  Once in a while, mostly on Sundays, she will drag her things to the sitting room where Dada and I read the paper.  While all this happens, J is not downstairs.  He is usually either still in bed or has gone back up to his TV room after having breakfast.  All this hinges on whether he has lingered in bed, or he has started his day at a time that won’t make me call him “Lazy Bones J”.

Now that you know this about Luna and J, I will tell you how I know that -given time and trust- Luna will be J’s best friend in the whole universe.  On Saturday morning, as per her usual, Luna had finished the preamble to her favorite activity and was starting (with a good deal of energy and enthusiasm) to drag things out of her cage.  As she was pulling out her fuzzy blanket (again, don’t ask) we heard J open his bedroom door and move down the hallway.  This sequence of sounds could mean he’s going to the bathroom or preparing to head downstairs.  The next sound is when we know, and this time we heard the top step.

That was all it took.  Luna released her fuzzy blanket, took a step back and turned left towards the kitchen door.  As soon as J had reached the landing before the last few steps, Luna was pawing the door so I would let her out.  No asking.  No dragging.  No persuading.  No word or signal from me.  Luna KNEW.

J came downstairs, saw her outside, smiled, organized his snack box, served his breakfast, and headed back upstairs.  I went to the door, called Luna and, without missing a beat or asking for a treat, she went back to pulling things out of her cage.  Just like that…like “ok, dude’s coming…break time.  Dude’s gone…back to work.”

This is not to say that once in a while she doesn’t take a wrong step.  There are two pairs of shoes that have suffered at her hands…jaws.  She is, after all, still a puppy (in spite of the rather long legs and heavy body) and she is learning.  We move forward, and give her the shoes she ruins with the caveat that she can not ruin any more pairs…she has honored this rule so far.

We (I) thought for a while that the dog had been a stupid, stupid idea.  It wasn’t a brilliant one, but it wasn’t a complete disaster.  The presence of this creature has reminded me that there are things I can no longer do without a shred of regret.  That my health has had recent ups-and-downs is something that disappoints me, but such is the nature of being a living creature.  My body, middle-aged and progressively so, is giving me grief and I have to deal with the implications of this.  One assumes if one has lived on a certain timeline, that by the fifth grandchild it’s ok to be sort-of falling apart.  Well…there is the chunk of disappointment that I contend in on a daily basis…

So…on the home front we have a baby on the way, a dog that is figuring out her reluctant master, older parents who have to shift their glasses more often than they used to in order to see clearly.  The world in general, of course, is doing that thing it does where it alarms us from time to time, and we have to stop and think “how did it get like this?  Is it going to get worse?  Is it going to get better???”

You may be asking yourself “what’s with the quote at the beginning of this rambling thing you’ve written, lady?”  Ah…that!  Well…that just means I’m (you’re, we’re, they’re) in the unenviable position of having to figure it out as I (you, we, they) go along.  Pablo Casals (my favorite cellist, now long-gone but living on in glorious recordings I often indulge in just to make myself ridiculously giddy with happiness) is reported to have responded (aged 95) that he still practiced six hours a day “…because I think I’m making progress.”  

Ergo, my dear friends, let’s all assume that, in spite of all of our slips, slides, shifts, stumbles, we are all making progress, and let’s keep at it.  We will, in small increments most of the time, figure out the pauses, thrusts, leaps and full stops of life.  As long as we’re alive, we have the chance to know something new and ask more questions.

J does it.  Luna does it.  Why should I stop, then?  Nah…I, too, think I’m making progress in spite of any appearances to the contrary.